Still bad weather, so here is some more.
An advantage of having two nights at Mines was to catch-up with some laundry. Like most camping grounds I visited, there were no washing machines, but this one had huge porcelain tubs and old fashioned wash-boards. It was also a chance to empty the toilet cassette, but I saw dump-points (for cassettes only) at most aires, often wanting a coin in the slot for access.
I decided to head south to see the Mediterranean Sea, so set off in that general direction. On the way I stopped first at an old castle in the middle of farmland that was now a thriving art gallery. Then at a fortified village near the coast – the fortifications being to keep pirates and Moorish invaders out. The sea was nicer here than at the mouth of the Rhone, but I’d picked a no exit road and had to back-track to get anywhere. I set the GPS for Narbonne and went through a series of small villages till I got on a by-pass road that avoided Montpellier. I again headed for the coast and found a road that followed the beach – at one stage there was a stretch of about 30 miles where cars were parked bumper to bumper. I found a gap and enjoyed a swim – there were a few other vans around and I decided to stay the night – fortunately it was not a major road so there was little traffic noise.
In the morning I set off heading south, but it was not possible to follow the coast all the way. I eventually reached Colliure near the Spanish border, which was recommended by the Lonely Planet. Again, narrow streets and nowhere to park so I drove on a couple of miles to Port Vendres. I’d been given a copy of ‘All The Aires’, which had the local aire listed among the hundreds of others in France. I found it and squeezed into a park under some good shade and decided to walk back to Colliure. Colliure was a major port of departure for the crusades and the old town and castle are well preserved, but a bit of a tourist trap. I returned to Port Vendres where I had a leisurely look around the port and art gallery. One large fishing boat was moored to a cannon set in concrete
I didn’t know if I needed a visa for Spain so headed North again. I wasn’t impressed with Narbonne so pushed on towards Carcassonne. On the way I visited a restored abbey that had been sacked in the wars of religion, now owned by a wealthy wine trader who lives in part and has guided tours around the rest. They didn’t allow overnight parking so I found a vineyard listed in France Passion. Next morning I got to the old citee on the hill at Carcassonne before the crowds and tried to follow the signs to a car-park – the attendant had me back out and directed me to the new aire, still under construction, and a short walk to the old city. The parking machines were not connected so it was free – a week later it would have been 10 euro. Parts of the fortified city date back to Roman times. There was a major restoration in Napoleon’s time and the whole place is now a real tourist trap. The old buildings are now museums, shops and restaurants. From the battlements you get a good view of the modern city. In the mid-afternoon when I thought I’d seen it all I followed a crowd to an area between the inner and outer walls. I had to pay 25 euro but it was one of the highlights of my trip – a jousting tournament. It was all stage-managed, but they were good actors with beautiful horses. The lances all had balsa wood tips, but they still had enough force to knock the opponent off. One had a tame eagle. That night there were about 50 vans in the aire.
In the morning I set off to Trebes where ‘All The Aires’ recommended the aire by the Canal du Midi. Sadly the aire was closed, but I parked by the sports-ground and spent the day cycling along the canal path – good cycling with no hills! At one lock I met a Swedish couple who had taken two summers to take their small launch from the Baltic Sea to the Mediterranean via the inland waterways of Germany, Holland and France. Now they were going across France from the Med to the Atlantic on the canal built by the French to avoid going past Gibraltar. I felt quite envious as this was something my late wife and I had on our bucket list.