Jun 18 Gorges du Verdon

Gorges du Verdon

This area is also known as the Grand Canyon of Verdon.  It is one of the deepest gorges in Europe.  It was formed by the erosion of the limestone plateaus of Haute Provence by the Verdon river.  There are two routes along the gorge, the north route D952 is the less terrifying, so we plumped for that one.  The route along the southern side on the D71 is known as the Corniche Sublime and is generally considered to be more challenging.  We would have tackled it in a car but, not so keen in the camper.

The journey along this road was full of WOW! moments and we stopped when possible to drink in the splendour of the views.  We had lunch overlooking a very picturesque stretch with rapids that was providing an exciting experience for groups of kayakers.

Tackling the rapids
Popular spot along the gorge

 

We stopped for a while at the village of La-Palud sur Verdon

Church at St Palud
The Mairie’s place

and again at Point Sublime

Bit of information
View from the Point de Sublime

where you can watch eagles and vultures flying high above the mountains.  There were also some slightly heart stopping moments along this road as the rocks hang out over the road and there are some sheer drops to the gorge below.

Rocky bit!
Gorge view
More scenic views

However, we made it in one exhilarated piece to Castellane where we parked up for a couple of nights next to the river Verdon.

The scenery we enjoyed has been a huge bonus in our trip to this area of France.  We had no idea what to expect and we have not been disappointed.  We are constantly amazed by the beauty of the countryside and the drama of the hills and mountains all around us.

Jun 18 Castellane

Castellane

We spent 2 nights at this rather lovely little town where the river Verdon flows energetically past the town centre.  Our parking space on the aire was by the banks of the river and we enjoyed watching groups tackling the rapidly moving water in their kayaks.  It was a very short walk up a narrow street, complete with boulangerie, to the town square.

Town square

We enjoyed exploring this charming little town and I decided to exert myself once more and climb up to the Chapelle Notre-Dame du Roc.  The Notre-Dame du Roc dominates Castellane and its surroundings as it has done since the beginning of the 13th century.  The pathway takes you along the remparts, past the ruins of Petra Castellana, past the stations of the cross along the way, and on up to the highest point overlooking the town and gorge at 911 metres.

Distant view of the Roc
View of the town from part way up the footpath

The statue on the chapel can be seen from the town below and it looks very small from the ground!  It took me an hour to get to the top and a bit less to get back down.  The path is very uneven and stony and it was rather hot but, I really enjoyed the stunning views along the way.

Looking down to the town and river
Close up view of the Chapelle
Looking at the chapelle from the highest point
It really was this high!
Inside the chapelle

I staggered back to the van to find Clyde relaxing and enjoying the antics of the youngsters in kayaks.

We met two couples travelling for 3 months together around Europe.  They were a German couple and their American friends who had met in Alaska whilst travelling there.  The Germans were determined to show their friends as many places as possible in the 3 months.  The American lady said she was exhausted with the early starts and constant travelling.  However, they were having a great time. We enjoyed their company for a few hours and next day they were up and away early!

Jun 18 APT

9 Jun 18 – Apt

Yesterday we decided we would move on to a small town called Apt.  It had a decent review in the Rough Guide to France and it was especially recommended to visit on a Saturday for the vibrant market.  We were convinced that we were making this decision on a Thursday and therefore we were moving on Friday to be in situ for an early walk to the market on Saturday.  Yikes!! It turned out to be Friday already.  Retirement huh!

So, after a quick revision we decided on an early departure from St Remy on Saturday morning.  It would have been earlier if I had remembered to check whether the campsite accepted card payments.  I did not have enough cash, so we had to make a slightly tricky visit to the town in the van for a cash dispenser.  Another lesson learnt!

We arrived at the Municipal campsite in Apt and quickly parked ourselves.  It is very handy for the town, just a short stroll over the bridge.  The market was in full swing and we made sure we didn’t miss anything.  We bought a few essentials and after a quick exploration, returned to the van for a very late lunch.

Market in Apt

On Sunday we went back for a look around the town without the hustle and bustle.  The atmosphere was quite different.  There are many small streets with a real mixture of well kept, attractive buildings alongside run down, slightly derelict properties.  It seemed rather gloomy today although in the main squares there were eateries open and people sitting out enjoying the sun.  The public buildings were splendid as seems to be usual in most towns.  There was a nice little park with a strange fountain and the main street bedecked with flowers.

One of the finer buildings
One of several attractively decorated bridges

It is a place of contrasts and quite pleasant for a short stay.  The municipal campsite was a bit quirky but cheap, and we rather enjoyed it.

On the Monday we went for a drive along the D900 into the hills and had our lunch overlooking verdant fields and woodland.  We did not realise we would be driving along this road again on the next leg of our travels……

Jun 18 Chateau des Baux-de-Provence

One of the most beautiful villages in France is Les Baux de Provence. We had a quick visit as the weather was awful and we could not see the wonderful views for which it is renowned.  For that reason we did not pay to go in the chateau.  Here is a small taster.

View from the approach road
View from the street leading to the chateau
View down to the Baux valley
Popular view point
Inside the Penitents Chapel
View from road to the chateau
Approach to the village close to the chateau

Jun 18 St Rémy de Provence

After the wild splendour of the Camargue, we back tracked a bit to visit St Rémy de Provence.  This is a small town with a well preserved historic heart.  On our first day we explored the town, ambling up and down the narrow streets and enjoying the atmosphere.  It is obviously a tourist destination and was full of American and Japanese groups enjoying the history and the shops selling local goods.

Town Hall square
Another square to enjoy
One of many shopping streets

We found the tourist information office and were given a map with two walking trails.  The historic trail around the old town was useful and we used that to ensure we didn’t miss anything vital.  The Van Gogh trail we saved for the next day.

The narrow streets worked their usual magic on us.  There are a number of statues built into the corners of buildings which we found interesting and we had been unaware that this was the birthplace of Nostradamus.  He was born in 1503 and spent his youth here before he became a famous doctor and astrologer.  There is a fountain dedicated to him and it is possible to view a vestige of the house in which he is born.

Corner Statue
Nostradamus fountain

The Church of Saint Martin is a rather miserable place but, it does have a magnificent organ which was worth visiting for.

Magnificent organ in St Martins church

Following the Van Gogh trail up to the Monastére Saint Paul de Mausole, was informative, as there are panels along the route displaying reproductions of his paintings executed during his stay in St Rémy.

Van Gogh’s painting of the olive groves with mountains in the background
The very place that inspired the above

Van Gogh was a troubled soul who, following another of his breakdowns, booked himself into the psychiatric rest home at the monastery for a year from May 1889 to May 1890.  A wing of the cloister is occupied by a museum dedicated to the period during which he was resident.  The audio guide is extremely informative, particularly in relation to the history of mental health provision spanning 1000 years at the monastery.  It is amazing to hear how the monastery provided sanctuary and treatment for the insane over the centuries under a variety of administrations and practices.  It is still providing that protection and treatment today.

Approaching the monastery
The peaceful cloisters
The cloisters quadrangle
Bell tower of the monastery

The rooms that replicate those of Van Gogh overlook the gardens which in his time were open wheat fields.  He was treated through art therapy and therefore his paintings constituted part of his recovery.  Art therapy is still a major part of the treatment offered today and art exhibitions and sale of art works, by the residents, help to support the work of the institution.

View from Van Gogh’s window
Looking back towards the monastery from the gardens

While we were there a Dutch artist, who works with the residents part time, was in the garden painting a picture ready for sale in Amsterdam.  He was happy to chat to us while he worked which was most illuminating.  He said that he could not paint enough pictures featuring the places frequented by Van Gogh to meet requirement.  We can only assume he was no starving artist!

The monastery is close to the archaeological Roman site of Glanum which was destroyed in the Barbarian invasions in 260 and abandoned.  It was rediscovered in 1920 and you can see the monuments characteristic of Roman life along the main road.  We decided to give them a miss as we had enjoyed a surfit of Roman ruins over the last couple of weeks.  We just had a quick look at the triumphal arch as it was across the road from the monastery.

Triumphal arch
Memorial tower

This was a lovely vibrant town with a lot more to visit than we managed in our time there.  If you like museums and have an unlimited budget, there were other places to feed the mind.

Jun 18 Camargue

I had always wanted to visit the Camargue due to images of wild white ponies galloping through the open countryside and crowds of pink flamingos.  As we were close by at this point, we decided to head in the opposite direction from our planned route and spend a few days chasing my dream.

We stayed in two locations within the Camargue National Parc, one in the countryside and one on the coast.  Both gave us easy access to the wilder areas and were close to the main attractions.  We visited the Parc Ornithologique for close up views of the flamingos and were amazed by the variety of herons and other wildlife on offer there.

Lake full of flamingoes
More flamingoes. Very bendy necks!
Bit of a flap

More pictures – so many to choose from!

Heron
Heron
Nesting herons
Reflective heron
Roosting!
Handsome chap
Taking a stroll
Lovely dark salmon under wings
Two flamingoes in flight
Change of bird

We also explored the environment around the Camargue National Park and there were yet more flamingos and wild ponies.  There were a lot more ponies to be observed at the many horseback touring stables throughout the area.  I was a bit tempted but decided against taking to the saddle after a break of over 40 years!

Open space of the wild Camargue
Wild ponies grazing freely

 

We spent a few days at Saint Maries de la Mer which is on the coast of the Camargue.  The site was in a great position with the beach on one side and the National Parc, complete with flamingos, on the other.  It was a 30 minute stroll into the rather quaint seaside town with the church dominating the town and visible from miles around.

Church of Saint Marie
Inside the church
Museum in the centre
Small square in St Maries de la Mer

May 18 – Trip Resumed – France

After a longer spell in the UK than anticipated, we were off on our travels once more.  We caught the 1730 ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe and arrived at 2230 in the dark.  As we were familiar with the aires in Dieppe, we were expecting a short drive to our overnight stop.  No such luck – both aires were full!  After a quick troubled assessment of the situation, we noticed a few motorhomes parked alongside the seaside aire.  They were in bays marked bus and coach and so, in the absence of any better plan, we decided to join them.  After a peaceful night we awoke to find there were other latecomers parked along the front.  By 0900 we had all moved on and I am sure the good citizens of Dieppe would have been none the wiser.

Ferte-St-Aubin

With our usual attention to planning, we had a rough idea that we would work our way down the Loire valley enjoying the scenery and weather.  Unfortunately, the weather expectation was a bit optimistic, but we proceeded to a place called Ferte-St-Aubin which is just south of Orleans.  We arrived in gorgeous sunshine and stayed on a small campsite a short stroll from the Chateau de la Ferte St Aubin.  The chateau was late 16th century and typical of its time.  It has been inhabited by the same family for 350 years and the family have opened it to visitors to help pay for essential repairs which are obviously badly needed.  It is a charming chateau with a moat and grounds.

Chateau Ferte St Aubin
Across the moat to the family chapel

There are 15 furnished rooms to be explored including the kitchens where demonstrations take place on Sundays and holidays.  We were there on a Friday so, we missed out.

Chateau kitchen

We were fascinated by the gruesome use of animal trophies as hooks and wall light fittings, particularly complete legs and hooves!  The display of childrens toys was fascinating as they really brought the early 20th century to life.  We did not explore the parklands adjacent to the chateau as it had started to rain heavily.

Autun

Due to the continuing poor weather, we decided to head a lot further south and return to the Loire valley on our way home.  A convenient stopping place was Autun which had an aire near a lake.  On arrival, in the rain, we discovered the aire was closed as there had been a triathlon and they were still in the process of clearing up.  I consulted the aire book again and discovered that there was another aire by the cemetery.  We found said aire which had no amenities, but was very peaceful, and settled down for the evening.  There was a splendid view of the lake from the more elevated position.  Still raining next day so we did not stop and pressed on south.

St Victor Sur Loire

The aire book had highlighted the next stop and, as it was about the right distance for a day’s driving, we decided to pay it a visit.  This was a beautiful free aire overlooking a leisure lake on the Lac de Grangent, fed by the Loire.  There were plenty of youngsters enjoying themselves in small boats which was a pleasure to watch.

Sailing activity on the lake at St Victor Sur Loire
View from above the aire

We had a walk up to the viewing point behind and above the aire.  Although the medieval town would have been nice to visit, we could not walk there so, we decided to give it a miss as we really wanted to press on to Orange.

May 18 – Orange and Avignon

Orange

Luck was with us as we arrived at Orange and the sun shone.  We decided to stay on a small campsite that was within walking distance of the town.  The owners were very welcoming to this very French campsite with unisex facilities, no loo paper and overgrown pitches.  I am not criticising as it adds to the feeling that you are in a different country.  We were able to order bread and croissants for the morning which is always a nice option.

The campsite owner provided us with a town map and directed us towards the Arc de Triomphe, which is the nicest entry to the town.

Arc de Triomphe

Our main aim was to visit the Roman Theatre and we were not disappointed.  It was €32 for the two of us which included a guided tour and a virtual tour.  We were able to wander at will with an audio guide and really soak up the atmosphere.  We ate our sandwiches sitting near the top of the seating and enjoyed listening to a teacher demonstrating the acoustics to her class.

Looking down across the seating
Wall at back of the stage

The Romans really knew how to do things properly.  They kept the different classes suitably separated, provided changing facilities for the actors, water in a pond before the stage to float actors and props, and more water in funnels to improve the acoustics.  This theatre could seat 9000 citizens which is rather awesome.  The virtual tour involved sitting in a room with 3D goggles on and being transported back to the time when the theatre was built and used.  It showed how the roof over the stage would have looked and how the tented roof over the auditorium would have been operated.  An interesting fact is that the 9 metre statue of the Emperor behind the stage would have had a removeable head.  When a new Emperor took over, they simply carved a new head rather than having to produce a whole new statue!

Beside the theatre is the remains of a temple and hemicycle where Romans worshipped their Emperor.  This formed an Augusteum, an architectural form dedicated to the Imperial Cult.

Temple remains

After our day at the Roman Theatre we enjoyed a beer in the theatre square and feasted our eyes on the imposing façade.  The wall was 103 metres long and 37 metres high.  A quick visit to the museum completed our day.  It was a bit disappointing after the glorious theatre but came in the price of the ticket, so we persevered.

The town itself is very pleasant to amble around.  There are the usual narrow streets with squares and shops and eateries.  There were also other attractions which we decided not to visit on this occasion.

One of many lovely squares

The Arc de Triomphe is a 1st Century Triumphal Arch.  It is situated on the route of Agrippa and dedicated to the glory of the veterans who founded the Roman Colony of Orange.  The depiction of captive Gauls symbolises Roman domination.  Work has clearly been carried out to ensure that the arch remains as impressive as it would have been when built.

 

Detail on the Arc de Triomphe
Arc de Triomphe in all its glory

Avignon

Our next stop was Avignon where we were looking forward to seeing the famous bridge, and the Palais des Papes.  We spent 4 nights on a campsite right by the river which enabled us to wander out and take pictures of the changing scene during the daytime and the evening.

Early evening  view across the Rhone to the Palais des Papes
Lit up at night
The famous bridge

Again, it was an easy stroll into the town.  We started our exploration with a visit to the Palais des Papes. 

Approaching the Palais
Imposing front view

A combined ticket gave us entry to the palace and the bridge.  The clever use of technology here added enormously to the interest, as there is very little left in the palace to give an idea of the grandeur.  Each visitor is provided with an IPad which is activated by entry into the rooms on the tour.  For extra information there are points with circular pads that you hover the IPad over.  This activates a visual image of how the room would have looked and you can turn around to get a panoramic view.  Very impressive!  The palace is huge and you only get to see a relatively small part. 

Courtyard

Photos of anything decorative, such as the colourful frescoes, are not allowed so it was only possible to take a limited selection. 

Entrance doorway

9 Popes succeeded one another here before the Roman centre became exclusive.  The Papal Palace was both a powerful fortress and a magnificent palace and was the seat of the Christian world in the 14th century.  Today it is recognized as a UNECSO World Heritage monument. It was a seriously hot day so we did not visit the bridge but went home to the van.  The evening sun shining on the Palais was probably our favourite part!

Next day, not quite so hot, we went to the town to enjoy the covered market and the Saturday atmosphere.  Again, there are lovely narrow streets of shops and pretty squares where you can sit and watch the world go by, or enjoy a meal.  We saw a dear old gentleman playing the hurdy gurdy with his cat contentedly laying by his side.

Man and cat entertaining

We wandered around the market where we bought a delicious cake for our lunch.

Covered market

We then sat under a tree in a square where a jazz trio were playing to the numerous diners.

Jazz at lunchtime

On the way “home” we went to the legendary bridge.  The history of the bridge starts with the legend of Saint Benezet, who was canonised for the miracle he performed in laying the first stone of the bridge.  Construction of the bridge got properly underway in the mid 13th century and it was only wide enough for single lane traffic.  It is therefore, unlikely that there was any dancing!!  The bridge was damaged by the impact of climate change at the end of the Middle Ages which affected the hydrological characteristics of the river Rhone.  As of the 17th century, the bridge was no longer repaired and so, there is only part of it still standing today.  It was still worth a visit as you can walk out into the middle of the Rhone without getting your feet wet.

Looking back along the bridge towards the Palais

We took the free ferry back across the Rhone and enjoyed the stroll back “home” along the busy promenade in the sunshine.

May 18 – Martigues and Arles

L’Etang de Berre

We were steadily working our way to Provence and closing the gap on our friends Carol and Jack.  They had found a lovely spot at a place called Massane Plage between Istres and Martigues.

Messane Plage
View of the bay at Messane Plage

The village was on the side of L’Etang de Berre, a large lake close to the Mediterranean.  There was nothing very exciting about the location but with the lovely sunny weather it was very relaxing.  We did manage some nice shots of the lake at sundown.

Etang de Berre
Sunset bay

After a riotous evening with our friends we all decided to visit a small village a short bus ride away.  Next day, we gathered with our backpacks and bus fares to discover – no bus as it was a public holiday!  Quick re-think and Clyde drove us there with Jack navigating.  St Mitre les Remparts is a village with a history as it was invaded during the war.  There is a memorial to a young girl who was executed for her part in the resistence.  We met a lovely French gentleman who wanted to show us his garden and enjoyed coffee in the town square.  It was a very pleasant little place in which to while away a couple of hours.

Les Mitres des Remparts
The wash house
Garden proudly displayed

Next day, Carol and Jack departed with a recommendation that we should visit Martigues.  This time we were successful and managed to catch the bus.  Once again, we paid a euro each for a 40 minute journey.

Martigues

Martigues is a charming small town comprised of 3 villages(districts) separated by water.  One side of the town faces the Mediterranean and the other overlooks the Etang de Berre.  It is known as the Venice of Provence.  The house fronts in the centre are brightly coloured and the town is crossed by a succession of bridges that span the canals linking lake and sea.

Coloured houses alongside canal

The town has long been favoured by artists for the colours, light and water.  The Place Mirabeau is a group of superb houses built for the bourgeoisie with its own fountain.

Homes for the Bourgeoisie
More posh gaffs!

There is a free ferry to take you across the short stretches of water which we enjoyed, if only for the turbulent ride as it crossed the wake of an outgoing vessel!

View from free ferry
Old and new

There is still a fishing trade here and there is a bronze statue by the marina showing a fisherman and his wife from days gone by.  We saw the genuine article en route to the Tourist Information office.  It was late morning and a fisherman was busy winding up his nets on the quayside.

Bronze statue of fisherfolk

The church in the L’Ile district was worth a visit for the lovely organ and colourful interior.

Fabulous organ in St Madeleine Church
La Madeleine Church in the L’Ile District

We had a very enjoyable day there and treated ourselves to a light lunch at a pavement café whilst we watched the world go by.

Arles

Apparently, we had not seen enough Roman remains, so Arles was the next must see destination.  According to the Rough Guide to France, Arles ranks high among southern France’s loveliest cities.  It was originally a Celtic settlement and later became the Roman capital of Gaul, Britain and Spain.  The city has a lovely small town feel to it and all the main Roman sites are central to the modern city.  On our first day we went in by bus from the village where we were staying.  The following day we returned but there was a massive market all along the Boulevard Georges Clemenceau, where the bus terminates, and we ended up on the other side of the Rhone.  We should have alighted at the stop before the terminus – obviously, we would know that!  It was not a problem as we just stayed on the bus until it made the return trip and jumped off with the locals.

We were given a tourist map when we booked into the campsite and it enabled us to decide what we wanted to see.  There is a combined ticked available from the tourist office so, for €12 each we could visit 4 monuments and 2 museums.  Pretty good value compared with Orange.  We had been given some advice by the Dutch couple on the pitch behind us and decided not to pay an extra €9 each to enter the Van Gogh museum as there are only a few of his works and a much larger Paul Nash exhibition.  It would have been interesting but starts to get a bit costly.  Anyway, I digress.

Opposite the tourist information office there is a lovely shady park which takes you through to the Roman theatre and then it is a short walk to the amphitheatre.  It was a pleasant place to enjoy our sandwiches later.

Our first port of call was the Roman Amphitheatre, known as Les Arenes.  It is enormous, 136m by 107m, and would have held 21000 spectators.  There are still two tiers of 60 arches standing and you can climb steps up to the tower for a spectacular view over the city and the amphitheatre itself.

Looking down from the cheap seats. Children below learning t be gladiators

When we visited, there was a school party being taught the finer points of being a gladiator which added an element of interest to the place.  It also gave an idea of the scale of the place.

View from the street
More street view

I was particularly struck by the way the streets around it are built in a fan shape radiating outwards.  It was particularly visible from the top.  There is also a view towards the mighty Rhone.  In the Middle Ages, the arena became a fortress, sheltering over 200 dwellings.  That gives an indication of its size.

View down from the amphitheatre
Modern life amongst history
Top of the amphitheatre looking down on the arches
Arches from below
Rear passageway

We also visited the Roman Theatre which is not as impressive as that in Orange.  However, it was still of interest and there were a few bits worthy of viewing.  Like the theatre in Orange and the amphitheatre in Arles, the Roman Theatre here is used for occasional performances and there is a lovely modern light gantry over the two remaining columns.

Roman Theatre stage
Stage with modern touch!

The Cloisters of St Trophime were included on our ticket so we paid a visit.  The actual cloisters were interesting with corridors from the 12th and 14th centuries but there was an exhibition of modern art which was not so special.  St Trophime’s church was a gloomy place which did not excite us much.

St Trophime
St Trophime Cloisters
St Trophime courtyard

We enjoyed a wander around the busy streets of the old town to complete our day and had an ice cream in an ice cream parlour.  Clyde’s was enormous because my command of French let me down!  I didn’t need to bother really as the helpful chap serving us spoke perfect English.  However, I do think it is courteous to speak a bit of the local language where possible.

Next day we returned to finish what we had started.  We caught the bus again but as it was Saturday, it did not go to the stop on Boulevard Georges Clemenceau as it was full of market stalls.  We found ourselves heading across the Rhone to the residential area!  After a tour around the region on the bus, we finally returned to the old town and alighted with the locals.  Phew!

The market was enormous and stretched right along the boulevard.  We enjoyed looking at a wide variety of goods and local foods and treated ourselves to a pastry and some lemons.  As we were going to be in town for a while in the heat, we did not want to buy anything perishable.  We also find we are lugging our cameras, sandwiches, water etc…..We really enjoyed the atmosphere and soaked it up before heading to our destination for the day.

Our destination for today was the Musee Reattu which is a contemporary art museum on the banks of the Rhone.  It is housed in an interesting old building and there was some interesting art work and photographic studies but, not as impressive as we had expected. The views out over the Rhone were splendid.

 

Our next destination was to be the Archaeological Museum of Arles.  By this time it had become seriously hot and the museum was a very long walk to the other side of Arles so, we decided to save it for another visit and to take a look at the Roman thermal baths instead.  They were interesting in as much as the Roman culture of maintaining class distinction was set aside here.  The citizens would enter the baths naked and therefore class was not so obvious. The really wealthy folk had their own bathing facilities at their out of town villas of course.  There is enough left to give an idea of the scale of the baths and to see how the underground heating system worked.

Archway over baths
Exterior wall still standing

It was now mid afternoon and we returned to the appropriate boulevard to catch the bus home.  We were surprised at how quickly the market had disappeared.  The cars were all parked as usual, buses were coming and going and there was no sign there had ever been a market.

 

Around Exeter

Whilst staying near Exeter we spent a couple of days outside the city.  One of the days we devoted to visiting Exmouth, Topsham and National Trust property La Ronde.  It was a disappointingly gloomy day but we could see that the seafront at Exmouth would be justifiably popular for families in the fine weather.  It has a lovely sandy beach and the train runs along the front to deliver its passengers right to the beach.

Exmouth beach

 

Exmouth harbourside

We bought delicious pasties for our lunch from a small local bakery.  Delicious!

Next stop Topsham.  Another attractive harbour.  You can undertake a river tour up the exe from here in the season.  The town was also very quaint with individual shops.

View from quayside
Misty river view

On the way back to the campsite we visited A La Ronde.  This is a 16 sided building that was built in 1796 by cousins Jane and Mary Parminter.  They had been on a Grand Tour of Europe in 1784 and built ALaRonde on their return, filling it with treasures from their travels.  Mary financed the build and in her very detailed will, she named her successors as solely female relatives.  The condition of their inheritance was that they remained unmarried and lived at A La Ronde.

The house has 16 sides in order to make the most of the natural light.  The rooms would have been smaller than they are today and there are some interesting shaped spaces which have been put to good use.

A La Ronde

There are commanding views of the sea from here but it was too dull when we visited to take any reasonable photos.

Exeter

After spending Easter with the family and doing a spot of grandparent duty enjoying the grandchildren, we felt the need for a change of scene.  We are a bit stuck in UK for now but making the most of the opportunities to explore.  We had never been to Exeter so we booked a few nights at the racecourse campsite.

Exeter Racecourse campsite
View across the heathland beyond the racecourse

On our first day we went in search of the park and ride into Exeter.  The nearest park and ride allows campervans but was very full.  However, we finally managed to obtain a space and headed into town for the afternoon.

As luck would have it, we were just in time for a free tour of the cathedral.  It is a stunning building with so much history.  It was started in 1114 and was remodelled in the Decorated Gothic style between 1270 and 1350. The vaulted ceiling is particularly impressive and it is the longest unsupported vaulted ceiling in the world.

Longest vaulted ceiling in the world

There are more than 400 bosses which act as locking stones for the vaulting.

Bosses on vaulted ceiling

There is an astronomical clock dating from 1484 which is still operational, and there is a hole in the bottom of the door below the clock which was cut sometime between 1598 and 1621 to provide access for the Bishops cat to deter rats and mice!

Astronomical clock

The organ is unusually placed in the centre between the nave and the choir.  There are further organ pipes along the West wall that provide the lowest notes.  The longest pipe is 36 ft tall.

There was so much of interest inside the cathedral but it is equally attractive on the outside and it can be seen from the modern shopping centre with a particularly fine view from Debenhams cafe.

Cathedral front
Cathedral Yard view
Seen from shopping centre

Next day we were earlier to town as we wanted to join a tour of the city.  There are a number of tours offered free by the Exeter Red Coat guides.  We spent 2 hours with our guide and gained a much better picture of the development of the city.  One of the oldest parks is Rougemont Gardens which are on the site of the castle, following the city wall.

Rougemont Gardens Introduction board
Castle built into city wall
Garden view

There was so much more information provided by the guide but too much for here.

Decorated wall in the back streets
Original entrance to the city

The last place on the tour was the Guildhall.  It is the oldest civic building in constant use in Europe.  The ceiling in the council chamber is very ornate.

Ceiling in council chamber

After the tour we went down to the quays for a wander.  There are some little individual craft shops which needed my attention.  I spent some money there and we also had coffee overlooking the river.  Quite a pleasant spot even on a rather dull day.

Exeter Quays

Altogether an interesting city.  There are a lot more places to visit in Exeter but they will have to wait until next time.

Short stopovers

On our way between Gosport and Bedford we needed an overnight stop.  We took a chance and parked in a seafront car park near Titchfield Haven. It was completely deserted except for the odd dog walker and lots of birds.  In the morning we enjoyed a walk along the beach as the sun rose.  Rather lovely.

Early morning view from car park
Harbour at Titchfield Haven
Early morning gathering

Continue reading “Short stopovers”

Short visit to Peak District

Still on our mission to remain in the UK in case we were required, we looked for somewhere we had never been before.  We were due at Newark on 28th for some warranty work to be undertaken on the van so, after studying the map of UK, we decided to head for the area around Buxton (a pleasant cross country trip to Newark).  There was a reasonable deal on at the campsite in Blackshaw Moor, so we booked in for 6 nights.  The location provided us with a number of small towns, lovely countryside and National Trust properties to explore.

The campsite at Blackshaw Moor was ideally situated between Leek and Buxton and had good views all around.

Campsite view
Hill view from our pitch

It was not long since the heavy snows, and there were places where it was still very much in evidence.  As it was still rather wet everywhere we stuck with visiting the attractive small towns and a couple of National Trust properties.

Our first excursion was to the spa town of Buxton.  We caught the bus and had a dashing ride along the hilly and winding roads.  It was nice to be able to view the passing scenery rather than having to constantly scan the road.  Once there, we enjoyed a visit to one of the oldest surviving tea shops, Hargreaves, which had been in the same family for generations, the Pavilion Gardens which were opened in 1871 and the Concert Hall in 1875.

Buxton Pavilion
Totum pole carved in a single tree trunk in the gardens
Pavilion Gardens

There is also a fabulous Victorian greenhouse attached to the Pavilion building which has undergone a restoration project.

Inside the Pavilion Greenhouse

The town boasts many fine Georgian and Victorian buildings and the famous Crescent is the latest restoration project underway.

With all the history, elegant buildings and beautiful gardens, it is a place well worth a visit.

After a day at base trying to shake off our colds, a 5 mile round trip on foot to Tittesworth Reservoir (nice visitor centre) notwithstanding, we decided to have a National Trust day.  The chosen venue was Biddulph Grange Gardens.  Although it was a dull day, we found the gardens very attractive and could imagine the grandchildren enjoying the many secret gardens contained within.  The carp in the small lake were enormous and very keen to enjoy any offerings that came their way.  We were charmed by the Chinese garden and intrigued by the God versus Darwin exhibition.  You would have to visit to appreciate its uniqueness.

Chinese garden at Biddulph Grange
Chinese bridge

After lunch we decided to go back via the small market town of Leek.  Being a Saturday, the market was an antiques and collectables market.  There are several small independent shops around the market place which we had a look around.  I bought some wool in a lovely little craft shop.  After Buxton, the town was a bit less interesting for us.

Next day found us heading for another National Trust property.  This time we visited Little Moreton Hall which involved a very scenic drive from the campsite.  The Hall is unique as it has been largely unmodified since it was built 500 years ago.

Little Moreton Hall
Little Moreton Hall from the car park
Decorated end wall in the Long gallery

The reason for the level of preservation was that for 200 years, it was tenanted.  The tenants lived in one part of the building and the other rooms were only used when the owners came to visit.  The long oak table in the main hall is an original and it is fascinating to imagine how many people have sat there over the 500 years.  The table comprises boards set on trestles.  The boards are so long it is clear that they came from a very mature tree and it would have been a tree that was growing on the land belonging to the owners of the house.  The boards would have been leant against the wall when not in use to provide a clear space for sleeping.  They would also have been used as a stage for travelling actors (hence “treading the boards”).  There were so many interesting facts, it was a thoroughly enjoyable visit.  We treated ourselves to an afternoon cuppa in the garden whilst we soaked up the atmosphere.

Tea garden
The fireplace is level. Nothing else is!
Long Gallery. Look at those beams and the floor

 

The next lovely town we visited was Ashbourne where we enjoyed the old buildings and church.  We had lunch in a quirky little delicatessen down a side street.  Strangely, I didn’t take any photos here so you will have to imagine it!

On the way back to the campsite we took a different route to enjoy the beautiful scenery and stopped at Parsley Hay.  This is the site of an old railway junction and is now a walking and cycling centre.  The far-reaching views were fabulous.

View from Parsley Hay
Little bit of history

Next day we were on our way to Newark otherwise we would have stayed for longer.  There is still a lot of the Peak District for us to return to.

Visit to Warwick, UK

We had spent a few weeks now with the family and, as things were on an even keel for a bit, we had a break and booked ourselves onto the racecourse campsite at Warwick.  The campsite is perfectly situated for walking into Warwick and for catching buses to Stratford-on-Avon and Coventry.

We were well entertained exploring the lovely old town of Warwick with it’s attractive old buildings and history seeping from its pores.

Timbered shop in town centre

The castle is a real highlight and we remarked upon it’s invisibility.  In the Spanish towns, the castles were always on a hilltop and easily visible for miles around.  Oddly, it seemed, we could not see Warwick Castle until we were almost upon it.  I imagine it would have been more visible from the countryside beyond.

Warwick Castle from the grounds

Warwick Castle has a chequered history which moves from its construction as a Wooden Motte and Bailey castle by William the Conqueror to a massive stone fortress.  It is situated on a strategically planned location at the bend of the River Avon.

After the Norman conquest of England, William the Conqueror established a motte-and-bailey castle at Warwick in 1068 to maintain control of the Midlands as he advanced northwards.

In 1153, the wife of Roger de Beaumont, 2nd Earl of Warwick, mistakenly handed the castle over to the invading army of Henry of Anjou (later Henry II) after she was tricked into believing her husband was dead. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Roger de Beaumont actually did collapse and die when he heard what she had done.

The original wooden motte-and-bailey castle was rebuilt in stone in the 12th century, during the reign of King Henry II (1154–89).  In more recent history it was used as a stately home.

We were a bit shocked at the entry fee, which we had booked online the day before.  However, after spending an extremely enjoyable day there, we felt that it had been worth the price.  After all, there is a considerable amount of maintenance to be done on such an old and historic building.

View from above the castle

There are a number of free tours throughout the day which adds to the pleasure and helps with understanding the history of the place.  There were also two bird of prey demonstrations on the day we were there.  I believe that during the main tourist months there may be more.

Bird of Prey handler
Bird of Prey over the Castle grounds

They also have special event days such as the jousting tournament.  We were really impressed when we entered the Great Hall.  It is full of displays of armour and weaponry.

Amazing display in the Great Hall in Warwick Castle
Suits of armour in the Great Hall

Although we had focussed on the castle, we also enjoyed wandering around the town with its small independent shops and historic buildings.  Altogether an interesting place to visit and there was plenty that we left for another time.

Old Dispensary in Warwick town

Lord Leycester Hospital – Mediaeval buildings which were never a hospital!  We did not go inside as we needed to pay another fee.  We would like to go on another occasion.

Lord Leycester Hospital, Warwick
Front of Lord Leycester Hospital
Information board on Lord Leycester Hospital wall

Collegiate Church of St Mary – The Collegiate Church of St Mary is a Church of England parish church in the town of Warwick, England. It is in the centre of the town just east of the market place.

Collegiate Church of St Mary
Inside St Marys Church

Whilst in Warwick we enjoyed lunch in a small cafe full of locals and shopped in an independent bookshop where the staff were helpful and welcoming.  Numerous parks and a riverside walk would be on the agenda for a longer visit.  Unfortunately, we ran out of time as we were due back on Grandparent duty in Bedfordshire for the weekend.  We will almost certainly return one day.

Long journey home

For family reasons we decided we should cut our trip short and return home.

We left Almerimar on 3 Feb and headed to El Campello of which we had heard good things.  Unfortunately the campsite we selected was a bit shabby and disappointing.  However, it was only for one night and the onsite bar had a roaring fire and cheap wine to cheer us whilst we used the free WiFi.

Next stop was an Aire, Camping La Volta, at Peniscola for one night.  Not the best end of Peniscola but an adequate stopping place.  We started to feel the drop in temperature as we travelled North.  It was down to 8° here.

Next destination was North of Barcelona at Pineda del Mar.  The site was located right opposite a lovely beach and must be great in the Summer.  Sadly for us the weather was terrible by now and we had heavy rain and low temperatures for most of the long journey there.  We needed to make a decision on the ferry home so paid for WiFi.  Much surfing resulted in a decision to stick with DFDS and see if we could bring our booking forward from 27 Mar.  We now knew which route we would take through France and planned our stops and daily mileage target for travel.  As there were no campsites open this early in France, we settled on some likely looking Aires.

The trip through the mountains from Spain to France was interesting as there was snow dusting the landscape and the Spaniards were up there in numbers, enjoying the experience.

Snow in Spanish mountains
Just over the Spanish/French border. Snow topped mountains in the distance
Lunch stop just into France

First stop at Palavas les Flots near Montpelier.  This was a marina Aire and although somewhat cooler than that at Almerimar was also very attractive.  Mind you, it was a lot more expensive!  There were snow flurries in the evening but they had not laid when we got up in the morning.

Next day we set off for an Aire in a place called Perignat-les-Sarlieve, near Clermont-Ferrand.  There was a lot of snow on the way which was a little alarming.  As we got higher through the Massif Central, so it got snowier.

Starting to climb
View from a motorway stop
Tunnel entrance

We managed to get into the Aire through the snow and had a lovely stroll into the village.  We bought some divine cakes in the boulangerie.  The Aire was overlooking the chateau and was very peaceful.

Chateaux view

We left next day with snow falling.  The roads were becoming more challenging so we decided to break our usual rule and use the toll roads.  There were miles of stacked lorries as the poor driving conditions were managed by the gendarme.

Lorries stacked on the toll road
Hilltop town seen from the snowy toll road

Our next aire was in a village called Saran, north of Orleans.  The parking place was thick with snow but overlooked a lake and was very pretty.

Lake at Saran

We had a wander into the village again but did not find anywhere to buy milk as we had hoped.  Next day it was snowing again so we stuck with the toll roads and struck out for Dieppe.

Van parked on Aire in Saran
Saran. Cold but beautiful
Leaving Saran

After another long and challenging drive, we made it to Dieppe.  There was no snow after Rouen which was very welcome.

The aire at Dieppe was very handy for the ferry.  We stayed for 2 nights and had a relaxing day in the town on the Saturday.  It was market day and there was plenty to enjoy before the rain and gales set in!

Dieppe from the aire
Central Dieppe

Next day we caught the 0530 ferry to Newhaven.  It was an extremely rough crossing but we arrived to a lovely sunny English morning.  European adventure on hold for now.

Beautiful Newhaven harbour

Almerimar

After Mojacar we went to Vera where there is a Globecar dealer.  We had some warranty work to be done and the staff were really helpful and (bonus for us!) they spoke English.  We booked the van in for 10 days time (the soonest they could fit us in) and spent the night on an aire a short distance away.

The journey to the aire involved travelling down a dusty, narrow road towards a tennis complex.  However, the accommodation was nicely laid out and there were showers and a laundry.  The views were seriously unremarkable, in spite of the elevated position and therefore I have no pictures to share!

Whilst at Vera we arranged to meet some friends at Almerimar the next day.  We were originally heading for Almeria via the Cabo de Gato but, as we needed to be back at Vera, we changed our plans.  The trip to Almerimar was different as the landscape became full of plastic greenhouses as far as the eye could see.  They grow all the tomatoes and peppers in these plastic worlds but they are quite an eyesore.   Once off the main road, the scenery approaching Almerimar improved markedly.

We had read that the aire at Almerimar is very popular and this was borne out when we arrived at 1400 to find it pretty full already.  The aire is run by the marina and has lovely views of either the bay, or the marina.  Our first night was spent overlooking the marina but we moved across to the sea wall for the next 2 nights.  It was a very attractive location with a selection of bars and shops around the marina and for 10 euros a night without electric, was quite acceptable.  The following pictures give an idea of the beauty of the location, particularly in the evening sun.

Lighthouse lit by early evening sun
Old lighthouse used as admin centre for the marina
Lots of masts providing atmosphere
Stunning evening reflections
Sun setting over the bay
Our van enjoying the view!
Evening reflections
Could this be an old Dutch Master?!

The marina area was the best part of Almerimar so we did not explore further.  We did enjoy strolling around the extensive marina and along the prom.  A very reasonable meal was enjoyed one evening in a British restaurant.  We chose it as it seemed to have the most lively scene and cheapest food.  We were not disappointed at the quality either.

We noticed that there seemed to be snow on the mountains in the distance.

Snow on mountains in the distance

As Anne and David were intending to visit Granada next, there was consternation.  As it turned out, they remained for over a week waiting for the weather to improve.  Whilst at Almerimar, we decided that we needed to return to UK for family reasons and so we went our separate ways.  After 3 lovely relaxing days we cancelled our van appointment and started the long journey home.

Mojacar

Next trip was to Mojacar.  This is a hill village with white houses.  They are very striking against the surrounding mountains.  The village is a member of the Association of the Most Beautiful Villages in Spain.

White houses of Mojacar

The North African Moors established themselves in Spain in the early 8th century and Mojacar became part of their heritage.  On June 10th 1488, the leaders of the region drew up a pact of free trade between the Moors, Jews and Christians.   It expanded until the early 18th century and then went into a period of decline until the tourist industry began to reverse the trend.

Today the village is a colourful and attractive destination and we enjoyed the narrow streets, various shops and eateries.  There are numerous small squares in which to relax and soak up the local atmosphere.

Typical shopping street
Oranges growing freely on the street
Inside the Iglesia Santa Maria
The garden outside the church

We had a light lunch overlooking the valley below and enjoying the view.  Considering the location, the food was extremely reasonably priced.  We could not help comparing it with similar tourist destinations in the UK!

View from the terrace
View from the road overlooking the valley

I treated myself to a necklace featuring the El Indalo.  The townswomen, when finishing their houses white wall washing, would draw this symbol over the doors to keep their homes safe from bad spells or storms.  This magic symbol gives luck and protection when given as a gift.   As a gift to myself, I am hoping the magic works.

We spent a few hours wandering around the village enjoying views out across the hills.

View out towards the sea
Simple mountain view

After we had our fill of this delightful village, we headed down to Mojacar Playa.  We managed to find a spot to park for the night overlooking the sea and close to a handy supermarket.  Another free night which was very welcome.

Bateria de Castillitos

After our stay near Cartagena we headed towards Bateria de Castillitos at Cabo Tinoso.  The battery is located 218 metres above the sea on a rocky cliff top overlooking the Golfo de Mazzaron.

How did they build up on this ridge?!

Castillitos is one of a ring of batteries encircling Cartagena as part of the Plan de Defensa of 1926. The battery emplacements were constructed between 1926 and 1933 as part of the sophisticated defence network which aimed to protect Cartagena and its important military arsenal.

The guns were only fired once in action against Nationalist forces in April 1937 but, it was enough to demonstrate the havoc they could wreak and thus served as an effective deterrent. The enormous Vickers 381 mm guns are still in place and are seriously impressive.

One of the Vickers guns
Vickers gun overlooking the coast

The road up the mountain was narrow with some passing places and twisted its way to the top.  It was very scenic for most of the way but, the driver was unable to enjoy the views lest we plunge off the edge.  The navigator managed to tear her eyes off the road occasionally in order to report on the unfolding scene, and attempt to take photographs through the windscreen without obscuring the view of the road!

View from the cab on way up the mountain
View from top of the road to Castillitos

I had read a review of the camping opportunity at the top, and we had an idea that it would be a stunning location for a night.  However, the parking availability was limited at the top and we decided that it would feel too isolated once the handful of other visitors had gone home.

The walk up to the guns was very attractive and definitely more ornate than our local equivalent (Fort Nelson) on Portsdown Hill, Portsmouth.

Battery ahead with guns in sight
The road up to the battery

The journey back down the hill was equally exciting, and we made for a German run aire at Calnegre for the night.  Next stop – Mojacar

Visit to Cartagena

26 & 27January – Visit to Cartagena

After the pleasure of being at home visiting family we were raring to go.  We stopped off at La Marina to stock up on food and spent the night on a camperstop by the petrol station.  It was cheap and remarkably peaceful given that it was in a very busy location.

We selected an Aire near to Cartagena for our next stop as we were intending to stay a few days.  The Aires at Los Dolores fitted the bill as it was handy for the bus into town.  The proprietor of the Aires was very friendly and helpful.  She gave us a map of Cartagena, instructed me in the correct pronunciation, and directed us to the bus stop in the village.  Being unusually organised, we went on a recce so we would not waste time the next day.  We also found a handy local supermarket for re-provisioning.  The road into the village was a bit dicey as it was very narrow with no footpath.  There was much leaping into verges and flattening against walls!

Next day we caught the bus to the old town and visited the Tourist Information office.  We acquired more information and worked our way down to the port end.  Our main focus was the Roman Theatre and Forum.  However, there are many other interesting museums to cater for all tastes.  The Naval port is visible from the sea front and there is a Naval Museum and military arsenal.  There is also the National Museum of Underwater Archaeology in the same area.  There are so many things to do and see that you could spend several days in Cartagena.

On our first day we headed for the Roman Theatre where we were welcomed by a very informative and enthusiastic young man on the reception.  On his advice we bought a three attraction ticket which made a good saving.  The theatre museum was very illuminating before we finally arrived, via a tunnel, at the theatre itself.

It is very complete and was every bit as impressive as we had hoped.  The Roman city had been covered up for generations and there are still remains of the cathedral of Santa Maria de Grazia which was built over part of the Roman Theatre.

Santa Maria de Grazia

Clyde could not resist the opportunity to stand on the stage and give a quick performance of “friends and Romans……”.

Clyde as orator

I was interested to learn that the theatre was a crucial element in the urban regeneration programme pursued by emperor Augustus who wished to restore the traditional values of Roman culture.  The theatre could seat 7000 spectators and came to play a vital role in the political and social machines of Carthago Nova.

View down onto Roman Theatre

It was interesting to see how the modern city has been built amongst the historic parts. This was reinforced as we walked down to the historic attractions when we came across an uncovered Roman road that has been left there with an explanation but no protection.  What is interesting on rereading one of the notices, is that they have re-covered a Punic house in order to preserve it until they can enhance its real value

Roman Road on way to old port area
Explanation of excavation policy
Modern flats overlooking Roman Theatre

We spent a long time exploring this fascinating monument and decided to save the other attractions for the next day.

Day two saw us heading for the Castillo de La Conception which is built on the highest of the five hills of the city.  We had paid to use the panoramic lift up to the ramparts.  Quite brave of me considering my fear of heights.  In fact it was not a clear glass lift as I had expected but had a grill type construction so, although it was quite windy, I felt reasonably secure.  Even so, I did not venture along the platform that jutted out from the hill front.  I left that to Clyde who is much braver than me.

Panoramic Lift to Castillo
Far reaching view from the Panoramic Lift
View of the Roman Amphitheatre, not open to the public

Once we were at the top, we had a walk up a tiered pathway, complete with peacocks, to the large walled parade ground with it’s commanding view of the port and the city.  We enjoyed our packed lunch there in the sun.

Castillo peacock
Good place for a picnic overlooking Cartagena from the Castillo

The Castillo was built in the 13th century, the site having been an important strategic and defensive location for the city for centuries.  The museum that is housed in the keep gives an interpretation of the history of the area dating back to the Middle Ages.

View towards harbour from the Castillo

Our next historic experience was the Roman Forum. This is one of the largest urban archaeological sites in Spain, with a modern roof protecting the remains of a whole block of the old Roman city.  There are two blocks separated by streets and comprising three buildings: the thermal baths of the port, the atrium building and the Shrine of Isis and Serapis.  It is possible to see what the various rooms looked like and there are wall paintings and mosaic floors.  According to our favourite guide, who was on the reception of the Forum today, there is a large part still to be uncovered.  He took us across the street and through another door where we were invited to go and have a look at an uncovered main street.  Work is still on going to uncover more of the street that will link with the Forum over the road.

Part of a decorated wall in the Forum

Interestingly, most of the work to uncover the old city has taken place since 2000.  Talking to the young guide, there is not as much interest in the old history as you might expect.  The focus seems to be more on the beaches and fine weather where tourism is concerned.

There are many other places of interest to visit.  The town hall was one of these, but we were there on a Saturday and it was only open for guided tours.  However, we were able to have a look at the entrance hall and two small exhibition rooms.  Just the entrance hall was stunning:

Galleried staircase in the Town Hall
Detail on the staircase
Part of the very ornate ceiling
Glass ceiling – colourful crest

We strolled along the harbour and spotted this unusual looking vessel.  I am sure it is a British ship and for some reason I have Bristol in mind as its home?  We thought we could see a Union flag flying but it was too far away to be sure.

Rather unusual vessel moored in the port on the Naval side

We enjoyed Cartagena for it’s history and the attractive port and old town.  It would certainly bear another visit in the future.

 

 

Trip home 12 to 24 Jan 17

We had decided to fly home to visit the family after Christmas so stayed in Alicante area.

As ever, the arrangements for leaving the van in an airport storage caused grief. We had to notify the insurance company and pay an extra premium after answering many searching questions about their security arrangements. Nothing ever simple!

It was wonderful to spend time with the family and especially the grandchildren.  We also caught up with some of our bestest friends and had good laugh.

Once back in Spain we stocked up at LIDL, spent the night at a camperstop in La Marina, then headed for Cartagena.

More of that on a new post.