France 2 The Sequel – “You Had Me at Chateau”

We’d finally left the Med and were heading inland to Aix-en-Provence hoping we’d not left it too late for the weather. It was getting harder to find campsites open as we were well and truly out of season now, so since there were no useful looking aires in Aix we picked an open campsite from ACSI which had a bus into town. We picked the site for a base for a daytrip but it turned out to have a lovely sleepy French campsite vibe. It also happened to be right next to really interesting countryside with loads going on, all in the shadow of Cezanne’s favourite subject, Mont Sainte-Victoire.

We had our daytrip to Aix, which was nice, as the last time Jayne and I visited was about ten years ago. In our eagerness we’d not planned anything specific and town visits without an activity have started to feel a bit empty to us these days. I think there were galleries we should have taken to kids to but we wandered and it was all a little unfulfilling. It didn’t help that I’d been feeling pretty rough for a few days and was suffering. When you’re travelling together and relying on each other all the time, it’s really obvious when someone’s “not right” and it was my turn for definite!

Daddy’s new theory is tested. Fountains are either things been sick (mostly) or things blowing…this one…Aidan for scale.

One good thing was that we bought the kids a chess set. They had been keen on getting chess for some reason and chose it from the shelf of assorted games! It felt too good to be true so we set ourselves up for various bouts of clarifying “No….that can only move diagonally” and “No…pawns can only do that on their first go” etc. etc….

“No Anna that’s not checkmate…oh…wait…hang on?!?!?”

We left the campsite relaxed and wondering if we should’ve been there longer, but we were again scared of the weather going downhill (SPOILER : it never did really!). We decided to go for a walk up one of the nearby hills and then head to the Luberon (not a robot film bad guy, just a nice bit of Provence…who knew!) as recommended by a nice Danish lady on Pampelonne beach.

Look at those rugged wanderers…it’s like a Cezanne painting (not his best!)
Photo taken from my resting/lounging place as the kids played on all these exposed roots and branches.

The Luberon is a big national park of villages and countryside, north of Aix and east of Avignon. Famous for being the setting of “A Year in Provence” and “A Good Year”. Jayne also spotted that it had another bikepath from an old railway…this is our kinda place! We hadn’t really got a plan as such and just headed for a free stop in a village called Lacoste (nothing to do with 80s polos sadly!) which seemed to be the right driving distance. It turned out to be this crazy old village topped by a chateau that had been the Marquis de Sade’s and was now Pierre Cardin’s (It’s used for concerts and the like now…nowhere near as debauched!). We had a bit of a night time walk up through the really really quiet village up to the top and the only people we saw were a few American students that were there for the art college…that was it…can you imagine travelling from the US to some tiny hillside village in Provence for college…bizzare!

HUG! My favourite sculpture ever…right at the top of Lacoste…in a carpark next to the chateau.

The next day we moved to another free carpark stop in Bonnieux there were a few things that happened in Bonnieux, first of all we had a lovely day. Lacoste had nothing other than beautiful old buildings and a few American teenagers. Bonnieux was a very French village with the usual stuff, and luckily we arrived on market day so saw the best of it. We ambled around bought a few bits and pieces..including some very expensive (but incredibly nice) nougat…and for the main event…what could be more French than a visit to a bread museum (yes…i’m not sure what we were thinking either!). Well, what could make it more French would be the lady opening it (after the long lunch break) telling me they would be opening ten minutes late, and then walking out and standing next to me to smoke for ten minutes before opening…awesome. A great day had, and a brilliant free place to park, just near the centre in a carpark right next to the church. Some days being in a motorhome just can’t compare, as you can be right in the middle of it all for nothing or at least next to nothing and then drive away when you feel like it.

Watch out for the paps!

For all that positivity there were a few negatives bubbling away, the first was that we had admitted to ourselves that our fridge wasn’t working on gas at all anymore. This was a problem as at these free stops we had no electricity, not good, especially as I have injections (long boring story) that need to be kept cold, really not good. Our plan was to throw money at it rather than derail ourselves for a repair. So we’d buy a 12v coolbox for the essentials and my jabs. Hopefully with the double leisure batteries and solar panel we’d be tickety boo. Sorted…kinda.

The other negative was that although physically I was feeling better I’d been feeling “clinically fed up” about the rest of the trip. I think it was a combination of realising that we were onto the last bit of the trip, that we didn’t really have a plan, that we had to start thinking about ferries home and places to live and all the rest of it, autumn, cold, empty towns and villages with closed shops. Obviously this is deeply deeply self involved stuff as I’m on a massive holiday but it was really stopping us planning past Avignon as it was all feeling a bit much. Luckily Jayne is a good Matt tamer/shrink and all that it really took was for us to make a more long term plan for our remaining time. Once we’d done that things felt a bit better, we also started to work on the stuff we needed to sort for our return to the UK. It seems silly but for months we’d been able to ignore all but the next few days and it had been great, but we’d got to the point we needed to face reality again.

The Plan : Head down into Spain and try and get as far a Valencia, then up to San Sebastian and the Atlantic coast of France to the ferry at St Malo. Done. Onward. etc.

The next day we woke up in our carpark, bought bread (you have to…it’s France), and went off in search of the bike path Jayne had found. It was lovely, running along the middle of the Luberon’s flat bottom (stop smirking at the back) between vines and arable farms and all mostly level thanks to it being an old railway. Again Aidan managed an amazing 23km and even more amazingly so did his mum!!!

Another awesome converted railway line. Check the autumn vines changing colour.
It’s a hard life. I can’t even pretend I had any map reading to do when it’s a railway line!
Gurns and vines.

Our next stop (after shopping for a coolbox near Avignon) was Chateauneuf-de-Pape. Famous wine region, pretty village, and most importantly: a free place to park for the night. Right at the top of the village next to the remains of Chateau-de-Pape. The hotels must have been top dollar but here we were parked up watching the sun go down over the Rhone Valley for nowt (I promise I’ll stop sounding like a skin flint soon!). The next day we wandered about the village and picked up some wine (you have to…it’s France) and listened to the choir in the big church. Then up to the van for a cuppa before heading off.

Bursty-de-Pape. If you hadn’t figured by now, Bursty is the name of our van.
This view…..for free…. :O)
“Get off our land”

The next place we wanted to see was Pont du Gard, a big Roman Aqueduct west of Avignon. We’d decided to go for a campsite rather than continue the run of free stops (See, not always a skin flint!). We were hoping we could coax some life into the fridge with power and the kids could have some more space to play in. I found somewhere open and we headed off. The campsite turned out to be amazing. Right next to the river and 800m from THE PONT. It was in the trees and all the pitches were random shapes and sizes to fit around the woods. We moved three times before we settled on one we liked but once we got in (getting our van in was FUN!) we got the hammock out, the slackline out and fully OWNED that pitch!!!

An amazing place…far better than we’d thought it would be.
Aren’t they lovely…sometimes!!

We really settled into our little forest home and ended up staying four nights. We also found our first proper Geocache. After the slightly abortive attempt in Italy I’d almost forgotten about it but the fun we all had hunting about for this little container was a bit addictive. Over the next few days Aidan and I hunted down a few in the area and they led us to some amazing Roman aqueduct remains that we’d never have found otherwise. We started to get a bit hooked. Sadly Anna didn’t have as much fun, she had a bit of a sickness bug and her recovery was one of the reasons we stayed for the four nights, we wanted to give her plenty of time to get back to her usual shouty self ;O)

Look at that poise….majestic!
I hadn’t the heart to tell him that’s not how you do it!

Eventually we tore ourselves away from the woods and headed south with a quick stop in Narbonne and then to try and see the Narbonnaise Natural Park we went for a stop in Guisson. It was on a Marina, and windy! Everything was a bit dead as again we were well past the end of the season so we got up the next morning and headed south again for Spain….we were well and truly ready to chase the sun now!!!

They wore us down…and then kept winning more goes from the guy that ran it!
Daddy needs a hug some mornings…that’s just how it is!

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