Wine, Friends and Citadels; Back in France Again
Once again we find ourselves darting through France and not giving it proper attention. Last time it was because we were heading south to Spain for a month long reservation near Valencia. This time we have tickets for the Formula E-prix, the all-electric motor racing, in Monaco. So we only had a couple of weeks to make our way from San Sebastian in Northern Spain all the way to Monte Carlo. Still, we gave it our best shot to enjoy some time in parts of France we had not visited before.
Our first couple of stops were really just that, stops. We were trying to make some ground so just needed a place to sleep. The great thing about a motorhome is that there are often spectacular places for brief overnight stops and we do our best to find them. Our first stop was at a winery near the town of Pau. This is a very enterprising winery, smart enough to do everything they can to welcome visitors including building a motorhome aire with a full service point to fill up with water and drain tanks. We went into their store to enjoy some wine tasting (it would be rude not to) and ended up buying a few bottles. Seems like a great trade - they sell wine, we sleep in their parking lot!
Our next stop was the gorgeous hamlet of St Bertrand de Comminges. It was a bit rainy but even with the cloudy outlook it was obvious this is a beautiful little village with a stunning cathedral perched on top. The village is tiny but well worth a wander around and the day we were there a rally of vintage European cars was in town. So we got to ooh and aah at them too.
A big advantage of being nomadic is the opportunity to run into friends wherever you are in the world and here we got to do just that. Our friends Nina & Paul from the best RV blog out there WheelinIt, live in this part of the world. We met this like-minded couple boondocking in the Californian desert several years ago and, as things go in nomadic life, we kept in touch and crossed paths again a few times on our travels. Last year when we made the move to European motorhoming they were in the middle of a similar relocation. These days they are based in Southern France and now motorhome part time in a twinsie Carthago motorhome. It is always great to catch up with friends and, although Paul was out of town, Nina and her father were perfect hosts showing us the beautiful towns in the region and letting us park our matching motorhome at their place so we could share the stunning views. It was a lovely stop but Monaco was calling and they weren't going to delay the ePrix for us. So onward we moved.
With the gorgeous Pyrenees in our rear view mirror (metaphorically of course, we don't have a rear view mirror) we headed to Carcassonne. A couple of years ago on a car journey to Toulouse our friend pulled over on the side of the Autoroute to point out the impressive citadel in the distance. This time we got up close and what an amazing place it turned out to be. It was a public holiday the day we arrived and access to the fortress was closed. So instead we jumped on our bikes and toured around the area. We picked up the Canal de Midi which runs through the town and cycled a few miles along the towpath.
The following morning we headed up to the old town within the fortified walls and after meandering through the interesting streets we took the tour of the ramparts. What a fabulous adventure roaming around the walls with turrets and winding staircases to explore, reliving 2,500 years of history. We found getting there early avoided most of the crowds. By the time we emerged from our adventures it was starting to get busy but the imperious stained glass windows of Basilique Saint Nazaire are so grand and magnificent in their scale that they transcend the tourist masses.
As the place crowds started to build up we slipped back down the hill to the motorhome and moved on. We had places to be. After a quick overnight stop our plans were taking us to Avignon and the region of Provence followed by a brief re-acquaintance with the Mediterranean before catching up with those racing cars in streets of Monaco. Feeling smug that we were early enough to beat the crowds we hit the road ahead full of hopes that our second week in France would be just as much as fun as the first.
Recommendations & Tips
Where we stayed: We visited at the end of April / beginning of May. We traveled without reservations.
36: Free Camping at the Caves de Jurançon winery. Full motorhome service point GPS 43.23684, -0.39018
37: Camping Es Pibous, Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges, 13.20€ a night with ACSI Card. GPS 43.0281, 0.57856
38: Moochdocking with friends. Location not shared.
39: Clean and tidy motorhome aire next to Camping de la Cité, Carcassonne, 15.44€ a night with full motorhome service point.. GPS 43.19991, 2.3529
40: Aire Camping Car - Espagnac, Quirky camperpark, €7.50 a night good with full motorhome service point for an overnight stop. GPS 43.31037, 3.36288
You can always find details of where we stay on our overnight stays map.
At Carcassonne you can visit the citadel and the cathedral without paying the entrance fee to the ramparts but we thought the visit was worth it. We got there as it opened to avoid the crowds which I recommend depending when you visit. We were there midweek during the first week of May and it was still super busy.