Before crossing into the Haute -Loire department we stop at the small village of Les Estables on the Ardèche border. It’s a popular area for skiers and hikers. With the aire next to a busy road, we follow the road up the hill and find a large car park with a few coaches and motorhomes but after a quick walk around we can feel a strong wind heading our way so we continue driving on. Leading us across part of the Massif mountains range passing Mont Mezenc its an impressive sight at 1754m high. Laying at the heart of one of Europe’s most original volcanic province. The phonolitic rock here is set against a very different terrain below. The rolling countryside in this area is amazing with views stretching across the Rhône valley and the Alps.
From the village of Chaudeyrolles where we spend the night we sit and eat dinner outside and look back at the view we have just passed.
It was on our way to Chaudeyrolles when we start to hear a loud squeaking / squealing sound coming from the brakes. The other motor homes certainly heard us arrive!
Next morning John has tracked down a garage in the village of Fay which is just a short drive from here. So with a few stares from the locals as we leave we set off sqeaking down the road.
When we pull up outside the garage we can just see about see a pair of legs clad in greasy blue overalls sticking out from under a car. As John walks across the car park the mechanic emerges from under the car and begins wiping his hands on an even greasier rag. After a few quick words he signals for John to drive into the garage whilst he nips off, returning with a lady to help translate. So with his glasses perched on his nose, fag in hand he sets about looking at the brakes. Whilst the oddly dressed translater pauses when asked something only to reply with just the odd umm, err, hmm! Apparently he finds nothing wrong only dust and with payment in the form of a hand shake we are soon on our way.
At Tence we park next to the brook and walk the short distance into the town but being as it’s a Monday it’s very quiet and not much is open. It’s a simple town that as a old world charm about it. Several rivers cross Tence and it’s part of the route pilgrims following the path of Saint Jacques de Compostela and St. Regis will make a stop off at.
Continuing through the Gorges de la Loire thats dotted with many picturesque villages the scenery is beautiful. With the slow meandering of the Loire and its sudden steep slopes, in this vast stretch of water there’s an exceptional variety of plant and animal life to be found.
We finally stop at Saint Victor sur Loire passing the 12th century Château flanked by it’s two towers that over looks the Loire.
Parked just back from the river we have a great view it’s a lovely setting. The river is a hive of activity with an array of water sports and places to hike. Theres lots to discover here at certain times when the river is low the old via duct and train track are visible.
This area will see stage 8 of the Tour de France pass through in the next few days so we stay here for a couple of nights. After a swim and a stroll along the river we return to find a different Motorhome next to us. The owners are Sian, Phil and their dog Gibson they are also here to watch the tour. It’s a pleasant afternoon listening to their story. They have built a beautiful log house in Scotland called ‘Log Ness’ which they rent out to holidaymaker. So if your ever thinking of taking a holiday near Loch Ness you can find their property at – www.wildernesscottages.co.uk
Next morning we go in search of somewhere to park up to watch the tour but the next few villages we pass are all very similar with the locals going about their business and the odd church bell ringing it’s all very quiet so we just enjoy the view as we drive through Saint Remain Lachlan, Saint Martin en Haut and Bibost.
Its in the small village of Aveize where we find a car park with just one other motorhome and the views are great but unfortunately we are moved on the following morning. So we leave to sweep the area but it isn’t long before Sian and Phil contact us they have parked in a lay by we had just passed so we go back to find them.
For the next 48 hrs we stay parked up behind Sian and Phil on the catergory 2 climb towards the village of Aveize. With a German van behind us and the arrival of Garry and Steph who we meet earlier in the year it looks like we are in for a fun few days.
Over the next two days we walk, have lunch in the village, and John cycles with Phil.
On the morning of the race lots of cyclists ride part of the route so John heads off with Garry and Steph. When they return it’s been a great experience with spectators all clapping and cheering them on. And I can understand this, the build up over the last two days has been great fun with locals waving and honking their horns it’s an event that the french are very proud of.
It’s soon after that the gendarmes close the road in preparation for the tour. First though is the publicity caravan, made up of many of France’s major brands in dressed up vehicles advertising their wares and giving away free gifts.
It’s great fun trying to catch the freebies, hats, sweets, key rings, flags and bracelets to name just a few all from the moving vehicles.
It’s entertaining and amazing what people will do to get a free gift! Once the caravan has passed it all goes quiet until the sound of helicopter rotors above announces the race is coming.
With 4 riders ahead of the main bunch it’s fascinating to watch but it’s difficult to spot anyone particular rider. It’s a high pace they pass us at on what I understand to be a tough stage. We had waited for ages for it only to pass so quickly.
Like lots of other people that are following the tour we are going to watch stage 9 but that means a drive to a different area.
Fortunately for us Tim and Alison who we have arranged to meet up with have found a good spot just outside the village of St Maurice en Gourgois and it looks like there’s a place for us.
So it’s a quick pack away and a stop off at the services to get fresh water.
It seems like we have been driving for ever but finally when we turn the corner and spot Tim and Alison sitting outside their motorhome. We also recognise the number plate of the motor home driving in front of us , it’s Phil and Sian. We signal to them to pull in next to us.
Once we have sorted ourselves out and a few introductions we spend the evening outside talking.
Next morning Tim and John go for a ride down to the village. When they return we enjoy the croissant that the locals we meet last night have bought us for breakfast in exchange for sitting in front of Tim’s motorhome to watch the tour.
Yesterday was our first experience of the caravan so as we sit and wait for it’s arrival today we eye up our competition. To the left there’s a lady that resembles Bella Emberg and her son, and to the right Phil and Sian, but it looks like Bella and the young boy have tactics, they keep moving, across the road, and then between Phil and us.
With music blaring, klaxons sounding, horns going off and Water squirting from the moving vehicles there’s something to be said about the fun and the magic of the caravan passing.
We get quite a haul of goodies despite the young boy venturing on to our space to grab the flying goodies. John even manages to get a rider to throw him his bottle as he passes.
Once again the hoovering of helicopters above us anounces the imminent arrival of the riders. When they reach us they have just climbed a hill but it doesn’t stop them whizzing past.
All this waiting and it’s passed us in a flash, with the race over, we pack up , say our goodbyes to Phil and Sain, Tim and Alison. So leaving the Rhône-Alpes we are now heading for the Dordogne region but to get there we have to cross the Massif Central which at times seems like one long scenic road.
Thickly forested and sliced by numerous rivers and lakes, this once volcanic land is one of the oldest parts of France. Industry and tourism have made few inroads here, and the people remain rural and somewhat taciturn, with an enduring sense of regional identity which makes this journey seem endless.
With the light starting to fade we find the aire at Ussel. Parked right next to the lake it’s a lovely view but we have to be up early so it’s a quick dinner then bed. We wake early it’s a chilly morning with the mist is still lingering over the lake.
With a few more hours drive a head of us we set off and it isn’t long before it gets warmer. The nearer the Dordogne valley we get the land begins to make a gradual descent into the dark green fields.
This part of our travels has been great fun we have been privileged to spend many a evening in the company of new faces, people we meet earlier in the year and old friends. Sharing stories of our adventures, with good food and wine.