The road from Le Boulou was very windy and began through green pine trees gaining height all the time towards the snow-line. Carlos was driving and I was enjoying the beautiful views of the snow capped mountains in the distance. The road I have since learnt, is classified as potentially dangerous, as some sections are more than 11% steep. However, todays driving conditions were good and there was not much traffic on the road. On reaching the summit of Col d’Ares at 1513m, we found a place to park for lunch and admire the view which is the photo at the top of the post.
Our next stop was a free Aire at Sant Joan de les Abadesses which we nicknamed, St Joan the Badass! Another deserted town with no-one around and it was freezing. The only building of interest was an extremely steep an angled bridge. One night was enough.
Our last stop in France before crossing the border into Spain or should I politically correctly state, Catalonia. A free parking spot opposite the local cemetery. I really thought we would be the only van on site but once again the place was filling up by the hour and by nightfall, it was full!
It comes as quite a shock to see so many other people travelling at this time of year and I cannot imagine what it must be like in the summer? The wind was still evident although the forecast predicted the weather would become calmer. We decided to take a detour through the Pyrenees the next day before heading south to Barcelona. Not to get too morbid, I did take Archie for a walk through the cemetery as historically they can be very interesting and as you can see, they use chambers in the wall to bury the dead.
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.