Okay before I start I need to clarify a bit about timelines. Our last post mentioned what we were doing yesterday, today and tomorrow. The problem, is that at the time we had no signal so I couldn’t upload it until the following day. This meant that when you read it, tomorrow was already today, today was yesterday and yesterday was the day before that. I’m writing this one tonight but will probably finish it tomorrow so when I refer to today it’ll be yesterday and tomorrow will be today. Yesterday will therefore actually be the day before that. I hope that makes things much clearer.
We left the Lac de Sainte-Croix on Thursday morning in bright sunshine after debating whether to take the lakeside road (really narrow & twisty but shorter) or the long way round (steeper but marginally less narrow & twisty). After examining all the pros and cons in detail, tails it was, so we went the long way round. I’m glad we did as it took us via Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, one of those villages clinging to a rock face in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence region. (Why-do-the-French-hyphenate-everything, I wonder?)
After parking below the village we had a steep climb along a winding road into the heart of the village. Our first encounter was with a vay vay English family in the middle of an argument: “Where were you?” said the harassed-looking father.
“What do you mean?” said the even more harassed-looking mother with three kids in tow, in an extremely plummy voice.
“I was getting cash out of the machine which YOU told me to do – I turned round and you’d all gone!”
“Don’t you talk to me in that tone,” she retorted, “I’m not a crying child you know..!” Then she stomped off leaving him – literally – holding the baby. As I may have mentioned in previous posts, the French aren’t shy about having a good stare, so by this time there was quite a crowd enjoying the spectacle. Brits abroad eh?
Moustiers seemed to be full of Brits ooh-ing and ah-ing at the little streets full of local produce, souvenir and craft shops. We were happy to join in, taking snaps of the dramatic rocky setting with waterfalls, cascading climbing plants and ancient buildings. Don’t ask me how they did it but there is a huge illuminated star suspended high up between the peaks overlooking the town. I’d love to have seen it at night but we had to move on.
We don’t have many pics of the next part of our journey as there was nowhere to pull over. Well we could have, but then if I opened my door I’d have stepped into 1000ft of space! We travelled the length of the Gorges du Verdon, often referred to as France’s Grand Canyon. I wouldn’t go that far but it was certainly spectacular. There are two roads following the Verdon river, one on either side. On our map, the southern option was coloured white, denoting a minor road, while the one we took was coloured red, indicating a more major road. Wow. I’m so glad we stuck with the red road as it was only just wide enough for Vince to squeeze by any oncoming traffic; and when you have nothing but fresh air six inches to the right of your tyres, it really focuses the mind. The French don’t seem to be big on guard rails in this part of the country; there were a few low walls separating the hapless driver from oblivion but that was it. When I asked Gill if she’d enjoyed the views, she just looked very pale and responded that her eyes had been shut most of the way!
Our final destination for the day – and for the next two nights – was Castellane, a town on the Route Napoléon which I’ve passed through many times but never visited for more than a quick coffee. The town is dominated by an enormous rock rising 184m above the town, on which the Chapel of Notre Dame du Roc was built in the late 12th Century. I’ve always wanted to climb up there so that was what we did on Friday afternoon.
There’s a rocky forest trail for the hardy (or stupid, in our case) climber, and an (only slightly) easier route which runs up the rock from the church in the town centre. We decided to go up one way and down the other. We’d been warned to wear sensible footwear and appreciated the warning as the surface was very uneven and loose in places. Like an idiot I said at one point how glad I was that it wasn’t wet; those marble-looking rocks would be very slippery if it rained…cue large clap of thunder… It had been hot sunshine when we left Vince for the climb but the clouds were gathering in the oppressive heat. They saved it all up until we were halfway there then the world went mad. It was only afterwards we questioned the wisdom of climbing uphill in a raging thunderstorm to take shelter in the highest building in the region! In fairness it did have a huge lightning conductor poking into the sky.
The views from the chapel were spectacular; we were drenched anyway so we ignored the looks from those gathered in the church (les crazy Anglais..) and stayed out in the rain watching the flashes of lightning all around us, and enjoying the views of the town far below. I wasn’t wrong about those rocks by the way, Gill has a titanium plate holding her ankle together, so we took it very slowly a-slippin’ and a-slidin’ down making sure she didn’t break it again.
Although our first impressions weren’t great (Mr Grumpy had to reverse out from the barrier as it only took exact change) the aire in Castellane is excellent. It’s right underneath the Rock so no TV and not much internet unfortunately. The services were free however, so we had van showers and just kept topping up Vince’s fresh water. We could sit out in front of the van overlooking the river and watch the mad canyon rafters go screaming by. And many of them actually were screaming – it’s a fast stretch of the river, and was full of white water after the storm. It’s only two minutes from the centre so we ate out on Thursday night, then took full advantage of the café’s free wifi on Friday – buying a coffee each, then updating 23 apps and downloading (of course) this week’s Holby.
I’m writing this (it’s tomorrow now, do try to keep up) in Vars, a ski resort in the Hautes-Alpes. As it was dull and raining yesterday we just kept driving. It’s like being in a Swiss chocolate-box picture. We are surrounded by ski chalets, and conifers which skirt the slopes of the rocky peaks. We’ll have a wander down into the village when I finish this, and when I get my breath back. We’re ‘only’ at 1850m and Gill’s fine, but I’m feeling a bit breathless whenever I stand up. I’m a foot taller than my lovely wife and I bet that’s what’s making the difference – the air is much thinner for us six-footers.
We’re really pushing our luck in terms of nightly accommodation – we need a campsite for washing but as the weather is a bit iffy til Monday, we’re trying to stretch it out until then. This is an all out record for us – 6 nights on Aires. It’s saved us lots of cash but we need to be careful with the electricity. Poor weather means we’re getting less solar charging & driving is fine for charging up the vehicle battery but the leisure battery really needs either solar, or hook-up to bring it up to its full charge. The sun’s out now for a bit, and all the lights are green so we should be ok tonight – wherever we are – we haven’t decided yet, then we’ll find a campsite tomorrow night for washing, charging, luxury showers and have a planning session for the next few days.
See you then 🙂