France we’re Back

Cliffs at Millau

We left Camping El Garrofer in Sitges, detouring to a local shopping area where there is an outdoor Laundromat. It was in the carpark of a supermarket in one of the less salubrious areas outside of the town just up the road from Lidl where we usually do our final shop before leaving. Unfortunately, the large washing machine was in use so we had half an hour to wait – time to have breakfast. As we were in the supermarket car park we thought we should buy some stuff in there before sneaking off down to Lidl once our washing was in the machine. This was clearly a Spanish version of Waitrose and everything was much more expensive than we expected so our little shopping trip didn’t take long. We had a leisurely breakfast and trotted over to the machine when time was up for the previous user. He was nowhere to be seen. I suggested to Shirley that she got a supermarket trolley and I would load his wet washing into that. Just before I grabbed his smalls he appeared, breathless and embarrassed. Soon we loaded our massive amount of stuff into the machine, took note of the time and headed for the cheaper and therefore more appealing shopping of Lidl. Forty five minutes  feels like a long time when you’re parking at a jaunty angle in a hot supermarket car park but somehow we survived the wait and went to put the washing into the massive tumble dryer. Here a small but unpleasant debacle occurred when a large and hostile Spanish man took exception to the length of time it took us to shift our several kilos of wet washing  because he wanted our machine. I say that but in fact we have no idea what he was saying except that it was loud and involved a lot of hand waving and obvious irritation. We ignored him and walked away. Sometimes it’s advantageous to be a foreigner. 

At last we were on the way north and driving on the perpetually busy roads surrounding Barcelona. We had identified two possible stop overs and despite the fact that we hadn’t left Sitges until after 1 p.m. we were driving into the motorhome parking at Peratallada by 5.00 p.m.

Motorhome Aire at Peratalada

We had chosen it because we’d discovered a par 3 golf course just a few miles away and planned to play the next morning. This is a beautiful historic village inland from the Costa Brava. Clearly a tourist place they have thoughtfully provided huge parking for both cars and motorhomes. After a simple meal we wandered through the beautiful streets and Shirley braved a steep climb up an old bell tower to take pictures from the top.

Bell Tower at Peratallada

I stayed below with a disgruntled Poppy who couldn’t understand why she wasn’t allowed to follow. As we strolled back to the van we came across a wonderful ice cream shop and bought two huge cones. Our joy was complete as we set on a bench in the late evening sunshine and dived in. We let Poppy have the ends of the cones with a bit of ice cream in each going against our own rules yet again. She was ecstatic. We will never have a peaceful ice cream again. 

Ecstatic in Peratallada

It was peaceful in the motorhome parking with only two other small camper vans for company in a huge area. We like it this way – very quiet but the presence of other motorhomers reassures us that we’re not breaking any parking rules so we sleep well. 

The drive into the village was on very narrow roads and we weren’t looking forward to leaving again, however, out walking Poppy in the morning I discovered that we were less than a hundred metres from a main road. Mysterious but welcome we were soon heading in the direction of the golf course all aquiver with excitement. It turned out to be rather a splendid place with manicured greens and dappled shade. They even provided special places to park motorhomes with water and electricity if required. Getting big Heidi onto one of these pitches was a bit of a squeeze but we managed and Shirley was soon booking us in for a game. The website promised a technical course that was excellent for improving ones short game. This seemed like overstating the challenge of a pitch and putt course until we started to lose balls in massive water features and overshooting just about every green. It was a difficult course and half way round a huge wind blew up making any ball you hit gently, trying not to overshoot the green, stop in mid air and turn right. We were bedraggled and tired by the time we got back to the club house and in no mood to try to get the van off its neat little parking space especially when we found two British cars, one parked on either side of us in front of a clear sign that said “motorhomes only”. They were parked far too close which meant we had little room to shift right or left. We struggled on doing small forward and back moves whilst trying to persuade eager would be golfers to stop driving through the gates for long enough to let us manoeuvre. Cars were coming from all angles and every time we shifted enough to leave a small space in front or behind us a car tried to push its way through making it impossible for either vehicle to move. Eventually I mimed an assertive, nay aggressive, stop sign at an oncoming French driver which she ignored, fixing me instead with the kind of indifferent sneer that make French women appear so scary.  She then drove behind us and we were all stuck again. At last there was a gap in the traffic and we could drive away in the direction of Figueres.

We have been told by quite a few motorhomers that there is a hypermarket in Figueres that allows overnight stops and where prices are good, diesel is cheap and all in all a perfect place for the last night in Spain. Figueres of course is very close to the French border and at the time of writing Spain is selling diesel for several centimes less than in France. On arrival at the aforesaid hypermarket two things were immediately obvious. One was that the entry to the petrol station was full of French cars, presumably eager to fill up with Spanish fuel. It has to be said that given the current global oil crisis there is no such thing as cheap fuel and driving miles to find a cheaper price is of questionable benefit, however, add in the lower food prices in Spain and it will make a good day out for those who live on the French side of the border. The other thing that struck us was the row of motorhomes parked up in full sun and very close to one another in the car park. There was no way we were going to stay there overnight. We would barely be able to open our door and by bedtime the van would be like an oven. We parked in a bit of shade and hopped into the shop where we bought a few items then we drove over to the petrol station. We saw immediately that it was impossible for us to get the van onto the pumps because two lanes of traffic were moving steadily forward meaning that the room to turn onto the pumps was full of cars. We gave up and drove to Peralada, just up the road, where we spent three nights on our last visit to Spain in February 2019 and heard the first bits of news that Spain was closing its borders due to covid and we should head quickly through France and home. This time there was no such distressing news but we found, on pulling into the motorhome parking, that the services were switched off and we couldn’t empty the loo. Distressing enough for us. Fortunately we’ve got a second cassette so we switched to the empty one as quickly as possible, I won’t go into detail as to why it needed to be a fast change over but leave that to your imagination.

During the evening  a great wind blew up, which is not unusual for this part of Spain just next to the Pyrenees and we sat in a rocking van trying not to think about driving the steep road back into France the next day. “Perhaps it will settle down overnight,” we said hopefully. 

As it happened the next day was worse and we drove with some trepidation onto the motorway. Our plan was to stop half way along the south east coast  of France somewhere pleasant before moving on to the town of Millau (famous for its viaduct) and a few days on another campsite. The wind was persistent as we drove along and eventually we decided not to stop but keep going until we got to our site in Millau and hopefully some respite from the wind. 

Camping St Lambert is part of the ACSI discount scheme. For a few pounds a year you can get discounts on numerous campsites in Europe out of season and, joy of joys, when they are at their quietest. Camping St Lambert is, in our opinion, a little piece of paradise. It sits beside the river Dourbie and has enormous grassy pitches. The toilet block is a bit dated but it has fast powerful hot showers and different sinks for washing clothes, washing dishes and washing humans. The toilets don’t have seats which made Shirley nervous at first in case she fell in but a couple of days practice was all that was required. Just don’t fall asleep when using one. 

Our pitch in Millau – plenty of room

Our pitch is huge – big enough for the Khyam shelter that we use like an awning except it isn’t attached to the van. Our table, chairs, carpet, BBQ, bikes and Poppy are all outside with plenty of room to spare. Poppy’s lead is attached to a strong bungie cord and she is happy sitting watching the world go by.

Our main reason for choosing this town was to meet up with an old (as in longstanding not ageing) friend. Julie and Shirley worked together forty years ago in the Middle East as young midwives and Millau was a good position about an hour’s distance from where she lives. We spent our three days together eating simple food at the campsite, eating lunch in Millau and then eating lunch up in the hills. Yes food was, as always, a feature of the reunion and it was grand. On the third day Julie very kindly drove us around the area, stopping at the beautiful village of Peyre where we got magnificent views of the viaduct.

Peyre, the viaduct and the hat ladies

and then onwards to Saint-Rome de Tarn where we had the most beautiful lunch in the Auberge. This felt like the France we fell in love with twenty years ago where simple food was served with no rush at all on a friendly terrace with the buzz of gentle conversation all around us. Menu of the day was as follows: Potato and sausage salad with fresh bread; lasagne (huge) and salad; a light version of tiramisu followed by coffee. 14.5 euros per person. I know! Amazing eh? 

Auberge St Rome de Tarn

Millau town is a delightful place for tourism yet pleasantly alive with the energy of a town where people live and work. We were greeted in the Tourist Information Office by a young woman who clearly loved the town and was cheerfully suggesting all kinds of things we might like to do. She spoke rapidly to Julie in French then changed swiftly and with an apology to fluent English when she realised we were from the UK. Personally I was torn between staying to listen to her beautifully accented and impeccable English and heading back to the square where we had seen a pleasant little restaurant. Suggestions of boat trips were appealing but impractical as we had a small dog back at the van and anyway, by now the temperatures were rising and the boat was not covered. On long tours like this we don’t worry too much about taking part in every possible activity because we know we can always come back another time. More important is living life slowly and with as little stress as possible. We’re getting pretty good at that. 

Our three day visit with Julie passed quickly and we began to talk about where we might go next. Try as we might we couldn’t summon any enthusiasm to move on and so we put the thought to one side and settled into a simple rhythm of walking Poppy along the river bank each morning, cycling into town for grocery shopping or just meandering and then returning to plop into the pool as temperatures rose to the high 20s in the afternoon. Eventually we decided to go to reception and ask for a few more days on our huge pitch that has begun to feel like home. 

From my bedside window. Shirley leaves for the morning dog walk – and I get a few more minutes in bed,

This is an unexpected turn of events for us. We have enjoyed touring for ten years, rarely spending any length of time on a campsite and often dreaming of what the next place might be like. Here in the sunshine and the green surroundings of our pitch we feel completely relaxed except for ….

The Unwelcome Guests

We appear to have mice in the van. We keep finding mouse droppings albeit very tiny ones. Strangely they are not in the slightest bit interested in food but they have torn up some paper and eaten a hole in one of my walking socks. Straight away we got on the internet to read advice on what to do. Apparently, if anything is hanging down from the bottom of the van they will climb up it and get inside. We have some long black danglers – long brushes that have been fixed behind the rear wheels. They were on the van when we got it and we’ve never understood what they were for. We can tell you now. They are for helping small mice to come in and collect material for nests. The advice is to get traps and set them. We looked on Google maps to find out where the nearest big shop selling home repair stuff is. Mr Bricolage is a chain of shops of a similar kind to B&Q. (Bricolage is French for DIY). Our friend Mr Google told us that it was only 3 miles away so we set off on the bikes. We have electric bikes so when we encountered the first of the hills we weren’t worried. It was only when we were half way there on the so called bike route that we realised that the route was constantly and very steeply uphill and our bikes and their riders struggled even when on full power and in a low gear. If you’ve ever thought that electric bikes do all the work for you you would be wrong. They assist and when the going gets really tough you have to dig really deep to keep going. The hills were constant for at least two thirds of the trip and the route suggested took us through meandering housing estates until finally we found a big commercial centre with Mr Bricolage right at the top. If we’d thought about it before we set off we would have known what expect. Millau is in a deep basin which is why they built the viaduct, taking miles off the route from Clermont-Ferrand to the south. The old route through the town consisted of long downhill then steep uphill roads. From the town itself there is only one way and it’s up. We arrived at Mr Bricolage looking distinctly bedraggled, red and sweaty. Here we found two automatic mouse traps and some green eco friendly toilet fluid. How very exciting.

Approaching the shop we had seen a wide road with the signpost ‘Millau Centre’ so after doing our shopping we decided to follow the sign. Instead of meandering through housing estates and down short sharp hills we found ourselves flying down an incredibly steep hill with wide bends and several escape zones for those whose brakes fail. I had the bike trolley attached to mine and it seemed to be adding to my speed so I spent most of the hill frequently touching the brakes. I was scared, mostly because I’d lost my front teeth as a child on my bike on a steep hill and the memory returns in glorious technicolour when I’m going fast downhill on a bike. Shirley, on the other hand, was excited and shot down at nearly 30 mph, getting to the bottom long before me. When I juddered down to the roundabout I convinced myself that she would be worried, anxiously wondering where I’d got to. I was wrong. I found her waiting patiently beside an unexpected Lidl and so we did the only sensible thing, we wobbled in together pulling the bike trolley to look for something for tea. 

In Spain if you go into a supermarket with a shopping trolley you will find some locks that can be attached to keep the trolley safe until you’re ready to pack it. In France there is no such convenience so we went round Lidl with a shopping trolley and a bike trolley. We caused all kinds of confusion especially when it turned over on itself and caused a small traffic jam. Getting to the checkout, the operator hauled herself out from her cubicle to look inside it, presumably to check if we had been shoplifting. Opening it she saw green toilet fluid and I said “Monsieur Bricolage” and she laughed. Soon we were cycling back to the van in the heat of late afternoon and promising ourselves that we wouldn’t follow any map instructions again without checking how steep the route was. 

These three visit us every morning and quack if we’re not up and about

Yesterday evening a French couple from a nearby caravan wandered over and engaged us in a strange but satisfying conversation about UK politics, French beauty spots and their preference for the Scots thanks to current events in Westminster. All this in a mixture of limited language skills on both sides. They were very amusing, including in the middle of it all an apology for lack of dentures (too uncomfortable) – no apology required but it did make understanding a bit more difficult. We’ve been invited over this evening for drinks. Wish us luck!

Until the next time …

So beautiful here – can we stay?

17 thoughts on “France we’re Back

    1. Yes it’s beautiful here – don’t know whether we’ll manage the bridge tour before we go but always enjoy having a reason to come back to favourite places. x x

  1. Spray mint (diluted essential oils) around all the openings, maybe get some small plants to place around the tyre skirts when you’re parked up for a few days.

    1. Thank you – we’ve got chocolate in the traps now as it’s supposed to be extra enticing for the mice. We’ll try the peppermint oil too. When we get home we’ll borrow a cat. x

  2. It could only happen to you two!!! But, Job for Colin tomorrow,”take off those brush things!) Well, there’s only one because Storm Arwen took the other one away!! X

    1. When Colin has finished that could he pop over to France to remove ours? They are fiendishly well put on. Hope you are both well. x x

      1. He would love to do that for you! Today, he’s spending a rainy Monday planning our trip to Ireland!! X

  3. Camping St. Lambert looks very inviting from your blog. We have a look at the site ‘s website but can only find “set-up” accommodation but not camping car. What did you pay per night please?
    Enjoy the rest of your travels and safe motor homing.

    Glenys and Fred Chase
    SW France

    1. The campsite is on the ACSI scheme and out of season with an ACSI card it’s only 12 Euros a night. An absolute bargain! I think without the card it’s around 15 Euros but not certain. We would definitely recommend it. Happy travels!

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