January began in Germany, in Wiehl (pronounced veal) to be precise, spending a great couple of weeks with Juergen & Lisa’s sister. During our stay, we had plenty of walks in the countryside and more saunas than in the previous 12 months!
Shortly after my birthday (12th January if you want to send presents), we left Wiehl and headed South, leaving a few days before a massive snowfall and high winds brought northern Germany to standstill. We wound our way down south, past Koblenz, through Luxembourg followed by the Jura region of France which is close to the Swiss border. South of Lyon, the Mediterranean slowly appeared as olive trees, palm trees, soft fruit trees and vineyards were becoming more abundant. The weather was also improving and we were feeling distinctly warmer in the sun.
We braved the city of Marseille and it’s horrendous road infrastructure! Next destination was Le Beausset, where we spent time with Lisa’s friends Penny and John. We had a wonderful time helping them in the garden, building bonfires and pruning olive trees. The weather was kind and we ate lunch on the terrace, which has magnificent views towards the valley below and the limestone cliffs in the distance. Afterwards, we went to Sommieres and Boissieres a really interesting medieval village where we met up with Jo and Gaeton, some more of Lisa’s friends! We then headed to the Carmargue and the weather turned colder, more dreary and windier. It was in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, we encountered more severe winds causing us for the first time to move in the middle of the night because we felt so uncomfortable and very little sleep was had, not to mention, Lisa was having a panic attack!
By the end of January, we had settled into a pattern of starting out mid-morning, buying a baguette, stopping for lunch about 1pm and then finding our next place to stay before nightfall. We continued travelling very slowly towards Spain, with each day’s journey becoming shorter and shorter. Our last town before the Spanish border was Le Boulou, where we spent a quiet night opposite the local cemetery. Au revoir France, Ola Spain!
Narbonne has an incredibly huge sandy beach which Archie loved. We parked in an Aire which was closed but as access to beach was so close, we decided to stay here for a couple of nights.
On our second day we cycled into Gruissan using a cycle path which was an 18km round trip! Archie came too all tucked up in his cycle basket on the back of Carlos’s bike. We parked up and walked through the town where once again there was a medieval building a tower ‘Barberousse’.
There was an incredible church ‘Our Lady of the Assumption‘ next to the tower which dates back to the 13th Century, dedicated to the fishermen and is well worth a visit.
We moved to an Aire in Gruissan very close to several marinas which was free and had all the facilities we needed (grey water disposal, drinking water and a chemical dump!) so we stayed here for two nights. It was here we got van envy when the guy next door rocked up in a Morello, it was over 9m long and he even had a huge herb bowl at the front of his van…..they start at £180,000!
Our other neighbours had a cat which they walked on a lead. We have noticed, most MH’s usually have a dog or two but a cat….if you look carefully at the third image, you can just about see the black & white cat.
Gruissan is a very pretty town and boasts 5 marinas! The countryside surrounding it, is marshy and we saw more flamingos wading in the water.
Today we visited my friends Jo & Gaeton. I first met Jo in 1998 when I was on holiday with Penny in Bandol. Jo a singer, was performing in one of the many bars which line the promenade of Bandol. Penny & I had had one too many wines and duly introduced ourselves to Jo, giving him a red rose as a token of our affection! He still remembers the occasion! Since then, we have become good friends, spending holidays together and many wonderful evenings. I always enjoyed Jo’s performances which include lots of dancing however, poor Jo has fallen off the stage and broken 3 bones in his foot….it’s the first time in 25 years he will not be able to perform for at least 2 months. His stage name is Joseph Pepino and you can hear him sing on this link.
Jo & his partner, Gaeton, live in a village called, Boissieres, an area not far from Nimes. Their house is 1450 years old and is an incredible building. They live on the upper floor and have beautiful views far across the valley and to the hills in the distance. A circular tower is still evident in the building which Jo explained would have been much taller, however, during the French revolution when the aristocracy were being beheaded, they also cut down the height on towers of noblemen’s houses, as a tall tower indicated wealth. Stone staircases led to many different levels and they have several terraces to sit and relax depending on the direction of the sun. A sunken pool in a stone courtyard reminded me of Riad’s in Morocco. It was a very interesting property and I loved it.
Gaeton cooked a delicious lunch and afterwards we took the dogs for a walk on a beautiful sunny day in the surrounding countryside.
Gaeton is committed to preserving the authenticity of the village and has been instrumental in creating helpful information for people visiting the village. It was his idea to stencil the ‘wild boar’ motifs on pavements indicating a route to follow around the village. Signs can be found written in both French & English on those sites of interest.
We arrived in Sommieres at 5.30 in the morning after leaving Sainte-Maries-de-la-Mer in the driving rain and howling winds. It’s always difficult to arrive in the dark but could you believe it, we got stuck behind the dustbin men in very narrow streets who took forever to crawl up the street emptying bins! This was all we needed at this time of the morning after a sleepless night!
Eventually, we found our next parking spot, a municipal carpark very close to the centre of town and the very swollen river! Finally to bed in a sheltered location.
When we awoke the next morning, it was to more pouring rain which was forecast to continue all day, so I decided that today would be a PJ day! The first since leaving the UK last September.
27 January and finally the sun was shining and the rain had stopped! Time to explore. There was an antique market with many stalls and equally, lots of fascinating objects.
We found a wonderful food market too and in addition to our purchases of daily bread, olives and tomatoes, we bought a special cake called ‘La Galette des Rois’, which is the French King Cake. This cake appears at the beginning of January and its roots can be traced back to the Roman Empire. A tiny king is hidden inside the cake and whoever finds the king, is king for the day. This was our gift for our friends Jo & Gaeton who we were visiting the next day.
Sommieres is a wonderful medieval town on the river Vidourle, which was extremely high due to an abundance of rainfall and is an area prone to flooding. The bridge was built during the Roman era and is impressive even though only 7 arches are still visable. Originally, there were 21 arches and the bridge would have supported houses and businesses on the top.
Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is a small costal town in the region of the Carmargue and in summer, it must be a wonderful holiday destination but at this time of year, nothing much is happening and most of the town is shut down. The region of the Carmargue is famous for wild horses, of which we saw quite a few but all, we noticed, were branded. So much for being wild! A very flat marshy area, the Carmargue is not an area of France I had visited before, so I was interested to see this infamous area of France, which I so often, have driven right by.
The free Aire at the edge of the village, looked a bit dodgy, so we found another Aire right next to a huge sandy beach, where there were a few other vans parked, including one other Brit! Our first encounter since leaving England. We had a brief chat about whether parking was free or would we be charged €13 for the night as stated on the sign, which we thought was expensive, but as there was no one to collect the fee, we decided to take our chance and stay the night. Mistake….first thing in the morning, a knock on the door asking for payment. Oh well, you can’t win them all I guess.
Archie enjoyed romping on the sandy beach and I was happy to beach comb for shells and sea glass. Carlos created a fantastic sculpture from driftwood…it lasted all of 2 minutes before Archie knocked it down.
The weather was still very windy and we decided to move to a free spot where we could watch the flamingo’s wading in the shallow waters. It felt very wild and remote but this was our spot for the night. The winds were gusting at 70mph and as darkness fell, the winds seemed to increase and the rain started to lash down. However, as we had already braved storm ‘Brian’, we thought we would be okay. Not so….the van was swaying and rocking with such force as the wind was gusting and the rain was pouring. We tried to sleep but at 4am, we had to admit defeat and move on. Sommieres was our next destination so we headed inland and hopefully somewhere more sheltered.