Mâcon turned out to be a clean and friendly municipal campsite; we enjoyed a three-night break there and took the opportunity to give Vince a good seeing-to as he hasn’t been washed in weeks. The unique feature of this particular campsite is its position on a major north-south (or south-north for us…) route. When we arrived early in the day on Friday it was almost empty, but as the day wore on caravan after caravan after motorhome after tent appeared until there wasn’t a free pitch to be had. To our amazement, by 10am the following day they’d all gone again! This was the pattern for all three days we were there.
To be accurate we were actually staying in Sancé, a little to the north of Mâcon on the banks of the Sâone river. We found a shady cycle route into Mâcon itself on Saturday morning and whiled away a pleasant few hours at the market and you guessed it – wandering round the cathedral in the old town. Mâcon is well-known for its wines, so I took great pleasure in sipping a chilled dry white Mâcon-Villages in Mâcon village! I was on my best behaviour so I had a healthy salad with smoked duck, apple and walnuts to accompany it. Gill had a delicious-looking galette filled with goats cheese and tomato – a galette is a savoury pancake made with wholemeal flour. I say delicious-looking as I can’t vouch for the flavours; she wouldn’t share any with me!
After lunch the weather was brewing up a thunderstorm – it was hot & sticky and getting darker and darker so we pedalled like crazy to get back before the storm broke. I’m so glad we made it as it was wild! The trees were thrashing around in high winds while we watched spectacular lightning flashes with barely a pause between them. We couldn’t hear our own voices in the continuous rumble of thunder. Fantastic!
Our cycle into Mâcon on Sunday was an obstacle course of broken branches and twigs blown off the trees, and we saw a lot of debris sweeping by on the surface of the river. It must have been even worse upstream. Our (my) Sunday evening was a belter as we are now back in range of UK TV so I could have my first F1 fix since early May with the German Grand Prix – go Lewis!!
On Monday we hit the road again. We’re conscious of our looming ferry date so we’re doing slightly longer hops between stops just now. This time we landed in Besançon on the River Doubs. Our All the Aires book played a blinder and guided us right into the city to a €7 per night parking spot right beside the river with free services.
Besançon is very different to many of the bigger places we’ve visited; the old part of town is mostly pedestrianised, or restricted to delivery drivers only. The streets are wide enough however for a tram service to operate and we had to be on the lookout as they were virtually silent – just a loud bell making you jump as they sneaked up on you. We did however endure the world’s longest wait for a ‘quick’ coffee, taking an hour between sitting down and finally getting the bill paid. All those bloomin’ tourists slowing things up I bet…
We enjoyed looking at the Roman ruins littering the streets; columns and arches abounded. One in particular la Porte Noir was built in 175AD and though weathered, still has magnificent carvings of battle scenes. In the UK it would be fenced off and have a ticket office – here it’s just part of the street with traffic and pedestrians passing under it with barely a glance. Besançon sits in a loop of the river – much like Shrewsbury near where we live, so it was easily defended once the citadel was built on the only open approach. It was quite a climb up to the Citadel but we were a little disappointed to find large amounts of cash were required to go in. As it was late in the afternoon we didn’t bother as we’d have had to rush round. Next time maybe.
We ate in the van, then took our drinks across to the wall beside the river to watch the town lighting up as darkness fell. Very romantic of course and we got chatting at separate times to a friendly French couple who gave us some tips for the route north, and a British couple having a whale of a time in a tiny camper van with two children. Rather them than me!
As our €7 was for 24hrs we had time this morning for another tootle round the old part of the city, this time on the bikes. We tried to cycle alongside the river but the surface was cobbled – and I mean seriously cobbled. When we both started suffering from blurred vision and er… tender areas we found some steps up into the pedestrianised part of town. Cycling is allowed at sensible speeds and we really enjoyed just pootling around randomly, picking up our daily baguette on the way.
Once we’d loaded up the bikes and serviced Vince with fresh water we tried to get out of town using Mr Garmin but once again he sent us down a road with a 2.3m height restriction. Vince is 3.13m tall. He’d have been a lot lower if we hadn’t been paying attention grrrrr. I shall be writing a strongly worded letter to the Garmin Corporation on my return, let me tell you. This model is supposed to take your vehicle dimensions into account.
We’ve just settled into an aire in Thann – which is the beginning of the Alsace wine trail which runs north as far as Obernai (I may need to check that). This is on the advice of the French couple I mentioned earlier so we’re in their hands! I shall report back on what we find here, and in the next few towns as soon as I can.