Tag Archives: countryside

Spain/France – Jonquera, Trouillas & the road to Limousin             

We sneaked away from the watery paradise of Empuriabrava back inland, with the idea of heading back to France. Our road leading out of Spain, the N11 north from Figueres, was lined with what appeared to be prostitutes, glamour girls in high heels and very little else, waving and bending over provocatively for the passing traffic.  There was one woman every 100 metres or so, each taking ownership of a junction or a scruffy parking lay-by.  Initially, we couldn’t decide if they were actually working this stretch of road, or if it was some sort of protest statement / art project*.   (* They were most definitely prostitutes, as I read later that this border town is the sleazy centre of the Spanish sex industry. )   Most had an eastern European look, some looking grumpy and bored, others over-enthusiastic.  It was certainly a strange and unexpected sight in the pre-lunch sunshine on Good Friday morning.  We couldn’t quite imagine the clientele they were expecting to draw in at this time of day, in such public surroundings, but there must be demand.

Trouillas - Olive farm shop

A few hours later we were in a very different setting, parked up in a friendly Olive Farm on the outskirts of Trouillas, near to Perpignan.  There were no gesticulating ladies of the day nearby, but instead a plethora of olive oil products to taste, products to browse and sunshine to enjoy.  The producer, Les Oliviers de la Canterrane, had a wonderful free aire and, after making a few tasty purchases, we settled in for an afternoon of lazy sun-worshipping.  The weather we had hoped for had finally arrived, just after we left Spain behind.  We were blissfully alone most of the day, but around 4pm a string of vans suddenly appeared, slowly bringing the Olive Farm visitors today up to eight strong.

Lautrec (walking route)

After a slow morning we said our goodbyes, heading north-west.  We followed the main road north to Narbonne and then took back roads, cutting through the gorgeous Haut-Languedoc Regional Nature Park.  The road was wide and clear, empty of other traffic and perfectly undulating for a combination of easy driving and beautiful views.  It didn’t hurt that the sun was back shining brightly and we settled in to fully enjoy the drive.  Looking around for pretty places to visit on our route, we settled on the village of Lautrec, north of Castres.  After a few tries we found a simple parking area suitable for motorhomes just outside the village walls (43.704847, 2.139952 ) and wandered up the cobbled streets to explore.  As is usual, we gravitated first to the stone church and the neat surrounding squares.

Lautrec (town view)

We were eventually drawn to the highest point, reaching the mound where the Moulin à vent de la Sallette sat.  We circled through their gardens, watching as the views over the countryside unfurled in front of us.  There was a table d’orientation on the top of the hill, pointing out landmarks as far back as the Pyrenees.  We stood a while and picked out the route we had taken to arrive here, both on road from Spain and on foot through the village.  The windmill was available for visits but we declined in favour of roaming their brightly flowering gardens.  We dropped back into the neat stone village and passed through the narrow streets, slowly making our way back to where Benny was parked.

Lautrec (nicky and windmill)

Lautrec (Nicky and town)

Labastide-Marnhac (aire)

In late afternoon we stopped at a small aire in Labastide-Marnhac, just short of Cahors.  This was to be our final stop before arriving back home.  The village was hosting a wedding at the local château and we could hear their announcements and music. On one occasion a long procession of tooting cars slowly passed, marking the happy couple either arriving or leaving.  Otherwise, it was entirely serene, the surrounding trees filled with bright blossom.  The only other notable occurrence was when a Belgium couple, fully settled in with the best corner site in the aire since before we arrived, packed up their awning and left around 8pm; to go where?  It seemed a strange call so late on.  But we enjoyed one last night of simplicity and quiet before returning to our long list of jobs to do at home.

A&N x

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Spain – Haro & La Rioja pueblos cycle

The weather was an uninviting grey, cold and windy, at first light.  In no hurry, we waited a few hours until the rising sun worked its magic on the thin clouds and removed the morning chill. On bikes we tried to leave Casalarreina on a marked, signed route, but as is often the case, the hardest part of any new trail is finding the start.  There were many signs in many directions, but none seemingly pointing the way of the correct route we wanted to follow.

Haro - (nicky cycles past vines)

Haro - (countryside cycle)

With a photo of the route map we ignored the finger posts and backed ourselves instead, and soon we were on empty gravel tracks, enclosed by red-green vines and feeling fully immersed in an ancient Spanish countryside. Dusty hillsides stood tall wrapped with patches of deep green foliage and below them wide fields varying from green to yellow to brown, depending on current use.  Neat rows of box vines, aflame with oranges and reds, lit up the flat, monotone landscape. Church bell towers stood tall, distinctive silhouettes on distant hillsides, helpfully marking each coming village on our chosen wine route cycle.

We passed through each small settlement in turn, circling their proud churches and making the local dogs bark manically. Zarratón, then Rodezno, then Ollauri to Gimileo.  Each village was strategically positioned on a natural, curved mound set above the flat plain, and each brought a warming, breath-stealing hill-climb up followed by a fun, sweeping descent back down the opposite side.

Haro - (tasting the grapes)

Haro - (vines and cut bunches)

Tiny black grapes hung in huge bunches from vines, them smaller than blueberries.  Most grapes had already been harvested, but some remained, whether left or missed.  We tasted a few, and they were sweeter than expected, tiny bursts of juice but with pips that were a quarter of the grape.  The route ahead was cut up in deep ridges and very steep in places, a portent for our upcoming run in similar terrain.

After 15km or so, we were approaching the main town of Haro.  Dating from 1040 CE, historic Haro is the capital of the La Rioja region.  It was scruffy on first approach, sprawling and flat with constant lines of single-storey commercial premises, and from the viewpoint of our bikes it was unclear where the historic centre of town was.  We re-joined the road and eventually found signs directing us to the Centro that led us to the main church and then into the beautiful Plaza de la Paz. The town hall, all flags and wine barrels, defined one corner of this impressive, imposing square that featured an ornate bandstand in the centre.

Haro - (nicky in bandstand)

Haro - (Town hall and wine barrels)

There were a series of bronze statues representing, even glorifying, ordinary local jobs, from shoe-shiner to goat-milker to grape-crusher to wine-bottler.  Roundabouts were decorated with giant barrels and bunches of grapes, the motifs of wine-making always in plain sight, leaving no doubt as to the town’s primary occupation. It reminded us a little of Chateauneuf-de-Pape, in its single-minded approach to promoting its famous wares.

We cycled to the other side of the river where many of the regional producers had visitor centres huddled together. One vineyard’s posh tasting room had been designed by the office of the late Zaha Hadid, so we had to check that out in passing.  We stayed on this side of the river and followed a small irrigation canal back west, through more expansive rows of colourful grapevines. This route led us through Anguciana then into Cihuri, with its old abandoned bridge, once maintained for passing pilgrims by the local monastery.

Nicky suffered another puncture on our return to the outskirts of Casalarreina. Unfixable, we walked back, thankful we weren’t far from Benny.  This likely spelled the end of our cycling on this trip, at least until we reach a larger town with a shop where we can buy a repair kit or spare tubes; we checked the local supermarket to no avail. Kids were playing football in the sports centre adjacent to the aire, but took their frantic, energetic noise back home at dinner time, leaving us again to pass a quiet night in the drooping shade of the tall willow trees.

A&N x

Spain – River Ebro & Casalarreina

Waking up at Nanclares la Oca we found the overhead planes had now paused but the traffic flow had increased, leaving the humming background noise much the same. With no specific plans for a few days, we were meandering southwards, to be a little closer to our next organised run near to La Rioja’s famous wine region.

We followed the river Zadorra south on a free motorway before suddenly remembering our Wild Swimming Spain book had described a few tempting places in this area. So we quickly looked them up, hopped off at the next junction and were soon parked up on the outskirts of the sleepy village of La Puebla de Arganzón. We walked through the empty stone streets, walls lit in bright sun or hidden in deep shade. We first found a street-level balcony that offered wonderful views over the river and what we assumed was an old mill pond, replete with ducks and egrets. This was the spot. We found another street that led down to the old stone bridge where, courtesy of a weir underneath, the deep pond began.

We had no deep desires to swim today, as despite the occasional bout of bright sun the air had a real sharpness, the chill of winter-coming, and we imagined the water similar. But the setting was beautiful and we enjoyed imagining the thrills of dipping here, in this joyous rural setting, on too-hot summer days.

We drove on, parallel to the motorway on an empty road, only a few easy miles to the next village, Armiñón. We parked on the generous main street and again found the river, hidden away behind grey façades. This was another wonderful looking swim spot, surrounded by tall reeds, overhanging trees and even a concrete platform with a niche to fit a diving board to, it likely stored for winter safe-keeping. There were reddish crayfish exploring the pool shallows and we wondered if they were local, or an invasive species who simply thrived in this region, like us. We watched them squabble a while as they foraged at the edges.

We next planned to stop in Miranda de Ebro, but a police car was blocking the entry road into the aire for unknown reasons, so we decided to keep moving. Chris and Nadine, whom we met at Ulibarri-Gamboa lake, had recommended driving the northern bank of the Ebro, from a nearby dam into the deep mountain gorges, so we now took this advice.

The first few kilometres were industrial lands, all pipework and chimneys, corrugated tin and rusting gates – an inauspicious start. But soon we turned left, off the main road and onto one that closely hugged the river banks. This was a different drive now.

River Ebro Drive - (gorges)

The road snaked like the river, the right side a crumbling cliff face and the left all high gorges, rugged and pitted, their tops hidden in low cloud. The blue-grey river flowed fast beside us, its surface churned confusingly in straight lines, like a boat wake but constantly renewed from below. We passed the dam and continued west, further into the mountainous gorge. We drove 10km more before turning around and retracing our steps along the same stretch, seeing it again from a different but equally engrossing perspective.

Casalarreina - (Aaron at monastery)

The aire was reopened on our return but it was scruffy and rough, so we decided to move on rather than visit Miranda centre. We chose Casalarreina, and we were so pleased we did. The drive there was classic Spain; over steep mountain passes leading to wide open plains. There were grey jagged mountain peaks behind with dusty stubble fields in front, a scattering of occasional tall trees in yellows and reds, masses of dying sunflowers with drooping heads and unending rows of well-tended vines, their leaves beginning to turn orange or red for autumn. This was all so close by yet a world apart from the ugly industrial installations on the outskirts of Miranda de Ebro.

Casalarreina - (Benny in aire)

We easily found the quiet aire in Casalarreina, set behind a walled monastery, each bay overhung by beautiful willow trees. We were the only guests; it was utterly serene. The village had a gentle, calm feel about it, with a small river and tuneful distant church bells. We saw a few locals working on the church walls, some walking dogs and others pushing prams, all seemingly contented. We would be happy to call this our home for a few days.

A&N X

Spain – Ulibarri-Gamboa lake – walks, runs and cycles

Under dull, monotone skies and with heavy hearts we again said our goodbyes to San Sebastián and drove south, away from the coast. The morning was chilly, a damp, hanging fog had descended and, combined with a light but bitingly sharp breeze, the heat from our limbs was ripped away.  This was very different weather from our glorious arrival.  For twenty miles we remarked on how green Spain was looking, until suddenly the entire countryside transformed into blonde stubble fields and burnt grass, a palette of pale yellows and muted browns.  It looked like this region had suffered drought and burning sun for long months.  We were on an easy dual carriageway, twisted and steep as it navigated the hilly terrain, reaching the northern outskirts of Vitoria-Gasteiz.

Ulibarri-Gamboa lake (first look)

Ulibarri-Gamboa lake (circuit map)

We had plans to visit Ulibarri-Gamboa lake for a few days of gentle running, walking and, perhaps, swimming. Our first stop was a tourist office at Garaio, near the south-east lake shore.  Here we were informed that we could park overnight at one of the nearby car-parks, which proved ideal for us.  We went there and ate lunch, marvelling again at our luck.  The sun had broken through, burned off all the fog and the sky was a cloudless pastel blue.  The trees lining the park were turning to the muted reds and amber of rich autumn colours, and best of all, there were no other visitors; the stunning lakeside park was all ours.  During a leisurely lunch armed with detailed maps from the tourist office we planned a 44km cycle (tomorrow) and a 13km easy walk/run (today), each hugging the shore.  We set off in perfect running conditions; still warm air, wonderful autumn foliage providing occasional shade, no time constraints and with no one else in sight.

Ulibarri-Gamboa lake (viewpoint above church)

Ulibarri-Gamboa lake (running trails)

We passed timber miradors overlooking wide, still rivers alive with grebes, coots and egrets, feeling a little guilty when our presence disturbed their restful day.  The paths were leaf-strewn gravel or compacted white sandstone dust, perfect for exploring on foot.  We crossed a low timber bridge, more of a pontoon, then later another more substantial, arrow straight bridge, built high above the water.  We could see energetic sprites darting in skittish shoals below our feet.  Just beyond this bridge crossing stood the ivy-clad remains of a stone church, the sole remaining structure from one of the many abandoned villages that were flooded back in the 1950’s during the formation of this important regional reservoir.  Exactly on our 13km expectation, after passing loose cows on the path, we crossed a raised timber walkway that returned us to the rear of the quiet car-park where Benny was patiently waiting.  Joyed by the beautiful weather and happily weary from our beautiful, exploratory run, we spent a restful afternoon sipping tea and scoffing pannettone, amazed we’d found yet another gem of a stop.

Ulibarri-Gamboa lake (towards church ruin)

The stillness and quiet, mixed with fresh-air and exercise, led us both to a deep, lengthy sleep.  After nearly 11 hours in bed, we were well rested and utterly famished.  After breakfast we chatted to our new motorhoming neighbours Nadine and Chris, a couple who lived in the Vendée coastal town of St Jean de Monts.  We have long been considering a circular coastal trip round Brittany, starting near Nantes, and their kind offer for us to visit anytime may make a very good starting point for our planning.

Ulibarri-Gamboa lake (view accross)

Ulibarri-Gamboa lake (aaron on shore)

Ulibarri-Gamboa lake (return to benny)

Ulibarri-Gamboa lake (great parking)

Ulibarri-Gamboa lake (start cycling)

We finally got moving, wary under very different conditions.  The sky was now streaked with muted greys, almost black in places, layering the whole park with a shroud.  Autumn foliage was no longer vibrant and bright, but consisted of muted browns and muddy olive greens.  We hoped it might clear with time, but sensibly planned for the more likely scenario – dull, persistent rain. With waterproof jackets donned, we started off in the reverse direction of yesterday’s run, following the lake shore on easy paths.  We covered distance quickly and soon were back at the tall straight bridge, but passed by rather than crossing.  From here the path quickly deteriorated, a less used route.  It was steeper now, up and down in rugged, rocky bumps, the surface deeply cracked and broken like it had recently been subject to flash floods.

We had to dismount and push for a couple of the steeper climbs, the path too poor to gain traction. Soon after we joined a tarmac road, glad for the easy going. With a miserable drizzle filling the air, and with low visibility across the lake, we decided to stick on the road and enjoy a simpler stretch, cruising downhill and across a river before rising smoothly up to meet the main dam.  We paused soon after to nibble fruit cake on a timber bench and could barely see the walls of the dam opposite – such a different day from before.  Soaked through and devoid of views, we pushed on with a shortcut in mind.  Before we got there Nicky’s front tyre was punctured and we had to pause on the path, in heavy rain, to fix it.  Only here did we discover all our glues had expired so a patch was impossible but we also carried a spare tube, so this was fitted and we were on our way again.

Ulibarri-Gamboa lake (on the trail)

Ulibarri-Gamboa lake (steep rises)

At the top left-hand corner of the lake, near Landa, we decided to forego the shore-hugging cycle route and, heads down, quickly progressed down the shorter, straighter, easy tarmac route to Marieta. Turning right off the road, we re-joined the wiggling cycle path, walked across a pedestrian bridge we’d ran over the day before and, after another grassy shortcut, we happily arrived back at Benny.   Our shortcut had reduced the lap to 37km, rather than the expected 44km. Drying, cleaning, rinsing, showering and packing dominated our next hour, as we faced the usual motorhome struggle of what to do with a load of sodden gear, especially when the rains persist outside.  We steamed cosily inside, reading and supping tea much of the afternoon.

Ulibarri-Gamboa lake (evening walk views)

Ulibarri-Gamboa lake (evening views)

Late afternoon, after a warming rest, we got a little restless and decided on a short walk.  The weather had dried up and small patches of blue sky were visible in the otherwise grey murk. We followed the road back towards the tourist office, before cutting left to ascend to a local high point. Stone steps formed the route, our leg muscles being tested again. Adding just this small raise changed the perspective over the lake.  We spent a few restful moments at the top picking out places we had visited and spotting key landmarks in the rolling landscape.  A small number of vivid copper trees lit up the vista, set between a sea of darkened green, lime and white leaves.  At a distance we could just see the river that had been dammed to form the reservoir.

At the bottom of the mound we passed a metal sculpture of a dinosaur-like creature that, like the polar bear in Tromsø before it, just had to be climbed.  (always a child at heart).

A&N x

France – Agen, Pujols & around

An update on our activities over the past few weeks during our house-sit in Cazeneuve.

It’s been around three weeks since our last blog post, and we’ve been keeping busy, but not in adventurous ways that we feel are worth sharing more regularly.  Our days are full with learning, activity and exercise, with the odd venture out to visit a local town.

Agen (back on the Garonne)

Recently we had one such day-trip out to visit Agen, our closest city.  First we swam a steady 2km in their wonderful 50m competition pool, before finding a spot to park on the riverside and walking into the centre.  We passed under vast rows of pollarded plane trees set in the riverside park, their gnarled white branches contrasted heavily against the uniform blue sky, like arthritic knuckles reaching into the void.  We wandered through tight medieval streets and the modern, wide pedestrianised centre, enjoying the sights and the buildings of Agen in bright sunshine.  The cafés were bustling with people and we were immediately impressed with what the busy town had to offer.

Agen (pollarded trees)

One morning we decided on a leisurely cycle, a wide triangle on a voie verte taking in Villeneuve-sur-Lot, Casseneuil and Sainte-Livrade-sur-Lot.  The air was a cold 4 degrees, and we wrapped up well before we headed up over the hill, a steady 2km long climb that led into a flat ridge cycle before being followed by a fantastic flowing descent of 5km.  We picked up the voie verte heading north and arrived in the medieval centre of Casseneuil a few easy kilometres later.  After a short explore, we headed south along the banks of the river to Liverade and through, back over the hill again to home.  We later discovered on our return that we had lost our camera somewhere on the cycle, it having jostled its way out of a side pocket, unknown to us.  After a thorough search of the house we concluded it was definitely missing, but outside had turned from borderline sunny to a grey, sodden deluge in that time, so we didn’t venture out to look.

The next morning we visited the Mairie in Allez-et-Cazeneuve and the Hôtel-de-Ville in Liverade to report our missing camera in the hope some kind citizen may hand it in.  We also left a note at the central police station, but they had very little interest in our petite drama.  After we reported the camera, we then ran the last 11km of the track we had cycled home the day before, in two portions, checking along the verge, ditches and hedges for any sign of it, but to no avail.  We can only hope it was swept up by someone walking along the path before the previous night’s deluge and that they will hand it in next time they are in town (perhaps next Friday, on market day), but we’re not holding our breath for it to reappear.  It’s always disappointing to lose photos of a good day, along with our well-used and loved compact camera.

Cazeneuve (enjoying a window of sun)

Cazeneuve (veg patch weeding)

We are passing our days in generally similar ways, with a welcome routine of reading, exercise and rest.  We have a few hours of French most mornings.  We watched the opening weekend of the Six Nations snuggled up with a few beers, content that both our teams got off to a winning start even if Ireland left it very late to nick it from the French. We had a not entirely awful go at archery in the garden.  We played a few games of table-tennis and pétanque, had a few pool swims, a couple of cycles and runs, and have pottered in the garden, between rain storms.  We’ve been visited by both le chien noir and la chienne rouge.  Below is my (corrected) French homework story that tells a little more of how we spent our week, should you be interested.  The dreaded green pen wielded by our tutor Rebecca did not get its fullest workout this week, so something must be improving in my French-feeble mind.  Peut-être.

Cazeneuve - French homework

This week, rather than our usual Tuesday morning swim, we awoke to a bright, clear sky and decided to postpone for a day and undertake a long local walk instead.  We drove a short distance to Lacépède and followed the marked trail out of the completely dead village, through sleeping plum trees and empty, ploughed fields.  The path was thick with leaves and mud after the recent rains, and was difficult to progress on.  Being so muddy underfoot made the hilly portions tricky and sliding, but we squished around 11km of lovely rolling countryside with no sign of anyone else.  We reached a small reservoir with bird-watching huts and some interesting, colourful sign-boards describing the lives of local bees that we photographed to fully translate later in our next ‘French hour’.  We arrived back in the village just as the rains began to fall, followed closely by a wandering dog who seemingly wanted to be our very best friend.

Lacepede (church on route)

Lacepede (forest rrails)

After one pool swim, we finally drove up and visited the medieval centre of the nearby village of Pujols.  We had often looked at it from the comfort of the large Jacuzzi bath post-swim, but had as yet not ventured up the hill.  We had left it long enough since our last beaux village visit to regain the excitement and interest of a new place, and were pleasantly surprised by its neatness and beauty.  The sun appeared for a few moments, lighting up Villeneuve-sur-Lot below and the white stone façades of the ancient streets, giving it a wonderful glow.  We saw the church, the covered marketplace, the detailed model of the town in the tourist office, the truncated once-circular well-stone now cut back to a semi-circle to allow vehicles to pass, the remains of the original ramparts and finally la porte des Anglais, the English Gate, named for the route the English soldiers fled along from a lost battle during the Hundred Years’ War.  We passed through it too before making our escape from the frigid, icy air back to the car and home.

Pugols (viewpoint)

Pugols (a in main square)

Recently, the days had been sharper, fresher, colder than before, with a deeper mud grey blanket of cloud spread across the sky.  Twice we have had a light falling of tiny flakes of snow, forced out of the chilled clouds with obvious reluctance, not at all like the proper snow we have been reading about back in the UK.  For a few quiet moments it was beautifully still and tiny white flakes swayed gently in the air, glistening with reflected light and looking quite magical.  Then as quickly as they appeared they have gone, but the chilly, biting air remains.  Several times we have stood outside for a few long moments reflecting on the changing moods of the days and weather, taking in deep red, moody sunsets, before scampering back into the comforting warmth of the awaiting boulangerie for some warming tea.

A&N x

Back in France and heading south

A quick run south heading through the north-east corner of France to the centre, taking in the Champagne Region countryside, with rural stopovers near Bourges, in La Martineche and at St. Priest Taurion.

We left the comfortable campsite in Ypres and headed south into France, skirting around Lille and beyond.  We also bypassed Soissons as we stayed away from all motorways, instead enjoying the wonderful countryside views. We had been greatly favoured by the weather, with the crisp autumn days framing the copper and lime-coloured trees within a deep blue frame.  Everywhere we looked was a stunning vista of gently rolling hills, each lit up with the full autumnal spectrum of beautiful leaves and grasses.  It was a simple pleasure to spend our days rolling through such countryside, and the miles and hours passed by quickly with the constant beauty acting as a welcome distraction.

Champion Daniel (evening view)

Champion Daniel (benny looking over vines)

Our first day in France was quite a long drive for us, especially on backroads, and we finally decided to call our day to an end at Champion Daniel, a small family-run Champagne producer south-west of Reims, near the village of Montmirail.  We first went in to chat to the proprietor, and they were happy to have us stay.  For our €7 we were provided with electric hook-up, water and Wi-Fi, along with a tasting of one of their champagnes, with no obligation to buy.  That night, under a blanket of darkness and stars, we had our DSLR camera and tripod out, along with the new addition to Benny, a telescope, one we had borrowed from Nicky’s Dad for use at our upcoming house-sits.  We wrapped up warm and spent time examining and photographing the clear, crisp night sky, with a focus on the bright gibbous moon.

Champion Daniel (tree sunrise)

Champion Daniel (low mist over vines)

The next morning we awoke early to a visual treat; low rolling mist was resting in the valley, over the vines adjacent to where we were parked, and mixed with the redness of the newly-rising sun the vista was simply spectacular.  After many minutes of appreciating the spectacle, we said our goodbyes to the owners and their very friendly cocker spaniel before getting back to the open road. We quickly drove south, stopping only briefly for lunch on the banks of the Loire river.  We bypassed by the main city of Bourges, missing their historic cathedral, on the easy-flowing ring-road, stopping to overnight further south in St. Amand Montrond, a large free aire near a lovely lake.  There we had a lovely 4km evening stroll around the lake shore, enjoying both the setting sun and rising moon bright in the clear sky.

St Amand Montrond (benny in aire)

St Amand Montrond (lakeside walk)

Continuing southwards, we stopped in the village of Genouillac to stretch our legs and have a look around.  We had been looking on-line at a few very nice properties near here and wanted to get a personal feel for the region.  Although the countryside and villages were very pretty, we felt it was still a little too north and too far from an international airport to be in serious contention to serve as our fixed French base.  So we continued deep into the Creuse countryside to La Martineche, where we parked at a rural museum in honour of Martin Nadaud, a celebrated local craftsman.  We found out later it had closed for the season just two days before, so we couldn’t visit the museum, but the aire was still available, free and empty, so we availed ourselves of their hospitality and settled in.

La Martineche (museum grounds)

La Martineche (picnic red)

Our first night we sat out at one of their picnic tables and enjoyed a few glasses of red as we soaked up the autumnal countryside view. It would have been serenely peaceful except for a passing horde of scrambler motorcyclists tearing up the roads nearby, but after a deafening few moments they were gone and the wonderful silence again prevailed. We had noticed signs depicting a local circular walk of around 10km, through forest trails and over the local dales.  We decided to follow it the next morning, as a running route.  Nicky had not run in years, since back surgery forced her to give up competing in triathlon, but on this occasion she was feeling up for a Fartlek-style walk-run around the route.  We could walk when necessary, run when we wished; either way a lovely few hours out in the countryside.

La Martineche (forest trail runs)

La Martineche (nicky on trail run)

La Martineche (soubrebost church)

The morning was bright and clear but started bitterly cold, and we overdressed, unsure both of the weather and how much running we’d actually do.  But as the rising sun finally penetrated the valley over the neighbouring hills, it turned the day into a scorcher, reaching 23 degrees.  Together, smiling, we ran well over half the distance, loving the colourful forest trails and revitalising clear air, although we ended up carrying most of our layers for the duration.  The path was a little over 10Km in total; it roamed over undulating hills, into tall forests and through ancient stone-built villages, where we visited churches and other historic points of interest.  We relaxed on the grass back in the aire, sun-bathing in the warming glow of the afternoon sun as we ate lunch, before moving off down the road once again.

La Martineche (countryside run)

La Martineche (nicky trail running)

St Prient Taurion (trainline bridge)

We decided to move a little closer to the main city of Limoges, a place we hoped to see next, so we sauntered down the mountain to stop at nearby St. Priest Taurion.  We parked there in another quiet, free aire with all necessary services, set by the river and overlooked by a stone arched bridge carrying a train-line.  The local boulangerie was less than a minute’s walk away, so we had all we needed for a relaxing stay within easy reach.  We had an ambling walk along the riverside, and a quick explore of the town, before retiring for the night.  The next morning Nicky was struggling to comfortably walk, her first run in many years having its stiffening revenge on her legs. So we spent an additional lazy day relaxing in the winter sunshine, where Nicky preoccupied herself with photography down on the pretty banks of the river.

St Prient Taurion (benny park spot in aire)

St Prient Taurion (riverside walk)

St Prient Taurion (lightly flowing river)

As we ended up spending two nights in St. Priest Taurion, we were well rested before finally moving on to explore the regional capital city of Limoges, less than twenty minutes’ drive away.  The morning had delivered yet another bright and clear winter day, and we were looking forward to spending our time exploring the regional capital under such rich blue skies.  We rolled out of town, sad to be leaving such a relaxing spot, but feeling ready for more light adventures.