Most motorhomers have some all time favourite stop overs. Chusclan is one of ours. It is a village in the south of France not far from Orange and, like many places in this region, it produces a lot of excellent wine. Contrary to popular belief it isn’t the wine that brings us back here time and time again. It is the atmosphere, the peace and the generosity of the Vigneron who provide a beautiful and entirely free of charge Aire de Camping Cars. We always buy some wine when we visit, because this is the thing that keeps these wonderful free French Aires going. A place to stay for a night or two is provided free of charge with the expectation that visitors will spend some money in the local businesses. A little give and take goes a long way.
The Aire at Chusclan is in the grounds of the Co-operative Cave and it has been very beautifully laid out with individual pitches, picnic tables and a free service area with waste, water and toilet dump. The parking area is huge and when the six pitches are taken there is still plenty of room for other vans. Very large vans fit in without difficulty in the wide space available so we see some enormous motorhomes coming and going. Today there was one that was the size of a single decker coach. The people in it had four large dogs. With a pack like that you would need a bus.
After we arrived yesterday and used the service point we settled into one of the lovely level pitches and sighed. There’s a feeling of peace here that is hard to describe. It is very quiet and you are parked very close to the vineyards with the vines disappearing into the distance in their long neat rows. It was the last day of February so the vines have been cut back to the bone for the winter. When we saw this at first we were amazed. They look so small without their leaves and branches.
First stop after the long lunch break was to the cave shop where we have been met on every visit with a friendly welcome. The first thing we noticed was stacks of boxes of wine called “Enfant terrible”. If my sister Mary is reading this she will laugh. Translation – “horrible kid”. We asked about this strange wine and the young woman explained in perfect English that it is a young wine that seems to appeal to the British palate because it is not as strong as the more traditional local reds. We had a tasting of both the red and the white “Enfant terrible” and decided it would be ideal for a special celebration that will be happening later in the year. Going for a walk alongside the cave when the big doors are open is a tad dangerous. The amount of alcohol in the air is enough to make us lightheaded.
Walking through the village of Chusclan gives a clue as to the wealth of the region. All the streets have been mono blocked in blonde stone and the houses, although ancient, are in exquisite condition. Signs placed in strategic places tell of the history of the village and inform visitors that the majority of the local people have made their living from the vineyards, either as workers or owners. We strolled through the village, reading the signs and imagining life here in the several hundred years that it has existed. Chusclan sits in the shadow of the Gicon Massif, giving the area shelter and shade from the hot sun. It’s the first day of March so we don’t need the shelter. In fact we could do with a bit of that sunshine but give it a couple of weeks and the land and the vines will begin to warm up and the whole cycle will start again. There really is something special about seeing real evidence of the changing seasons and appreciating the magic of the yearly cycle.
Adventures in a Vineyard
In previous years we have been here in October when the harvest is still in progress and driving through the narrow roads is likely to result in a stand off with a tractor and trailer. On just such a trip we once foolishly decided to take a long drive down from Burgundy and arrived here in pitch darkness. Our satnav at the time was an ordinary car one that couldn’t be set to bigger vehicle dimensions and as we approached Chusclan it led us up a narrow, steep hill. This seemed a bit odd as we knew that the Aire was near to the river in the valley but we were tired and it was dark so we assumed it was taking us a shorter route. What it was actually doing was taking us over the hills and through the vineyards on roads that were designed to take a tractor. We could see nothing except what was lit up by our headlights and the road got narrower and narrower until, at the brow of the hill, it took us over a water duct and dropped down the other side into the vines. We honestly thought that a farmer would run out with a shot gun, thinking that we were stealing his grapes. We could see almost nothing, except a stony narrow path in front of us and we seriously considered just stopping, getting into bed and waiting for morning. We might have done that if we weren’t tilted at such a jaunty downhill angle that we would have fallen out of bed if we’d tried. Eventually, we emerged from the vines onto another road and wearily found our way into the Aire where we sat quivering for at least half an hour, almost without speaking except for the occasional expletive. At the time I wrote in our trip journal that this was the cherry on the satnav’s retirement cake and we sold it when we got home. If you’ve been following this blog however you will know that even a truck satnav suggests some crazy routes. it’s all part of the fun.
Casualties of a Long Trip
Before we left home we tried to be practical about what to bring with us. We made some errors of judgment, like not bringing enough knickers and creating a situation where we were often searching for laundrettes or hand washing and having pants having around the van trying to get them dry for the next day. We carefully counted out the right number of knives and forks, plates, bowls, mugs and glasses with exactly enough for four – just in case we had guests you understand. If we had more than two guests they would have to bring their own. We had four wine glasses when we left and, thanks to two freak washing up accidents, we are now down to exactly none. Not only have the glasses been smashed but both times it has happened in the van so we’ve had to crawl around searching for bits of broken glass whilst holding the dogs down to stop them walking on it. In a space as small as this it was a challenge. We still have four tumblers so, if we do want to sip some of the Chusclan table wine we bought, we will have to drink out of these. Any more glass related accidents and it’ll be the plastic tooth mug, complete with minty flavour. So should we revert to those plastic wine goblets that look like glass but don’t really? Suggestions on a postcard please.
A few short miles from Chusclan there is a small shopping centre that has everything a motorhomer could want. There is a motorhome service point, which we didn’t need thanks to Chusclan’s hospitality, a petrol station, supermarket, bank and, joy of joys, one of those outdoor washing machine and tumble drier outfits where you can do your laundry while you shop. As we left Chusclan we decided to take advantage of the laundrette while we ate our breakfast. Yes it was a few miles out of our way, being back in the direction we had come from, but the convenience was worth the small detour – or so we thought.
These machines are truly enormous. They will take up to 18kg of clothes so we washed everything that could possibly benefit from a freshen up, apart from the dogs, even going as far as changing our clothes and putting those we had on into the machine. Obviously, I should add, we stripped off in the van not the carpark. Having filled it with our washing and put in two laundry blobs we started to read the instructions. Lessive Incluse i.e. washing powder included. Quick! Rake round amongst the dirty underwear and find the two blobs and return them to the van. Next, go to the machine and pay. “Hurray!” we said, “The machine takes cards”. Not so easy though. The payment machine came to a long slow stop at the thought of taking a UK card so we dived about in our purses and pockets and found the right change, put it in the machine, pressed the button and off it went. It was then we realised that we had no further change left for the drying cycle. I set off to the supermarket to buy something small and get change. Having chosen a random item I went to the checkout and found that the only two that were open had huge queues meandering through the shop. There are things we really don’t understand about French supermarkets. One is that they still take cheques and have no problem at all with people buying five small items, putting them through the checkout then slowly and deliberately searching the huge handbags that French ladies appear to be permanently attached to. Then, with no rush at all they take out a cheque, hand it to the cashier who then asks for their bank card, writes about ninety numbers slowly and deliberately along the back of the cheque, talks about the weather, discusses politics, hands the card back and wishes the customer a good day. Multiply that by the twenty people in the queue and our washing will be long finished. I left in a huff. Back at the van Shirley offered to go to the bank to ask for change. Off she went and was gone for a while. On her return she reported that the bank has no money. I mean, they never have any money. If you want money you get it from the machine but of course the machine doesn’t give coins. We are now bewildered. In desperation she went into the pharmacy to buy some Piriton for Boo the itchy dog and found that it isn’t available except on prescription here. Fortunately the pharmacist took pity on her and gave her change. By now the convenience factor was fading. Back at the machines we discovered that the promised 30 minute was was really 45 minutes and there was still twenty minutes to go, so we turned the seats around and settled down. Might as well relax. There is no rushing in the south of France – unless you are driving of course, in which case you must always exceed the speed limit or suffer the horn blowing cacophony of French drivers in a hurry. I realise now this is probably because they were delayed in a supermarket checkout.