12th October (La Ciotat)

We like it here so elect to stay another day. The weather has taken a little bit of a turn, grey skies a bit of a wind but it’s still warm and bright and the view is amazing, so yes why not…

We don’t do much at all today, in fact we don’t do anything at all. We take a short walk to the local supermarket for a restock and spend the rest of the day with “Jess” just admiring the view, reading and talking. It’s a nice day, nice to be just sitting about spending time doing what you want.

Dinner was homemade pizza with a view of the bay. Smashing. Tomorrow we will move on. Two days is a good amount of time to spend in a place. We are happy with our lot. Besides the wind has built and we are not sure how this is going to go.

13th October (La Ciotat to Cuges les Pins)

We are greeted with a blue sky with a few grey small clouds bobbing about, nothing too threatening. Breakfast is outside before packing up and spending 5 or so minutes trying to maneuver out of our space. It was big enough but requires quite a few three-point turns to get out to avoid sudden drops, walls and the odd sticking out tree. Hayley does the business on this occasion and deals with it no trouble.

Today she wants to do one of these tree-climbing adventure things. Each to their own. We set the Google Maps for the location and after a while, we are lead up a garden path, quite literally. The roads have become very narrow, twisty and generally tricky. The entrance road to the park is a hairpin bend of only a couple of metres wide and we decide that there is no way that we are going to be able to get round out and decide to cancel the whole thing.

This is the third attempt Hayley has had to go on one of these things and three times unable to for various reasons. Maybe someone somewhere is trying to tell her something…

Whatever happens we are going inland, only a little to an aire that is 4.50 euros for the night. It is located in a forest and has goats wandering around. Sounds good. After another half an hour of twisty roads we are finally on a motorway, then two then three. By the time we had finished this short journey has probably cost 10 euros in tolls. French tolls can be expensive.

We finally arrive at the aire in Cuges les Pins, again after being sent up a local narrow road around the back of the town. Once there we pick our spot. Yes. It’s lovely. A contrast from yesterday. Dead quiet.

All you can hear is bird song and bees. We sit enjoying the warm sun and it’s not too long before we are joined by Mr & Mrs. Goat. A male and a female are wandering around chewing the grass and visiting the vans to see what else they can get their horns into. They are no trouble at all and soon wander off. They are local as they are soon spotted sniffing around other vans.

14th October (Cuges les Pins to Carro)

It’s a lovely morning, not particularly warm and bright, but fresh and clean. Once we have breakfast we take our time and clean up. While this is going on we are visited by our two friendly goats who are curious as to what is going on. They keep their distance though, once they know you have nothing for them they move off until you rustle a bag or something and their curiosity is too much and they come back for another look.

They are very sweet, very tame and good-natured. Like most goats.

Today we are setting off to an aire that is about 9 euros to get into. It’s in a small town called Carro not far from Marseille, very popular with windsurfers and kiteboarders. If you are lucky you can get a great view of the sea which is only a 5-metre walk from the front of your van.

We set off after a quick attempted fuss of the goats. The day improves and gets sunnier and warmer as we head further west. We arrive at Carro, pay our fee, and Hayley finds the last beachfront view… Wow! amazing. The sea is turbulent and frothy but it’s sunny and hot and sure enough, the windsurfers and kiteboarders are out in force, loads of them… There must be 50 – 60 of them buzzing about like flies. Great to watch.

The chairs are out and we spectate for a while before taking a walk to see what the town has to offer.

It’s closed. It’s Monday. Stuff is always closed on a Monday in France. We want ice-cream. There are a few places open but despite the good warm weather, we couldn’t get any ice cream, nothing. What we did notice is that the town restaurants are very expensive. We find a lovely beach but it’s one of those views that looks great from afar and a bit ordinary close up.

Back at the van, we watch the water-sports carrying on. We have made friends with our German neighbours, they are very nice people indeed, very friendly and good-humored. Earlier in the day on arrival, they were insistent on showing Del their Whiskey collection. We toast them with a glass of wine watching the kiteboarders right up until dust.

We settle in and get comfortable when suddenly there is a knock at the door and we find it’s our friendly German neighbour with a bottle of schnapps and three glasses.

What a nice chap. We sit chatting for a while and sample his fine offering of 45 percent proof, proper schnapps. Excellent. It’s getting colder but even as the sun disappears there are at least two or three hardy boarders still at it. In the dark? Mad.

It’s a rough evening. The wind has built, but really built. So much that the van is rocking in the wind, force 8? Feels like it. Just to add to the wind the rain starts to fall, it’s the heaviest and most prolonged that we have ever experienced in the van. It goes on forever and ever. It’s not long before we have plenty of thunder and lighting added into the mix. A thoroughly wicked night… with little or no sleep.

15th October (Carro to Tain l’ Hermitage)

So it was a lovely(ish) day yesterday but the evening was without a doubt the worst we have ever had in the van. We woke up to a cloudy, windy day, no rain and feeling very tired and groggy. The noise and the movement of the van kept us up all night. Rough…

Today we are moving on, northeast to a place right on the Rhone called Tain l’ Hermitage and to a municipal campsite called Camping Le Lucs. It’s a longish drive, a couple of hours. We arrive just after 2 pm and get a nice spot right next to the Rhone river.

It’s a lovely day, sunny, clean and fresh. We are a bit worn out after our stay in stormy Carro so we spend the rest of the day just taking it easy. Later in the day, we do a large shop – provisions are running low, and Hayley goes for a 5-mile cycle ride along the river.

Dinner was the most amazing rare steak, french fries, and pepper sauce accompanied by a Cotes du Rhone red and finished off with an excellent brie… What a dinner…! We eat well in the van but for some special unknown reason, tonight’s dinner was just amazing. Top marks.

16th October (Tain l’ Hermitage)

We like here so we will stay another day. It’s a nice place right by the river, the site is peaceful and pleasant. We get up this morning to fog. Thick fog. It’s spooky as there is a layer of the fog moving slowly along the river, the large barges loom out of it as the sun tries in vain to push through. It’s cold but not biting cold, enough to get a hoody on. Very picturesque and a sign that autumn is fast upon us. We are reminded by the leaves that are starting to fall quicker off the orange and red trees. Quite beautiful really.

Busy day today. There is a chocolate factory here. Valrhona is supposed to be in the top 10 of chocolate companies in the world, a bit of research confirms this rumour – in some cases, it’s in the top three. We have a pile of laundry to do and we would like to do a few miles of cycling along the Rhone. You can’t say that very often…

Confident that the fog will lift we get some laundry on the go and hang it out between the van and a tree. Nice. Then we set off for the Valrhona City of Chocolate museum which is right next to the camp.

It was brilliant, for 9 euros the museum is great. You get the full tour of how chocolate is made right from the plantation to the shop with lots of samples, but lots, there are so many sample points to try their different types of luxury chocolate. After two hours in there, we were sick of chocolate and promised ourselves that we wouldn’t eat chocolate for a week. Very interesting place but heavy on the stomach. However on leaving we notice that they have a restaurant with chocolate in every dish, H has duck with dark chocolate and Del has a beef stew with 46% cocoa chocolate.

Back at the camp, we stick on some more washing. The weather has cleared up as promised. It’s warm and sunny with a nice breeze so we get the bikes off the back of the van once we had hung the next batch of washing out and set off for a cycle ride along the Rhone. In all, we do about 7 miles. Not a great deal but it helps work the chocolate off!.

All in all a smashing day, we got lots done today and the weather was great. How long can it last? Tomorrow we are heading further northeast towards Switzerland and staying at a Lake in France just before the border.

We might see a change in the weather then…

17th October (Tain l’ Hermitage – Lac du Bourget)

Today we are slowly pushing northeast ish. We only have slightly over a week left and we have decided how the remaining time will be spent. Today it’s the French Alps to a place next to the Lac du Bourget (the Bourget Lake) which, by all accounts is the biggest natural lake in France, a glacial lake so the water is cold and clean.

We set off but today it all seems a bit ‘laboured‘, maybe we didn’t sleep well last night but we are tired and everything seems difficult and trying. So much so we get lost, only briefly. We turn off at a junction a bit early and end up in the outskirts of Grenoble, yuk. Grim. Also our mobile phone provider 3, have had network difficulties so both phones are on and off data wise so we keep loosing google maps. Tricky…

Eventually, we navigate our way out of Grenoble and get back on the right road. It’s raining on and off but by the time we arrive at the Lake it has cleared up and it’s a lovely bright afternoon.

We go for walks around the lake, not the whole thing, it’s probably a 30km walk all the way around it. There are some lovely clear views of the French Alps. Quite a sight across the lake.

A quiet night in tonight and an early night. Tomorrow we leave France and head for two days in Switzerland. We liked it there…

18th October (Lac du Bourget – Interlaken, Switzerland)

We wake up to a bit of a grey drizzly day, not what we expected. It seems that this wet miserable weather has been all over Europe, indeed friends and family are reporting some very heavy rain back home in the UK.

Today we are on a “two days per country” run. 2 days in Switzerland first, then two in Germany, France and finishing with two days in Belgium before heading home. Today we are making our way to Interlaken (between lakes) in Switzerland. We really enjoyed our last visit there a couple of weeks ago and it’s only a short divert so why not, we have the time. In all, it’s about a three-hour drive. It’s still raining when we set off but as the day goes along it gets brighter until we cross the Swiss border and although cloudy it’s a lovely bright dry day.

We are heading for a site called Camping Alpenblick. Switzerland is very expensive and this site is no exception however we are out of season and we can use a discount card called ACSI. Very useful and you can get some excellent rates if you present the card. The staff are very friendly here and we are given a small but lovely pitch close to the amenities complete with a wonderful view of the surrounding hills and mountains. We are also given a card which allows us free travel into Interlaken town. Very handy.

We settle in and set off for the bus stop into Interlaken. The town is very clean and tidy and quite busy. The tourists, us included, are out in full. Above us, there is paragliding where they land right in the middle of town on a grass field. It’s very popular and they are floating above us all afternoon. We look around all the shops, mainly made up of watch shops and chocolate shops. The back streets are the best. Very clean, pretty houses and cobbled streets.

Chocolate? We have had enough of it for now so we just stroll around the streets watching the, mainly Chinese, tourists spend their money. They are the only ones who seem to be spending here really.

A good day and in a beautiful place. We head back to the van as it’s getting a little chilly and we have no intention of spending any money, not here anyway. Switzerland is without a doubt the most expensive place we have visited. Watch out…!

The 19th is Hayley’s birthday and she has found one of these tree climbing, adventure things. We shall see.

Week 4. In conclusion.

A closer look at our map will show that we haven’t really touched the champagne region as we thought we might… On the contrary, we have been o where near it yet. We have just basked in the late summer sun of the south of France and loved every minute of it.

Also, a continued closer look will show how hap-hazard and inefficient we have been by looping into France and out again to go back into Switzerland. We are not quite sure what happened there but whatever forces made us do that it was well worth it. We will probably, money permitting do Switzerland for longer another time. We shall see