Thursday, 17 June 2010

“Let’s head South for better weather!”

Leaving settled good weather back in the UK, we crossed the Channel in eager anticipation of four weeks of adventures in France. The forecast wasn’t great for the coming days, and we overnighted on an aire in Beaune and made the decision to do the opposite of what we’d planned. We’d head straight for the sunny south, Provence, and give the weather chance to settle down before heading up to Switzerland for six days walking. Also I’d just completed the Baslow Boot Bash, all 27 and a half miles, and my knees were shouting that they needed some time off, and some anti-inflammatories!!!
So away early, and another day’s travelling in the rain to Provence. Ian had come across an interesting area, the Var region, and we made our way to the Camping International site, at Aups Aups is a quaint little village at 500m, a historic palce, famous for its numerous foutains and washing areas, a couple dating back to 600 AD.

More driving rain. Proprietor, Pierre, not in a good mood. Site looked good even in miserable weather. The rest of the day and night spent huddled indoors, listening to the rain beating down!! This made the Hebridean weather seem acceptable!
The following morning was a little brighter, as we picked our way to the town, through soaked paths and standing water on the road-side. The bread hadn’t arrived from Draguignan because of the floods. Now that was the understatement of the century! Once you got past the irony of having come to the only region in France, this massive country, to be hit by flash floods of the century, you were hit by the disaster. 20 people dead in the area, 2 people missing, average rainfall 35mm, present rainfall 277mm! Draguignan closed and devastated, whole community blighted by the flood. Draguignan is about 25k down the road, most at risk because of a river flowing through, running down to the south.
Blissfully unaware of the extent of the damage, we decided to try and dodge some of the downpours and head north up to Aiguines and the entrance to the Verdon Gorge. Lots of climbing right from the beginning, but stunning scenery once there. There looks to be a great circuit of the gorge, which we promised/threatened ourselves with next time. At 3500’climbing it was enough for the first day.
The following day was equally unsettled and this time we headed south out of Aups. Today was going to be a day for sight-seeing, and café visiting. First stop the strangely-named Fox-Amphoux. The language in this area is Provencal, with its own local dialect and town names written in the local and the French. After this lovely, quiet and unspoilt village, with its stunning panoramic views from a small building at the top of a stairwell, we cycled on to Sillans- la- Cascade. Amazing waterfalls, swollen with so much rain, and a jus d’orange at the epicier du chateau. On to Cotignac, a busy little village, where we had a baguette/cake and coffee, and then swiftly on to Entrecasteaux, with its impressive chateau and gardens, another quiet little gem. Then Salernes, Villecroze and without stopping on to Toutour. What a stinky little climb that was, but well worth it to arrive at yet another very quiet, historic village, with its award as one of the most beautifully villages in France. We’d definitely come back here again. Then a fabulous cycle back to Aups, 9km away, contouring around the hill-side, past olive groves with extensive views over the surroundings. I just love these last bits on the way home! All the hard work’s been done and you can just soak up the smells of the herbes de Provence and rain on warm tarmac! Actually we managed to avoid most of the downpours by staying south. Exactly 40mls and 3000’ climbing today. Enough!!!

But what a great way to see the area, and so quiet outside les grandes vacances! One of the best things about this area is that it’s quite un-touristy, without the usual myriad of gift shops, and the German cyclists don’t seem to have made it their own, as they have in Mallorca. Villages are almost always 8-9km apart so frequent coffee stops, as long as you get your timings right with the siesta! Coming back for :
The circuit of the Verdon Gorge
A cycle to and a more leisurely stay in Tourtour
Would recommend this campsite- great hot showers, and generous pitches amongst the olive trees

Really pleased for you lot in the UK that the weather continues fair. Especially Kate and Michael for their visit to Ascot and for a great weekend with Laura at Gordon Ramsays food fair in Regents Park, but please can we have some of your good weather too!!

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