Thursday 31st July.
We are parked up tonight in Castellane at one end of the Gorges du Verdon in the Parc Naturel Regional du Verdon and a very pretty town it is too. It would be even prettier if every second building wasn't a rafting/canyoning sales office and if they hadn't allowed the quaint alleyways to be turned into a line of tourist tatt shops. Despite all that the beauty of the original town shines through. We arrived here today after a great drive over the Rhone Alps, we drove across the plateau at 1000 metres for miles through some breathtaking landscapes and through some pretty hairy, very narrow, tunnels which had been gouged out of the mountainside. One of the great things about driving inland through France is the number of parking spots and lay byes provided. Unlike the coast roads where you basically just drive from point to point, here you can stop and admire the scenery and it was wonderful today.
After leaving St Laurent du Var this morning we set off keeping an eye out for a supermarket and service station. Sure enough after half an hour or so a Leclerc loomed on the horizon and we stopped for some essentials, Pastis, mint syrup, Rose wine,a tub of rillettes and a baguette. Phil also bought some food. A fill up of diesel at a sensible price, a coffee and croissant and we were on our way again. The only thing we are lacking now is LPG for cooking and hot water. I've let it get a little low and although we want to stay here a couple of days we may not have enough to last and so will have to push on 45 minutes up the road to a service station.
The other great thing about France, for us, is that it's so motorhome friendly. We are parked tonight in a car park in the centre of town where about a third of the area has been given over to motorhomes with large parking bays, fresh water and waste disposal facilities. This costs us €6 for 24 hours and we can stop a maximum of two days. I've just counted 25 motorhomes and it's a nice little earner for the town, I guess, and we'll all spend some money in the local shops, bars and restaurants too. We walked round the town this afternoon and called at the tourist information office which was packed and a very nice young girl from Nottingham, who is working here for the summer, gave us lots of maps and told us the best places to go to view the gorge. When it cooled down a little we set off to visit Chapelle Notre Dame du Roc which is perched above the town on a needle like rock. Unfortunately our flip flops weren't up to the climb and we had to abandon our excursion about three quarters of the way up. Tomorrow we'll put our trainers on and try again!
Friday 1st August.
We are parked up tonight in a dedicated motorhome Aire just beneath the village of Moustiers Sainte Marie and we are in trouble with the Police Municipale (more on this later).
This morning we checked our gas supply and it was getting desperately low so we joined the dash for gas and headed off northbound to a service station listed as having GPL. We arrived after a pleasant fourty five minute drive to find they had GPL - at €0.96 per litre!!! I drove away from garages in Italy where it was €0.75 because I wasn't going to pay those exorbitant prices. So we filled one tank and set off back down the road to explore the Gorges du Verdon. The scenery was stunning, the gorge is between 250 and 700 metres deep and the river bed at the bottom between just 8 metres and 90 metres at it's broadest section. At places the rims are only 200 metres apart. The limestone cliffs look like they have been torn apart and are truly spectacular and tear a swathe through the plateau for 25 kilometres. As you look down from the various viewing spots (when you can find a place to park) the river is a sparkling turquoise spotted with red inflatable rafts. Apparently Europe's largest canyon was not discovered until the early part of the last century although we find this hard to believe. It's not like you can miss it!
Just a comment here on the road and driving today. There is one road that follows the course of the canyon, the D952. It's a two lane road but narrow along most of its section with vertiginous drops to one side and overhanging cliffs on the other. The first confrontation I had today was with a guy driving a truck the same size as mine but who was pulling a trailer with six inflatables on. We met at a particularly narrow section on a bend and I was quite prepared to back up as far as I could until he started screaming that I shouldn't be taking my motorhome on the road. A road that carries buses and trucks far larger than my vehicle! I'll be kind and suggest his attitude was just an attempt to impress the girls he was taking to the rafting centre. A bit further on and we, and the vehicles in front, were overtake twice on narrow sections of road with maybe just a hundred metres between bends by drivers who had kids in the back of their cars. The second time the guy just managed to pull in before being taken out by a vehicle coming in the opposite direction. Really scary.
So we arrived here at Moistiers Sainte Marie this afternoon still in one piece and parked up above a field where the para gliders land. A field shared with some tent campers and the local kids kicking a football around. It was good fun this evening watching these guys circle and then land almost on a sixpence. When we arrived the barrier to the Camperstop was up and the payment machine taped up. A sign informed us that we should enter and someone would call around at 7pm to collect the €8.50 parking charge. At six o'clock we set off for a walk around the town and not wanting to avoid paying we left the money in a jar, on a table, in front of our door. We returned at seven thirty to find a note saying that as we were not at home when the collector called we had to call at the local police station or the Marie to pay our money or else. The clown sent out collecting must have had to move the table to stick the note under the door!! So tomorrow I have to find the local Marie or police station lest Interpol be informed or I'm detained a couple of months down the road at Calais.
Moustiers Sainte Marie is dubbed the Etoile de Provence, the star of Provence and it is, indeed, a very pretty village tucked between two limestone cliffs. A gold chain 227m long bearing a gold star is suspended above the town, which has a series of small waterfalls running through. We'll explore further tomorrow when I go hunting for the Marie.
Gorges du Verdon.
We stopped at a Leclerc yesterday on our way to Castellane for some essential shopping