Getting Acquainted with France

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Carcasonne

 

Weather 33 degrees sunny and humid with a heavy shower

After 5 nights together we waved Au Revoir to Diane and Keith and made our way to Carcasonne, a place we had heard and read much about, but never experienced.

When we arrived in Carcasonne though we found the aire which is shown in the current version of All The Aires 2016 was no longer accessible to motorhomes. There was no alternative in the book, but we had spotted some signs for a campsite so followed them and discovered a new motorhome parking right next to the camping (N43.200142 E2.352515). We drove to the barrier and paid the 12.40 entrance fee. Shortly after setting up we packed a picnic and walked the 25 minute walk to the old city of Carcasonne .

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Boris in the new aire at Carcassone

Carcasonne main attraction is old City (or Cite) which is a well preserved double walled turreted fortress that stands on a hill above the river Aude. Anyone going to Carcasonne for the 1st time cannot fail to be impressed. Sat high on a hill the turrets and ramparts which make up the old town look like something out of a fairy-tale. The sun was beating down and the humidity was high as we slowly meandered through the narrow streets. It’s amazing how the heat seems to zap energy and so about ½ hr after arriving we found a shady spot to rest of have our picnic. Rejuvenated we continued our ambling’s round this fascinating place.

Once back at the parking place we set up our chairs outside and went off for a game of Boules one of our new evening pastimes (watching the French play though showed us how much we have to learn!). With the humidity intensifying we felt sure that there was going to be a storm and woke up in the early hours to a much needed downpour. Paul quickly leapt out of bed to close our skylights so that we weren’t waking to soggy sheets!

The following morning we packed everything away and followed our ritual of filling and emptying tanks.  Before the off though we needed to try and get ourselves a local French wifi sim (as our Spanish one was now null and void) and stock up on food.  We spotted a Lidl so pulled over and off I went. It’s funny really that Lidl . kind of became our favourite supermarket in Portugal and Spain (although back in England I only ever really went in there when there was something on offer that I wanted to buy). Due to being compact we found them much easier to navigate than some of the large superstores and certainly a lot cheaper. Ok choice was obviously more limited and the food a little repetitive as each store was the same, but we always seemed to find most things we needed. Here in France though I feel we may have to shop around a little more, the choice seems a lot more limited so we may have to find a new favourite. After putting all the shopping away and Paul sorting out the new sim at the local orange store we programmed the Sat Nav with the aire and after a short detour to fill our gas bottles we were on our way.

Our plan had been to get together with one of my sisters friends Rosie who lives in the area, but personal circumstances meant that we couldn’t quite pull it off this time. We will be back in France at some point though and so have promised to try and make it work next time.

Mazamet

Instead we located a lake further inland in the Midi Pyrenees where we thought it may be a little cooler in an area called Mazamet. When we arrived though all the original parking places had height barriers on so that now only cars can park there. About to turn around and find somewhere else Paul spotted another motorhome drive straight past so we followed on and found a new designated area (GPS – N43.46519 E2.34144). With the sky covered in cloud the temperature was a pleasant 19 degrees so Paul off loaded our bikes and we went off for a cycle around the Lac De Montagnes. We were soon to find out though that cyclists were not allowed on the track around the lake and that the only alternative was to cycle up the Montagne De Niege (mountain of snow), although there was no snow at this time of year. We began the steep climb but after around 15 mins thought it may be a bridge too far for Paul’s knee so turned back around and whizzed back down the hill. I had itchy feet now as I had set my mind on a bike ride so whilst Paul sorted out my brakes and put the bikes back on the bike rack, I went for a pleasant walk around the lake. The rural location and views of the lake from the windows make this and idyllic location to get away from it all. If we’d have been able to cycle in the area we would have probably stayed a few days, but without this option we decided to head back out to the coast the following day.

Weather 28 degrees and sunny

Portiagnes

We chose a place called Portiagnes which had an aire right near and beach and was in close proximity to the Canal Du Midi where we could cycle. A very small town with a huge sandy beach and a handful of restaurants dotted around the towns square. Although advertised in our book as free, when we arrived  at the aire there was an additional sign in French telling us that from June to September there was now a charge of 8 euros per 24 hours which needed to be paid at the tourist office. Within 15 minutes of arriving we had a visit from the police to check if we had paid. I explained in my basic French that we had only just arrived and that we would be off to pay shortly, just as we were chatting to them a French registered van parked opposite sped off without even having closed their windows – they obviously had no intention of paying the charge. I find it strange that people will pay between 30,000 and 100,000 euros for a motorhome but will not pay a small charge to park it overnight in a beautiful spot! As law abiding citizens though we had a nice walk along the beach to the tourist office, paid our dues for 2 nights and used their free wifi for the next 1 ½ hours to do all the updates on our phones. That done we got out the BBQ and spent the evening reading and relaxing.

 

The following day off came the bikes again and we made our way to the Canal Du Midi. We decided to head to Agde a small city described in the guide book as one of the only notable ones along this coast. After a 13 km cycle there we arrived to find the place deathly quiet. Most of the shops were closed (this was on a Saturday morning) and the restaurants were mainly devoid of people. After a cycle around the sites of which the most notable was probably the round lock on the canal we found a restaurant on the river side with a reasonable plat du jour (menu of the day) 2 courses for 14 Euros. We made a good choice as the food was delicious me choosing Mussels su gratin and Paul goats cheese with honey and both of us opting for the fish main course (me Seabass and Paul Dorada).  The saying goes that you eat with your eyes and the presentation as well as the taste was superb. After a bottle of water, a beer coffees and a glass of wine though the 28 euro bill had crept up to 51 euro (it seemed they made their money back on the drinks). At least it felt like it was worth it though.

With full bellies we hopped back on our bikes and wobbled our way back to camp. We certainly didn’t need to eat again that day.

Cycle ride and Lunch Agde

The next day we were on the move again back inland and headed for another lake which happened to have a choice of 4 parking places. With sat nav programmed we drove for a couple of hours, our route taking us off the main trunk road around 5kms from our destination. After a short steep incline the road narrowed to what could only be described as a single track road only just about suitable for cars and certainly not suitable for a large 8ft wide, 25ft long vehicle like Boris, as we had no way of turning round though we just had to keep on going. With no lake in sight and a steep climb ahead of us we were beginning to get worried about the exact location of the aire. As Boris edged slowly down the lane with Paul at the helm and me physically breathing in in the passenger seat our fears were confirmed as our sat nav told us we had “reached our destination”. As we were on the brow of a hill with no lake in sight for miles around we clearly had reached a destination but not the one we thought we were heading to. With no option but to keep going we nervously carried on, hoping and praying we wouldn’t meet anything coming in the opposite direction. After 9.6 kms  we finally reached the end of the narrow lane and quickly re-programmed our sat nav for one of the other parking options. After 20 mins back in the direction we had come from that morning we were once again told to turn off the main road, where we found ourselves at a T Junction with only one choice of yet another tiny lane to follow to our destination. With the recent experience very fresh in our minds Paul quickly made a U turn and out came our maps for another choice of stopover. By this point we were hungry and getting more than a little fed up. By now we’d given up on the lake and found an aire on the edge of a village called Cavaliere (N44.008902 E3.152197). We arrived and found a barrier at the entrance, after about 15 mins we finally worked out that we had to pre-purchase a card (that we could then re-use at other barriered aires) from one machine using a credit card, then put the card into another machine to gain entry. Although the aire fee was only 9.60 with the card charge we paid 14.40 for our nights stay, but it did include electric and services.

After setting up, putting everything on charge and grabbing a late lunch, we went out for a walk to stretch our legs after our extended journey. The Village was pretty much closed up as it was a Sunday but there were still the old ramparts in the village centre which had been mainly restored and people were now living in the properties within the walls, several of which were for sale. I took a quick snapshot of one of the for sale boards and later researched how much it would cost to live in a house with so much history and the answer was E295,000. The property had been restored to a very high standard inside, although tempting, there was no way we would be able to park Boris in the narrow streets so along with the price that kind of confirmed that we had to rule it out!!!

Cavaliere

Cavaliere is only a short distance from the Milau viaduct a 2.5km bridge built in 2004 which is supported by 7 enormous pillars the tallest of which is an amazing 326 m high so with books and maps spread out we made our plans to head in that direction and beyond to the Tarn Gorge the following day.

Apologies for the delays in between our updates. As we have not been near many main towns we have limited access to wifi, but will keep the updates coming when we can.

Love Andi & Paul

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Mel says:

    The pics look amazing and you sound so relaxed and happy. So glad you are both safe and well. Did try and text back this morning but it failed for some reason. Love to you both from family t xxxx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Family T,
      We perhaps didn’t have any signal when you tried or maybe the network was busy because of what happened in Nice. We are loving it – why wouldn’t we . Weather is perfect. We have Shona visiting this wknd, she’s flying into Nice but we’re meeting her in Antibes.
      All our love

      A&P xxxx

      Like

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