Week 2 – Day 8 – Monday 7th January 2019
Dreux to Lac de Saint-Pardoux – 226 miles – 27.3 mpg – 45 mph
A grey cold morning greeted us and thankfully the Alde heating system is superb and keeping us warm. The thing you have to bear in mind about being in this part of the world is the time difference of an hour ahead of the UK. This means that is pitch black outside until after 9 o’clock in the morning, hardly conducive to getting out of bed, especially when there is no great rush to get on the road.
After breakfast we serviced the van and headed off southwards. At the last roundabout in Dreux there was a ‘gilet jeaune’ encampment but it was manned only by a family and I exchanged a thumbs up to them and continued on my merry way.
This part of France is new to us and the scenery is a flat agricultural landscape as far as the eye can see. I use google maps on my phone to navigate as I much prefer it to the Tom Tom one built in to Bessie and I have it set to ‘no tolls’. The consequence of this is we can be happily driving down a motorway when ‘she’ tells me to take the next junction and then proceeds to take us on smaller roads through little towns and villages showing us the real France. The reason for the deviation is to avoid the toll booths and we are directed back on to the motorway after the toll section.
We stopped for lunch in the car park of a large E Leclerc supermarket at Bois which looked a very pretty old town on the banks of the river Loire. It was here we saw the first serious number of ‘gilet jaunes’ at a roundabout, but again friendly waves saw everyone carry on without any hold ups. It is the law in France to carry yellow high viz jacket in your vehicle in case of a breakdown or accident and it is noticable that a high proportion of cars, vans and lorries have then on their dashboard to show support for the protest against Macron.
It was getting dark when we found our planned stopover for tonight, a car park on the edge of a very pretty lake in the Limoges area, Lac de Saint-Pardoux, just off the A20. Having driven for about five hours south it was even colder here than in Dreux due to a freezing mist.
Week 2 – Day 9 – Tuesday 8th January 2019
Lac de Saint-Pardoux to Cahors 123 miles – 25.1 mpg – 44 mph
The mist and drizzle were still here in the morning and it looked a miserable day for driving and so it turned out. In the daylight we could see how pretty a spot this is and we had a very quite night with hardly any traffic on the road behind us. The only noise that could be heard were, we thought, two owls toowit towooing to each other for hours on end.
We set off just after ten o’clock heading for Cahors on the banks of the river Lot, a wide river that is spanned by an impressive medieval bridge.
To get here we rejoined the A920 dual carriagewy and were delighted when the satnav told me to keep on this road for 76kms, more than half the journey. The French roads are much quieter and better surfaced than ours tend to be. As an aide memoir for ourselves and for any readers thinking of following in our tyre tracks I like to describe the scenery we pass through but not today I’m afraid. It was a pea souper most of the way with rain occasionally. The satnav took us off the dual carraigeway just before the toll booths for a toll section of motorway and we travelled on about 60km of normal roads over some verry hilly terraine but it was like driving through a white tunnel, nothing could be seen further than the hedgerows.
It is never a good idea to form an opinion of a place if it is cold, misty, and drizzling but Cahors was impressive despite the unfavourable weather with its fair share of medieval buildings in the historic quarter. Cahors may be familiar to you if enjoy French wine as this area is renowned for red wine in particular.
I follow another touring couple on Instagram and they posted some pictures today from the Benidorm area and there were clear blue skies so I hope it stays like that until we arrive in El Campello next week. Tomorrow we are heading for another major tourist attraction and as ever it will be a huge surprise for The Navigator!
Week 2 – Day 10 – Wednesday 9th January 2019
Cahors to Carcassone – 127 miles – 24.0 mpg – 35 mph
‘What’s a cockerel doing cockadoodling at 2am?’ The Navigator asked me at 2am this morning.
I thought a better question might have been, ‘what’s a Navigator doing wakening me at 2am to ask me ‘what’s a cockerel doing cockadoodling at 2am?’ But apparently, it had woken me too, although I thought I was fast asleep at the time and never heard the cockadoodling. I could now as I was wide awake!
Another grey dull looking day looked to be in store when the blinds were opened this morning. We were on the road quite early, topped up with some provisions at Lidl on the way out of Cahors and set course for Carcassonne, which if you have never heard of it, is meant to be the most popular and most visited castle in France.
The drive took about three hours with a couple of stops along the way to take some photographs and then stop for lunch at a picnic spot. The weather brightened up around 11am and we could actually see the countryside today, there was no freezing fog or mist at all. The temperature climbed to all of 44 degrees fairly quickly from the mid 30s of Cahors. The route was to be all on normal D roads today, no dual carriageway driving at all.
It was up hill and down dale all the way with some big climbs at times. One climb took us to a spot overlooking the town of Lautrec and I managed to pull over to take a picture of the impressive view, and give Bessie a rest. As we were not a million miles from the major city of Toulouse and we were overlooking Lautrec, The Navigator speculated that the famous French artist, Toulouse Lautrec may have been born here, but a quick google disproved that theory, however plausible it may have been. He was actually born, Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa in 1864 at Albi which is 30 miles north of Lautrec. Close, but no coconut for The Navigator.
After descending the hills around Lautrec the scenery flattened out with long lines of tall tree avenues a striking feature. The other noticeable feature was a stronger ‘gilet jaune’ presence at some of the bigger roundabouts with permanent looking huts in place and loads of pallets to burn in their braziers. The strength of feeling against Macron is there to see with placards at roadsides and those not actually standing at these makeshift demonstration points showing their support for the cause by putting their yellow high-viz vests of the dashboard of their cars, vans and lorries.
Thankfully we were not held up by them and continued merrily on our way. The most spectacular part of the drive was the final third or so between Marmizon and Carcassonne as the road climbs from a valley floor up and over some huge hills/small mountains and it was on this part of the drive we had our picnic.
For about half an hour or so we drove along the top of a ridge of hills and an interesting thing was seeing signs to watch out for wild boar, as well as deer. Carcassonne was reached at about 2 o’clock and we found the Aire we were heading for, the one within walking distance of the castle and old city centre. On one of the motorhome sites an Italian had posted that the site was closed until April and when we arrived there were no vans there, it was deserted. I was unsure what to do as there were no signs up to say it was closed and the automatic entry system was on but the fact remained it was deserted and this was the closest Aire to the attractions. Eventually someone came out of the next door campsite to say it was open and we could go in. When I asked him why it was deserted he wrapped his arms around himself and said ‘too cold.’ I said we were from Scotland and used to it and he laughed at that.
After he wandered away again there was another dilemma to resolve. There were two barriers and a sign said the maximum length of van was 8 metres and Bessie is 8.11 metres. I chanced it and we made it in okay. After servicing the van and parking up it was 2.45pm so we decided to have a walk into Carcassonne to have a quick look round and get our bearings for tomorrows actual visit. And lovely it was too. As we are going to the castle tomorrow we crossed the medieval bridge and had a walk round the old city centre where I lashed out on a €1 bag of lavender!
It was chilly walking about as the sun went down and around 5 o’clock it started to rain and it turned into a cold wet walk back to the van where we found another two vans had joined us, one a fellow Brit one French, and later by a Spanish registered van and therein lies a tale, explained tomorrow. Its up and away sharpish in the morning to walk in to visit the castle and be back to be off the site for 2.30pm as I think we will have seen most of what we want to see and there is no point paying €15 for another night, especially as there is no electric hook up.
Week 2 – Day 11 – Thursday 10th January 2019
Carcassonne to Argeles sur Mer – 209 miles – 24.8 mpg – 36 mph
The sky was not as leaden grey today, and, believe it or not there were flashes of blue in the sky. Quelle surprise! We set off for the Cite, the impressive castle that dominates the skyline of the city and the surrounding countryside.
You can see our pictures and read all about our visit to the Cite on the post – ‘you can travel in a land of marvels – Carcassonne’ HERE.
We were moving on today so after our half hour walk back to Bessie we had lunch and prepared to move off. There is always a routine to this and although we have a check list, what we each have to do comes naturally now. I was sitting in the driver’s seat waiting for The Navigator to finish checking everything was stowed away when the couple in the Spanish registered van next to us walked back to their van. A minute later the woman walked towards us and round to my door. My Spanish is non existant and unless she spoke English this conversation was going to be short and one sided!
As it happens it turned into an interesting twenty minute conversation with Ali, a fellow Brit who came to chat as she knew who we were from this blog. My phone and our Huawei mifi device give off a wifi signal when we tether to our tablets and my laptop and anyone within range sees ‘manvannoplan’ in the list of available wifi signals, but of course they can’t login to ours as it’s password protected.
Ali told us about their travels, eighteen months so far and as far north as Norway which impressed me as I have a bit of a notion to head there one day too. They too had been in visiting the city and the castle but our paths were now going in different directions. Where we were now heading down the Med coast to the Alicante area for some winter sunshine (hopefully), they were killing some time before heading in the opposite direction to the French Alps for some skiing as soon as the snow arrives, which can’t be that far away if the bitterly cold winds are any indication.
The Spanish registered motorhome mystery was solved when she told us they used to live in Gibralter, and now Spain, and it was easier to buy a left hand drive van as their travels were going to be in Europe. It would have been interesting to spend more time swapping travel tales but we had to be out through the barrier before 2.29pm, the time we came in yesterday, or we would be charged €15 for another day.
We were heading for Argeles sur Mer, a seaside resort with a fabulous long beach. It is popular with French and Spanish holiday makers and there are few foreign tourists as (I think) Ryanair are the only budget airline to fly into nearby Perpignan. Carcassonne was windy, cold and overcast as we left but over the course of the two and a bit hour drive south east everything changed, apart from the cold wind.
The scenery changed, the buildings changed, the vegetation changed, blue skies appeared and the outside temperature rose from 38 degrees to 45, not what we want, but a welcome change from the last cloudy, cold week. Once we hit the coast road we knew where we were as we had travelled in the opposite direction three years ago on our first long trip. We found the Pass’ Etapes Aire, plugged in to the power, put the heating on and settled down for the evening with only two other vans for company.
Week 2 – Day 12 – Friday 11th January 2019
Argeles sur Mer – 0 miles – 0 mpg – 0 mph
It has been a busy week so far and we are now on the Mediterranean coast at Argeles sur Mer, our last stop before the Spanish border. We are on time and although we have tweaked our route a little, we are where I though we would be today. When we were here the last time we enjoyed cycling along the esplanade round the bay towards the marina and had wanted to do the same again, but thought better of it, as, although bright and sunny, the bitterly cold wind was still there so we relaxed and had a lazy day after a few chores in the morning.
Week 2 – Day 13 – Saturday 12th January 2019
Argeles sur Mer to Pineda del Mar – 94 miles – 25.4 mpg – 33 mph
The route we were taking today was a familiar one to us as we had driven the reverse route three years ago as we left Spain and entered France. Just as we were getting ready to leave our neighbours for the night, and fellow Brits, Dean and Angela (www.deanandangela.co.uk) came out of their van for a chat. They work for six months in the UK then tour in their van for six months in the winter months which seems a very civilised way of living to me. We had a lovely long chat with them but had to drag ourselves away as lunch was beckoning, so we serviced the van and set off heading for the Spanish border 45 minutes away.
I say set off but to be honest we had issues with the exit barrier which held us up a bit. The Pass’ Etapes system takes a bit of getting used to initially but we are old hands at it and find it straightforward to use. Until today!
The very first time you visit one of their sites you pay €4 for a ‘carte d’accés au réseau’ which you then add money to from your credit card. I had about €6 on the card and added another €11 which is the minimum amount so we had enough to pay for our overnight fee of €12. Simples!
The Navigator is then tasked with swiping the card at the machine as its at the passenger side after which I drive through the barrier. What could possibly go wrong? Well something did, as the barrier refused to lift, not even when I revved up to signal to The Navigator to stop faffing about and raise the barrier. No joy, so I went out and I tried swiping the card in all directions but it refused to budge. It was then that The Navigator noticed a little message on the screen that we understood to mean we had insufficient funds on our card so I added another €11 and lo and behold the barrier now lifted.
We were blaming the French and their archaic system before it dawned on us that we had been here two nights so should have added €24 to the card! What’s a lost half hour when you’re having fun eh?
We then proceeded to La Jonquera and the French / Spanish border which is something to behold.
There is a village on the French side which has shops of all sizes selling mostly cheap booze, cigarettes and perfume but we did not stop as it is difficult to park a motorhome on this side of the border, instead heading for the Spanish side which is on a massive scale compared with the French side.
As well as the above mentioned goods on sale in France, in Spain the fuel is much cheaper and we filled up at €1.12 a litre, exactly one British pound. We saw it later in the afternoon for €1.06!
Also on the Spanish side are huge all you can eat buffets and we stopped at the mall and ate at the same one as three years ago. It was €17 which I thought was a bit steep but we went in anyway. The seating area is about the size of a of a football pitch and there is enough food on display to feed the crowd at a football match! I overate on meat and The Navigator overate on fish and seafood, then cheese and puddings.
We did not eat a morsel of food until breakfast the next morning. The place was packed with French people making a day of it filling up their tanks with cheap fuel and themselves with all the food they could eat. The non drivers could also have as much wine or beer they could drink as well.
Most heavy goods vehicles over 7.5 tonnes are banned from the French road and motorway network every weekend between 10pm on a Saturday and 10pm on a Sunday and although it was Saturday afternoon there were seemingly hundreds, if not thousands of trucks parked up here which added to the spectacle of the place.
We were heading for the coast and a beach-side stopover at Blanes but it was closed when we got there so we travelled on another few kilometres to Pineda de Mar where we found an Aire a block back from the beach. Not the best, but okay for one night, even though I had to drive up a one-way street the wrong way to find the entrance!
The beach at Pineda de Mar was another cracker and the Aire is only a hundred yards from it, accessed by an underpass for the coastal railway which runs through all these resorts into Barcelona.
Week 2 – Day 14 – Sunday 13th January 2019
Pineda de Mar to Creixell – 103 miles – 25.7 mpg – 35 mph
Either by great planning or sheer good fortune, today’s drive was taking us around Barcelona on a Sunday when the roads would be much quieter than a week day and so it proved. As ever the coordinates of our destination are entered into Google Maps and off we go. Now, usually if I take a wrong turning it is The Navigator’s fault, either human or satnav, as that is their mission in life, to keep me on the straight and narrow.
My Google satnav started this leg badly and was told so. Instead of heading south we headed seven miles northwards and on a bit of toll road as well costing all of €1.16. Now you may think I’m being stingy avoiding toll roads but if you had to sit beside The Navigator (human) and see the blind look of panic on her face as we approach a toll booth you would see why I choose to avoid them!
We were almost back in Girona when we headed left and up into the hills before eventually getting on the N2 southwards which would take us round Barcelona, a good bit away on our left. It was an interesting drive especially after we cleared Barcelona and climbed up into the hills and into wine country. In hindsight I could see why the Navigator (satnav) took us this way and all was forgiven. We headed for an Aire called Area 340 just off the main road in Creixell but due to another navigational misunderstanding I ended up going down a one way street the wrong way again for the second day in a row!
The site is well laid out under mature pine trees and fortunately was not that busy which allowed Bessie to drive straight on to a pitch on the front row. Maybe in the summer when it is busy an 8 metre van would find it difficult to get onto a pitch but I would give it a go as it is only 200 yards from a beautiful sandy beach accessed by an underpass for the coastal rail way into Barcelona. At €8, or €12 with electricity it is good value and is noted for a future visit.
PS – Did you notice my shorts were on for the first time…
Week 2 – Day 15 – Monday 14th January 2019
Creixell to A Nuclear Power Plant – 40 miles – 22.3 mpg – 35 mph
Today was meant to be an easy day with a two hour drive planned to a coastal resort north of Valencia and this would put us within another two hour drive to our ultimate destination, El Campello. Things started well as I managed to go down the one way street the correct way, I had to this time as there was a police car lurking at the top of the street, maybe tipped off that there was a British motorhome that constantly flouted the Spanish one way system about to leave the site.
The satnav took us on to the A7, the Autovia del Mediterraneo which runs for 1,300 km from La Jonquera at the Spanish / French border to Algerciras near Gibraltar and is free all the way, and mostly dual carriageway. Fantastic I thought as we joined from the sliproad, an easy drive today. Little did I realise the horrors that lay ahead!
The sky was blue, the sun was shining and it was warm, shorts and t-shirt warm, The Navigator even venturing out without her thermal vest. We could see the deep blue of the Med about three or four miles away to our left and the mountains slightly further away to our right and the road had little traffic on it, and we would soon find out why.
I should at this point say, for those that don’t know me that from my early days from being a Boy Rep to Sales Manager / Director I averaged about 50,000 miles a year, but never dear reader, have I driven in such conditions! Out of nowhere a gale got up and hit us broadside on from the right. At this point the road is new and mostly elevated dual carriageway and Bessie took a battering on her 8 metre expanse and I was having real difficulty keeping her going in a straight line. There were numerous times when I thought we were going to tip over and when I saw the van in the following picture which had obviously been blown over earlier, I knew I had to get off at the next junction but sods law determined that there wasn’t a junction for miles.
Eventually one appeared and we got off and onto a normal road where we found shelter on an old disused road where we hunkered down, still being shaken about but nowhere near as badly as on the dual carriageway. There is a nuclear power station about a mile away and as long as it doesn’t do a Chernobyl during the night, we will live to tell the tale!
Week 2 – Day 16 – Tuesday 15th January 2019
A Nuclear Power Plant to El Campello – 263 miles – 27.1 mpg – 47 mph
We lived to tell the tale and at 4am I woke and although still windy, it was nothing like it was last night so I stirred The Navigator and we set off on the road again heading for El Campello, almost five hours away. It was obviously pitch black and the road was deserted so we made good time. One of the benefits of leaving this early was that we bypassed the two major cities of Castellon (home of Villarreal) and Valencia. Last year we stayed in Valencia and went down the coast road, staying at Denia, Calp and Benidorm as well as visiting Moraira but this year we followed the satnav which took us inland into the mountains on a really lovely drive which brought us past El Campello and onto the Alicante ring road before doubling back to our destination. In El Campello we went straight to an Aldi to stock up on a few things then on to the Repsol garage at the north end of the town to fill up the LPG tanks and give Bessie a jet wash to take the worst of the two weeks of dirt off her. We then headed to a place we knew to park up and have lunch.
Last year there were loads of vans parked up at this spot beside a dried up river bed but there are now signs up forbidding motorhome wildcamping. Whether it’s our age or just forgetfulness, we thought we were booked onto our campsite from tomorrow but after phoning them to see if we could get on a day early I was told that the booking was from today, so after lunch we headed the few miles to Camping El Jardin, our home for the next sixty days.
Last year we were on the very furthest away pitch from the entrance and this year we are on one of the nearest ones. The pitches take a lot of manoeuvring to get on to as the road is not that wide and there are trees in some really awkward places but the Navigator and our new Belgian neighbour Kurt, expertly guided me back on to our pitch.
The afternoon was spent setting ourselves up for the next two months as a motorhome at rest is a different beast to one that is moving every few days. The bikes, table and chairs can come out of the garage and The Navigator sets up the kitchen area differently as well. I plugged into the electricity and filled up the water from the tap on the pitch and we called it a day at that.
There were so many faces we recognised from last year, but it was trying to remember who got a Hola, Bonjour or Guten Tag. There were two couples from Blighty here this year again on their usual pitches, Tony and Linda from the Midlands and Alan and Ann from Wales and it was good to catch up with them again.
The Navigator went downhill after dinner and was in bed at 7.30 as she is not one who copes well out of her normal routine, and after the traumatic drive yesterday and a 4am start this morning, she was knackered!
Week 2 – Day 17 – Wednesday 16th January 2019
El Campello – 0 miles – 0 mpg – 0 mph
Refreshed and rejuvenated after a good night’s sleep we got up and got on with a few fairly urgent tasks, me to wash the van properly and The Navigator to catch up with 2 weeks worth of laundry.
In the afternoon we could not resist a cycle round to Mercadona to get a few of our favourite things we liked from last year and after we returned we sat out in the sunshine as it was almost 70 degrees.
Later on we had a walk around the site and counted 16 British registered outfits, mostly motorhomes but two or three caravans as well. We caught up with Tony and Linda and our neighbours from last year, Mia and her husband from Belgium who are here for another eight month stay.
Week 2 – Day 18 – Thursday 17th January 2019
El Campello – 0 miles – 0 mpg – 0 mph
A woman’s work is never done I’m reliably informed so there was more laundry to be tackled today and I finished the Carcassonne blog uploaded.
Today was not quite as good as yesterday as it was a bit overcast. I am still in t-shirt and shorts but the Spanish site maintenance guys are wrapped up as if they are about to set off on an Arctic expedition. To a Spaniard its cold and to a Scotsman its warm, although The Navigator has added a cardigan to her ensemble today. We did not do much today and stayed in the van most of the day but on one of the rare occasions we ventured out we spoke to Melanie who was passing taking Dexter for a walk, her dog, not her husband. She invited us for drinks on their pitch tomorrow afternoon as they were leaving on Saturday to move on elsewhere.
Week 2 – Day 19 – Friday 18th January 2019
El Campello – 0 miles – 0 mpg – 0 mph
Just before lunch Garry and Carol from Cotgrave near Nottingham, not a million miles from where we used to live in the East Midlands, came to visit us as they are fellow Swift owners and almost bought the exact same model as us before plumping for a Swift Kontiki, the top of the range model, but more or less the same internal layout as ours but with a lot more bells and whistles. We spent a good hour chatting to them, comparing notes on each other’s bells, whistles and faults!
They are friends with Melanie and Derek and were there for drinks and nibbles in the afternoon along with the aforementioned Tony / Linda and we spent a very pleasant afternoon in their company.
But our day didn’t end there. Our Welsh chums, Alan and Ann had organised a night out at The Star of India Indian restaurant in El Campello and we joined them, Garry / Carol and Alan / Helen for a great meal followed by a nightcap at a bar not too far from the campsite where we had 6 drinks including a triple brandy and a triple Baileys (The Navigator) for the grand total of €13. Alan and Helen were here at the same time as us last year but they flew home to be with their family over Christmas and New Year so we hardly saw them. Helen lived the first part of her life in Glasgow but had lived in the Liverpool area for almost forty years and her Glaswegian accent became stronger as the night wore on talking to us!
Week 2 – Day 20 – Saturday 19th January 2019
El Campello – 0 miles – 0 mpg – 0 mph
Not surprisingly after last night, we did not surface until after nine o’clock and we had a lazy day sitting out and only venturing to Mercadona again for a few things as the shops are closed all day on a Sunday.
Week 2 – Day 21 – Sunday 20th January 2019
El Campello – 0 miles – 0 mpg – 0 mph
Not the best of days as it was cloudy and therefore wasn’t as warm as it has been. The tradition here on a Sunday is to walk round to the little market behind the campsite for our week’s worth of fruit and veg and that was the highlight of our day today. One of the bargains to be had is, not surprisingly, oranges, and I bagged 5 kilos for €2.50 (£2.20).
When I look back over these last two weeks we have crammed in a lot into it and although France was freezing cold we loved every minute of it – the country is a paradise for motorhomes but it was cold. No onder most motorhomes pass through heading for the warmer weather of Spain and Portugal. Now that we are settled in Spain the temperature has risen considerably and it is no wonder most of the campsites are full of oldies like us from northern Europe, Brits, Germans, Dutch, Belgians and French, with a few Swiss for good measure.
The above map shows the overnight stopovers we had over the last two weeks. You can expand the map by clicking on the + in the bottom left corner.
This will be the last blog post for a while as we settle into our routine relaxing and not doing a lot. There will hardly be enough to keep you entertained, so that’s it for now.
The next blog post will be shortly after the 20th of February as we are doing something very special that day, enjoying our surprise Christmas present from our daughters. I won’t spoil the surprise for you but will say it is a day out and an activity, so look out for news of that in late February.
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