We finally dragged ourselves away from le Puy-en-Velay (such a lovely place) on Friday morning. A supermarket sweep was well overdue as the cupboards were bare, but when we followed the signs to the Super-U, all we found was a building site. They were halfway through a rebuild so we had to backtrack through the town and hope we’d find another on our way to Tournon-sur-Rhône.
Our journey took us off France’s Central Massif and into the Rhône valley which separates central France from the Alps. Towns were very few & far between but we found a mini-Carrefour supermarket to stock up on essentials. While we had a sarnie in their car park we discovered that we’d strayed back into the reception area for UK satellite TV. We spent a sombre hour catching up with the tragic events in Nice.
Neither of us had seen the Rhône before so once we’d parked up at the aire in Tournon-sur-Rhône we walked into the town and couldn’t believe how wide and fast-flowing this famous river is. We saw huge river-cruise ships battling the current while their guests relaxed in luxury. No emptying toilet cassettes for them I suspect… We had a couple of drinks and an evening wander around the town. The tourists and locals were out in force; we felt a sense of defiance as well as the obvious mourning for the loss of so many lives in Nice, the French are a proud race and refuse to let the terrorists change their way of life. We were proud to join in with them in going about our daily business.
Saturday is market-day in Tournon-sur-Rhône, not a food market sadly, but clothes and tat mostly. I finally gave in to the weird French ‘no shorts allowed in the swimming pool’ rule and bought a pair of budgie-smugglers. Not a pretty sight but nevertheless a good result, as it means I can type this on the iPad by the pool in our current campsite in Provence. It’s a tough old life.
Leaving Tournon after visiting the market, we stopped for lunch in Mirmande – one of France’s award-winning Beaux Villages. It has a neat scattering of tiny streets and stairways tumbling down from the village church on top of a hill. We saw a tiny cottage for sale in the village and dreamed for a while about living there. Then we checked out the price in the estate agent’s window. Eeeeeeek! €300k for two bedrooms, no garden and definitely no access by car. Maybe not.
We had a two hour drive from Mirmande, along twisty and hilly roads into Provence. The scenery gradually changed from green rolling fields to drier, rockier and more mountainous views. We’re not in the Alps yet but we’re definitely in the foothills. At one point things got a little heated in Vince and there was a lot of bad language flying about, but as we passed out the other side of Les Tourrettes it seemed to stop and all was calm again. We drove over a mountain pass, le Col de Fontaube which reminded us of some of the hairy passes in the Pyrenees. As we descended into Provence we were assailed by the scents of lavender and astonished by the beautiful purple swathes of lavender fields at every turn. This region exports lavender and lavender oil all over the world. We passed olive groves too, offering tastings and bottles of oil to buy, and a first for me were the apricot trees heavy with fruit. What a fertile place!
We stopped for Saturday night at a free aire in Sault, a town perched on a ridge overlooking fields of lavender and sweetcorn. This aire was pretty big, and as it was free of charge and late-ish when we arrived it was heaving! At first glance there seemed to be no room at the inn, but Gill jumped out to check and spotted a tiny space between two French motorhomes. It was hilarious – she invoked The Teacher Glare and one chap immediately went red and moved his scooter out of the way. The owner of the other motorhome was a harder nut to crack but the combination of Gill’s glare and me reversing in regardless, made him move his table & chairs closer to his van so we could park up. We gave him a cheery ‘Bonjour!’ as we stepped out but all we got was a grunt in return. I love the French!
Sault was a lucky find, it’s a beautiful village and on our list for a return visit some time. We had a wander on Sunday morning for a coffee and to buy baguettes which were still warm from the oven for lunch. There was a lot of lavender to buy but we’d already picked our own from the verges to fill Vince with their scent. Once we’d had our fill of the lovely views we headed off to Salignac where we find ourselves now. We had yet another mountain pass to climb – Le Col de l’Homme Mort or Dead Man’s Pass which was slightly worrying, but there was no sign of a dead man, although if I’d sung along with one more song from the iPod, there might have been.
Our campsite here is in the middle of nowhere, which suits us fine as we’re just chilling out – reading, blogging, snoozing and planning the next few days as we head just a little more south before turning for home. The restaurant has just fired up their wood-burning stove for tonight’s pizzas and it smells heavenly. In fact I think I’ll just….excuse me….I’ll be back later…