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France 2010 - Tarn to Loire

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Tarn to Loire

We endured a couple of wet and overcast days as we travelled along the Gorges du Tarn passing through Ispagnac and as far as St Enimie. We were traveling the advised east to west route avoiding the overhanging rocks but there has been some road widening along this route in recent years. After a look at Castelbouc tucked deep in the gorge and a quick stop in St Enemie we climbed up the steep hillside to the Causse de Sauveterre with wildflower meadows, rock outcrops and woods. We passed through the red sandstone town of St Saturnin-de-Lenne and reached another Plus Beaux village of Ste Eulalie d'Olt and as the rain had eased had a short stroll through the flowery streets before continuing to Bozouls a small town with a large Trou (hole) - a deep wooded ravine in the middle of the town. We found a pleasant free aire in the village of Campuac and listened to Radio Nostalgie - mainly old standards with the occasional French song, in the rain. The next day we headed along the wooded Gorges du Lot  with the attractive villages of Estaing and Entraygues before cutting across back roads, passing pilgrims on the Route de Santiago de Compostela walking towards Conques. It didn't seem right to offer them a lift!

Castelbouc in Tarn Gorge
Castelbouc in Tarn Gorge
Flowery house at St Eulalie d'Olt
St Eulalie d'Olt
Le Trou at Bouzols
 Bozouls Trou

Conques, a Unesco World Heritage site, a major stopping point on the Route with an impressive abbey and treasury is worth a look around, especially as the roses covering the many old houses on the steep streets were now in bloom.

         Conques roses
                    roses at Conques

After lunch by an old mill we drove to the main road at Decazeville, an industrial and mining town with a "bypass" through its middle and on to Figeac where we parked at the motorhome aire on the town's ring road - not recommended for overnighting. The old town centre has many interesting buildings including tall weavers houses with open top floor galleries and the Musée Champollion a linguist who deciphered the hieroglyphics on the ancient Egyptian Rosetta Stone in 1822.

    Cardaillac towers
                      Cardaillac Tower
After a wet night at the free aire in the small Plus Beaux village of Cardaillac with several  ancient towers we headed north touching on the eastern edge of the Dordogne at Castelnau to reach the attractive town of Collonges la Rouge built entirely of red sandstone. This was the first ever Plus Beaux Village and is a popular tourist destination with several gift and craft shops and smart restaurants in its narrow cobbled lanes.
roses at Collonges la RougeCollonges la Rouge
The boulanger's van arrived early at the aire so we watched the French camping-caristes queuing up for bread in their dressing gowns before we set off across the hilly countryside and spotted a sign for the Suc au May a hilltop viewpoint which we eventually found after a long twisty drive through woodlands. A peaceful spot until two groups of hikers arrived - we must have said Bonjour 50 times! Continuing north through another busy market town of Eymoutiers we decided to top up our diesel but struggled to find a filling station open at lunchtime luckily finding one at the Spar shop in Peyral le Château just as it was closing. Now relaxed we drove a short distance to Auphelle on Lac de Vassivière a huge reservoir now surrounded by mature woodlands and parked up at the old campsite now an aire. After a few words with a camping-cariste who wanted to park five feet away from us in an otherwise almost empty field, we settled down for a lazy afternoon in the sunshine before going for a pleasant walk along the lakeside. There are several aires around the lake so we moved on the next morning to the busier one at Pierrefitte on the southern side where there is a free road train across a causeway to a wooded island with a modern sculpture park.
The next day was one of those scrappy ones when it was hot and airless: The tapestry museum at Felletin was closed so we headed up to the valley of the Creuse to Fresselines, an artists' town where camping-cars weren't allowed along the lane to the apparently picturesque river confluence. On to Crozant which was deserted so followed a sign to Lac de Chambon which took us on steep and narrow back roads to a small boating resort with no obvious lakeside parking. We eventually arrived at the base of the Barrage d'Eguzon, a high dam with a hydroelectric power station. After lunch under a shady tree we decide to travel further north and picked up the toll free A20 autoroute for 30 kilometres and turned off just before the large town of Châteauroux, to find a pleasant aire in a lakeside meadow at La Pérouille. Peace at last - only one other motorhome there and a horse drawn roulotte - then a couple of lads decided to kick a football around right next to our van despite the large empty field- gggrrr!

An easy drive on straight flat D roads skirting the watery Parc de la Brenne took us to Montrichard on the River Cher and to Chaumont-sur-Loire where we checked in to the municipal campsite to visit the annual garden festival at the château the next morning. We had visited this festival a few years ago and it was just as quirky with garden layouts having a theme this year of recycled materials (we think!). They certainly got people talking from the puzzled looks and definitely worth a few hours walking around if you enjoy modern gardens. Of course there are plenty of traditional formal gardens and parks at the many châteaux around here.

Conques Romanesque abbey

Conques Tresor
Conques Tresor

  Figeac galleried house   Figeac museum 
Figeac galleried house                  Champollion museum

Collonges la Rouge
Collonges la Rouge
Lac de Vassiviere
Lac de Vassivière

barrage d'Eguzon
  Barrage d'Eguzon
chaumont garden festival
Chaumont garden festival

Chaumont garden festival 2
French interpretation of an English tea garden
Caumont garden festival Chaumont garden festival 4
Chaumont garden festival 5

more quirky gardens

From there we worked out a cross country route to avoid Tours and overnighted in the car park at Villandry with several other vans and then followed the south bank of the Loire to Saumur for a supermarket top-up before heading west towards the Vendée via a rose garden at Doue-la-Fontaine, and another free night at an aire in the small village of Valanjou, before reaching the coast at St Jean de Monts, not motornhome friendly, closed up and deserted in the low season and much more built up than I remember from 40 years ago. After calling in at the aire at Nôtre Dame des Monts for a free water top-up and a stroll along the empty windswept seafront, we headed for the Île de Noirmoutier over the very high and now toll free bridge.