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 #22929  by ColinW
 Thu Mar 31, 2011 1:44 pm
on the River Lot - limestone cliffs and pretty villages
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 #23321  by ColinW
 Wed Apr 20, 2011 11:11 pm
Hi Again - a wet day so a chance to write a bit more.
I should say something about the French, and their language. I dont speak french, so I was taking a bit of a risk travelling by myself without an interpretter. I soon found that if I said "do you speak English" they would totally ignore me. If asked "parlez vous anglese", then 90% of the time they would reply "non". On the other hand, if I blurted something from my indespensible phrase-book, then 90% of the time they would reply in English!
After I left my friends I didn't have any firm plans except to stock-up with food, so my first stop was a `Le Clerke' supermarket. I was impressed by the variety of fruit and vegetables available at reasonable prices. Prepared foods were, by contrast, relatively expensive. A half french loaf was 50 cents in the bakery, but in the deli-section, where somebody had added a shaving of ham, it was 5 euro! I stocked-up with some beautiful big globe artichokes, duck breast and some carrot rappee - a carrot salad - the French dont seem to cook carrots but have them as a salad. I also bought some plastic rubbish bags - the usual plastic shopping bags are banned in France. The supermarket had a couple of petrol,pumps, but no diesel.
My next destination was the Millau Viaduct about 300 km away. I set the GPS to shortest distance and set off along some less well traveled roads. The country-side was obviously a fairly poor and archaic rural community - very small paddocks with a variety of colour - lots of yellow sunflowers being grown for seed, golden grain crops, green vegetables and a few small flocks of sheep and herds of pale cattle. The country soon changed into a poorer soil type with lots of limestone outcrops. There patches of woodlots with woodcutters building piles of logs for fuel. This was an area miles from other sources of fuel. The country got a bit steeper and barren. I found myself driving through an area reminisant of the Skippers Gorge, except the windy road was beauifully tar-sealed and no other traffic was evident. When I reached the only town for miles I was dismayed that the only sevice station had run out of diesel. This forced me to detour about 50 miles to Le Vigan, quite a reasonable size town in the mountains and with a selection of diesel pumps - those at the supermarkets are usually much cheaper than the garages.
I soon found myself on the A75 heading south to Millau. The french roads have a strange numbering system. The motorways that cross the country are either A or E roads (there was some re-labelling going on so my Michelan map was a bit unreliable). Lesser roads have a D prefix. I think the D stands for Department (like a province) as each Department (there are over 90 of them) can have the same number for a different road. You can be driving on the D18 in one Department when it suddenly becomes the D269 in the next. There are also some even lesser C roads which are sometimes only a single lane. My GPS only gave the old names such as Rue de Chateau, which was named the D73 on the map.
The Millau Viaduct is magnificent. It is about 2 1/2 km long and spans the whole valley. At the deepest part, the valley is about 250 meters below the deck. The roadway is curved and rises gently as you go head south. On te South side of the valley is the Larzac Plateau. I decided to follow a tourist sign to La Couvertoirade. This is a fascinating medieval fortified village that had been a headquarters for the Knights Templar in the days of the crusades. There was a lot more to see so I spent the night in the carpark along with several other campervans. Next day I explored the vilage a bit more then carried on to visit four more old Knights Templar villages in the area. I had always thought that the crusades were an English institution, but they were organised by the French and the Knights Templar were the ones who saw that everybody got there and back safely.
I'd joined a thing called France Passion (see which lists hundreds of places where you can park for free. I decided to try one so set off a steep and windy unsealed road to the top of a hill. Here was a magnificent chateau, but a bit spoiled by modern alerations and a bit run-down. The family that lived there had about 20 hectaire of hill farm and ran about 100 angora goats. The husband took the goats out to the fields every day and back to the barn at night. He had a dog, but didn't use it to drive the goats - he walked in front and they followed. The wife and daughters all spun and wove the wool into various items they sold at markets. I later stayed at a variety of vineyards, duck farms, vegetable growers and other farms. Not all spoke any English, but they were all keen that you buy some of their produce. The nice thing was that all the places I stayed were in the country and nice and quiet. France Passion is something I recommend.
 #23336  by idex
 Fri Apr 22, 2011 2:54 pm
An interesting account Colin and it brings back many memories. Just make it clear that you're a Kiwi and the language problem rapidly reduces. Most of the under 30's or over 80's can manage English far better than we can handle French.

Make sure you're always filled up with gazole by Saturday as the supermarkets don't open on Sundays. Then there's the fuel pump closures from 12-1pm (sometimes 2pm) as the cashier locks up and goes off to lunch.

We found the Aires excellent places to overnight, especially in the smaller villages, and they're nearly always within an easy walk of the nearest boulangerie for that fresh bread, etc. You can get directories of the Aires locations from motorway service centres and many bookshops. Most are free, sometimes a few euros per night, sometimes a small charge for water. Usually grey waste and toilet cassette emptying is free.
 #23355  by ColinW
 Sat Apr 23, 2011 3:56 pm
Well, a stormy day and I'm in my boat in the marina waiting for the weather to clear, so back to France.

The lady at the goat farm told me about some caves with pre-historic drawings, so I decided to back-track and have a look. I'd seen many signs to Grots but until now hadn't bothered to look. These caves were magnificent - much bigger than Waitomo or Te Anau, but didn't have any glow-worms. There was an elevator to go up and down and at the bottom I joined a group in a boat. We went through huge caverns till a spot where the river was impassable and we got out and walked to the acrylic replicas of the caveman drawings - the originals are in an area that is sealed off to preserve them. On the way back in the boat we passed a boatload of French school-kids who were taking advantage of the magnificent acoustics to sing their heads off - I dont think they were a choir, it's just what French kids do.

A Belgium couple on the boat told me about the Pont du Gard, so I set off there next. The Pont du Gard is as old as the Millau Viaduct is new. It was built as an aqueduct over the River Gard by the Romans about 2000 years ago and is still standing strong. Being a long weekend it was packed, with lots of people swimming in the river. They charge 18 Euro a car for admission, so it was expensive being by myself. The French have built a multi-million dollar industry out of piles of rock that the Romans have left behind.
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Later in the day the car-park was emptying and I saw a few vans in the far corner so I moved over to be near them. One guy saw my NZ sticker and came over for a chat – said they were hoping to park up for the night – no such luck – a gendarme soon came over and moved us on, The others went one way, but I decided to go to the nearest town where the shopper’s car-park was almost empty. I pulled in there and was soon joined by two German vans – we stayed undisturbed, apart from a fair bit of road noise.

The map showed that I was close to Avignon, so decided to go there next morning. The route was well sign-posted so getting there was easy, but finding a park wasn’t. After driving the loop around all the riverside carparks with no success I finally asked a grendarme “ ou est le park pour le comping-car?’. Fortunately he replied in English and directed me to the bridge which went to an Aire de Camping on an island in the Rhone.
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Being mid-morning a few vans were leaving so I chose a good spot. There was a carpark nearby with a free park-and-ride bus to the city. Avignon was having an arts festival and the city was crowded. I started with a Noddy-train ride around the old city and saw what’s left of the Pont and the old battlements, built to keep off invasions by the Moors. Just before mid-day I went to get a cold drink at an outdoor café by the square. I was going to take a seat under an umbrella by the square when the maitre came running saying `reservee’ – I saw soon why – at noon all the shops around the square shut their doors and the staff gathered at the cafes. Most stayed shut till 2pm, so I went off to explore and visit the Papal Palace, built in the days when the pope lived in France. All the restaurants looked expensive so I bought some food and walked back to the Aire, which was now full and late arrivals were trying to squeeze into the corners. My back door (LHS) was opposite that of a Dutch couple (RHS) and we spent a pleasant evening sitting outside talking.

The Lonely Planet said there was a lot to see in Provence, so in the morning I took to the hills to visit an old castle – a steep climb up the hill, but great views and some replica siege machines on display. Again, limestone hills but this time with some old cave houses. I had a drive around Provence in the afternoon and stayed the night on a lavender farm listed in France Passion.

I wanted to see the Camargue, an area of the Rhone delta so set off there next morning, trying to follow the roads along the Rhone. Being Bastille Day, I thought it may be crowded so I got the first boat-trip of the day. I’d read about the cowboys with white horses and black cows, but I didn’t know till then that they grow rice there. The black cows are used for the French version of bull-fighting – ribbons are tied to the bulls’ horns and the winner is the guy who collects the most ribbons. I spent the rest of the day there and parked for the night on a river-bank – nobody seemed to mind.

In the morning I wanted to go to Arles, which has a fine Roman amphitheatre. I got there and saw it as I drove past, but all the car-parks were all full so I carried on to Nimes. The Caravan Club recommends the municipal camping ground at Nimes so I went straight there. It was nice, had broadband, and was not as expensive as most camp-grounds. I took the bus to town, had a quick look around and decided I’d need another day. The Dutch couple next to me had a caravan, so next morning they drove me to town and we went to the town market – a big affair occupying almost the whole ground floor of a city block. We all stocked-up with fresh goodies and went back to the camp-site. I took the bus back to town and went to explore the museum and their Roman artefacts – the amphitheatre (still used for concerts, but the gladiators are gone), water-gardens and tower.Image
Last edited by ColinW on Sun Apr 24, 2011 2:06 pm, edited 2 times in total.
 #23358  by ColinW
 Sat Apr 23, 2011 7:23 pm
yummy BIG fresh artichokes under 1 euro each
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 #23359  by ColinW
 Sat Apr 23, 2011 7:24 pm
Millau Viaduct
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 #23360  by ColinW
 Sat Apr 23, 2011 7:31 pm
Templar church in Larzac Plateau
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 #23361  by ColinW
 Sat Apr 23, 2011 7:33 pm
La Couvertoirade
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