Avoiding French motorways is interesting. It’s been our determination to avoid paying French autoroute tolls from the outset and – one incident aside, where we found ourselves on a toll section for a short distance by mistake – we’ve managed to stick to this.
Admittedly, it takes longer to get anywhere – sometimes much longer – but it’s far more interesting and you get to see some amazing areas that you just wouldn’t see when zipping along on an autoroute. Driving up to Rocamadour form Cordes sur Ciel took us 3 hours to cover the (SatNav-determined) 86km. I reckon with all the bends in the road, it must have been nearer to 100km, but still not all that far, really and certainly not far in French distance terms. At least we got a chance to call in at a supermarket, and at a roadside “local fruit and veg” stall. Fuel is much less expensive off the autoroutes (as in the UK), as long as you can find a decent sized town where there’s a bit of competition to bring the price down.
So we arrived at the campsite on Mon evening. And we now have an internet WiFi point. Whoopee! And electric hookup: not had that since we were in Chamrousse. And showers! Sheer luxury. Also, it’s not that much more expensive than many aires now that we’re out of season.
A walk into” town” to survey the roof-of-mouth tearing baguette possibilities revealed only source – the small mini-market. And it truly was a very, very hard baguette. The sparrows and finches don’t seem to mind it, though. The other thing the walk into the town revealed was that there is a mediaeval town clinging precariously to the cliff walls of the Alzou valley. Yes, we’ve done it again: completely randomly selected yet another mediaeval town! It must have taken sheer determination and a lot of bloody-mindedness to have built it there. Many of the buildings will just have the rock face as their rear wall and/or roof.
In the afternoon, time for a mountain bike ride as the campsite guide (ACSI) says there are several trails right from the campsite. Not so; according to the campsite office. They know nothing of such things. Off to Tourist Info – a brand new, all-glass building that seems to double as a greenhouse for the poor sods who have to work in there. They were equally unable to shed any light on the MTB routes that supposedly exist. What they did provide us with (at a cost of €0.50, mind) was a single-sided sheet of A4 with a 12.5km walk on it which was claimed to be accessible to mountain bikes. So off we set.
The start point was at the bottom of the mediaeval town and the TI had told us we didn’t need to take the main road down: We could cycle down the smaller, pedestrian road. It took us the best part of 1 ½ hours to fins the start point. We found one stupidly steep, hairpin-bended footpath from the chateau that was full of visitors (did I mention the sheer cliffs this place is built on?), and another road further back that was supposedly for residents. We took that. It ended at the convent and sanctuary (both still in use) and the home of the black virgin (a wooden statue). After Joy had visited some of the buildings whilst I guarded the bikes, we declined the possibility of carrying the bikes down the dizzying stairs that might – or might not – have led to the bottom of the town. We headed back up and discovered another path leading down that looked do-able. It was, but there were also a number of flights of steps to negotiate before we could push our bikes along the mediaeval main street to the very bottom of the valley. There, we found the start point!
The trail was not technically difficult, and there were some spectacular views of the valleys. It was also very hot, dry and dusty, and eventually, we came across a very, very steep climb that was a struggle to even push up. Never mind; shortly after this climb we came across a vineyard, so took the opportunity for a bit of light, fruity refreshment (it’s grape harvesting time just about everywhere, as is clear by the number of times we’ve been held up on the roads recently by ancient tractors with barrows full of grapes and by incredibly slow-moving grape harvesting machines) which did us fine until we got back.
Having been away all summer, and having spent almost two weeks in the treeless Camargue, and it now strikes me that the leaves are starting to fall and the nights are drawing in. It’s now dark here soon after 8pm. This morning (Wed 17th), and it’s raining slightly. Not seen that since Chamrousse either (and the van is filthy – could do with some torrential rain to clean it!).
Time to move on today: This is probably the last posting until we’re back home on Sunday as we’ll almost certainly descend into Internet never-never-land again.