We were late arriving in Arramanche after an afternoon sailing from Dover to Calais. We found a great camp and still had the tents up and tea on the table by 8.30. Arramanche is situated in the middle of the 5 D-Day beaches on the Normandy coast and it’s claim to fame is that it was the largest man made harbour ever made and played a crucial part in the allied landings. Remnants of it are still visible today.
Next morning we headed off to Bayeux, after exploring the town and the impressive cathedral we went to see the unique and very interesting Bayeux Tapestry. The tapestry tells the story of William the Conqueror’s victory at the battle of Hastings. It is 70 meters long and is remarkably preserved considering it is 1000 years old. The museum there tells the story of the Norman invasion and the building of a lot of England’s prestigious buildings using stone from Normandy. Some of thes buildings include the Tower of London, Winchester Cathedral, and Durham Cathedral to name a few.
In the afternoon we visited Omaha Beach and the massive cemetery and informative and moving memorial museum. This gave us a great insight into the logistics and planning involved in the landings and the huge losses suffered by the allies especially at Omaha beach.
The next morning we were off to Mont St- Michel, an 8th century abbey located on a large rock just off the coast. This rivals the Eiffel Tower as Frances most popular tourist destination. However today it was misty and we never really saw it in all it’s glory.
From there we drove south through Fougeres, Laval and Tours to Amboise on the banks of the Loire river where we camped for the night. This beautiful little town is dominated by a 16th century chateau atop the hill and Leonardo de Vinci spent the last three years of his life here bringing with him the Mona Lisa to France.
We left Amboise the next morning and drove to Loches, a small town with an impressive fortified 14th century citadel occupied by King Charles the VII, who was visited here by Joan of Arc fresh from her victories in Orleans in 1429.
From here we continued south to Limoges and then onto Pompadour , a small town in the hills where in 1745 Louis XV presented the chateau to his mistress Madam le Pompadour . She never actually lived there but the King started up France’s best known stud farm for Arab Anglo horses here and the facilities were very impressive.
Moving on from here we went south to Brive then west to Montignac to a beautiful little campsite on the banks of the Vezere river.
This is the heart of the Dordogne region known for it’s ancient sites, it’s chateaus, the lovely river valleys. Fois Gras and walnuts. We visited Roque de Saint Christophe the largest overhanging rock area in Europe, on 5 levels, which has been inhabited by man for over 50,000 years. This site was heavily populated in the Bronze Age and then in medieval times was turned into a fortress town housing approximately 1000 people.
This limestone country with it’s many caves housed some of the best examples of prehistoric art ever discovered.
That afternoon we drove to Baynac and hired canoes and spent three and a half hours on the Dordogne river passing 6 impressive chateaus and beautiful French villages.
The next morning saw us heading south again through Toulouse to Carcasonne and then into the Corbieres mountains and our home for the next week, a tiny village called Palairac. The village is tucked in the hills 10km from it’s nearest neighbour (and the nearest shop! ). There are about 20 full time residents and bread and cheese and veges are delivered a few times during the week. It’s very quiet but very quaint and we enjoyed our time here. From here we have visited the local ruined chateau, took in a very passionate game of rugby, walked in the hills, visited the fortified city of Carcassonne and the picturesque village of Lagrasse, seen vineyards changing colour and picked a few of the remaining grapes and watched some boules in the local square.
We also took a 2 day trip to the Gorges de L’Ardeche, Nimes and the Camargue region. The Gorges de L’Ardeche are spectacular and in peak season there can be up to 6000 kayaks on the river. However it was very quiet when we were there and we had a lovely 2 hour kayak down the river through one or two good rapids and under the Pont d’Arc , an impressive natural stone bridge over the river.
That night we camped a bit south of there at a place called Uzes and treated ourselves to our first restaurant meal in France and dined on escargots and Camargue beef.
The morning saw us packing up a wet tent and then viewing the Pont du Gard in the rain. This impressive 2000 year old, 3 tiered, Roman aquaduct spans the Gardon river. Originally 50km long, it supplied the city of Nimes with fresh water.
From here it was south to Nimes to see the best preserved Roman Arena in the world, big enough to hold 20,000 people and is still used today for events.
In the afternoon we explored the Camargue the huge river delta at the mouth of the Rhone river. This area grows large areas of rice, apples and grapes and is home to the famous white horses and black bulls of the Camargue. The vast lagoons are home to pink flamingoes and many other birdlife. Another major industry is salt harvesting which has been practised here since Roman times.
Tomorrow we head off from our mountain retreat of Palairac to Spain, our 22nd country of our trip.