Sunday, 7 March 2010

A year in Provence

written 2nd March
This morning we awoke in Pelissane to a bright sunny spring morning.  It seems that the 'done thing' is for motorhomes to move on from the aires at around 9am - needless to state we have not managed this :)

We had planned on a nice mid-morning coffee and a bun break in Aix-en-Provence but unfortunately it turned out to be more like Headaches-en-Provence :( 

Will managed to hover in a carpark on the Place de la Rotonde long enough for me to run into the tourist office, but we were then completely unable to find a parking spot anywhere within a reasonable distance of town - payant or otherwise - and furthermore our day was at this point interrupted by a resurgence of our thought-to-be resolved 'real-life' issues, which unfortunately somewhat spoilt the mood.  Having done a complete circuit of town to no avail and despite parking meters now tipping into free lunchtime we had lost enthusiasm for the carefree town-wandering-coffee-and-bun plan so eventually gave up and had to content ourselves with driving up the tree-lined avenue of the wide main street of Cours Mirabeau and past all the sunny pavement cafes and onwards and outwards.  

Beyond Aix, our plans had not been formulated - that was part of the reason for a coffee break! - but thinking that towns were not for us and as the weather was so glorious we decided against the glitzy tourist trap of St Tropez and headed instead towards the Gorges of Verdon.

We wended our way north and eastwards, sun shining, windows open, proper summer t-shirt weather and finally stopped for muesli brunch atop mountain pass with snowcapped peaks in sight - bliss. 

The first town we reached within tourist office afternoon opening hours was Riez, where we found a helpful lady, maps of the gorge and free wifi so we could at least set our minds at rest with matters on the homefront.

This done, we set of to Moustiers Ste-Marie and thence along the northside gorge road  en route to Castellane.  And it was glorious.

The Parque Natural of the Canyon de Verdon is Europe's largest gorge and our answer to the Grand Canyon.  I've seen the Grand Canyon twice; the second time from the air on a flight from Las Vegas to Austin a few years ago, when it was pretty impressive, but far, far below us like a burst zip after a too good meal over the undulating stomach of the desert, and the first time in my early teens on holiday with my parents and after a particularly bumpy, vomit-inducing flight from Las Vegas in a tiny plane from which my overriding memory is unfortunately 'its a big hole in the ground, so what, I feel sick'...

Anyway, this was pretty impressive too...

The autumn leaves were still clinging to the trees like crumpled paper bags on our approach to the valley and the mountains looming ever closer when we passed through the wrent apart landscape into the gorge, with the river already far below us.  We followed the road, at first clinging to the canyon wall and then passing through sweeping valleys before reaching La Palud sur Verdon, right in the centre of the gorge route.

It is a funny little one bakery (closed) town, with several cafes (mostly closed) and one shop which, despite being called '8-a-huit', is only open some mornings, other afternoons, occasionally all day (but closed for 4 hours for lunch) and some days it doesn't open at all.  And on no days is it open at anytime with an 8 in it!   Fortunately it was going to be open this particular afternoon and offered surprisingly cheap petrol for a deserted mountain village - we were running on fumes by this point despite Will coasting with the engine off at all possible opportunities! 

We repaired to the sunny pavement café to await afternoon shop opening and in the dazzling crisp sunshine, with vestiges of snow in shady corners, it almost felt like an apres-ski moment - just lovely .

With all three of us suitably watered, we set of in search of the circular gorge viewing road, Route Crete, recommended by the tourist office which leads off the main road just beyond La Palud.

It is apparently a one way round trip tourist trail in season with glorious views but unfortunately there were big 'route barre' signs indicating that gorge fun was shortly to be denied us.  

but we pressed on anyway and when we finally reached the barre, set off on foot through the snow to see what all the fuss was about - this was no Burgos afterall!

It wasn't terrible, but on rounding one corner, we were quite glad to have left Jules behind as the tracks were a foot deep :) 

Being hardened snow explorers though (ask me about the Canadian Rockies some time...), we carried on through and reached the promised viewing point and what a view it was  -

straight down a dizzying sheer drop to the tiny river far below. 

We were even higher than the eagles soaring on the invisible air currents below, simply awesome.

With the light fading, it was clear this was as far as we would get on this particular road, which is a real shame - another one to come back for - so we trekked back to Jules and on the Pointe Sublime, a further viewing point lower down the gorge, which was happily as advertised - sublime :)

We descended further into the valley as darkness fell and detoured into the still snow covered hills to the south of the gorge before finding the main road to Grasse which took us up and down through the lower Alpes-Maritime with the glittering lights of Cannes spread out before us as far as the inky black of the sea.  With no radio reception we were appropriately, if somewhat randomly, on the Love Actually sound track on our 'Cheesy Pop' mp3 cd so white Christmas festiveness reigned supreme in out little van, rounding of our four seasons in Provence just nicely :)

1 comment:

  1. I want to be back in those there hills......NOW