France – Salvador Dali once declared that the train station at Perpignan was the centre of the universe. As i stood in front of Gare de Pepignan I did have to wonder just what he was taking on the day he made this declaration as it seemed like a very normal French train station to me.
Perpignan was just a pit stop for us to collect our hire car before heading off. We stayed in an hotel close to the station, me refusing to walk any further that I need to as by now my foot was quite infected. We did go into town to eat dinner and my impression of the town was it seemed quite nice. It is close to the famous anchovy fishing area of Collier and a jumping off point to the Carmargue and French Riviera.
We collected our hire car the next morning and after picking up a few supplies we headed back toward Spain and the Pyrenees mountains. For those of you wandering why we travelled to France to collect a car to drive back into Spain – its quite simple, we were planning on leaving the car in northern France and cross border hire is really expensive.
We meandered through the beautiful lower mountains and ended up in Amelie – les – Bains, a tiny town on the banks of the Le Tech river at the base of the mountains. That night we dined on a tapas feast of torilla, sardines basilic, anchovies, mussels, calamari and tuna salad all washed down with red wine in the town square before falling into bed.
We meandered through France to a property near Barran in SW France where friends were staying. The old house had been beautifully converted and the surrounding land turned into a truffle tree farm (Truffarde) and was owned by a wine importer with a great love of food– what more could we want. We spent the next week sitting by the pool, eating great food, drinking wine and generally being lazy.
We decided to head back into Spain with our friends for a weeks road trip. We once again crossed the Pyrenees and spent the first night in Ainsa, a pretty and historic old walled town. Then it was onto Jacca which has an old citadel and interesting old town where we stayed in a hotel off the main square. It was in Jacca we experienced the areas famous apple cider, something I can do without trying again and ate some fairly unmemorable food. Next stop was San Sebastian which for me was possibly the most disappointing place I’ve ever been. It didn’t help that we arrived in the town at the same time as a massive storm and it pored rain the entire time we were there but the town was full of drunken Brits on bucks nights and the pinxtos (tapas) were over priced and in my opinion over rated, we stayed one night and moved on.
Heading back toward Barran we stayed a night at St Jean Pied au Port, which was were one of our friend travelling with us had started the Camino de Santiago from a few years before. St Jean is another pretty old walled town at the base of the mountains, but highly touristed and quite expensive.
It was then back to the Manior for a couple more days before saying good bye to our friends and heading north into the Dordogne. We spent about a week camping in a lovely camping ground set in a forest just out of Les Eyzies and enjoyed the food and sights of the area. A highlight of this was a canoe trip down the Dordogne river, where you just float along past the massive defensive chateaux and the pretty medieval villages.
Our journey through France took us in a general easterly direction through the amazing Gorges du Tarn and onto the walled city of Avignon, once the home to the Pope and a bit of a favourite of ours. Any visit to Avignon must also be coupled with a trip out to Pont du Gard the amazing aqueduct built by the Romans to provide water to Nimes.
Then it was on to St Laurent du Pont a scruffy town with a nice camping ground at the base of the Alps – our plan was to head the next day to Chamonix and stay there a few days. But as with all good plans we arrived at Chamonix to find it heaving with tourists and the tent pitches at the camping ground on a steep angle – roll the wrong way in the night and you would end up down the bottom of the hill. So while Chamonix with Mt Blanc right there was breathtaking it was all a bit too busy for us so we kept going and ended up in Switzerland.
We camped in a very strange camping ground in Switzerland, on the site opposite a guy sat and meditated all day and the people in the tent next to us had built a miniature fence all around their tent with sticks complete with a working gate. When they got back from a day out they walked up the path they had made from stones, opened the mini gate, went though the gate and then closed it and then proceeded to take off their shoes and put them on the shoes rack they had also made out of sticks – all a bit weird for me. The whole experience at that camping ground was strange and it had a very weird vibe, we did wander down to the bar to sample the areas famous yellow wine but that was it, the next day saw us high tailing it out of there, doing a bit of a whoosh around lake Geneva and back in to France and the Jura.
The Jura is a stunning part of France that shares a border with Switzerland and is very rural. It is in the Jura I encountered Jesus sausage which to this day makes my stomach curl, perhaps it was payback for my atheist ways but man did that Jesus sausage make me sick.
In the Jura we stayed in a delighful 1 star camping ground set by a babbling brook in the tiny village of Baume les Messieurs which sits at the confluence of what was once 3 glacial valleys. As it was now August and the peak French holiday season the camping ground was a great hiding place from the maddening crowds swarming all over the rest of France, the only downside were the squat toilets.
We did a bit of a side trip from here into Freiburg, Germany to meet with our friend Joern where we had a great schnitzel for lunch and later an amazing sausage in a bun from a road side stall. Freiburg is a very old and very pretty university town and we camped a few kms out in the most pristine camping ground I have ever seen, we only stayed there a couple of nights before heading back to France and on to Lons Le Sauner to drop off our car before catching the train to Lyon.
We arrived in Lyon to an almost deserted town – everyone having left the city for their annual pilgrimage to either the seaside or the mountains. We also arrived at the onset of a heat wave with tops around 40 degrees everyday, and lets face it ancient French cities are not built to be cool but rather to stay warm, so it was pretty damn hot.
We stayed at the Hotel Iris which was quite close to the Hotel de Ville and in a great part of town. Lyon is the gastronomical heart of France and is famous for its Bouchons (similar to a bistro) and speciality dishes which we were keen to sample. So despite the heat we soldered on and dined on some yummy food my favourite being the pike quinelles.
Lyon was once a major silk producer and is the home of the printing press, now it is a big busy town with the obvious social problems that is seen in so many other large French cities.
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