settled for sete

sunday 11th september

all my ideas for outings having been exhausted it was up to lou to decide where we would go on our last day of hols.  he toyed with the idea of heading down to spain as the border is only just over an hour away from capestang but we wanted to visit the coast and the autoroute was too far inland and the coast road resembled knotted string on the map so we thought better of that idea.  lou spent breakfast and shower time checking out the map and came up with sete.  a quick google confirmed it was an interesting destination. situated on the eastern end of the etang de thau (where we had been the day before) with a hill above it and several canals through it.   it seemed like a good place to wander around and find a fishy lunch.

the weather was being very kind and apart from a downpour the previous morning that soon dried up we had had hot weather all week.  with the campsite a bit busier we had discovered that the tepid water in the showers had become positively boiling! some strange quirk of the waterheater we assumed.  so, after a good night’s sleep (maybe the vineyards don’t work saturday nights?) and a lovely hot shower i was ready to enjoy our last day.

we retraced our route of the previous day and arrived in sete before midday.  parking was going to be difficult, we decided, judging by the cars crammed into every space and the crowded pavements.  the underground car parks were a nono due to the topbox so, finally, we took a turning along the royal canal and hoped to find something.  amazingly, we did, albiet at the far end of the quay near the customs house.  here the moored fishing boats were much larger than their cousins at meze and had very formidable winches on their sterns.

boat

we walked back to ‘our’ bridge, hoping we would remember which direction to take for returning to the car.  from the bridge it was a splendid view of the canal in both directions.  i’d read that sete is called the venice of languedoc because of its canals.  having been to venice at the same time of year sete was winning hands down in the sunshine stakes.

canalset

canal royale looking west  (the car is somewhere down on the far left!)

canalset2

and looking east

on the far side of the bridge the quay in both directions was lined with restaurants.  lou felt it would be very hot to eat at any of them.   i was keen to have my morning coffee so we followed the centre ville sign, ignoring the one for the tourist office that we didn’t believe would be open on a sunday, and found ourselves in a leafy square.   a convenient pavement full of cafe tables so i got my cappucinno, the prettiest i have ever been served, and lou had a cold beer.  we sat and enjoyed watching town life go on around us.

cap

in the middle of the square there was a book market going on.  all the stall holders were sharing an apero so the stalls were partially abandonned which meant i could poke around and not be bothered by an anxious bookseller.  spotting a pile of magazines entitled cliche with a black and white photo on the cover i thought i had happened upon an old photo mag.  flicking it open randomly i found myself face to face with the splayed legs of a naked lady, tastefully posed but not on a sunday morning!   i put it back gently, pretending that i had known all along what it contained.  oops!  i should have spotted the book next to it was entitled nudes rather than thinking it was related to the art books to the right! 🙂    (googling ‘cliche’later, i find it is now the name of an american based lifestyle and fashion mag. )

clich

further on i found a lovely old french school book. i have a weakness for these so had to buy it.. the stall owner came over, still clutching his apero and took my eight euros.   we discussed the hot weather and the noisy vendange.

i asked when the tourist season finishes in that area and he said a storm was forecaast for the following wednesday and everyone would disappear!   he recommended we go and find les halles as we would ‘manger bien’.  so we did…and we did.

halles

en route for les halles i found a librarie open and was able to finally buy the map we had badly needed on our cycle.  better late than never!  les halles is a modern building and airconditioned so it was a relief to wander amongst the stalls and look for a good place to eat.  we were spoiled for choice but chose one with natty little tables in front of its counter.

a blackboard was eventually placed in front of us and our mouths watered.  we opted for breadcrumberd anchovies for me and friture limande for lou.  i didn’t take on board the word limande and was thinking a bowl of small fried fish but when it arrived it was four small fish, a relative of the sole the waiter told us.  we shared our fishy feast and swilled down some white wine while watching the comings and goings of the market.   a perfect people watching spot!

cafg

we finished off with cafe gourmand which really filled any last small space we might have had left.  leaving les halles we realised what a good recommendation it had been as the heat really hit us as we emerged.

set1

set2

so it was a desultory post lunch walk. we ambled along the quay, taking photographs, and rebuffed the many offers of late lunch from the eager waiters.

we found the car and searching for a way home without tracing too many steps took the road out of sete that runs along between the med. and the lagoon.  i thought this would offer splendid views of the sea and the etang but no!  what it did offer was a view of the extensive car park for the ‘plage’.   the car park queues finished any ideas of stopping for a paddle and a snooze.   at the far end we came through agde and crossed over the herault and the canal du midi where it empties out.  i had hoped that we could find the wonderful aqueduct that carries the canal over the orb river at beziers but even with our lovely new map it was hopeless.  too many roads and not enough signs.

so back to capestang and after a last apero at la cafe de la paix, a last meal in le grille.  it was meant to be a small one but my plateau of charcuterie also served the neighbouring table of four as an entree.  i was too embarrassed to ask for a doggy bag but should have done.  it would have made sandwiches for the next week!

cap3

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meze

as usual i had done some sleuthing online before our trip and had noted some places it may be fun to visit.  lou loves fruits de mer and i discovered that meze which is on the etang de thau is an oyster port but isn’t too big a town.  another link told me it doesn’t get too overcrowded in tourist season either.  google earth is a wonderful invention and i always use its street view to decide whether we would like a place or not.  the little port looked lovely and i could see several fish restaurants around it.  a perfect lunch spot.

the incar tomtom had very strange ideas about the quickest route to meze and took us over the canal and up a bumpy lane through the vineyards.  using the michelin map i got us back onto a route national to beziers and we were soon on the autoroute.  meze is strangely served by roads and you have to drive up as far as pezenas before eventually finding a direct route to it.

thanks to google earth i knew if we kept to the coast we should find a car park just by the port.  we did but with the box on top there was an iffy moment as lou drove under the height barrier with me on lookout duty.

port

there were lots of boats moored up along the quay and as we walked alongside it a boat came in playing a french pop song.   the chorus was lustily echoed by a chap painting a yacht’s hull in front of us.   the ambience of the place seemed very welcoming.

joust

further along we spotted two of the celebrated jousting boats that feature in this part of the world.  i was reminded that years ago in the marais poitevan we saw some of these boats in action.  pity nothing was happening this day’

rest2

it was nearly lunchtime so some menu reading was in order to decide which of the many eateries to plump for.  one had offered a huge plateau of fruits de mer for 19 euros that looked right up lou’s boulevard so we settled ourselves under the yellow awning and watched the owner strategically place several parasols around the edge. the sun was very hot aand we were glad we had arrived early although the whirring fan just behind me was a bit too much of a good thing.  the obliging owner turned it away from my direction.

rest

fruits

the place soon filled up and no wonder.  the fruits de mer were fabulous.  i opted for fish soup as i love all that messing about with rouille sauce, croutons and grated cheese and followed it with grilled oysters.  i have often meant to grill them myself but not got around to it. i will now! 🙂

 

after a wander into the town centre to find a bank machine and buy some postcards it was down to the end of the harbour to find a bit of beach and have my obligatory paddle in the sea.

paddle

pezenas had been part of my internet trawl and it was easy to make a stop on the way back to capestang.   we parked in a ‘place’ with a lot of restaurants and went in search of the tourist office.  pezenas makes a lot of its connection with moliere which several sources say is spurious but a moliere fan or not the old town is very interesting.  the streets climb up and down and are still as narrow as they were in medievil times.  the tourist office provides a walking map that we decided was far too long for late afternoon so after a short ‘flaner’ we opted for tea on the corner of a sqaure with a fountain and a lot of pigeons.

squarep

 

like many well visited towns there are a lot of artisan shops and tourist tat ones.  i resisted the multiplicity of handmade soaps and scented candles available and stuck to a handful of postcards.

back in capestang we decided that a shared pizza would be sufficient for supper so went and found one at le providence in the place jean jaures and ate it by lamplight back ‘home’.

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cycling the canal

9th september 2016

as he always does, lou brought me a cup of tea in bed and remembered to wish me a happy anniversary. true to form i whipped out an anniversary card that had been hidden under my mattress. after 49 years, not much has changed!

today was cycling day but as the hire shop didn’t open until ten o’clock it was a lazy start, my only ones on holiday!  when we left lou headed off to the presse to buy a map he was sure he had seen there (he hadn’t) while i sauntered to the boulangerie for some sarnies.  the cycle shop was open when i arrived but no one was about.  i made a bit of deliberate noise sorting my sarnie into my backpack but still no one.  a bit cross now, i went over to the little box affair that serves as an office and found the owner sitting at his computer. ‘oh, nobody about’, he said.  well, no!   he yelled and the indifferent lady from the other day came out of the back. lou appeared and we sorted out the bikes.  well, our lady did.  no basket? i enquired, no, none left, she said.  inwardly i asked myself what was the point of obeying their 48 hours advance booking and specifically asking for a basket?   but no matter. she attached a pair of panniers on the back and told me they were better.   a matter of opinion….

road

the canal towpath is closed for work between capestang and poilhes so our lady suggested the back road to poilhes where we could pick up the towpath again. shame we hadn’t got a map but tant pis.  the road was quiet and wound through the vineyards where some machines were working.  i pulled up by one that had broken down.  well, i guessed it had from the ‘putain’ and ‘merde’ that were being thrown about.  i askd the guy if they worked at night as well.  ‘tout la nuit’ he gaily shouted back.  ‘too hot by day so we work all night’.  note to self, next holiday in capestang will not be during the vendange!

tout

the entrance to poilhes is through an avenue of plane trees. these avenues are  synonomous with most peoples’ idea of southern france and i am always trying to take the definitive photo of one….and generally failing.  but here goes.

ave

in poilhes we fancied a coffee but only found the two restaurants we remembered from our visit six years ago.  meanwhile a trio of french people had caught up with us, one lady merrily complaining about the heat and flies already.   lou noticed the solitary male had an electric bike and decided it was a very good idea. our paths were to cross again during the day.

loutrees

we found the canal path outside poilhes and i sped along happily.  the odd rubbing noise carried on somewhere in the region of the back wheel but i had fiddled with the panniers and decided that was not the problem.  the canal banks looked naked without the plane trees and the row of stumps a cruel reminder on the splendour that had been.  we were under the impression that the whole tree had to come out before the ‘malady’ could be eradicated so were a bit ‘stumped’ as to why they were still there…sorry, couldn’t resist.

bridge

we passed fellow cyclists going in the other direction. i either wobbled scarily, (we were the canal side) or came to a halt. soon we came to one of the picturesque bridges over the canal which seem to lead to a private home, quite a substantial one at that. i took the obligatory photo from the apex and a boat obligingly chugged into shot.  by now i noticed my bike was quite heavy to peddle at times but decided my initial enthusiam may be waning in the heat as well as energy levels.  lou had remarked that i had zoomed off and left him!

bridge1

a little further on and we were treated to the sight of a large boat turning around in midstream.  coming closer we realised it was a pleasure boat that cruises out of beziers.  having effected the passing of the malpas tunnel now was the time for it to turn back.  the tunnel was shorter than i expected and we couldn’t cycle through it although it could be tried on foot.   on the hill above us was the opidum d’eserune but far too hot to trudge up to survey the roman ruins.  whizzing down the slope above the tunnel i discvered i had extremely squeaky brakes.

malpas

we had changed sides of the canal and now we had the blessed shade of some remaining plane trees.  a proper, precious vista of trees shading the canal opened up before us.  the sunlight dappled the water and it was cooler at last.

shade

reflections

around the next bend and we found we were arriving at colombiers.  the pleasure boat was mooring up for lunch. a boatman was using an enormous sledgehammer to knock in a post and delicious smells of lunch were in the air.  i felt sorry for anyone who had only booked the trip and not the lunch!

interdite

in colombiers it was back across the canal to find a bar for cold drinks.  i noticed a ‘baignade interdit’ sign and wondered who in their right minds would take a dip in the murky green water however hot they were!   at colombiers there is a large harbour or ‘port de plaisance’ with small shops and a couple of restaurants plus a shower and toilets, all with a view of a leafy island reached by a metal bridge.  we ordered cold drinks from a pizza joint and enjoyed the rest.  it was now a nuisance not having a map as we couldn’t work out how far to beziers and the possibility of seeing the celebrated fonserane locks, all seven of them. i had read that it was not possible to visit them from the besiers side on foot as, again, work was being done.

hisbike

his….

mybike

mine (grrrrr)

crossing back over the canal we ate our sandwiches in a shady corner of the bouledrome and watched the antics of some sheep, horses and people in a field we could see.   moving on, it soon became clear that my bike had some severe problem.  i might have been tired but even lou found it hard to pedal.  we had identified (wrongly) that there was a dynamo on the back wheel and decided this was the problem and the source of the whining noise that came and went.  the sun was getting hotter and with no idea how much farther on the next possible cold drink stop might be the decision was made to turn back and pedal slowly for capestang.  another deciding factor was the complete absence of shade.  we have such happy memories of walking along the canal in shade, so sad we will never see that shade again in our lifetime, however fastgrowing the new,resistant plane trees are.

malpas2

at the malpas tunnel i sneaked along the bank to get a better idea of the tunnel.  a boat was attempting to turn, not a pleasure cruiser, and the crew on a nearby moored boat were yelling warnings and then instructions!  i don’t know what the problem was as the tunnel is high and seemed wide enough.

pines

up top i insisted that i needed to just lie down for a while.  not a good idea as the only shade was under some pine trees so the back of my t-shirt was soon full of spiky pine needles, not so restful after all!   as we pedalled back down to the canal the french trio came whooping down behind us.  well, two of them, they had lost someone and while they waited they told us that cycling on from colombiers was not a good idea, too hot, and they had heard the towpath was closed further along.  they had eaten at colombiers they told us.  lou said after they’d gone that he had noticed them in one of the restaurants, bikes parkd outside.

onwards, onwards to poilhes where we searched in vain for a bar.  another desperate cyclist spotted a water fountain and splashed happily as well as filling his water bottles.  in the absence of an ‘eau potable’ sign i contented myself by sipping tepid water from my ‘useful’ panier.

viewcap

the remaining short ride to capestang was grim. the bike got heavier and heavier until i was nearly in tears of frustration.  close to the town i gave up and pushed the bloody thing.  and still it whined.  i tried not to!

at the shop we waited while an english couple discussed hiring bikes for their two teenagers. they wanted them from the next day.  sorry, we’re not open, came the reply.  lou and i avoided each other’s eyes.  not open on a saturday in holiday season?   when it was our turn the chap, whom we hadn’t met before, was much chattier than either of the previous staff members and told lou that there wasn’t a dynamo on my bike.  apparently it is a clever bike that has no obvious gears. ‘you freewheel backwards to change the gears’.  i wasn’t told that, i said, trying to keep the ice out of my voice.

back to the campsite by way of the boulangerie where i noticed earlier they had a cold drinks fridge.  bliss, ice cold agrumes….

siesta

so, a late siesta on a blanket under the pine trees on our pitch, no spiky needles.   we had booked a lovely restaurant for the evening which we had eaten in last time we were here so knew we were in for a treat.

rest1

 

and it was. ‘la table du vigneron’ has a lovely setting in amongst the old caves. the kitchen is outside in the courtyard with you and you eat under the branches of an enormous plane tree and the stars.  we drank a bottle of the local wine whose vendange had been keeping us awake!

 

 

 

 

 

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perpignan

8th september 2016

just before our road trip this time last year i discovered a big photojournalism festival held in perpignan every year.  as our outward journey was across northern france it wasn’t possible to include a visit en route. but this year….!

as per, i had researched online and worked out in which of the locations most of the many photographers would be exhibited plus other possible places to visit.  first the problem of parking.  due to the necessary acquisition of a roof box we can’t use underground carparks which is a bit of a nuisance but we were lucky to spot an empty parking spot and then to discover it was in an area where all day parking was not only permissable but very cheap…result!

fount1

we were alongside a park, bir-hakeim, and walking through it we came out in front of the palais des congres and the promenade des platanes.  the plane trees formed a beautiful avenue with a lovely fountain in its middle.  there was also the biggest war memorial i have yet seen in a city centre!

mon

using the ‘you are here’ street plan we easily found the couvent des minimes but were a bit nonplussed about the many police cars and heavily armed officers barring the road up to it.  the reality of the state of emergency showing itself.  at the entrance we were subjected, very politely, to the bag searches and hand scanners.  lou set off the buzzer, we assumed it was his phone.

convent

the couvent is a long, two storey building and is pretty scruffy inside, it has to be said.  the dimensions of the original rooms and chapel are there, making themselves felt above and around the display spaces.

we moved along the very well placed photographs but progress was v.e.r.y slow as each one had a description within its frame both in french and english.  after a while we stopped for a needed coffee in the central plaza and agreed to see one more corridor and then go and search for lunch.

we didn’t walk far as there was a good and reasonable menu advertised at the bottom of the street. it was the best lunch i have had in a long while and all eaten on a terrace fanned by a welcome breeze.

back through the barriers and buzzers for the second floor of the couvent.  at times the subject matter moved me to tears.  photo journalists by nature are trying to show jo public the injustices in the world and some of these were new to me. for example, the situation regarding water shortages on the west bank.  the apparent inequalities within and between states in that part of the world regarding something so precious appalled me. i was also overwhelmed by the extent of misplaced persons highlighted by some photographers. i hadn’t realised the numbers of foreign nationals living in libya who became homeless when that country fell apart after the fall of gaddafi.

so it was a physically and emotionally tiring day. however that didn’t stop us visiting the eglise des dominicans to see the photographs there.

doms

i was particualrly taken by one of three african rangers on horseback demonstrating their riding skills employed in their hunting of ivory poachers.  by now we were shattered and needing cold drinks.

doms2

but first a visit to the nearby exhibition bookshop where we broused and i found a book of lucien clergues photos, the photographer who started the wonderful rencontres at arles which we had visited in 2014.

too hot and tired to explore perpignan any further it was cold oranginas at a pavement cafe then back to the car and home via the motorway.  at capestang a light supper of whatever was to hand in the ice box and early to bed as it was dark by half past eight.  miraculously, no tractors rattling down the road or harvesting machines grinding in the vineyards across the canal so a decent night’s sleep……

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a bit of an explore

7th september 2016

first task this morning was to find the bike hire shop. it came recommended by the campsite guardien as ‘genial’ but the welcome was a tad halfhearted when someone finally appeared from the back of the shop. we mulled over the bikes and discussed prices and which day we wanted them. they don’t open before 10 o’clock and close at six so a day’s rental isn’t really but we didn’t want them for 24 hours, the next option.  that sorted, we headed for the place jean jaures where a market was happening.  en route we looked at the menu of a restaurant with good reviews but we weren’t excited by it so moved on.

up a side road we spotted a fabulous trompe d’oeil….

trompe

in the place the cafe tables, some with swinging seats, were still set out despite the stalls.  this had been one topic of our conversation last night when we were wading through the tapas that we had over ordered.

square

the sun was beating down but the trees and parasols kept things shady.  we heard a lot of english spoken and wondered if it was locals or ‘boat’ people.

cafe

after coffee and a lazy shop we took separate routes back to the tent as i wanted to see the damage the tree felling had made to the wonderful views from the canal bridge…a lot, sadly.

canal1

back in 2010 it looked like this when lou and i were last here…

canal2010

lunch in our leafy spot beside the tent on the new table and under the parasol we had managed to find a space for in the car (and were very glad we had). a short siesta and then off to visit minerve, a ‘plus beau’ village.  the roads were fairly quiet through the vineyards except for the many tractors pulling trailers full of grapes. there was a huge column of smoke rising from somewhere to the north  of capestang and we wondered where the forest fire was and if we would see canadair planes heading towards it.

smoke

minerve is built on an amazing bluff above two deep river gorges. the cesse and the brian.  parking is very well organised although you have to trust the signs that tell you to keep on going!

min1

the tourist office was shut, ‘fermeture exceptionelle’,  but the young girl in the nearby museum was able to unearth a leaflet for me about the village, notorious as the first village to have its cathar community burnt at the stake during the albigensian campaign.

min2

not many visitors around which pleased us as we wandered the narrow streets photographing quirky corners and the view from the bridge.  finding a quiet and shady corner we sipped drinks and i ate icecream.

par

a trudge back up to the car park and then a drive along a route i had planned in order to see various pretty villages along the canal.  lou reluctantly complied and even stopped for me to take photos.

lock

can2

car

the chauffeur awaits! 🙂

can3

the crunch came at le sommeil where the reality of the bridge on the map translated into a very narrow stone bridge which didn’t look as if it would take the weight of the car even if the pedestrians got out of the way. still, it was a very pretty port and worth returning to, one day….

back at the campsite we had our usual inquest on the latest arrivals and which camper van we’d like to highjack! 🙂

capestang has a good choice of restaurants so rather than fiddle with the gas ring it was back to the square and some super fish dishes at the cafe de la grille.

grille

what with that and the wine i hoped we might get some more sleep than the previous night.  plus we’d bought ear plugs that morning at the pharmacie!

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have tent, will travel

6th september 2016

so no russia, bought a new car instead; no alhambra, plumetting pound after brexshit.  but we live in a beautiful country with many, as yet, unexplored corners and own a shedload of camping gear so here we are at capestang on the canal du midi.

unfortunately our visit has coincided with the vendange.  all those endless vineyards we passed through need to be harvested and, it seems, this is the week to do it.  the problem for us is compounded by our proximity to the local ‘cave cooperative’.

cave

all day the tractors bring trailerfulls of grapes, filling the air with a sickly sweet smell that, sadly, reminds me of particularly ripe dustcarts.  that would acceptable except for the fact that mechanical grape picking goes on well into the early hours of the morning.  so, in addition to the distant sound of the grape gathering machine there is the procession of tractors and trailors rattling down the road along the edge of the campsite for hours….and hours…  the harvester stopped about 2.30. (i knew the time because the abbey clock strikes every hour and half hour…twice! )

clock

but the tractors were still at it when i dropped off, finally, around 3.30. however, the sun is shining, so onward, onward…yawn…..

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port punay, chataillon plage

22nd august 2016

at one point this summer four of my five siblings were away from blighty and three of them in france. so a week chez nous with my sisters and then off to south of la rochelle to spend time with my brother and his family,with the tent, bien sur!

an easy drive towards bordeaux and then turn right for the north.

fam22

easy to find, thank goodness, and a delightful campsite with lots of trees and flowering shrubs.

fam17

the tent went up a bit wonky but seeemed stable enough in the blustery wind.  steve, catriona plus isobel and william, soon found us and we adjourned to theirs for a bbq and card games….

a lovely night’s sleep on the single mattress although woken early by the squadron of ducks on a nearby stream who went in for random quacking sessions, mainly just as the sky was getting light!

fam19

we ate breakfast on an amazingly quiet campsite, given the number of campers, most of them families with small children. all very pleasant and unexpected. isobel and william wandered round and reminded me i had promised to go swimming with them. but before that lou and i went for an explore.

fam23

always a hairdresser!

fam24

high sea defences reminded me this area suffered badly from hurricane xynthia in 2010.

fam27

a very pleasant boardwalk to the town centre and la rochelle across the bay. i had a paddle and collected one of the smoothed down oyster shells from the shoreline.

a coffee stop at le poseidon and a swift call to the family about booking for the evening. answer in the affirmative!

fam28

a before lunch swim with the neice and nephew as promised. lovely little pool and spotlessly clean.

the afternoon was spent hiding from the heat. that’s where having a large camper van that throws a lot of shade comes into its own over a tent. our shade was the moving shadow of a small tree or squeezing into the sliver beside the car! 🙂  i discovered that steve’s lot love a card game and i learnt a new one so well that i won, twice!  then it was back to the pool with the ‘mermaid’ and the ‘shark’,

fam36

in the cooler evening we strolled down to the cafe/bar to feast on fruits de mer and moules frites. i loved being seated between a niece ripping prawns apart on one side and a nephew slurping moules mariniere on t’other. no fussy eaters in this family! 🙂

fam38

a lovely evening en famille, more so as they happen so rarely now we live miles apart.

another good night’s sleep although i would have happily throttled the ducks. steve and catriona had warned about the owls who hoot in a most disconcerting way. and sure enough, just after we settled in, the odd piping noise began. for all the world like a car alarm or something similar. in fact, one trip advisor reviewer complained about the alarm that kept him awake! 🙂    (after the hols i identified the owl as a scops/petit duc)

fam40

sea mist greeted us next morning, how very dare it?  a cuppa courtesy of lou and then the packing up began. the groundsheets were pretty damp despite the intense heat so the giant bin bags came into play and a soggy tent to squeeze into its bag.

fam43

everything back into the car, we checked the pitch, comme d’hab; wished a ‘bonne route’ to our departing french neighbours and then it was the farewell to the family.

fam44

( the folding table in this shot collapsed the next day, was it something we did?)

so, a more expensive site than our usual stopovers but well worth it for its facilities and welcoming staff. we might be back…..

 

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