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Photo features The Camargue   Var and Aups

Here is our report of our June 2002 trip to France. This year we traveled just over 2000 miles, again crossing from Newhaven to Dieppe which was altogether a better experience than last year as we paid extra for 1st class which included a meal and priority loading.
Here is a brief summary of our journey, more details to follow.  

We headed further south this year mostly avoiding the autoroutes.  We bypassed Rouen being a Saturday morning by turning west to Yvetot then south across the Brotonne toll bridge and through the regional park which was a much more pleasant drive. After travelling south on N and D roads we took a short journey on the A71 autoroute to miss Montluçon and then east to Vichy.  Heading south on N roads took us to Ambert and Le Puy en Velay which is an impressive sight as the road descends into the town, with several laybys for photostops.  East from Le Puy we headed on minor roads across interesting moorlands and hills with vivid yellow broom in flower to Gerbier de Jonc, a domed rock and the source of the Loire, then down to Aubenas in the Ardeche and on into the Rhône valley. Our target was Vaison la Romain, a busy town with Roman ruins and an excellent market on Tuesdays, near to Mont Ventoux. 

Ochre cliffs at Rousillon

After a short circular tour of the pretty hilltop villages of Segurat and Gigonas, famous for their vineyards, disaster struck when we suffered a radiator failure, luckily in Carpentras rather than out in the wild.  Having a  Renault Trafic should be no problem to get fixed in France we thought! However the Renault main dealer was totally disinterested - offering to look at it in two weeks time! Luckily with the help of Carefree and Europ Assistance it was repaired most efficiently by a small garage, Gilson Auto Services in a few hours, and we continued to the villages of Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, (similar to Cheddar Gorge), Gordes and Rousillon with its ochre cliffs.

Grande Canyon du Verdon

We continued east across Haute Provence, unfortunately a bit early in the year for the lavender fields in full bloom, arriving at Moustiers Ste Marie in its impressive mountain side setting then across to the Grande Canyon du Verdon, taking the less hair-raising northern road which was still most impressive, and headed east to Castellane and the Reservoir de Castillon.  From there we travelled south across rough garrigue terrain and after skirting Draguignan  arrived at Tourtour and Aups, another old market town with narrow lanes.  Following a day of torrential rain and getting caught up in a motor rally in the Ste Baume Hills, we skirted east of Marseille staying at Gémenos, and then down to the coast at Bandol, a pleasant small resort. Since it was a Sunday and thinking the roads would be quieter, we headed west around the outskirts of Marseille through a maze of ring roads and autoroutes, passing oil refineries and chemical works at Fos       

camargue bulls being herded
Camargue - bulls being herded

We arrived in the Camargue via a small chain ferry Bac de Balin de Giraud and Port St Louis.  Passing through paddy-fields of rice we first visited a nature reserve at La Capelière where we saw our first glimpses of pink flamingos, white horses and black bulls. Continuing to Saintes Maries de la Mer which was more attractive than the some older guidebooks claimed with a smart new promenade we found overnight parking for camping cars at the east beach from where a short stroll along the digue provided excellent views of the Camargue with its fascinating wildlife. 
We left the Camargue via the main road to Montpelier which we tried to bypass - a total disaster in the late afternoon. One hour later after visiting several suburbs, several times, we found the road north to St Martin de Londres. From there we travelled north to the Cirque de Navacelles, best approached from the north for the stunning views (we didn't take the motorhome down the valley road). Continuing north via the long climbing road to Mont Aigoual in the Cevennes region for more panoramic views and we drove down to Meyrueis and the Gorges de la Jonte to watch the vultures. we travelled north to the Lot area and the Dordogne via Conques, an ancient monastery town with impressive abbey.

Cirque de Navacelles

In the Dordogne we visited several Bastide towns although the grandness of the impressive square at Montpazier was spoilt when we visited as it was full of market stalls. We then travelled north via the free A20 autoroute and across to Chaumont-sur-Loire to visit the garden festival, a bit different to Kew! where the air temperature reached 40°C. From there it was a leisurely journey back to Dieppe stopping at Lyons la Forêt for our last night in France.

Chateau at Chaumont-sur-Loire

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