Day 158-159: Homeward bound

We woke today with very mixed feelings as it was time to start the journey back to the UK and reality! We were both looking forward to seeing friends and family again, but at the same time life on the road was a whole world of fun and we knew that going back to ‘normal’ life would be a bit of a shock to the system. All of that was a twelve hour drive away however, so we set of on our two day mission to Calais.

Over the course of the past 157 days we’ve driven through some awe inspiring scenery, sadly the 7 1/2 hours that made up day one of the journey home don’t fall into this category! Mile upon mile of flat road, interspersed with aging hamlets, a prison and industrial estates followed.

Admittedly we didn’t plan the route back in any great detail, so probably missed lots of nice places, but if you do the same trip and use google maps (no toll road option!) be prepared! Finally arriving at our stop for the night, we made a quick trip to the local Carrefour to pick up a relaxing beer and some nibbles before retiring to the BFG for dinner whilst the rain danced on the roof of the van.

Waking to the final day on the road, we certainly noticed the drop in temperature the further north we headed. With another five hours to go, we set off early in the hope of getting an early ferry. The closer to Calais we got, the more built-up things became, and soon enough we could see the white cliffs of Dover ahead of us – a very strange feeling after such a long time away from home.

Arriving at Calais we only had a short wait before being ushered onto our ferry back to the UK. It had been a very windy drive up, and the wind was still blowing hard, so it looked like we were in for a crossing that would give a roller coaster a run for its money!

Fortunately as we exited the calm of the port, the channel wasn’t as bad as we were expecting and before we knew it, it was time to get back in the BFG and for me to remember how to drive on the right (wrong?!) side of the road whilst also driving on the dark!

It was certainly a bit of a shock to the system as we made our way home trying to avoid rush hour traffic. I’d forgotten how narrow and twisty UK roads can be, and by the time we arrive home, I was shattered!!

So that was it, after 8914 miles and 10 countries, la grande aventure was over. It had been an amazing 159 days of wonderful places, people and experiences. From mountain tops and deep fjords, to vineyards and sandy beaches, Europe has so much to see and we’ve barely scratched the surface! We have a long list of places to head back to, new places to see that we didn’t manage to get to and new friends to visit!

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Day 156-157: How not to wash your clothes…

After a few lovely indulgent days in San Sebastian we headed back into France today, so Rob could get a little more surfing in before we headed home. On arriving into Hossegor we headed straight to the beach to check out the surf and were met with some very choppy waves, combined with a strong current! Not wanting to miss out on the opportunity to catch a few more waves Rob decided to head in anyway and began battling with the surf, whilst I took up position on the beach with a good book. The next hour or so was spent playing a game of ‘spot the Robin’ to check he was okay in the surf, reading and every so often moving further up the beach as the tide moved in.

After a few hours the waves and current got the better of Rob and he decided to call it a day, so headed back up to the van to get changed and grab his book. He bumped into Ness and the boys in the car park and stopped for a chat, leaving me on the beach engrossed in my book.

Sadly I got a little too into my book and hadn’t realised quite how much the water was coming up the beach. Before I knew it the water had lept up the beach and unfortunately for me (even though I have been about five metres from the last tidal flow!) I was soon covered in water up to my waist!! After a few minutes of panic – including furiously checking my rucksack to make sure the camera, phones and wallets were okay – I hauled by sorry, soggy arse (and bag and clothes and towel and book!) back to the car park where I was greeted by a rather surprised Rob!

We headed to the aire so I could dry off and by this point I was able to laugh at the irony of having to pick my soggy bookmark out of the sand which read ‘The cure for anything is saltwater – sweat, tears or the sea’. A quiet night of reading (sadly a different book, whilst my other book dried off!) and blog writing followed, before we attempted round two of surfing tomorrow.

A quick detour to grab fuel and we were soon back on the beach again! Rob headed straight down to the water whilst I stayed up in the van blog writing, giving me the opportunity to perv on a few naked surfer’s bums who clearly though the car park was deserted! Ogling complete I headed down to the beach to let Rob know it was time to come in, as we’d been invited over to Ness’ for some food and after a quick change we pulled up at her house. We had another good, if short, catch up with Ness before she had to dash off to work leaving just one thing on Rob’s mind – waves!

We headed back to the beach (making sure I was sat well away from the water!) and Rob was soon enjoying his last opportunity to surf before we began the drive north, however his board clearly has other ideas and after only about 45 minutes his leash decided to break!

With surfing over we headed into town where we had a look in a few surf shops for a new leash, before buying a poster to remind us of our fab time in Hossegor. Then it was back to the van for some route planning, ahead of tomorrow long drive north…

Day 150-152: Surf’s up!!

After a slightly restless nights sleep we woke early and headed straight to the beach to check out the surf before having breakfast. With the wave size looking good for my pretty poor surfing abilities, coffee and cereal was swiftly demolished and my board and wetsuit extracted from the top of the van.

Having been up there for five months, it was good to see that the board was still okay, however sadly the same could not be said for my (now at least 15 year old!) wetsuit as it had become waterlogged and very out of shape! Looking like I’d borrowed it from someone twice my size, I headed into the waves for the first time since our honeymoon in Bali over three years ago, leaving Blaise on the beach to enjoy the sunshine!

After a few of hours of trying to remember how it worked and dodging the masses in the water, I decided that it was time to head in for some food and to rest my very tired and out of shape paddling arms! After a quick bite to eat, we went in search of our stop for the night which was just outside the main town. Having parked up and showered we decided that it was time to stretch our legs and see what Hossegor had to offer!

Getting to the town, I was in surf shop heaven!! For those who don’t know, I spent my formative years working in a surf/skate shop in the surf mecca that is Tunbridge Wells, Kent. So aside from the sunshine, beach down the road and masses of people around that actually can and do surf, I felt right at home!

The rest of the afternoon was spent mooching around the shops looking for a new wetsuit for me, eating ice cream (the first for what felt like weeks!!) and checking out the surf comp. Sadly the waves were not big enough for people who actually know what they are doing, so the comp was not running today, but it did give us the chance to have a go on a VR surf machine which was pretty cool!! Walking back as the sun was starting to set, we decided that this was a pretty cool place to be and were looking forward to more fun the next day.

Day two dawned bright and early(ish) and armed with info from a very friendly sales assistant at the Billabong store in town yesterday, our first call was their outlet store to replace the saggy suit with something that actually fits me and does its job! With that task successfully completed, it was time to get in the water again!

Down on the beach we bumped into Ness and her two boys and arranged to have lunch with them as they only live a couple of minutes away. Blaise headed off with Ness to catch up, leaving me to play in the surf and avoid the masses of boards in the water.

After a few hours, I decided that I was both tired and hungry, so headed in to find Ness, Jerome (Ness’ husband) and the twins chatting with Blaise and my cold lunch waiting for me! All too soon it was time for Jerome to get back to work and for Ness and the boys to get on with the rest of their day, so we left them to it and went for another walk into the town, treating ourselves to a couple of nice pastries – well why not!! Feeling a little weary we slowly wandered back to the BFG for another rock ‘n’ roll night of reading and drinking tea 🙂

Today was our last day in Hossegor before we headed back into Spain. We were hoping to watch the surf comp, but the waves still weren’t playing ball for the professionals, so instead we met Ness and Jerome for a quick coffee in the morning and then I went and enjoyed the small Rob sized waves for a couple of hours. With time ticking on we headed back to the aire for a quick shower and then off to our next exciting stop, Bilbao!

Fortunately the drive to Bilbao is a relatively short one, so about three hours later we were at our new home for the next couple of nights. Parking up, we met some fellow travellers (Simon and Gemma with their two children) who were on their way back to the UK to sell the massive motorhome that was no longer needed for their new life in Portugal. It was great to hear other people’s stories about places they’d been to and experiences along the way and we spent a lovely couple of hours chatting and enjoying very drinkable, and surprisingly cheap, red wine!

Day 148-149: …hello Hossegor!!

Having said goodbye to our vendange buddies yesterday, today it was time to say goodbye to Lamalou! After a month of grape picking, it’s time to pack up the van and slowly start to bimble our way home 😦

After a rather frustrating trip to the bank, where they were unable to give us our new bank cards so we could spend our vendange earnings – something to do with needing to verify a few things with head office, as we’re not official residents – we headed to the salon de thé one last time. Coffee drank and pain aux raisins demolished it was onto the market, to join the weekly gathering of GUB’s friends for white wine and oysters. It was lovely to catch up with people, some who we hadn’t seen since early-August, and enjoy a drop or two of wine in the sunshine. With the plan to set off early-doors tomorrow we made our excuses and head home around lunchtime to finish off the last few bits and make sure the blog was up to date!

We also made the most of GUB’s kitchen and enjoyed a slow-cooked lamb tagine whilst we had both space and limitless heat at hand! That’s one of the things we’ve noticed whilst on the road, you start to think about meals a little more creatively to minimise the cooking time! When it’s hot outside you want to spend as little time as possible in a small van over a hob – and there’s always a risk we might run out of gas!! I’m certainly looking forward to a bigger kitchen (and a toaster!!) when we finally make it home…

Up early we left Lamalou by 9 o’clock, with GUB waving us off before he headed down to the vide grenier (a French boot fair, which when translated literally means ’empty attic’) to bag a few bargains. With about six hours of driving ahead of us, we quickly got back into the travelling life with music, snacks and books (obviously not for Rob!!) all close to hand! We headed directly west of Lamalou, skirting Toulouse as we headed towards the coast and it was good to see a part of France we’d still not explored – although having spent about ten weeks in France this summer I’m not sure how!!

We grabbed a quick bite to eat near a lake, where a short walk to stretch our legs ended abruptly when a load of geese further down the path started hissing at us! Back in the van we soon began to see signs for Bayonne, Bourdeaux and Biarritz and before we knew it we’d arrived in Hossegor!

There were a few reasons for our trip to Hossegor – firstly as Rob loves to surf when he gets the opportunity and this was to be the board’s first outing this trip, secondly there was a Quiksilver Pro competition happening here this week and last, but definitely not least, an old friend from London was now living here with her family!! Our first stop was to see Ness and have a catch up after not seeing each other for nearly ten years, however with one of her boys poorly it was a rather quick hello over a cup of coffee (whilst also trying to play with her not so poorly twin) before leaving them to it for the evening.

We parked up the van in a quiet car park near Ness’ house and wandered down to the beach to check out the waves, the surfers and the sunset, before heading down to a beer festival we’d heard was on. I think everyone must have hit it hard the night before, as it was a rather tame crowd and none of the bands had got going yet, so we headed back to the van for food and a sleep after a long day on the road.

Day 147: Goodbye grapes…

Today was to be our last day of the vendange which was both exciting and sad as it meant that our time in Lamalou and with our new work mates was nearly over, but it had also been great to see the process through to the end and to be part of a great French tradition. As we’ve learnt more about the producer that we’ve been working for and their ethos, we’ve also become quite fond of the old fashioned method of picking by hand. By the sound of things, this is sadly on the decline as more producers (and certainly those with larger vineyards) turn to the big picking machines to collect the harvest.

The mornings have been getting gradually colder over the past couple of weeks, but today was our first taste of true autumn weather as the valley was engulfed in heavy cloud that gave it a completely different feel. As we made our way to our meeting point, roads that had by now become very familiar were almost unrecognisable and with the damp in the air, we wondered if we’d actually be picking at all today.

As we started to crest the hill that separates Lamalou and Faugeres, the cloud started to clear and it began to look like we were in for another nice day! Everyone was in good spirits and clearly looking forward to the final morning of picking. The picking itself happened pretty quickly, and before we knew it, the vendange was complete and celebrated by decorating the tractor with leafy vines.

After saying our goodbyes to our new friends – including being given a magnum of our favourite wine by the owners back at the cellier – it was time to start the not so exciting task of getting everything together before we head off again.

After a few hours of sorting, washing and tidying, we were both in need of a leg stretch and change of scene so a plan was hatched to go and see a little village that we could see when we were picking, and then on to a spot that GUB thought we should see. Loaded into the car, we set off on our magical mystery tour of new and interesting places!

After scaling the steep and loose path up to a little castle in the hamlet of Roquesol, we then headed over to a little reservoir near the village of Vailhan where we met bloke who was organising a music event there. This was to be no ordinary show though, as it would feature a pianist floating on the water – it all happens over here you know! From Vailhan it was time to head back to Lamalou via some of pretty sketchy narrow roads (whilst playing the petrol ‘red light’ game!) and then to get ready for dinner at one of the fancier local eateries.

To finish off our time in Lamalou we headed back to another favourite, L’Arbousier. It looked like it may have changed ownership since we were last there and sadly the food was not as good, but the great wine made up for it! We had a fun evening enjoying the slightly over the top surroundings and comedy waiter! If you are ever in Lamalou, it’s worth checking out for a nice drink on the pretty terrace, but maybe give the food a miss for now!

Day 145-146: All creatures great and small (and tasty!!)

After a rather indulgent day yesterday it was back up early and into the fields this morning for our penultimate vendange shift! Some shifts have flown by in a blur of snipping and sorting, but this one was a little more memorable now that sanglier (wild boar) season was ramping up!

Whilst the hunting season began at the end of the summer, today was the first day we saw any sign of them and on driving down to the vineyard we passed a van of hunters in their fluro-orange jackets. Thinking nothing of it we carried on to the field and were merrily picking away until we heard the sound of barking dogs getting nearer and nearer!

Soon an orange vested hunter arrived to see what was going on in the field and speak to our boss. After a short discussion he went on his way – I have no idea what was said, but I’d imagine the hunter wanted to see if our field was free so they could send their dogs through on the hunt for the illusive sanglier! Luckily they changed their path to stay out of our way, however the barking still continued – really quite loudly!! – just over the hedge and I have to say I was a little on edge. Yes the hunters knew we were picking away and could control the dogs, but I had visions of an injured, frightened sanglier running into the vineyard and straight up my row!!

Thankfully we were okay – and having heard no gun shots, I think the sanglier was too – and could go about our picking safe in the knowledge the worst that could happen was a sting from the many wasp-like insects that were swarming around the sweet grapes! A few hours later and another shift was done, so we headed back to GUB’s to de-grape (these end of season bunches are super juicy and super sticky!) and relax.

The remainder of the day – and start of the next – were spent blog writing, planning, shopping and sorting ready to pack up the BFG to head off again. It really is amazing how much you spread when you have access to a whole house rather than a van!!

With everything feeling a little more sorted it was time to get on with prepping dinner. After Tuesday’s indulgences we had settled on a simple veggie stirfry yesterday, however we had promised to show off our hot-smoking skills to GUB before we left and went for the classic smoked duck. Luckily for me this was Rob’s domain so I let him prep, render and finally smoke the duck whilst I set about creating a simple side dish of puy lentils, yogurt, spinach and herbs.

This is now other third or fourth attempt at smoked duck and it certainly lived up to it’s reputation. Soft, pink and juicy it had a wonderful fruity, smoked aroma from the apple wood chippings, that went very well a rather special bottle of wine we had been saving.

This is the big, big brother of our wedding wine, a dangerously drinkable syrah that slipped down far too quickly! I’m really looking forward to trying the new wines we got from our trip to St Chinian, however they have stiff competition to live up too 🙂

Day 144: All you can eat…almost!

Now we knew when we were needed for the final few days of vendanging we made the most of our day off by heading over to St Chinian, an area known for its wine. The main premise for the trip was to check out a wine shop which had been recommended by one of GUB’s friends, however as we’d made the 40 minute or so drive over there it seemed silly not to combine this with some bike riding research and a bite to eat!

Before I go on to talk about the epic lunch or wine tasting, I have to quickly mention the drive down which was really pretty stunning. It took us along winding roads that hugged the banks of the River Orb, past vineyards where the leaves were just starting to change colour in the autumn light and through the charming town of Roquebrun where we saw tractor after tractor waiting to drop off their morning grape harvest. I have to say I felt rather smug that it was them not us that had to tackle the grape harvest this morning, however I’m sure that feeling will wear off when my alarm goes off at 6:30am tomorrow!!

Once in the town centre we did a quick recce to find the tourist information office, bike shop and several places to buy wine, before grabbing a bite to eat. We’d already arranged to head out this evening to meet another of GUB’s friends for dinner so planned to grab a quick bite to eat only, however when GUB and Rob’s salads arrived we realised today might turn into an episode of ‘Man vs Food’!! And that’s not even mentioning my steak and chips!

Mains slowly demolished the nice waitress asked if we fancied dessert, before reeling off a list of tasty sounding options. It seemed rude not to try some, as she was very friendly and we’d driven a way to get here, so we order a combination of chocolate pots and fromage blanc (a sort of rich yogurt/cream-cheese mix) served with spiced apples, caramel sauce and a sprinkling of speculoos biscuit crumble!! A quick coffee to wake us up and cleanse our palates and it was onto the wine shop – via tourist information to grab a few mtb route maps for Rob to check out next time we’re over.

The wine shop was like an aladdin’s cave, with row upon row of reds, whites and roses, and GUB was in his element! Having spent eight years living in the Languedoc region he has quite a good idea of what he does and doesn’t like and with a bit of friendly guidance from the sommelier went about selecting a few (*cough*) bottles to try.

Rob and I are a little newer to this wine tasting malarkey; back home we go on the price, the label and the description whilst in France we generally trust the opinions of our now employer who stock a great range of wines at their cellier and are more than happy to both recommend and let you taste. So while GUB was uming and ahing over this bottle or that, we were abusing the sommelier for knowledge, advice and samples.

Having spent the best part of a month grape picking we know a lot more about different grape varieties and have our favourites which make up our wine of choice – Grenache Noir, Mourvèdre and Syrah – so to begin with we sampled a few drops made up of these varieties and from there the sommelier gave us a few more recommendations. GUB must have been feeling sorry for us, knowing we were soon heading back to the UK to face to the cold, dark winter months and treated us to a selection to help transport us back to a wonderful summer in France. In no particular order we settled on…

We’ll let you know our favourites once we’ve sampled them back home 🙂

With the car feeling a little heavier thanks to our full bellies and bottles of wine we bimbled back to Lamalou ready to psyche ourselves up for yet more food! After a few hours spent reading and relaxing, we made our way down to the restaurant, only to find out at the last minute that our guest couldn’t join us. But with the table booked – and at a restaurant we’ve not eaten at before – we decided to carry on anyway and enjoyed some rather tasty mains before moving onto dessert (well as I mentioned it was a new restaurant for us and we felt we needed to sample both their sweet and savoury options to be able to form a well-rounded opinion!!).

Rob decided on a fresh lemon sorbet to balance out his cheesy pizza, GUB went for an Ardeche inspired chestnut sundae to complement his typically French duck main and I went for the cafe gourmand because, well it allows you to try a taste of a lot of different desserts! All three desserts were lovely and generally just what we wanted, except maybe in my case where even my second dessert stomach failed me and I felt really pretty stuffed.

It seems the combination of me, GUB and Rob is a little deadly for both our waist-lines and livers and I think we’ll all start to feel a lot healthier when Rob and I head back onto the road at the end of the week and GUB can’t be led/lead us astray! Still it was all lovely food and one to add as an option next time we’re in Lamalou…

Day 141-143: Autumn arrives!

So having had to change our plans yesterday – those grapes just don’t wait! – and with a change in the weather bringing a day of on-off showers, today was spent planning our last couple of weeks on la grande aventure, relaxing and drinking lots of coffee as the temperature seems to have dropped below 20 degrees! The time has really flown by and with the ferry now booked, our return to normality seems ever closer 😦

The last leg of the journey will take us west to the food loving towns of Bilbao and San Sebastian in Spain and the surf meccas of Biarritz and Hossegor in France, before heading up the west coast of France to our ferry at Calais. Being very much the end of the tourist season, the options for campsites are a lot lower, but we hope that this also means that we’ll find plenty of nice quiet spots by the coast, and also quieter towns, with less of the crazy crowds that we have witnessed during the peak season!

As is only right with a Sunday we rose a little later than normal, enjoying a lazy breakfast before heading off to Lac du Salagou. Even though it is only about 30 minutes from GUB’s house, we had not yet managed to see it over the years of visiting, so today was the day!

We’d seen photos of the lake on nice bright summer’s days, however today was a more overcast autumn day, so it was not quite as pretty as it maybe could be, however it did give me the chance to check out more options for riding as there are a number of different routes, both around the lake and in the surrounding hills – more exploring for me then……ah well!!

Stopping for a brief coffee and what we thought would be a little sandwich, but turned out to be half a baguette, we went for a little wander by the water front and looked at the collection of old gurney bikes that had arrived in the main car park as part of a round-lake rally. These old bikes looked like they would be more suited to very gentle flat roads rather than the undulating and narrow roads around the lake, but at least one rider had the sense to bring an old motorcross bike instead!

Back in the car, and the last stop of the day was the nearby town of Clermont-l’Herault. When we drove from the Alps last time we went by a route that we didn’t know and ended up driving through the town when we’d normally skip around the outskirts. We were pleasantly surprised by it and felt that it was worth a proper visit, so parking up we set about seeing what it was about. Being a Sunday most shops were closed however the centre was quite pretty, with a large square that would be packed with stalls on market day – definitely a place to revisit when it is at it’s bustling best.

A quiet night followed as we were once again due to work in the fields in the morning.

Our alarms rang all too soon in the morning and another day of work started as the sun rose over the hills. We were now getting toward the end of the vendange and there was an air of urgency about our fellow workers as the weather was looking a little uncertain, so we needed to pick as much as possible before it turned. A solid four hours of picking later, with stiff backs and hands covered in grape juice, we had finished the first day of the last week of the vendange season and although conversation with our French and Spanish colleagues is a little limited, it will be strange when the time comes to say goodbye!

You may have figured out by now that our travels have often revolved around food, so as not to break with this tradition a large risotto was planned for the evening. Armed with the shopping list, Blaise and GUB headed off to the supermarket leaving me behind to continue planning and blog writing. Arriving back with everything needed for the risotto, I set about getting dinner underway. The plan was for a chorizo and chicken risotto and soon discovered that the chorizo chosen was just about the hottest that I’ve ever tasted – excellent!!

With stomachs rumbling, the anti-cook rice was finally done, some 20 minutes after the cooking instructions suggested and we sat down to eat. Fortunately the chorizo had calmed a little and it was pretty good!! With tummies now full, beds called after another fun-packed day on la grande aventure!!

Day 138-140: The quest for the holy trail continues!

After yesterday’s visit to the Caroux, and having spotted that there was lots of riding to be had, I decided that it was about time that I headed up there with a bike. The first challenge was to get there though! The drive up to the little hamlet of Douch, where the rides start from, is both spectacular and a little nerve wracking, with great views but very narrow mountain roads! Arriving safely in the car park, it was now time to decide which loops to try. Not knowing the area too well, I opted for the medium length route, and if there was time, a short loop.

I was really looking forward to seeing how the riding would differ up here compared to down in the valley, and it was certainly different! After a rocky and enclosed climb, I broke out of the woods and was greeted by more stunning views. I was very pleased that the weather was so good as being up on this very exposed plateau in bad weather could be really nasty!

The trail started to follow a stunning ridge-line that felt very alpine. It was here that I met a couple more riders, however they were on a slightly longer ride, being two days into a seven day off-road ride, ending down in Carcassonne. I felt very lucky not to be hauling a bike laden with tents, stoves and supplies over this rocky and unforgiving terrain!

The trail was a real mix of riding styles with the open expanse of the plateau, wide fire-road climbs and narrow wooded single track, it had a bit of everything and all very different to back home!

As I was having so much fun, I only stopped to take a handful of pictures (trying to take some ‘on bike selfies’ with the timer setting), so I hope that they give an idea of what the area was like.

I was not the only person getting exercise today however as Blaise also got out for a run on the voie vert and sent me a lovely picture when she got back showing why water (and I guess sweat) proof make up is a good idea at times – sadly I’ve been told that this picture will not make the blog!

Tired but very happy having explored an area that I’d not ridden before, it was time to head back down the twisting road to Lamalou and an afternoon of research for our last stops on la grande aventure – I can’t believe that it’s nearly over 😦 – followed by a very tasty (but quite fiery) shark marsala cooked by GUB.

Another day beckoned and there was more riding to be done! The route today was closer to home, but one that I’d not fully completed before and the longest of the official routes in the area. Touted as being a difficult route (now knowing that they really mean it here!) I was ready for a challenge!

This time I’d already ridden the first half of the route and knew that it was a gentle start, however soon enough the climbing started! Nearly an hour after the climb began, I’d reached the high point of the day and gained over 500m in height! The great thing here was that it meant that there was a lot of descending to be done and I was sure that there’d be some ‘interesting’ trails to come.

I’ve ridden in the area for a few years now and very rarely see others out on the trail, so it was with some surprise that as I rounded a corner, there was someone else out on a bike in the middle of nowhere! Stopping to say hi I discovered that my fellow rider, Bjorn, had travelled all the way from Norway (I know the feeling!) and was on a mission to record as many trails as possible in Europe for an app he was developing – Trailguide – whilst living out of his campervan.

After a few minutes of discussing the area and routes that we were following we went our separate ways, only to meet up again in a tiny hamlet a few minutes later and as we were heading in the same direction I had a riding buddy for the day! The remainder of the ride was another lesson in steep, rocky and very technical riding that was fun and challenging in equal measure!

Eventually we made it off the hill and just happened to stop at a little bar for a cold beer – well we had earned it! Unfortunately Bjorn had been having trouble with the rear wheel on his bike (four months of riding alpine descents every day will do that!) so we dropped into the local bike shop to see if it could be fixed but sadly no joy. As we were now at the lowest point of the day, and Bjorn had started his day a few miles uphill, I offered him a lift back up so we headed back to the house of GUB to collect the car.

After a quick coffee and introduction to Blaise and GUB, we loaded up and headed off up the hill. As we set off, Bjorn mentioned that he was looking to get some local wine and did I know anywhere that was good – well that was an easy answer, so I swung the car in the direction of Faugeres and our current workplace Les Amants de la Vigneronne. Wine tasted and purchased, we finally made it back to the tiny hamlet that was currently home to Bjorn and his girlfriend. Bjorn, bike and wine dropped off and goodbyes said, it was finally back to the ranch for dinner and a nice long sleep!

Whilst at the vigneronne yesterday, the owner let me know that we’d be needed for work this morning, which meant that we had to hurriedly change our plans for the morning and psyche ourselves up for another early start. Fortunately it turned out to be a relatively short session, and we were back in time for lunch and more importantly more riding time for me!

Leaving Blaise reading, I headed off for a quick couple of hours in the surrounding hills on some of my favourite trails before reluctantly taking the bike back to the shop.

To soften the blow of this possibly being my last mtb ride before we set sail for home, GUB offered to take us out for dinner to one of our favourites – Petite Abbaye – a great informal place, now full of locals as most of the tourists have gone home. A couple of hours later, we all waddled out having eaten our own body weight in shoulder of lamb, duck breast and tartiflette, followed by gooey chocolate pudding, caramel biscuit ice cream and for me, a pint glass full of chocolate mousse – I think some healthy eating will be needed soon!

Day 137: Exploring the Caroux

It turns out we didn’t need too much fuel for the next round of vendanging as we are only needed for one day this week! So with alarms set we rose again early and were back in the fields to pick yet more red grapes. We’ve obviously getting pretty speedy at this too, as we were done just after 10am and back home to shower.

Dad had already planned to pop down to the salon de thé to meet friends and it seemed rude not to join him now we’d finished our work for the week, so we headed down to meet Katy, Karen and Cedric the dog. Once we were there we just had to sample some of Alain’s newest creations – I’d highly recommend the fig and almond tart and Rob was a BIG fan of the little chocolate and nut biscuits!

With waistbands feeling a little tighter, Rob and I decided some more exercise was definitely needed so we headed up to the Caroux – a mountainous plateau that sits nearly 1100m above sea level – and began exploring. As with yesterday’s walk it’s one we’ve done before, but not for some time and it’s safe to say we both thought the start, and particularly the gradient, were going to be a little different.

“It’s all flat on the Caroux” he promised after our hilly walk yesterday and vendanging this morning, however as we left the car park and ventured along the path it became very clear that was not the case!

Luckily we were rewarded for our efforts with some absolutely stunning views when we made it to the top! I thought yesterday’s views were pretty spectacular, but these were even better with the scenery unfolding all around us.

With views admired – we even managed to spot the canoe flume we’d been down a few years ago with GUB – we headed back down the hill.

On our way back to Lamalou we made a quick detour to Le Poujol so Rob could pick up his beloved hire bike again – well if we’re not vendanging again this week, he needs entertaining somehow! – before heading down to the village to enjoy moule night one more time 🙂