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From Rural France to Mad Marseille!

Once the house purchase was in the bag, it was time to set our mind to the serious business of crossing France into Italy and reaching Venice in time to meet Millie and Charlie on February 6th. Up until now, everything had felt rushed, we had travelled too many miles in too few days and we both wanted to ensure we actually experienced the places we were driving through. We set a daily limit on distance and plotted a route down to The Cote d’Azor. We chose our aires carefully so we could keep topped up with water and where we could walk to a village or enjoy an afternoon stroll to stretch our legs. Water was a constant theme, something both me and Mr. B are drawn to which you can see from the pictures below.

We also braved our first Hypermarket at St. Etienne. We lost over three hours amongst the multitude of aisles but did manage to pick up some actual vegan products which are like hens teeth in France!

The lake at Ussel Rue du Lac, an aire with a beautiful walk and a lakeside bar!

The aire just outside St. Etienne, a surprise to find this sandy riverside walk at the bottom of a steep canyon.

We used Camping Bagatelle at Avignon as we wanted to explore the city and the reviews from Aires and public parking were far from favourable. The landscape surrounding Avignon is rundown, there is a definite air of neglect and we were unsure of what to expect. The campsite was just across a bridge from the ramparts, a ten minute walk but the contrast between outside and within those city walls is stark. Avignon is an affluent city, it has a rich history, having been the centre of Catholicism and seat of the popes for a short time in the 1300s but alongside the ancient churches and architecture, there is a modern and progressive feeling. It’s a cultural Mecca with many theatres, museums and is renowned for the standard of its food and restaurants.

We walked up past the Basilica (which sadly was closed for restoration) to the highest point of the town where over the ramparts you can see across to the Pyrenees on one side and the Massif Central the other. We wandered the streets which are like a maze, discovering beautiful churches, grand residences, old ruins and fabulous shops! During the afternoon, as with all French Towns, it was sleepy and deserted apart from tourists like ourselves but come 5.30pm, Avignon came alive, we found a great little bar full of locals and settled down with a bottle of local wine to watch.

Surprising and spectacular Avignon

The following day was supposed to be a relaxing jaunt down to an Aire near Aix en Provence. Two things went wrong and I have to claim responsibility for one of them. The climate had definitely changed, we had arrived in the south and noticed other motor homers already sitting outside their vans relaxing in the sunshine. Alas, we had failed to kit ourselves out with camping chairs before we left so I decided to locate a store. Unfortunately for Mr. B, our intrepid driver, the store meant a detour through rush hour Marseille. The poor man had white knuckles by the time we’d escaped. The second contributing factor was that due to the massive amount of building going on in Marseille, our satnav was literally directing us round in circles. At one point, we found ourselves having to turn around in a road that had a burnt out car, an old fridge and assorted broken household items on the pavement and a lot of very questionable individuals eying up our brand new motor home so we hightailed it’s out of there as quickly as possible.

None of this was helped by the fact that every time we had to do a sharp left turn, our lives were literally in my hands as I had to stick my head out of the window and tell James when to pull out.

We were definitely not in Kansas anymore!

Ada basking in another French Sunset

De-Stressing Bower style

... ‘me’ basking in the French sunshine on my shiny new camping chair

Anyway, we survived, frazzled but intact and our reward turned out to be the most beautiful and tranquil Aire yet. As I write this, I’m sat, outside, admittedly in my hoodie but surrounded by trees with just birdsong and the occasional barking dog in the distance, which you seem to hear everywhere in France. We have the place to ourselves and it’s so peaceful, we’re staying another night.

Tomorrow onwards, but for now, we’re enjoying this idyll for a few more hours!


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