Tag Archives: french passion

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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France – Macon, Moulins & Montluçon

Just two days into her antibiotic schedule, Nicky was feeling much perkier; it was time to move on. We left our rest spot in Abondance and returned back down the mountain.  We had to revisit Thonon hospital for some follow-up blood work, as instructed.  We parked easily in the empty hospital car-park and waited only a few minutes to see the specialist nurse, blood was extracted and we were away.  This visit was more efficient and endurable than the first.

Being so close, we decided it would be unforgivable not to have a dip in the glimmering coolness of Lac Léman.  There were two aires nearby, so we first headed to the nearest, set right on the lake shore.  The road in was very narrow and busy with badly-parked cars and I, squeezing through at around 5mph, clipped wing-mirrors with an abandoned Land Rover.  Stopping to check, their mirror was entirely fine, but ours had popped out and the bottom glass shattered.  What a week we were having!  We continued to the tight motorhome parking, a row of three diagonal spaces between the cars on the road, only slightly wider than the spaces surrounding them.  We sneaked in and assessed the damage, and with super glue and sellotape managed to fix up the mirror enough to get by for now.  We were metres from the water, so to relieve tension and soothe our minds, we changed and jumped straight in.

Lalleyriat (lakeside walk)

Lalleyriat (rainy parking)

After a mind-chilling swim and a spot of downtime, we made our way west once more.  We decided to stop at Lalleyriat, a recently refurbished aire by an almost-completed lake.  There was a kid’s play park and a small sandy beach being enjoyed by a few families, although the weather had turned.  It was now cloudy and grey, and they soon began packing up with disappointed looks.  We walked a slow loop around the small lake then snuggled in for the night as the sudden arrival of heavy rain bombarded our roof.  The skies were back to their usual clear and bright when we awoke, so we moved on.  We passed through Nantua and Bourg-en-Bresse to stop by a private vineyard in the small village of Prissé, on the west side of Macon.  A French Passion site with a wine shop, a perfect base for us.

Prisse (winery shop)

Prisse (free shop aire)

The popular aire, spaciously housing only six vans, was also positioned directly on a voie verte leading into Macon centre, about 9km away.  We passed two pleasant nights, and Nicky managed the casual cycle on the voie verte to Macon.  We saw hilly fields of ripening vines, green and lush, on the way.  Approaching the town we gravitated to the tall church before snaking through the central streets under the shade of brightly coloured umbrellas.  We rolled along the riverfront as far as a municipal swimming pool in a leafy park, then doubled back to cross a stone bridge and view the city frontage from the opposite bank.  Macon centre was a lively mix of old and new buildings, dynamic and discoloured, scruffy yet dignified, with the long promenade following the river bank by far the best feature.

Macon (cycling past vines)

Macon (central streets)

We reluctantly dragged ourselves away from this comfortable, quiet spot and travelled on, with an extra 10 litres of tasty wine on board from the farm shop.  We maintained our westward driving, this time stopping near to Moulins.  We entered a huge barriered aire, with the look of an abandoned campsite, with the devastating cost of €0.10/hour.  The site felt like it may be an occasional flood plain to allow control of the nearby river.  The signs said it was meant for up to 90 vans, but there were 69 vans there the night we arrived (yes, we counted on an evening stroll) and still lots of space for another 60 at least.  We walked to examine the tall bunds around the site, set under a high railway bridge spanning the site and running across the river.  The rest of the day and evening we sat, enjoying the shade.

Moulins (view from campsite)

The next day we walked into Moulins under a blistering sun to see both of the twin-towered cathedrals.  We walked the pretty streets searching out shade, and truly enjoyed the blissful coldness of the cathedral interiors.  Everywhere was alight with vibrant flowering borders and hanging baskets.  We crossed the main square where street cafés served customers crowded under red umbrellas and excited kids played in the shallow fountain waters.  But the efforts of our short walk in such draining heat proved too much for the still-recovering Nicky, so we returned to base and spent a lot of downtime around Benny, sitting and chilling.  The welcome rest in such a spacious, shaded aire was exactly what we needed, and definitely worth the €4.30 it eventually cost us when we rolled out two days later.

Neris-les-Bains (shared book box)

Neris-les-Bains (traditional dancing)

We moved on to Neris-Les-Bains, an €8/night aire with electricity, Wi-Fi, WC, shower and all services, a row of six spaces set just outside the gates to a large campsite.  There was nothing available inside the triple-priced campsite that we didn’t have outside, except a three night limit, but we planned to stay only two.  It was a short walk into a town that prided itself on keeping busy; a large poster listed all upcoming events – it had five or six listings per day throughout July; art classes, markets, dances, fairs.  We helped ourselves to a French book from a sharing library box in a small flower garden before watching a display of music and dancing by elderly locals dressed in traditional costume.  We passed the baths that feature in the town’s name, still a strong business interest, drawing in crowds.

Montlucon (voie verte bridges)

Montlucon (church garden)

The following morning we cycled to Montluçon along another easy voie verte, gently downhill all the way.  We crossed high bridges spanning deep, lush valleys and rolled through occasional patches of deep shade from tightly-knitted overhanging trees.  We were soon deposited into the busy centre’s roads at a small park and slowly cycled a loop of the medieval heart, stopping in each small square to look around.  We found a modern golden hall beside an old stone church with a beautifully planted walled-garden behind.  The streets were neat and clean, with several restaurants making their first efforts to open in expectation of lunchtime crowds.  After visiting all the main streets, our eyes turned upwards to take in the domineering central château, its high defensive walls a prominent feature.

Montlucon (view from chateau)

A short, steep ascent led us up to the stone and timber château, the main focal point above the town.  It had a decorative clock tower and was hung with well-tended baskets of red flowers.  We left our bikes against a tree and walked the perimeter walls, overlooking the entire town.  Montluçon looked messy from above; the rear façades of the older central buildings were dirty and grey, their grimy shabbiness contrasting with their immaculately presented fronts.  Outside the medieval centre, the town had expanded in too much of a hurry and in all the wrong ways, with dingy industrial units peppered throughout the landscape and garishly-coloured ugly tower blocks blighting the distant horizon.  We passed the Hôtel de Ville as we left, enjoying their playful fountains in the empty stone square.

Montlucon (chateau facade)

Montlucon (hotel de ville)

The next morning we serviced and left Neris-Les-Bains, for another short hop towards our new home.  We were now near to Limoges, but still had a long weekend to wait out, and where better to sit out this achingly hot summer weather than at a large swim lake?  Shady trees and cooling dips were calling us, and we could not ignore their cries.

A&N x

France – Turenne & Collonges-La-Rouge

We serviced and left the pretty hilltop aire in Dampniat, heading across country.  The weather had turned and we no longer enjoyed wonderfully clear blue skies, but a dull, thick greyness now permeated everything, blocking out the light.  A light drizzle occasionally fell, obscuring our view as much as the lack of light did, making it a fairly miserable, grey day for sight-seeing and photography.  But we persisted with our plan, and next to see was Turenne.

Turenne (village square)

Turenne (village streets)

Turenne is bastide village, one built in a circular plan on a domed hill, historically providing both prestige and security for the residents. We arrived on the outskirts and slowly inched our way down a tight lane into the town’s aire, amazed to see a huge 9m long Concorde parked up already, with no idea of how he manged to turn himself into the site. We weren’t staying so parked at the back of the aire, away from the free electricity points, and walked into the town.  The sky was a uniform blankness, an off-white sheet of featureless cloud.  Even with the lack of light on this overcast day, the first square we reached, less than a minute from the aire, was simply beautiful.  The town’s white stone mixed with a pale hanging mist gave an ethereal quality to the buildings, and they oozed class and eminence.

Turenne (Az in narrow street)

Turenne (n wandering the streets)

We walked along narrow streets lined with colour-giving hanging baskets, all neatly tended even this late in the year. It was so tranquil, out of season, casually wandering and envisioning the lives of those who had passed through these gates in ancient times, and similarly imagining what it must be like to live in this village today.  Turenne had very difficult and tight access for cars and would certainly be hard to cycle to and from. We continued uphill to reach the main castle, passing many private homes and gîtes for hire, some with tiny swimming pools.  Several balconies offered expansive views down over the valley and the lower portions of the town.  The view was mostly shrouded in low-lying mist, but the occasional stray breath of wind would momentarily clear the obstruction and allow us a look.

Turenne (view of valley below)

Collonges-la-rouge (approaching village)

Collonges-la-rouge (N in village)

We returned to the aire and carefully headed on, ready for our next stop at nearby Collonges-la-Rouge.  This was yet another place with the designation of ‘Beau Village’ and we soon felt it richly deserved its classification.  There was a dedicated motorhome aire on the outskirts, and we walked in from there, slightly unsure if we needed to pay.  Our approach offered an overview of the town from a distance, and of several route options we could take.  The dark red sandstone of all of the buildings in the well-preserved small town was almost burgundy in colour.  Sadly, it cast a deeper pastel shade than normal under dull, blank skies and although we were sure we weren’t seeing it at its best, the intricate narrow streets full of many bespoke quaint homes and local artisan businesses was still a delight to see.

Collonges-la-rouge (church exterior)

Collonges-la-rouge (church interior)

Collonges-la-rouge (Az under arch)

The village can historically be traced to the 8th century CE, but has had a rather chequered history. It profited and grew from the custom of pilgrims passing through the nearby pilgrimage site of Rocamadour, but the French revolution caused the destruction of key priory buildings.  It underwent a brief economic recovery in the 19th century until dwindling population numbers led the village to becoming not much more than a stone quarry.  Only in the early 20th century did villagers create a movement that eventually secured the classification of the village as an important historic monument.  Collonges-la-Rouge was the founding member of the ‘Les Plus Beaux Villages de France’ association, a brainchild of the mayor, and has since become one of the most visited places in the region.

Collonges-la-rouge (leafy streets)

Collonges-la-rouge (central towers)

Collonges-la-rouge (n walking the centre))

The village was like a perfect film set; each twist of the pathway, every turn of a street corner, brought a new vista of beauty and interest even on this, the dullest of days.  Red and yellow-leafed ivy hung off the high sandstone walls in beautiful cascading curtains, adding a softening aged grandeur.  Most of the village’s commerce was closed, but we passed one restaurant whose vents were expelling the most wonderful aromas.  We had read that the sandstone is known to glow brightly under a warm sun and we vowed to revisit at a future time to experience this.  Collonges-la-Rouge had a tight, compact centre and we completed various loops to ensure we’d walked every possible path and seen all the key buildings from all angles, absorbing the sights as much as we could during our all too brief visit.

Domaine du Chirac (duck house camper)

Domaine du Chirac (With our purchase)

We planned to overnight stop at a nearby farm­, but it proved difficult to find as the co-ordinates listed on their website led only to the centre of the nearby village of Brivezac.  We eventually found Domaine du Chirac on Google maps and plotted our own route, only we headed up and over the mountain on single track farm roads, rather than around on proper roads.  We would have faced trouble had we met another vehicle on the way, but thankfully we didn’t.  This was a France Passion business, a local wine producer, and we were able to both park up for the night and enjoy a wine tasting.  Their specialty was rich, sweet white wine, which isn’t a particular favourite, but we enjoyed the tasting session and learning a little of the history of their business.  We purchased a bottle to serve as a sweet aperitif at our upcoming Christmas festivities, before settling in surrounded by geese, donkeys and farm dogs.