Tag Archives: vineyard

Spain – The road to Pamplona

We awoke in LaBastida and, after one last wander around to test our legs after our run, we said our goodbyes to the now-empty town.  Heading east, the sky was a sheet of gunmetal, solid and brooding.   Yet even in the dreary rain the deep autumnal colours of the neat vines shone through and lit up the landscape in bursts of yellow and red.

We had a brief stop in the village of Elciego (Eltziego), where a hotel associated with a large wine producer had commissioned a building from Frank Gehry’s practice.  We did a drive-by shooting with our camera, in the spotty rain.  We couldn’t get too close, but it all looked fairly typical of Gehry’s easily recognisable style, with the addition of some brightly coloured panels that offered something different, an interesting variation on an otherwise well-used theme.

From here we skipped past Logroño and headed to the small town of Estella, where we heard rumours of a monastery famous for its wine fountain, distributing a welcome drink for passing pilgrims undertaking the Camino de Santiago.  We parked up and wandered around the grounds, but torrential rain began so we didn’t wander too much further than the celebrated fountain.  The monastery vineyard sets aside 100 litres per day for pilgrims passing through, with polite messages encouraging sparing use so that all can partake who want to.  We helped ourselves to a small bottle-full, enough for a glass each, and toasted their generosity later.

Estella - monastery

Estella - wine fountain

We were told that, if discrete, we could stay over for free in the small car-park at the monastery, but we felt a bit conspicuous and a little in the way and so we drove the kilometre back down to the newly-constructed and barriered aire and graciously paid €4 to the town to park overnight there instead.  Heavy rain continued to fall most of the evening and through the night, but from here we could pick up free WiFi from a nearby café, so we lazed around inside sipping tea and getting ourselves all up to date.  We undertook a quick walk in a brief respite from the downpour where we climbed a small hill behind the aire, looking down on Benny and back across the leafy valley to the monastery.  Then it was back inside to spend the night listening to the constant tapping of raindrops finally lulling us into an uneasy sleep.

Estella - valley view over aire

There was no let-up in the weather come the morning, so we set off through the puddles early, on to Pamplona.  This was to be our last city visit in Spain on this trip.  Views of white peaks in distance, as we were neared the foothills of the Pyrenees, filled up our windscreen.  Through busy traffic we headed to the large central aire, where €10 per 24 hours would supply us with all  services inc. electric.  The rain had paused, although it was bitingly cold, so we wrapped warmly and set off.  The aire was positioned a ten minute stroll along the river from the defensive city walls.   A funicular lift carried us up inside the stone walls and deposited us in a quiet side street in the old historic centre.

Pamplona - (city hall daytime)

The only prior knowledge either of us had of the city was related to the Running of the Bulls, but beyond that it was a blank slate.  We wandered happily with no plan in mind, ducking down side streets and finding small, empty squares before popping out again into busy  thoroughfares alive with people.  We passed communal vegetable gardens, impressive bandstands in wide plazas and numerous churches in varied architectural styles.  On one tree-lined street there was a temporary exhibition on the making and history of Guernica, Picasso’s seminal painting capturing the horror of the bombings.

Pamplona - (inner city gardening)

Pamplona - (Picassos Guernica discription)

Mount Ezkaba, a fort used as a prison during the Spanish Civil War, provided us with a wonderful panoramic view over the outskirts of Pamplona and the mountains beyond.  Some dedicated runners were beasting themselves up steep inclines to the viewing platforms, then walking down only to return again, making us feel like couch potatoes.  We continued to see the Bull ring, said to be the third largest in the world behind Mexico City and Madrid.  A bulky Hemingway statue, mostly torso, stood outside the entrance to the Bull Ring, a memento of his connection to Spain and the manly world of blood sports.   We visited a dedicated Wine shop and bought a few bottles of local wine as gifts.

Pamplona - (valley and mountains)

Pamplona - (wine shop display)

On a busy pedestrian street we found a large, complex statue capturing a deadly looking scene from The Running of the Bulls, a key event in the week-long San Fermin festival.  The statue vividly captured the motion, excitement, confusion and fear the event must hold for those involved.  We circled it twice, taking in all the details and expressions.  From here we returned to Gazteluko Plaza and sat a while, eating snacks and people-watching.  We then returned to the back streets where we wandered by a shop and bought postcards for home, just like proper tourists, before returning to Benny to chill.

Pamplona - (walking the streets)

Later in the evening we ventured out again, forgoing the funicular lift for a steep walk up into the Jardines de la Taconera, where we admired the walls and wildlife.  Originally a 17th century bastion to defend the citadel, the fortress walls were now decoratively laid out with landscaped ponds that were home to many ducks and geese.  We passed through the Portal de San Nicolas and enjoyed a leisurely stroll that led us back into the old quarter.  The wet night streets glimmering with orange light, the air somehow warmer in the soft evening glow. We revisited many of the buildings and places we’d passed through earlier in the day, seeing them in a very different, more vibrant mode.

Pamplona - (park and gardens)

Pamplona - (city hall nighttime)

We had a beautiful dusk walk, hand-in-hand through the well-used and interesting streets.  When we returned to Benny a second time, the ever-present possibility of rain finally occurred and we were glad to be safely inside.  The aire was surprisingly quiet considering its location on a traffic junction and we settled in to eat a late dinner and to give structure and form to our memories of this short stop in intriguing Pamplona.

A&N x

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Spain – La Bastida & the Rioja Alavesa Wine Run

We awoke under the gently swaying willow trees in tranquil Casalarreina, had a leisurely breakfast, serviced and quietly disappeared.

We first returned to Haro, parked at their centrally positioned but rather noisy aire and walked into the town to find a launderette.  We decided we couldn’t last the full trip without doing a wash – too many muddy, sweaty runs and cycles and we were both nearly out of clean gear. Whilst our clothes were swimming and spinning we walked around Haro centre again, seeing the Basilica we had previously missed and ending up back in the main wine-centred plaza for a last look.

LaBastida - (main church)

LaBastida - (church plaza)

We collected our laundry, returned to Benny and hopped the short distance back into the Basque Country, through beautiful rows of vines, to the village of La Bastida.  This was the venue for our upcoming run; our next, and last 10km event on this trip. The Rioja Alavesa Wine Run, a hilly jaunt through steep vineyards and dusty barrel-filled cellars, had caught our attention a while back with its wine fair and quirky inside/outside route.

We had arrived a couple of days early, to allow us to explore the town and to ensure we got parked okay, as the town’s usual aire was to be closed to accommodate the wine festival stalls. We parked instead in a large gravel courtyard behind the primary school, right in the heart of the town, with a clear vista to the view-dominating Church of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción.  The weather was bright and clear when we arrived, although it was never warm. The air had a chill and was set to get much worse we were told; dropping to 1 deg overnight and there was talk of heavy rain or even the possibility of snow on race day.  Zut alors!  That was not what we’d hoped for.

LaBastida - (balcony view)

LaBastida - (town view)

LaBastida - (panorama)

The cold wind shook Benny all evening as we hid away inside, and we awoke several times in the night to the familiar pattering of persistent, plopping rain.  We had finally fallen out of favour with the weather gods on this trip – this was going to be a wet, stormy event.  We popped out a few times in brief breaks in the deluge to quickly look around the centre, visiting the tourist office and café, the mairie and church.  We climbed a small hill behind the church that, in a fortunate twenty minute window, afforded us an expansive view across the landscape framed with otherwise elusive blue skies.

LaBastida - (town and countryside)

On the morning of the race we awoke, bleary eyed, to early alarms.   The sullen sky was a lighter grey, and the constantly tiddling overnight rain had stopped, for now.  We ate breakfast then wrapped up warmly for an exploratory walk around the start.  Vehicles were now piling into the huge gravel carpark, and our once empty aire was now home to fifteen other motorhomes or campers and perhaps a hundred cars.  Everywhere there were people chatting, stretching, warming up, readying themselves for the off.  There were three events today – 10km & 20km runs and a 10km walk, allowing all ages and fitness levels to participate and feel a key part of the proceedings.

LaBastida - (event logo)

We returned to Benny, shed warm layers and, nearing the time, returned to the start.  Nicky wrapped herself in a bin bag for warmth.  It was still only 3 degs, with a chilling wind that stripped the heat from you, so we wanted to stay warm until the race began.  We bounced about and ran a few warm-up lengths, never really feeling warm.

LaBastida - (nicky at start)

LaBastida - (before the start)

LaBastida - (on the start line)

Then it began; we gathered at the line and were off on time.  The first kilometre rose up through the town, first up to the church plaza and then very steeply up a narrow cobbled path.  Here Nicky & I parted company and I pushed on, passing lots of slower runners on the uphill section.  The first 4.5km, through beautiful vineyards and rolling countryside, but on torturous gravelled inclines, was a true leg-burning lung-buster.  But knowing that from then on the route was mostly downhill was great motivation to keep working.

Surviving the rises, I then dropped down fast, concentrating on balance and letting gravity do the heavy lifting.  The views were stunning, but the real threat of a deluge never lifted and I was glad to see the rear of the church grounds appear again on the return journey to town.  A few more short but very steep ups and downs on the slippy stones of the hillside streets and a quirky detour through a wine storage facility stacked with thousands of wooden barrels made up the final stretch.  Relying on the distance shown on my watch, I was beginning to wind up a sprint finish with an eye to picking off a few runners in front when suddenly the finish line appeared.  I surprised myself by finishing in 46 mins, but the route was, according to my watch, only 9.2km so I felt a little disappointed to end with gas in the tank and potentially a few places further back.

LaBastida - (finish line)

LaBastida - (nicky after finishing)

The rain began just as I finished, and 2.5 minutes later Nicky arrived so together we ducked under the shelter of the wine festival tent and chatted about our race.  We were rewarded with lovely WineRun wine glasses at the finish, along with drinks, cake and fruit.  We showered and dressed warmly, then returned to soak up the party atmosphere of the wine fair. Our new glasses could be used to try wines from various suppliers with tents lining the square, and vouchers for one free glass and one free tapas were included in our finisher goodie-bag.  This was our first alcohol in eighteen days, and in motorhoming life dry days are like dog years.  We sampled all the providers over the course of the afternoon, as prices dropped from €2 a glass to €1.50 to €1 during the course of the afternoon.  The guitar band played familiar popular songs and we danced in the crowd as pockets of walkers returned in small, jubilant groups.

LaBastida - (enjoying wine tasting)

We hid from the drizzle under the main tent, sipping wine and enjoyed the musicality of the band.  The Awards ceremony for all the race winners, featuring lots of wine as prizes, briefly interrupted the music, then the dancing and celebrations continued for a few more hours.  Cars began slowly filtering out of town again and as night fell we were once again alone in our quiet, expansive gravel courtyard with a prime view of the beautifully lit-up church tower.

A&N x

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

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.