Zagan the motorhome’s sat under a hot sun in a bowl of hills, surrounded by trees and fields, with the pleasant waft of lavender in his nostrils, coming fresh from the purple rows he’s parked alongside. We’re at a privately-owned aire, made available free to the public for stays up to 48 hours at Ferme de La Condamine, near Saint Sauveur Gouvernet (N44.32717, E5.33210). It’s a beautiful and calm place, and the welcome from the elderly couple who own it was warm and genuine.
Officially you need a France Passion membership to stay here (which you can get by just buying that year’s book from Vicarious Books), but ours has expired and the owner’s kindly turned a blind eye. Under this scheme you can stay in around 2000 locations across France for free, typically vineyards, farms, restaurants and so on. You’re under no obligation to buy anything, but clearly the scheme survives on the basis that us camping caristes procure some stuff from time to time. The buying process can be the best part of the stay too, giving you (forcing you to take?) the opportunity to speak to some real live French folks, sample their life’s work, ask a few questions about the area and maybe even (if you’re lucky), get a tiny bit sozzled… We like the scheme, and have stayed in some fantastic places over the years, and will renew it next time we plan to spend any serious time in France.
This morning the traffic started flowing past our parking space near Gordes about 7am, picking up volume until the small road was a steady stream of commuters by 7:30. I awoke and listened, reminded that in less than a month, all being well, I’ll have my nose back to the grindstone too. Over a course of 20-odd years I worked in various IT jobs, until eventually breaking loose back in 2011, heading off in an old motorhome called Dave, and kicking off this whole new way of life. When the money ran out we reluctantly headed home two years later and I finally plucked up the courage to go contracting, which worked out well for us and (alongside the fact we’d gotten used to spending relatively little, £13k to £15k a year) catapulted us forwards in terms of our aim to get free of the need to work.
From the Autumn of 2015, we’d managed to get enough income from investments that we could, if we wanted to (and other circumstances allowed), travel for ever. Come the summer of 2017, after almost another two years of carefree wandering, we find ourselves heading back to the UK though, at least for a few months, and I’ll likely be heading back to the office. Why? Well, we’d set Blighty in our sights a while back anyway, regardless of the offer of work, as we find ourselves wanting to spend time in our home nation, with our friends and families, and to have a base for a while, in our wee space at home called The Cooler. Private, small, safe and comfortable. Something different from what’s become a new normality. The work is an added bonus, giving us the chance to earn purely fun money for some future expeditions yet to be formed in our minds. Iceland maybe? Or Antarctica? Svalbard? Dunno, they all look incredible.
So I lay awake this morning pondering the commute down the M1, the details of the forthcoming job, and the fact that I still have another 4 weeks of ‘holiday’ before I need worry about any of it! Ju did more than ponder, getting up and jogging up the hill for a look at Gordes from a viewpoint a couple of miles away, grabbing a photo (above) and legging it back just as the sun turned the pressure upwards.
After breakfast and some map prodding, we headed off towards Roussillon, another famous hilltop town in these parts. Lavender’s featuring large in the landscape here at the moment, grown in deep purple dreadlock fields, alien-looking, geometric and beautiful, drawing my eye in the same way the flowing green-clad vines do. Reaching the town we came to a halt at the ‘no motorhomes’ sign alongside the packed car park, wondering what a bloke was doing waving me to stop, then finally noticing all the cyclists crossing the road in front of me. Cycling’s big in France. And why not? It’s a flipping beautiful country to pedal across, and I bow down low to anyone doing any distance around here, there’s not much flat land to free wheel along. By the time we reached the town’s aire, we were too far out to walk back in with Charlie, so yet another place goes on the ‘next time’ list. The wee man’s arthritis limits distance now, and combined with the 32ºC heat means we can’t walk with him or leave him in the van. Never mind, there are plenty other more accessible spots, until we buy him some wheels while we’re back home!
Heading north across the D roads, our map looks like it’s grown a hundred eyelashes, as viewpoints sprout like spring crops. A while back I learned that you can ‘read’ roadmaps for clues about not just the roads, but the landscapes too. Small, twisting roads, with look-out points everywhere and names like ‘Mont Ventoux’ thinly stencilled = hills and gorges (I’m no rocket scientist), and that’s what we found. The tarmac today has only briefly sported a white line down the middle, in three hours of driving, and when we arrived I had to go and touch both wing mirrors to prove to myself they were still there. Been a bit tight it has, but the views have been stupendous.
Stopping off in a free aire at Sault, we realised we’d been there before! Last time it was out of season, dead, and we only spent enough time in the town for a mobile wood-fired pizza oven to knock up our tea before retreating into the van. This time the aire was 3/4 full, and the town was alive with people. We still only managed a couple of delicious pizzas from a restaurant (with a weird experience having to point out to the waitress she never brought our Oranginas, so no, we didn’t fancy paying for ’em) and a short walk about the town though before beating a retreat from the sun. The town’s a pretty place with great views out over the countryside, and that mobile pizza van’s still there too, so it’s well worth a trip. The aire is here, in Parking P3 a short walk from the centre: N44.09409, E5.41299.
Onwards. From Sault we had a choice: turn east up and over the massive hulk of Mont Ventoux, or continue north and north-west, bypassing the mountain climb and descent. If we’d not already done it, it would have been a no brainer, as the climb up and views from the top are staggering, but we’d already over-heated old Dave a while back, so we took the route north. Through small gorges and orchards, past all-stone and tile towns we went, the air con blasting us and le pooch. Finally the satnav took on the look of Zebedee’s leg, and we rolled our way back and forth down over the Baronnies Provençales massif and into the valley where we’re now sat.
Yesterday I read an article about hard core Tour de France motorhome fans getting to their preferred watching spot a full week before the race arrives. A WEEK! The article said they stocked up on food and, once the place had filled up a bit after a few days, a mobile bakers delivered their bread. Bye ‘eck as like, we know the party will get going a day or two before the rider’s flash by, but we’re not waiting it out for a week! The race is making its way south at the moment as we head north, and we’re aiming for a rendez-vous just north of Chambery. Quite when we’ll get there, I dunno, best get squinting at the map again (after I’ve hit Publish and pulled a cold one from the fridge).