Day 114: Lost in Languedoc!

Wanting to make the most of having a good mtb, and also looking to avoid the worst of the heat of the day, I set an early alarm and headed out into the hills for a couple of hours riding before breakfast. Over the years the mtb’ing around here has really improved and there are now a number of marked trails to follow that range from short and very easy to a full day out and very hard!! By now I’ve figured out a few good little loops that combine some easy and hard sections, so it was one of these that I decided on and headed out for ride one of the day. About an hour and a half later I arrived back feeling much more awake than when I left having ridden up some steep hills and negotiated some loose and rocky descents!

As the heat was now rising, it was time to hide inside and spend some time going through the many photos that we’ve taken in an effort to edit them down to the best ones for the blog. This always takes longer than we expect and can sometimes cause some ‘heated debate’ over the best composition/light/content!!

One of the biggest questions of the day here is always “what should we have for dinner?”, and this time it was decided that the BBQ should come out for the evening! Both Blaise and Zoe are big fans of French supermarkets, so with GUB as driver, they headed off to stock up on food for the evening whilst I caught up on the MTB worldcup and spent some time writing the blog and downloading more photos.

Soon enough it was cool enough (but still pretty roasting!) to get out for another ride. This time I’d decided to try a route that I hadn’t done in full before and set out for the start of the ride in the nearby village of Herepian. Initially the route was very well marked, if a little dull as it seemed to be mostly on tarmac, however this soon changed and gave way to a very long and loose gravel climb.

After enjoying some great, if slightly sketchy singletrack, it soon became clear that I’d missed a turn somewhere! Fortunately on previous visits to the area I’d done a few walks nearby and recognised the path that I was on, unfortunately it was too steep and rocky to ride, so with the bike on my back, I made my way down the trail to find myself in a nearby hamlet, but well off the path of the intended route! With time ticking on, and dinner beckoning, I made my way back via little back roads and trails – one to be revisited and completed before we head off again!

By now all our tummies were starting to rumble again, so the BBQ was lit, salads prepared and wine opened in preparation for a dinner under the stars. There was a request for some music to listen to whilst we were eating and with differing musical tastes being represented, the challenge of pleasing everyone was on! Having started with a ‘BBQ hits’ playlist, the conversation soon turned to ‘guilty secret’ tracks, so the evening continued with a selection of dubious 90’s tracks and lots more wine!!!


Day 112-113: Three become four!!

The house of GUB was set to be invaded yet again, as my sister flew out to join us all for the week. Not being known as the earliest of risers, the 6am flight was not well received and after briefly catching up on our adventures over the past few months it was time for her to have a nap (this is starting to feel like a flashback to when Team Mitchell were here!!)!

Feeling refreshed after a mammoth six hour sleep – whilst Rob and I caught up on the blog and GUB coloured in his little men (see photo below if you’re not familiar with GUB’s hobby!) – we indulged in a glass of two of Languedoc’s finest over dinner, whilst setting the world to rights.

The next morning brought with it another of Lamalou’s traditions – Saturday morning oysters and picpoul down at the market. With Rob feeling a little restless (well it had been two days since he was last on a bike!) he headed over to the nearby village of Le Poujol early to hire a mountain bike and soon joined us for wine (but not oysters). Despite coming out to France regularly to see Dad and trying to embrace their way of life, 11am still always feels too early for raw seafood (but definitely not wine!)!

Having caught up with GUB’s friends over a glass or two, a group of us headed down to a local restaurant for a spot of lunch and we were soon tucking into colossal burgers, steak tartare, lamb cutlets and omelettes. More wine in every colour imaginable meant it was back home for a little rest (or nap in Zoe’s case!), before Rob headed out for an early evening ride in the surrounding hills.

Day 110-111: Ducking around on the river!

When we arrived at our new site yesterday, it transpired that they didn’t accept card payments and we were looking a little low on cash, so being the selfless husband that I am, I offered to get on my bike and endure the pretty ride down the gorge to a nearby village to top-up the funds. Having not been for a ride for a while, it was nice to get out on the road bike and enjoy the perfect tarmac, quiet roads and amazing scenery.

Cash collected, the plan for the rest of the day was to head up to the Château de Peyrelade that overlooked the campsite. As is now the norm for us the walk was all uphill and in the heat, however it was fortunately relatively short and within 40 minutes we were at the entrance of this unique and interesting castle.

There have been records of settlements on the site since the 12th century and on entering what was left it was easy to see why it had been chosen as a stronghold for hundreds of years as it towered, precariously perched, on top of a large rock pillar. Being watched over by more soaring vultures, we wandered around marveling at how this place had even been built.

Once we’d seen all of the grounds (and taken the obligatory hundreds of photos!) we returned back to the visitors centre and spent a very interesting 20 minutes watching a film about the brutal and bloody history of the castle and the area whilst we cooled down from the heat outside.

Eventually it was time to head back down to the valley floor, via a snoop around a pretty nearby hamlet, before getting back to the van for an afternoon of relaxing, blog writing and duck watching!!

On our final morning in the Tarn, before heading back to Lamalou ready for grape picking, there was just time for me to get in another quick road ride before breakfast. Leaving Blaise tucked up in bed, I headed out to explore a bit more of the stunning gorge and was pleasantly surprised to find the air quite chilly as the sun was yet to fully rise above the tall rock walls that surrounded us.

Back at the van it was time for food and to make a quick plan on which route to take back to GUB’s. As we usually fly over, this was a good opportunity for us to explore an area that although very nearby, we have never seen. So with the route set to ‘slow’ we headed out of the valley and back towards the hills! Once again the French countryside threw up some great views as we dropped down from the high plateau of the Tarn and then wound our way back up to Lamalou passing yet more pretty villages on the way.

Arriving back at GUB’s the temperatures were back up again (37 degrees!!) and we’d certainly felt it in the BFG – hopefully the heat will drop off a bit before we start grape picking! Unpacked and settled in, we’d been invited out for pizza in the evening with a couple who lived just down the valley from GUB. Showered and smartened up (a little!), we headed off to the most unassuming restaurant that I think I’ve been to! It looked more like a biker hang-out/car workshop from the outside and inside was a very simple space but super friendly and with a very good looking menu!

Pizza ordered and drinks flowing, we had a great evening catching up with Mike and Tina before they had to head back to the UK for a while. Before we knew it, it was time to get back and get some sleep in preparation for the arrival of Blaise’s sister the next day.

Day 109: A walk through history

After a slightly restless nights sleep – due to creepy campsite toilets with no lights and a bad film choice for film night – we headed back down to the village and in the direction of the market. Having checked out a few stalls we made a beeline for crepe stall and treated ourselves – well it was close to elevenses! – before continuing to wander through the village.

Suitable fueled with sugar and nutella, we decided to try a walk recommended by the tourist office and set off with the rather vague directions. After a little while it became clear we didn’t know how far we were going, how long it would take or what we were actually going to see (I’d left Rob to get the details whilst I’d used the free wifi to do some online banking!!) but we carried on regardless – isn’t that part of the fun!

We finally stumbled upon a map at the visitors parking about 2km out of the village and continued on the walk, now knowing we here heading for the Pas de Cere!! We soon came across the first of several ‘information umbrellas’ which gave us a history of the village and River Cere, before the open fields were replaced by trees and the whole thing began to feel like a scene from Jurassic Park.

As we ventured deeper and deeper into the woods, the waterway began to rise and a gorge slowly opened up in front of us. It was a beautiful, tranquil spot and I’m not sure if it was the lack of anyone else there or the fact we’d been learning about the history along the way, but the space had an ancient quality about it.

Surroundings admired we headed back to the BFG and on the road once more, this time in the direction of the Tarn Gorge. The next few hours were spent bimbling our way down twisty roads, along quiet motoways and finally down a super narrow snaking road (which had a limit on vehicle length due to the tight corners!!) before arriving at our lovely, peaceful spot for the night on the banks of the River Tarn.

Day 108: The adventure continues…

With a rather cloudy morning putting pay to any good views over Puy-De-Dome we decided to hit the road again to explore the southerly tip of the Auvergne. After spying La Bourboule in the valley below us yesterday we made a plan to head there for an explore on route, but not before a quick detour into the sweet little hamlet about ten minutes down the road from our campsite.

Murat-le-Quaire was a charming place; a handful of houses centred around a church, but also home to a museum, restaurant and rather tasty looking salon de thé. As it was still quite early Rob pulled me away from the tasty looking treats, up a slope to admire the views (which were really quite good and if you don’t fancy hiking up a hill like us nearly as impressive!) and back into the BFG so we could go explore La Bourboule.

Arriving into La Bourboule we were immediately hit by the grandness of the town! Despite being nestled away in a valley in what felt like a rather sleepy, remote part of France the town was home to grand buildings, ornate restaurants and impressive churches. As is generally the case with la grande aventure we have a mooch around the village, a nosey in the shops (where we finally found a ‘France’ sticker for the back of the van) and got up close and personal with the boulangerie windows. This time the cakes looked just too good to resist and we emerged from the bakery with a beast of a cake – a super scrummy, sticky apple and blueberry affair – that should keep us going for the next few days…..

From La Bourboule we hit the road again, driving along remote country roads with ever-changing landscapes. In need of some food for the next few days – as sadly travelling hobos cannot live on cake alone (as much as we’d love too!) – we kept our eye out for any shops, however every hamlet seemed to be as quiet as the last and the mysterious supermarkets advertised at roundabouts never appears. Having driven for an hour or so we made a detour into a slightly larger town to seek out a Super U that was apparently only three minutes away. After driving for what felt like ten we arrived at the supermarket to find a strangely deserted car park, only to realise it was shut for lunch!! I won’t bore you with the details of the next two supermarkets we tried to go to, but suffice to say it was very similar to the first attempt!

Supermarket number four proved to be a success though and it was definitely worth the wait – after all where else can you admire the stuffed animal display in the hunting section whilst you stock up on apples and bananas!

Fridge filled again we made our way to our stop for the night, a campsite located just above Vic-sur-Cere, and on parking up had a wander down to the village. Yet again we found another charming village, a helpful tourist information office and set about making plans for the following day.

Day 107: Walking to Rome!!

Waking up we noticed something strange falling from the sky that was familiar, but had not been seen for some time – I believe it was called rain! Taking this as a sign that we should catch up with our blog writing that seems to be forever slipping, we spent the morning drinking coffee, writing and editing pictures. After a few hours, the sun began to return to it’s normal position in the sky so it was time to stretch our legs and go exploring.

I’d been told by reception that there was a walk up to a nearby(ish) peak that could be done from the site, however the directions that I was given were a little limited! With a very vague idea of where we were going we set off in search of a footpath. After following a steep quiet road (that was signposted for Rome!) for some time, we stumbled across a path that also had a very useful and detailed map of other routes in the area.

A few minutes of reading (and guessing!) and we were off again, but this time with a direction to follow! The trail lead us uphill through ancient woodland and eventually opened up to allow us to see our goal for the walk. More steep roads followed before turning off for the final stretch – an exposed path up to the peak that reminded me very much of the South Downs back home.

On reaching the windswept top we were treated to panoramic views of the volcanic region one way and the flatter plains the other way. Sitting to have a quick snack, we felt a little chilly for what felt like the first time in months as the wind whipped over the hill. Deciding that it was time to head down before the weather changed, we set off back down the hill.

On the way up I’d seen signs for local VTT routes, and the path we were heading down was also one of these and looked like so much fun to ride – note to self to come back with a mountain bike!!

Getting back to the BFG we realised that we’d been out a lot longer than expected, but had made it back just in time as the weather had closed in and our view from the top would now be shrouded in cloud. It was a great walk though, and with more time, you could spend a few days walking and riding in this area – another area to add to the ‘must return to’ list!

Day 105-106: Marvellous Millau

After a few days in the Pyrenees we thought we should make the most of our unexpected time in France and decided to head north to explore the Auvergne region, an area we’d never heard of until recently but had since read (and seen) really good things about.

With sat nav predicting nearly eight hours to get there we decided to break the journey over two days and stop in Millau on route – a place we’d seen on countless road signs over the years of visiting Lamalou, but never visited.

Once again the journey took us through charming villages and impressive scenery and reminded us why we love France so much. After about five hours driving we arrived at our home for the night, a pretty little campsite on the banks of the Tarn and settled into an evening of blogging – and having not had wifi on the laptop for nearly a week there was a lot of updating to do!!

Up early the next day we decided to explore the city and were pleasantly surprised to find the check out time was (*shoulders shrugged*) ‘whenever’! Map in hand we made the short fifteen minute walk into the centre and were soon lost in the maze of streets only to emerge into hidden squares, markets or river banks every once in a while. A quick caffeine stop and it was time to hit the road again, so we headed back to the site to pack up and head north.

If you fancy a few nights either on route north or south, I’d definitely recommend Millau – it was a much nicer town that I expected, small enough to not feel too commercial but with lots going on. And for any sports fans there is plenty to do from paragliding to riding, climbing to kayaking (including a mini bike park right next to our campsite!). They even have their own extreme sports festival!!

Oh and if you’re looking for a basic but good value campsite, you can’t go wrong with Camping Larribal. We paid €11 a night, including free wifi 🙂

Back on the motorway we bimbled our way north and were surprised to find a fair amount of traffic, however on turning off towards our next stop near La Bourboule all that was forgotten as we found ourselves driving though the most stunning landscape we’d seen in a while. The combination of soft evening light, rolling hills and a true sense of wilderness had us in awe and made the job of getting to our campsite quite hard as we slowed down, stopped and ran off to snap away on the camera any time the road let us!

At one such moment we pulled in only to find the other van had a UK number-plate and as I went off to take a few shots Rob discovered that our lay-by friends, Mo and Tony, lived only twenty miles away from us back home!!

Finally reaching our stop about ten minutes before reception closed we parked up and decided to treat ourselves to a cheeky glass of something, so made our way up to the campsite bar. They say size doesn’t matter but I’ve never seen Rob look more disappointed than when the bar man handed him a thimble-sized glass of red wine!

Rob: After a long day behind the wheel, a sherry glass of wine just doesn’t cut it!

Day 104: Pretty high for a white guy!

With the temperature refusing to drop, our plan for the day was to get the bubble lift from the town centre and make our way up to the top of the mountain for a nice walk back down into the valley. So waking at a decent hour and with bags packed with plenty of water, lunch and snacks we set off looking forward to taking the easy way up!

Sat in the first lift, we enjoyed the views as the town disappeared below us and the alpine vistas took over. Arriving at the top of the first lift, we then jumped on another one (this time a chairlift) to the top, immediately feeling the refreshing change in temperature and took some time to drink in the stunning scenery that spread out all around us.

As we watched a large group of vultures circle above, we began to wonder which of the walkers would be picked off first!

With photos taken we set off on the path to a pretty lake that we had been told about, crossing alpine pastures and herds of sheep, plus quite a few other walkers all heading in the same direction.

As we wandered on, marveling at the views, we had a reminder that life in the mountains can be pretty tough for some as we passed the carcass of a sheep that had obviously come to a sticky end and provided a good meal for the many vultures that we had seen.

Shortly after our lesson in the skeletal structure of sheep, we arrived at the lake and it’s refuge which was already serving lunch to many hungry walkers! After a brief stop it was time to start the journey down the valley and back to the campsite, leaving most of the diners to retrace their steps and get the lifts back down the hill!

I’m sure by now you’re all familiar with our descriptions of wonderful mountain views, so we won’t bore you with it all again and will just let the pictures do the talking instead – as usual however, the walk did take longer than expected but it was well worth the effort!!

Arriving back to the town feeling sun backed and weary, we made a brief detour to a little patisserie as reward for our efforts and treated ourselves to a very nice little pastry that was soon devoured with a cup of coffee back at the campsite.

What little was left of the day was spent relaxing, eating dinner and enjoying the lovely surroundings that we had found ourselves in. This little corner of the Pyrenees was a great find and I’d definitely recommend visiting if you want a change from the usual big ski resorts.

Day 102-103: Kamikaze creatures!!

Deciding to leave Spain and head both north and up in search of cooler temperatures, we left Alquezar and headed in the direction of the French Pyrenees. Knowing of the BFG’s dislike for going downhill we choose the slightly flatter and straighter of the two route options, however (after a few wrong turns at the start of the journey) were quite surprised as the road began to wiggle and wind. As a large lake came into view – which was definitely not on the route we’d chosen – we pulled over at the water’s edge for a bite to eat and checking sat nav realised we were in for some narrow, twisty roads!

Fueled up and ready for the journey we carried on up and over the mountain, crossing the border into France and noticing it seemed instantly more lush and green (although not that much cooler!!).

As we started the slow decent down the other side we began to feel like we were in some sort of video game as kamikaze animals kept trying to sacrifice themselves under the BFG! First up a vulture, sat very close to the edge of the road – no sudden movements though, so maybe he was steeling himself before he jumped! Next up it was a ram who again seemed quite content by the side of the road, however as we got nearer he tried to launch himself off the bank and onto the road! Thankfully we missed him and fingers crossed the cars behind us did too!!

After ram-gate we were on alert and soon noticed cars flashing as they drove up in the other direction. As we turned a corner it became apparent why they were flashing as we saw a cow casually relaxing in the middle of the road! Luckily for everyone there was enough space to squeeze past and after the adventures of the day so far we decided to stop at the next town for a break.

Pulling into the car park we had a mooch around the pretty mountain village, which still felt very hot and sticky! On seeing a pharmacy sign it became apparent why, it was still showing 37 degrees!

After a little more wondering we headed back to the van, only to find it was about three foot further forward than where we left it!! We’re still not sure if it was an irate French man who’d muscled it out of the way as we’d taken over two parking spots (the BFG is rather long!) or the handbrake has a momentary lapse and decided to join the suicidal animals, but we’re being extra cautious with the handbrake from now on!

Having descended the mountain we continued our journey through increasingly prettier and prettier villages, passing fields of corn and sunflowers. But before we reached our home for the next few nights there was still enough time for one final group of suicidal animals, this time a herd of cows trotting down the road!

Luckily for us they were accompanied by a group of herders who kept them in check, allowing the long line of cars to slowly pass, and we were soon safely checking into our campsite just outside Cauterets.

After a quick walk into the town to find a surprisingly larger centre than we expected we headed back to the van for dinner and another film night.

After a rather lazy start to the day we headed back into the centre to check out our options for the next few days and decided to take the chair lifts up to Crete du Lys tomorrow, before bimbling our way back down the valley. This meant more time today to do a little mooching and shopping, so with new shorts and a vintage-style resort poster bought it was back to the campsite for the evening.


Day 101: Escape from Alquezar!

After a very nice, and slightly indulgent, evening it was time to get some exercise! Due to the crazy temperatures that we were experiencing, we rose (relatively) early with a view to walking up to a pretty local village called Alquezar and then taking in a walk in the hills from there.

Directions confirmed with the reception at the campsite, we headed on uphill toward the village with the heat already starting to build. The village was one of the prettiest that we had seen in Spain, perched on the hilltop with a big church standing proud overlooking the valley and below.

As we wanted to try to avoid the worst of the heat, we headed to the tourist information office to check the route that we were looking to take, only to be told that we’d be mad to do it as it was very steep and with little or no shade, however there was a very pretty gorge walk that would be more suitable for us. With more maps in hand, we made our way through the village in search of the start of the walk, and with only a couple of wrong turns we were away!

We’ve seen and walked through a few gorges on our travels, and this was different yet again! The path descended quite steeply, and in a style that would have made any UK health-and-safety officer very nervous! With a combination of very slippery limestone rock, wobbly wooden walkways and some slightly more secure feeling metal platforms, we descended into a world that felt like it hadn’t changed in thousands of years – all this whilst being followed closely behind by a Spanish family with very excitable children who somehow had the energy to run everywhere, even in the heat!

Finally reaching the valley floor after seeing some amazing rock formations, we were greeted by an open, and relatively dry river bed, and a massive cave that had been carved out by years and years of erosion from the river – it was quite a sight!

Having marvelled at nature’s work for long enough, we pressed on along the rest of the route, taking in yet more great views and walking along more dubious pathways before arriving at the end of the walk and into the scorching sunshine of mid-day.

After a slight detour to look at a roman bridge we slowly melted our way back into the village in search of shade and it was quite a relief when we arrived and could hide from the sun!

Feeling slightly cooler, we meandered through the narrow streets, trying to avoid all of the little shops selling delicious looking pastries, and made our way back down the hill to the campsite ready for lunch and an afternoon of relaxing and trying not to overheat.

When we started this trip and spent the first few weeks avoiding rain and having to use our heater in the van to stay warm, we wouldn’t have believed that it would be so draining living in such high temperatures, but with temperatures not dropping below 25 degrees even at night, the heat was getting too much for us! So it was with slightly heavy hearts that we changed our plans again, deciding to heading north rather than west and set our next target to the French Pyrenees in the hope of finding cooler weather!

(A note to Spain – we will be back just not in August, it’s just too hot for ginger people!!)