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Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Beautiful, Gorgeous, Amazing France

Having cycled round France a couple of years ago I thought I had seen the best it had to offer, I was so wrong.  In my head I imagined the south of France to be flat but there are mountains all over the shop.

On Sat 15th of August we drove down to Dover to get the ferry over to Calais.  We did this is a Ford Ka full of camping gear and bicycles hanging off the back.  If you think you need a big flash car think again, you just need good packing skills. Although a big flash car would be lovely :)


We set off at midnight and drove solid though the night and all through the next day.  We stopped at a Comfort Suite hotel on the outskirts of Grenoble, it was only £30 for the night and the room was amazing.  A 10 minute tram journey at €1.50 got you in to the centre of the city where we had a quick look around and a meal before heading of back to the room for an early night as we still had a lot of driving the next day.

The evening was a bit over cast but we could still see the mountains from our room.



The next day we drove on through the Alps we took Stella (my car) up Alp d Huez, I had to show her the mountain that I have now cycled about five times :) It was a bit dull but the views were still amazing, the clouds were hiding some peaks, but it made you appreciate how high you were. We had our breakfast at the top of Alp d Huez then it was time to hit the road again.  











The Tom Tom GO! app on my Android phone, which is really cool by the way as the maps are on the device directed us over another mountain I cycled a couple of years ago which brought back many painful memories, fully loaded with panniers up a mountain with racing gears, how the hell I did it I dont know!

As we drove on South the mountains never left us and the weather started to change, it started to get blue and hot, which is why we were driving to the south.


We got to out campsite at about 1900 on the 16th of August and we were stopping until the the 23rd of August.  The campsite was in a little village called Roquebrune - sur - Argens and it was at the base of a mountain.  This is the campsite we stopped at.  





This is what surprised me the most.  In 2013 I cycled from the Alps to Montpellier and I do not recall after the Alps seeing that many mountains but where we were camping this year they were every where.  The campsite was in-between Cannes and St Tropez, so a lovely location.

On the first full day there we had a day on the beach at Saint Aygilf, although a nice beach it was a bit busy for me but it was a good day dipping in and out of the sea to keep cool.

On the second day we decided to look for another beach that might be a bit more peaceful, we drove around the coast and found the beach we were looking for at Saint Maxime.  




It is a very bust port town, but before you get to the town there is a very quiet beach.  We made base and had some fun in the sand turning me into a mermaid.




The next day is when we drove to the Gorges of Verdon, also called the Grand Canyon Des Verdon.  I was gob smacked. I have seen lots of beautiful scene and this place is in my top five.  The gorges are massive at 700 metres deep, the mountains before you get there are huge and the shapes they make are spectacular.  The route from the campsite takes you by surprise.  You get a sense that you are driving up some very big mountains and you start to take pictures these are good, but you have better to come.  




But an hour into the drive you go over the highest bridge in Europe at 182 metres.  The bungee jump from the bridge and when we got there the jumping had stopped but there was an encouraging message in the sand below, if you enlarge the image you will be able to make it out.







On the route there are many cyclist, touring fully loaded, racing bikes, mountain bikes and I had a strong desire to jump on one and test myself up the immense gradients and lengths I have not seen before, even in the Alps I did not recall roads like these, these looked steep, long and straight!

So you turn a corner and you are knocked of your feet!! The gorges are incredible, the images do not give you any sense at all of the size!  It was just beautiful


The river that is running at the bottom of the gorge is blue, very blue.  You continue on the road Aiguines, the mountains never get smaller, but you get a sight of the most gorgeous lake called Sainte - Croix - See, again just blue fresh mountain water that tasted of Evian!








From the lake you can hire kayaks, electric boats and pedal boats and if you have the time you can take them right up the lake and into the gorges you have just driven above.  There is a waiting list for the boats and you need to het there and make sure you book your slot.  We could not get a booking and just swam in the lake, the spot where we were went very deep very quick, so if you had kids that could not swim you need to take care.

On the drive back the sun was setting so we took a few more pictures of the lake and gorges.  We stopped at a bar near Trigance for food and I had the best Creme Brûlée I have ever had in my life, it is now my go to pudding!



















The next day we went horse riding, I had word with the reception at the campsite and they booked us a place that was only 4km from the site.  It was a red hot day and they took us on a little tour of the woods and vineyards.  It was a beautiful activity and only cost €20 per person for a 1.5 hour trek.  I did feel like John Wayne :)




After the horse riding we looked in the booklet that they gave us at the site and we saw that there was an observatory that mentioned you would see the hundreds of Flamingos in one place and a host of other birds, we thought this would be a good place to have lunch.  When we walked to the observatory there was a poster showing the variety of birds we could watch and which months they migrate to this location.  We were one month too early to see Flamingos!  It was a nice circular forest walk though and a nice place to have our packed lunch.





In the afternoon I took out a kayak that were freely available from the campsite and went down the river.  It is a beautiful river and when the light hit the surface you could see fish swimming below.





They also encouraged you to pull up on the side and have a swim if you got too hot.

In the evening we had decided to splash out and go to St Tropez for our evening meal.  We thought that it might be hard to park in St Tropez so we took the ferry from St Maxime.  It cost €12 to park and €15 for adults and €7 for kids on the 15 minute journey on the ferry.  As we left St Maxime I thought I had seen the biggest boats you could buy, I was wrong, so wrong.  When we got into St Tropez all there was were luxury liners that had helipads and numerous staff working on them.  It was crazy, people were partying and having there meals right in front of everyone on the port, it was a bit like a circus and made me feel a bit weird.  When we were eating I did a bit of rsearch on my phone and typed in the names of a couple of the boats.  £82 million pound was the result of one of them owned my a Mexican TV chap.  If you are intersted you can read about the boat here.  http://www.superyachttimes.com/editorial/3/article/id/5759  But trust me there were loads of them.  We had a nice meal and it was time to get the boat back to St Maxime.  A lovely evening in St Tropez and was an eye opener to another world, one that is a bit seedy and tacky to tell the truth.

The normal sized boats docked at St Maxime as we left





On our final day we chilled around the site, made up are own version of tennis using a volley ball net and took the kayaks out again.  That evening as we had packed most of our camping gear away that day we had a beautiful meal at the lakeside bar just over the road from the campsite.


Then it was one long drive all the way back home and I was amazed that the mountains never seemed to leave us all the way except maybe for the last two hours.  We broke the journey back with a stop at an F1 £40 for the night and had everything you require for a good nights sleep.  The toilets and showers are on the corridors, shared but very clean. The only problem is that the hand towels they supply are too short for a trek to the shower so I had to do that with my bum out and my back against the wall.

France is just beautiful and I will be back again, with a bigger car or alternative rack so we can carry all the bikes and get in them mountains again!