FRANCE – the second leg!

Riviere Souterraine de Labouiche   27th July

Take a spectacular boat ride along the longest navigable underground river in Europe, even known to pre-historic man.  Although it may have been preferable if we chose the English rather than the French tour(!)  However, we managed to understand that one particular rock resembled that of Bob Marley’s hair and another, a wolf…  Oh well, better luck next time!

We are on board for over an hour;  the boat is manoeuvred through the cave by a young boy standing on the front pulling the boat along, aided by ropes hanging down on each side.   There are some near misses as the larger people narrowly miss the sudden drops in cave height!  We arrive at  an underground waterfall cascading in a tranquil pool.  Above the waterfall, the cave continues for another several miles in darkness.

Montsegur castle   28th July

The castle is certainly majestic, sitting high up on the hill.  However, we don’t quite expect the challenging climb to the top!  A steep incline on slippery rocks and shiny stones, we start to wish we had our hiking boots with us.. .On our hands and knees in some places to get up, the view at the top is worth the ascent and affords beautiful scenes of the mountains and the dotted villages down below.  Of course, the guide at the top is French, so we don’t understand a word and decide to explore outside a bit further!

Carcassonne   29th July

Gratuit electro concert in the square is thumping.  Can’t imagine something like this being held in England-there would be stampedes and riots, not to mention all the complaints from the residents (we can hear the music from streets away)!  As darkness falls, the square heaves with dancing bodies and the music gets louder and louder.

In the morning, we head for the fortified city, one of the largest in Europe.   Once a frontier town, it soon became a veritable fortress.  Walking through the medieval city, we could imagine people on horseback in the courtyard sectors.  Strolling past the city at night, it looks magical, lights illuminating its beauty.

Roquefort  30th July

We head to Roquefort, its name synonymous with France’s famous blue cheese.   We take a guided tour around La Societe, housed in the caves which produce 70% of the world supply of Roquefort.  It is one of France’s priciest cheeses. The caves provide the natural environment needed for the cheese to mature and have the perfect conditions for the penicillin to grow its blue veins.  Each cave has fleurines which allow the cheese makers to control the air, humidity and temperature of the caves. The particular cellar we are taken to holds as many as 300,000 loafs of cheese!

Cheese tasting- the bit Martin’s been waiting for; 3 different types, mild to strong, Yuk, I don’t like it, too salty, a bit like Stilton but not.

Lake Sagalou   1st August

Sitting on Lake Sagalou watching the spectacular thunderstorm from the sanctuary of our car.  The low lying cloud seems to be crawling over the top of the mountain, looks a bit like a huge hand.  Today we drove around Cirque de Navacelles and Parc National des Cevennes.  We visit Gorges del  la Jonte; a huge gorge with pretty waterfalls containing ice-cold water, a welcome relief from the heat. Birds of prey soar overhead.  We take a day trip to St Guilhem Le Desert, a beautiful little countryside town, with a lovely little river running by.

Ganges     2nd August

We head towards Ganges, and arrive late in a small town called Le Vigan; so late that each restaurant we try has stopped serving.  About to give up, we spot a tiny door and stumble across a Libyan restaurant.  We eat homus, pitta bread, delicious spicy beef and chicken; a welcome change from the bland French dishes.

Montpellier   3rd-6th August

Take a detour to the fastest developing city in France, to visit our friend Alex and his family.  Much of our time is spent drinking wine, beer & Spirits, drunkards come to mind! We take a stroll through the historic city centre where we stop for lunch, trying some pastis- a traditional French aperitif of an anise flavoured alcoholic drink. We walk to Place de la Comedie, a  pedestrianized shopping centre, stopping for more beer and chocolates.  We come to several fountains where hoards of students (who make up a healthy proportion of Montpellier’s population), are having a raging water fight. Looks like quite good fun so we decide to join in too.    One evening I join the girls for some drinks and dinner, leaving the boys to get up to mischief… possibly not a good idea…..

St Tropez    6th August

Coastal drive along the Cote D’Azur stopping off at St Tropez, famous for being the location for a film starring Bridget Bardot, and ever since for modern A list star frequenting the town.  We were expecting more glitz and glamour, but we did get the expensive price tags.  It seems to be a small tourist trap with little to see and hardly worth a stop considering the many other beautiful and less touristy towns along the coast.   Avoid it if you can!!

We stop for an expensive meal just outside of St Raphael and drive during the night towards Cannes.

Cannes  7th August

The costal drive along the Cote D’Azur is a must, if only there were fewer tourists.  Small coves and beaches on each bend, with luxury power boats and yachts cruising the seas. We arrive in Cannes to  find the town quite full, the beaches are not what we expected, not so nice, more like Swanage in Dorset.  Apart from the film festival there probably isn’t any good reason to holiday here. We stop for lunch, look at the yachts and move on.

We find a beach lined with camper vans towards Nice and stop for the night.

8th August

A kind local boy at a camp-site lets us use the showers for free (I think he thought there were two girls, as he did not seem so pleased when Martin came out the car lol). Being turned away from two previous sites we appreciate the hospitality, as it is peak holiday season after all!

Driving through France towards Monte Carlo, passing tunnel after tunnel, we reflect on how much we have been spending and decide to bypass the rest of France as we have spent far more than anticipated In Europe!!

We head into Italy, the land of ice cream, yum yum!!

Martin & Nicole