Saint Gaudens (Occitaine), France August 2022

Camped up in Montrejeu and I somehow broke the Van’s fly screen. There’s no way you can spend Summer in a van in the south of France or Spain (our next port of call) without a fly screen so; we drove to the nearest (larger) town of Saint Gaudens to find the French equivalent of B&Q – Mr Bricolage.

Saint Gaudens is not the prettiest town in France but we arrived on a market day and we love local markets. So with the fly screen temporarily sorted via the purchase of a Moustiquaire Magnetique (just 12 euros), we wandered around the market; Vanya sourced a supply of ‘cbd’ in a local shop and; best of all we sat at the edge of the market and nursed a coffee and watched the world go by for a while.

Oh, and there’s one more thing worth knowing about Saint Gaudens. Dominique Bouchait, one of the great French cheese masters, is based in Montrejeau and, while his cheese factory is in his home town (alongside Camping Paradis), he has an impressive store in Saint Gaudens (Les Fromagers du Mont Royal).

It was a lazy four days in Montrjeu.

Montrejeau (Occitanie), France August 2022

I last visited in Montrejeau in July 2019 (during Tour 2) but I never kept a blog that Tour, choosing instead to simply post brief details on Facebook. I recall I wasn’t very complimentary about the town in my FB entry. That was perhaps unfair because I didn’t get a good look at Montrejeau. My focus then was more towards the excellent camp site I stayed at (Camping du Paradis) and my trip to ‘le plus beau village’ of Saint Bertrand de Comminges where a medieval festival was under way. That was a great day but, it is time to put the record straight about Montrejeux.

Once again I chose to stay at Camping du Paradis and once again it was brilliant (nice pitch, facilities and people) although it is now three times more expensive than it was in July 2019. No matter, it was good enough for us to stay 4 days.

As for Montrejeau it’s a small town with no more than 3,000 people but, it has a couple of real plus points and it has some history. On balance I was a little unfair about the place and while Montrejeau is unlikely to set the world alight in my lifetime, it is a reasonable base from which to explore the Haute-Garonne.

So what did I see this time that I never saw before? Well, for a starter I missed the town’s main street. Instead I made my way from the campsite down along the Boulevard Bertrand de Lassusand then onto and over the town bridge to Saint Bertrand de Comminges. I returned the same way and as such missed the Marie (the town hall), the war memorial (it’s really quite unique), the Eglise de St Jean Baptiste (beautiful plain inside) and L’hotel de Lassus (the town’s most impressive mansion).

The church, L’Eglise de St Jean Baptiste, has an unusual octagonal shape tower but is otherwise unimpressive, until you get inside. The arched dark wooden roof and the roughly hewn cream coloured stone walls complement each other wonderfully well and the church isn’t full of garish furniture that might detract from what amounts to a beautifully simple interior. I like it.

L’Hotel de Lassus is not, nor ever was, a hotel. It’s a mansion (many French mansions are referred to as l’hotels), dating from the late 18th century and it belonged to the same Lassus family whose progeny subsequently built the 1892 Chateau de Valmirande. Nowadays it is used as a reception hall and there is a small space museum inside it.

Chateau Valmirande

One other attraction I sought out during this more recent visit to Montrjeau is it’s leisure centre and lake. The lake was developed out of a former gravel pit and extends over thirty hectares. To one side of the lake is a ‘Blue Flag’ water park complete with water slides and a bouncy obstacle course (I had to restrain Vanya from the obstacle course on the water) and the other side of the lake is for fishing.

So, Montréjeau does have more to it than I first thought after my visit in 2019.

I mentioned too that it has some history. Well, it was the scene of one of the last battles between Republicans and Royalists during the French Revolution. In the summer of 1799, anti-revolutionary insurrection broke out in the area which threatened even the city of Toulouse. The Paris Directory quickly sent an army to the area and the rebels were crushed at Montrejeau in August 1799.

Moureze (Occitanie), France August 2022

The next day, I was more than a little surprised that Vanya remained keen to visit the Cirque de Moureze, especially after she had seen the photos taken by our dinner companions of the previous evening. This simply wasn’t her thing but, then again, she has surprised me in the past and, hey, life is for living. It never occured to me that she wasn’t wearing her glasses the night before and couldn’t actually see the photos she was being shown.

And so we made the short drive to the tiny village of Moureze. We paid our 5 Euros to park in the car park by the visitor centre at the edge of the village, grabbed the dogs and set off on one of the shorter trails through the Cirque de Moureze…

We were in the 300 hectare park which is the Cirque de Moureze for about an hour and I certainly enjoyed our time there. The views are sensational. There are a number of well marked trails through the park which are of between one and three hours duration and they take you through a strange and spectacular landscape full of ‘Dolomites’. Dolomites are large limestone rocks which have been weathered by wind and water erosion over thousands of years into tall columns and all kinds of weird shapes. Put simply,the softer limestone is washed away to leave the harder rock sculptures, some of which are up to 500 metres high, and they make for great scrambling.

Looking back over the village of Moureze
Looking forward to some of the scrambles

We retraced our steps to the village and found a small cafe bar. Moureze is a peaceful little village centred around the 12th century Gothic church of Sainte Marie. There is the ruin of a castle at the top of a rock above the village but I couldn’t get to it. I think that access is across private land. The village has a couple of cafe bars (one has crepes on it’s menu), a couple of small craft shops, an antique shop and an interesting little cemetery which has been designated a Commonwealth War Cemetery because it is the last resting place of a young Captain Peter Seymour Fowler who was murdered by the German SS in August 1944.

We enjoyed our drink, had a quick wander around the village and then returned to the Van. We had a long drive ahead of us to Montrejeau where I stayed almost 5 years ago.

Pezenas (Occitaine), France August 2022

Pezenas was one of the first towns in France to be protected as a historic monument. It also one of the most beautiful towns in the Languedoc Roussillon area and, without a doubt, one of my favourite towns in France.

Situated between Beziers and Montpelier, Pezenas is a small town of some 9,000 inhabitants but it has a sizeable and almost wholly pedestrianised medieval centre. It is a great place to explore.

We were parked at Camping Castelsec, a pleasant municipal campsite within easy walking distance of the old centre. It took no more than 15 minutes to walk to the town and my route brought me on to a wide avenue, the Cours Jean Joures, near the Place de la Republique. One side of the Cours Jean Joures backs on to the old town.

The buildings on this avenue are for the most part large houses; some may even qualify as mansions or ‘Hotels Particuliers’ as they are referred to in Pezenas. I walked the length of the avenue to Place Ledru Rollin where there is a gateway into the old town. What a find! It’s a maze of narrow winding streets and alleys. Almost all of the buildings in this warren are constructed of the same attractive honey coloured stone but they come in all shapes and sizes and no two buildings or even two doors are the same. It is enchanting. I spent hours wandering and marvelling at the place.

The old town is a real mix of different commercial and residential buildings; many with unique features, be they ornaments or carvings or simply special window dressings and, as often as not, the real curios are to be found up on high. You need eyes in the top of your head if you want to see everything in Pezenas.

One building on Rue Alfred Sabatier has a statue of Saint Roch carved into an upper corner. Quite why there should be such a statue on this particular house, I don’t know. Saint Roch is, among other things, the Patron Saint of Dogs. It is said he contracted the plague whilst helping others with the disease and was then shunned and would have died except; a dog brought him bread every day and licked his wounds until he recovered. Because of this, Saint Roch is often depicted with a dog by his side and pointing at a lesion (caused by the plague) on his thigh.

The town is home to a wide range of craftsmen; those working with iron or wood being particularly prevalent and; as a result, there are plenty of unusual art and craft shops in evidence throughout the old town (and some fabulous window displays). You could spend a lot of money here.

The town’s population swelled in 1298 with the arrival of a number of Jewish refugees from Spain, Portugal and Italy and this influx added to the range of craftsmen in the town as silversmiths and jewellers figured prominently amongst them. The Jewish population was to prosper in Pezenas for the next 100 years, most living in either Rue Juiverie or Rue des Litanies (which, it is said, had been reserved for them) until 1394 when the French King Charles VI decreed that all Jews should be expelled from France. As a consequence of this action the area of the town which comprises Rue Juiverie and Rue des Litanies is now referred to as the Jewish Ghetto but it is most unlikely it was deemed a ghetto at the time. It now contains a few artisan shops and bijou restaurants and is as integral a part of the old town as it ever was.

Pezenas’ most famous “adopted” son is Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, better known as Moliere, France’s 17th century answer to our very own William Shakespeare. Moliere lived in Pezenas for a while (some say up to four years) and he is wholly revered. Everywhere you go in the town there are references to Moliere – there are shops, restaurants and hotels named after him. There is a monument and museum dedicated to him. The town has even retrieved the chair that Moliere is said to have sat on outside his barber friend’s salon. The list goes on and on.

To my mind, however, the most striking memorial to Moliere is the Monument carved from Carrara Marble on the Avenue Francois Hue. It takes the form of a bust of Moliere and two other more complete figures; the first being a female character, Lucette, from his comedy “Monsieur de Pourceaugnac” and the second being what looks like a satyr. It is presumed that Lucette was included in the monument because the character makes frequent positive remarks about Pezenas. One can only assume the satyr relates to the more exotic or licentious behaviour that supposedly characterised Moliere.

I could go on about Pezenas for a while yet but it will suffice to say that we liked the place so much we decided to stay on an extra day. These extensions are becoming a feature of this particular tour.

The second day was more about eating and drinking in the town and again we were blessed. On this our second night in Pezenas we stumbled upon a Grand Wine Festival on the Cours Jean Joures (Les Estivales de Pezenas). Every Monday, the local wine producers set up stalls along the length of the avenue. You buy a wine glass and off you go tasting the different local wines. The town provides tables and chairs (benches) and there are a handful of food stalls – I saw one serving oysters! That is a great way to spend a Monday night and it looked as if the town’s whole population thinks so too because the place was teeming with people.

We couldn’t make a full night of it at the festival. I had booked us into a highly recommended restaurant called “Le Duplex de la Maman des Poissons” on Rue Conti but, once again, what a result! We had a marvellous evening.

We sat outside the front of the restaurant near an interesting couple from North Yorkshire and we got to talking (and sharing some Picpoul de Pinet) and, I for one, enjoyed the best tapas I have ever had outside of Logrono. Moreover, the couple we met told us about a place they had visited earlier in the week that we decided, there and then, should be our next destination – Cirque de Moureze. If Vanya hadn’t drunk quite so much Picpoul or, had paid a little more attention to what they had said about the Cirque de Mourez or, looked more closely at their photos, she may not have been so keen. lol.

I loved our time in Pezenas and look forward to returning. My only regret is that we weren’t there for the Saturday morning market which I understand is one of the largest and best in the region.

Next time!

Villeneuve les Beziers (Languedoc Rousillion), France July 2021

Our current plan is to be in Spain for when Spain play Italy in the first of the two European Championships Semi-Finals. There was time therefore for one more overnight stay in France before we crossed the border. We settled on the small town of Villeneuve les Beziers which sits on the Canal du Midi and is within walking distance (4.5 miles) of Beziers.

I didn’t know it at the time but the drive south would take us over the 2.4 km Millau Viaduct which spans the Tarn Valley. Designed by Norman Foster and completed in 2004 it was, and perhaps still is, the tallest bridge tower in the world at over 1100 feet and it has the highest road bridge deck in Europe at 890 feet. It’s an incredible feat of engineering and quite beautiful although Vanya wasn’t in the least impressed as we drove over it – that is her acrophobia at work again.

Shortly after crossing the viaduct and with the weather still bad, but getting brighter all the time, we pulled off the motorway at Clermont L’Herault with a view to having lunch at one of two nearby beauty spots; either the Cirque de Moureze (with it’s strange rock formations) or the supposedly pretty Lac de Salagou, whichever we reached first.

Clermont l’Herault itself is a really quite unremarkable little town but from there Lac de Salagou was well signposted. Lac de Salagou was not that much more interesting and is best remembered for the unbelievably loud noise made by the cicadas (cigales in French) as the rain finally ceased and the sun came through. Honestly the sound was almost deafening. The other thing about the place is the strange red soil in the area which days later is still coating the Van.

We reached Villeneuve les Beziers soon enough and the sun was still shining as we parked up in a small campsite, Les Berges du Canal, which sits right on the Canal du Midi. The Canal is another engineering marvel stretching as it does some 240 kilometres from Toulouse to the Mediterranean Sea. It was built during the reign of Louis XIV (between 1667 and 1681) and connects the River Garonne to the Etang de Thau thus enabling canal boats to travel all the way from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. Many of those canal boats have since been converted into really comfortable living accommodation…

Villeneuve les Beziers has a very pretty and surprisingly large old town. The 1oth century church of St Stephen is surrounded by narrow streets and lanes which in all likelihood haven’t changed much since the French Revolution. We had just missed the town’s annual Latin Festival with it’s concerts and salsa and flamenco dancing but were happy enough to simply wander the old town and stop for drinks in a local backstreet bar.

After exploring Villeneuve I left the dogs with Vanya and set off westwards along the Canal to Beziers which is, I am told, the major tourist attraction in this region. There was never going to be time for me to see all that much of Beziers but, sad person that I am, I was delighted to stumble upon the Beziers Aqueduct which takes the Canal du Midi over the River Orb. Another fine piece of engineering but also visually impressive with it’s arcaded walkways under the canal itself. Unfortunately, those walkways are closed to the public but one can walk the tow paths at the top. The aqueduct took 4 years to build and was completed in 1858 but the Chief Engineer died a few weeks beforehand and it had to be finished by his son.

The view from the aqueduct over Beziers and towards the Cathedral of Saint Nazaire is impressive. The cathedral is unusual in that it looks more like a castle than a church. It was built that way to impress upon the Cathars the might and power of Catholic Rome – not that there would have been many Cathars left in Beziers after the 1209 massacre which initiated the Albigensian Crusade.

By the time I got back to Villeneuve I was ready for a few beers (the round trip amounted to some 12 miles of walking) and Vanya and I found a real local’s bar where we enjoyed the cheapest beers of the tour so far.

Dinner followed at a fine restaurant on the canal front, with the restaurant owners once again being very accommodating so far as our dogs were concerned. We ordered a mixed tapas followed by a particularly salty pizza (far too many anchovies for me) to share. The tapas were great except for one dish, which I thought were mushrooms but proved to be duck hearts – uugghh!!

Canet de Salars (Occitanie), France July 2021

Canet de Salars is a small commune in the Aveyron department of Occitanie just 90 miles south east of Rocamador. Vanya chose the place on the strength of a supposedly good campsite, Camping Le Caussanel, which sits on the banks of the Lac de Paraloup. The idea was to move south east instead of south west because the weather forecast was slightly more promising in the east but, most important, the campsite looked a good place for us to watch the European Championship Quarter Final match between England and Ukraine.

We arrived at the campsite early afternoon even after a prolonged stop at one of the motorway service stations where we had tucked into a selection of French Cheeses bought at a huge Leclerc Supermarket earlier in the day. Whereas last year was very much about sampling Cremant wines, this year it is about French cheeses. Today’s unanimous winner from a selection of Savoie cheeses was Reblechon, a semi-soft mountain cheese made from unpasteurised cow’s milk and best eaten with nuts or dried fruit. It is also the principal ingredient in a Tartiflette which skiers in the French Alps will be well familiar with (or so Vanya tells me).

Reblechon

Most of the afternoon was spent spoiling the dogs. We had the campsite pretty much to ourselves and could indulge them without putting on other residents.

As for the football… what a result! England 4, Ukraine 0 with Raheem Sterling once again the man of the match and England now into a semi-final match against Denmark. We’ll sleep well tonight but it is going to be an early start in the morning. We have decided upon just one more stop in France before crossing the border into Spain. The weather in France is still not great and we both want to be in Spain when the first semi-final, Spain v Italy, is played.

Rocamadour (Occitanie), France July 2021

I was here a couple of years ago. It is touristy (and I mean very touristy – fridge magnets and toy trains ferrying crowds of people about) but for all that it is very pretty and one of those places that simply has to be seen. More to the point it is within walking distance of La Foret des Singes (the Forest of the Monkeys) which Vanya was desperate to see.

Rocamadour is a small village, well under 1,000 people, built on 3 successive levels into the side of the Alzou Canyon in the Dordogne Valley. It is stunning, especially if you can visit the place when there are no large crowds.

Already a place of some religious significance, in 1166 it became a “must see” destination on the pilgrimage route from Le Puy en Velay in France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain after a perfectly preserved, long dead body was dug up just outside the local church. No one could identify the body but it was deemed “incorruptible” and assumed to be Saint Amadour (a one time local hermit). Call me a cynic if you like but such an assumption could only benefit the local community which was immediately renamed the Rock of Amadour (later bastardized to Rocamadour) and when, just 6 years later, the local Benedictine monks produced a Book of Miracles (126 properly authenticated miracles) – well, the place was made! It’s popularity as a pilgrimage spot grew further after 1244 when King Louis IX (later Saint Louis) visited and, despite all kinds of problems during France’s long and bloody Religious Wars (which amongst other things saw the Huegenots burn the long dead body of Saint Amadour), it is now one of France’s most popular places to visit although nowadays there are many more tourists than pilgrims. Rocamadour is not just about Saint Amadour. There are plenty of other extraordinary events associated with this town – even leaving aside those associated with the Black Madonna (supposedly carved by Amadour) and the Miraculous Bell which rings without human intervention whenever the Madonna saves someone’s life anywhere in the world. There is, for instance, the story of the famous Durandel Sword (a bit like Excalibur) which Roland threw away (so the Saracens couldn’t claim it) as he lay dying at the Battle of Roncevaux. It seems he threw the sword so hard it landed 160 kilometres away in the rock wall at Rocamadour. Now there may be some truth to this legend because I have actually seen the sword which is stuck into the rock wall at Rocamadour!

I mentioned that Rocamadour is split into three levels. The lowest level sits against the cliff face at the bottom of the Alzou Canyon and comprises a single street of medieval stone houses now, sadly, almost entirely given over to tourist shops and bar-restaurants. Cut into the side of the canyon directly over the houses, the second level is the religious heart of Rocamadour and comprises various monastic buildings (churches & chapels) the principal ones being the Sanctuaire Notre-Dame de Rocamadour and the Basilique Saint-Sauveur. Towering over everything and perched at the top of the gorge is the Chateau or castle which was built to protect visiting pilgrims.

The edge of the plateau above Rocamadour, where L’Hospitalet used to be, is predominantly modern and now filled with tourist shops and bar restaurants. Nothing too wrong with that; tourists have as much right as pilgrims to visit such a beautiful place. It is just a shame the tourist shops and restaurants are not confined to this upper part of Rocamadour and that the medieval part is not left as was for visitors (pilgrims and tourists alike) to enjoy.

There are a few places up on the plateau, along with the Chateau, that deserve special mention. The first is the very prominent Chapelle de l’Hospitalet which sits in the ruins of the old hospital which was built way back to tend sick or dying pilgrims.

Also on the plateau is the Grotte des Merveilles with its stalactites, stalagmites and Paleolithic drawings which go back 20,000 BC. It is a very small grotto with a handful of primitive drawings and it in no way compares with the Lascaux cave system and drawings (also to be found in the Dordogne) but, the 45 minute guided tour through the grotto does provide some temporary reprieve from the midday sun.

One of the best places to visit up on the plateau and less than a kilometre from L’Hospitalet is La Foret de Singes (The Monkey Forest) which is a wonderful park of some 50 acres where three troops together comprising 150 Barbary Macaques roam freely. With less than 8,000 living wild (there were 23,000 in 1978) Barbary Macaques are a seriously endangered species. La Foret des Singes provides a wonderful habitat both for the monkeys to thrive and for researchers to study their behaviours. Moreover “La Foret”, in conjunction with three sister parks (one of which is Trentham Monkey Forest in England), has successfully returned entire troops of Macaques totalling some 600 monkeys back into the wild. Our walk through the park lasted just over an hour but it is not a long walk. We enjoyed frequent, sometimes extended stops through a beautiful setting and would have stayed much longer except we were never going to leave the dogs for more than an hour or so.

To end this particular blog I enjoyed two firsts in terms of food during this trip – One was Rocamadour Cheese (Cabecou), made from unpasteurised goat’s milk presented in the shape of a small disk and eaten warm on a slice of walnut bread and with a crisp salad. The other was the king of pates, Pate Foie Gras, made from duck liver specially fattened by gavage. I loved them both. Vanya was not keen on the pate.

Chilling in the pool this afternoon. Not sure where we are heading next. We’ll talk about it over a wine or two later this evening. One thing for sure, it will be hot and sunny.

Limoux (Aude), France September 2020

We spent the weekend at the Yelloh in Montclar and had a most relaxing time although by Sunday night all the good beer had gone. That was not all my doing – there was a birthday party on the Saturday night and the attendees pretty much finished the draught beer off.

We were off to Limoux early on the Monday morning for a wine tour. Vanya had been able to organise another tour with Guinot Wine for 10.30 am. It was really informative and of course the actual tasting was enjoyable.

So here we are. Back again.

Our guide was named Eltonjean (he told us his father was a great fan of Elton John) and over about an hour and a half he introduced us to Guinot’s whole range of wines (and very good they are too). An hour and a half is not a lot of time to “Sacrifice” at a wine tasting and you could tell I didn’t drink a great deal because “I’m Still Standing”. In any event, I “Believe” I could have managed a great deal more and “I Guess That’s Why They Call This The Blues” that I’m now suffering from. This is utter nonsense and I should stop this and apologise but “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word”. Bloody hell, seems like I could go on forever. Truly sorry. Just a bit of fun.

We came away from Guinot much more knowledgeable regarding Cremant and Blanquette wines. All the Guinot wines are made using the traditional method (i.e. by hand) using Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and, peculiar to this region, the Mauzac grape varieties. Their Rose also has a little Pinot Noir. It is the mix of these grapes which tell the Cremant and Blanquette apart with Blanquette being predominantly Mauzac and the Cremant using considerably less. If I understood Eltonjean correctly, Cremant comes in at 12% and will keep a good 5 years. This is a feature of a good Cremant; like most Champagnes it will last (until such time as you open the bottle).

We came away too with a mixed case which included two bottles of their best wine and, yes, it is the same wine as the one we had been gifted by the owner last Saturday (i.e. the Cremant Imperial Tendre Boise). Sounds fanciful this but Vanya and I each consider it to be at least on a par with the Louis Roederer Crystal that we drank at Rohan’s graduation last year and at a fraction of the price. It could have been the atmosphere in the cellars that made us feel this way but we can put it to the test again when we return to the UK. Ironically and I discovered this much later, Guinot’s Cremant Imperial Tendre Boise and Louis Roederer Crystal were both favourites of Czar Nicholas II and both companies mention the Czar in their marketing. Not many people know that.

We had a good wander around Limoux before moving on…

Montclar (Aude), France September 2020

This was a busy day. Finishing brunch at the Gruissan Marina, we set off for Limoux for a pre-arranged wine tour with Guinot Wine. Vanya had booked it over the Internet with the Limoux Tourist Office.

Having allowed plenty of time for our journey, Limoux is only an hour and a half away from Gruissan, we decided to call in on the UNESCO World Heritage site of Carcassonne. Almost fully restored during the 19th century by Eugene Viollet le Duc, Carcassonne is one of the most impressive walled cities in France. It has an almost fairy-tale appearance with it’s watch towers, imposing double walled fortifications and labyrinth of narrow winding passageways. It also has a fair share of history with the Romans having built fortifications here as early as 100BC. The city is perhaps best known however as a primary city of the Cathars until it was captured in 1209, during the Albigensian Crusades, by Simon de Montfort.

The downside of Carcassonne is, unless you choose both to visit during Winter and stay well away from the place at lunchtimes, you’ll more than likely find it packed with tourists. Because of the significant crowds we didn’t stay long but, if you haven’t seen the place (as was the case with Vanya), it is always worth a visit.

We arrived at Guinot Wine with 5 minutes to spare only to learn that no tours take place at weekends because of the Corona issue. By chance the owner of Guinot Wine turned up at his office with a Finnish client as we arrived and it was he who gave us the bad news. The Tourist Office were remiss in booking us on a Saturday tour. He was very apologetic but said he could do nothing for us until Monday. Having said that, he gave us a bottle of his very best Cremant – seriously good it is too!

There was nothing to do but find somewhere nice to stay – we settled on a Yelloh Campsite some 20 minutes away in the countryside at a place called Montcalm. Very nice that was too. We stayed for two days taking advantage of the hot weather and Yelloh’s swimming pool – it has both a slide and a bouncy castle!! The wine tour could wait until Monday and we’re already behind schedule for Greece – so what?!?

Gruissan (Aude), France September 2020

I think I could live here. It seems to have everything – not that we stayed long enough to check everything out but, certainly, this is a place I would visit again and next time I would be taking a closer look at property prices..

I was getting tired after the journey from L’Escala not least because on top of the drive we had spent a few hours wandering around the stores in La Jonquera and so, instead of continuing to our target destination near Montpelier, we decided to overnight in Gruissan. Not sure as to why we picked this particular place but pleased we did.

Gruissan is an old fishing village, now a small town, situated on the Languedoc coast less than 10 miles from Narbonne and 70 miles from the Spanish border. It is full of contrasts comprising as it does the old circular village of Gruissan (Languedoc has a few of these circulades mostly dating from the 12th or 13th century) with its narrow little streets overlooked by the Barberousse Tower and; a newer area of apartments, restaurants and cafes built around a 1960’s marina which I am told can accommodate 1300 boats and; a number of fine sandy beaches of which the Plage de Chalets is perhaps the most original.

That’s not my photo above but it conveys how Gruissan is structured. You can see the old circular village in the foreground almost encircled by the lagoon. The grey smudge in the centre of the circulade is the Barberousse Tower. Top left of the photo is part of the 1960’s marina. There are actually two basins in the marina. The straight line along the top of the photo is the Plage de Chalets. As mentioned above, the Plage des Chalets is a most original and I should have added “picturesque” beach made up as it is of more than 1,300 old fashioned colourful holiday chalets, almost all of them built on stilts.

The place where we camped doesn’t feature in the photo. We were parked a few kilometres further up the beach at Les Ayguades Gruisson. That wasn’t to stop me heading for Gruissan “propre” that first afternoon/evening and I set off on Shanks’ Pony immediately after the Van was settled.

It was a fair walk in and very hot but there was a good cycle path that I used for most of the way and I reached the town in about 1.5 hours. I breezed through the marinas (promising to myself that I would bring Vanya in the next morning – she likes boats) and then around a large part of the lagoon (looking for potential photo opportunities) and finally on to my primary target – the old town and it’s tower.

The footbridge leads to and from the old town but before then…

Wandering around the old town was quite an experience. There were a surprising amount of people around and I was so totally immersed in watching them go about their daily business that I lost all track of time. I must have sat for quite a while musing over how little life has changed over the centuries in this place.

Eventually, I started towards the centre of the old town, easy when it is a circulade, and quickly found both the church (the 13th century Church of the Notre Dame of the Assumption) and right next to it the entrance to the ruin that is the Barberousse Tower.

There’s little left of the Barberousse Tower to look at but the views from the hill on which it sits are fine. The tower is all that remains of a 10th century castle built to help protect Narbonne (then a coastal town) from Moorish pirates. It was dismantled in the 16th Century on the orders of Cardinal Richelieu.

Finding a place in the centre of a circulade is easy; you simply keep going in. Finding your way out at the correct point of the circle is nowhere near as easy. I came out at the opposite side of the circle to the one I wanted and it took me more than half an hour to correct that mistake but I figured there was just enough time to get to the other side of the lagoon for a couple more photos…

Running very late, I had to jog most of the way back and it was after 8pm when I finally arrived back at the Van. Gosh I needed a drink!

Next morning we drove to the marina for something to eat. We enjoyed brunch in the sunshine and then walked a while; exercising the dogs before we retraced our steps west to visit the town of Limoux. Vanya wanted to find out more about Cremant wine. I admit I was looking forward to that too.

Limoux, here we come.