Having survived our first few nights camping out in Les Andelys, we started to make our way south. We have a deadline to be in Barcelona by the 13th which means we are travelling at a click but we’ll have a lot more time to leisurely explore after that.
On Monday we headed down to the Loire valley. Keen to see as many chateaus and vineyards as possible we chose Amboise as our base for a couple of nights. We said to ourselves that we’d leave at 9am but we haven’t quite got our packing up routine down pat yet and we kept remembering things we needed to do before we left like empty our waste water, take in new water, put the awning away and tidy up anything likely to fly around in transit. Even the little jobs like turning off the gas and closing all windows get forgotten but practice makes perfect. Another thing we are getting used to is a much slower pace of travel in Harvey. We can go at 80mph but it’s hugely inefficient so we tend to pootle along at 60mph, dramatically slowing down for the numerous roundabouts to avoid tipping or careering into incoming traffic. Needless to say that when Google maps tells us it will take 3 hours to travel the 187 mile journey, it’s much more like 4.5.
Home to Leonardo di Vinci in his final days, Amboise is a wonderfully quaint town on the Loire river, with royal castles and cobbled lanes. It’s genuinely like something from a fairy tale. It’s been preserved so well and has such grandeur and finesse.
The next day we explored Chenonceau Chateau which was breathtaking. This castle is built on a majestic bridge and comes complete with rapunzel style turrets and picture perfect gardens. We had a lovely time strolling through the grounds and seeing the chateau from all angles.
The grounds were equally gorgeous, with tree-lined avenues, mazes and vegetable gardens.
In the afternoon we came home via a local vineyard where we had a tour and tasting with one of the owners. Plou et Fil produce 900,000 bottles a year which is incredible given how small a vineyard they are. The owner was so friendly and personable and generously invited us to taste over 10 wines for free, all of which were beautiful. We planned to buy a couple and ended up with 7 bottles because they tasted so good and were so reasonably priced at 6 euros a pop.
We’d have loved more time to explore the Loire valley and have been inspired to buy bicycles and come back for further adventures. We left and headed south again for a mammoth journey to Saint Emilion, just outside of Bordeaux. We left in ridiculously heavy rain and steel grey clouds and it remained this way for the rest of the day. We arrived absolutely pooped and considerably lighter in the pocket, having been stung 50euros for toll roads. Unfortunately avoiding toll roads would add huge mileage and time onto travel days so it’s something we need to suck up in France. We had a BBQ in our new digs and went to bed after watching Love Island (I know it’s the worst but it’s addictive).
The next day dawned much brighter and we got a shuttle bus into the beautiful town of Saint Emilion. This place is so charming and authentic, despite the huge swathes of tourists that visit daily. The lookout points from the church bell tower offered wonderful views over the chocolate box town. All the buildings are built from the limestone quarried locally and they look so traditional and quaint. We wandered down steep cobbled streets and browsed in boutique shops. It wasn’t long before we sniffed out a wonderful little vineyard producing some tasty fizz, produced in the same style as champagne. We ordered a bottle and a cute picnic hamper that they made up for us and we devoured it in their garden in the warm sunshine.
We walked back to our campsite in blistering afternoon sunshine. Vineyards unfolded before us, as far as the eye could see.
We gave ourselves a day of rest to catch up on admin and washing before heading further south again towards Toulouse. The campsite had a lovely pool and lake area so it was nice to enjoy that and relax. We even made friends with the locals.
The 200mile drive to Carcassonne just east of Toulouse was straight forward and we managed to leave by 9am. We seem to be getting the hang of travel days now, and whilst we are currently doing about 70 miles more than we’d like per day, we have plenty of podcasts to keep us going. Carcassonne is a hilltop town, famous for its medieval citadel, La Cité, with numerous watchtowers and double-walled fortifications.
We thought that the chateaus in the Loire were impressive but this is epic. The sheer scale of this formidable building is unlike anything we’ve seen. There was a temporary modern art installation on the fortress which is part of a new initiative to create a dialogue between contemporary art and heritage sites. When stood in the right spot, the seemingly independent fractions of shapes come together to from a circular perspective. The bright yellow was alarming at first but once we knew it was temporary, we thought it was really interesting.
We spent the afternoon wandering through the impossibly picturesque streets in the old city and sampling continental beers before tucking into our first dinner out of the trip. We’ve been really happy with cooking our own food in the motorhome (which is handy considering how expensive food and drink is in France), but it is nice to have the odd treat. I was super keen to try the local dish of cassoulet which included confit duck leg and Toulouse sausage which was delicious. The diet starts tomorrow!