Back into France

We had a relaxing few days in Palamos. The town itself was quite nice and didn’t seem to have sprawled too far, though as our aire was on the Northern edge of town and a bit of a hike away, we didn’t spend too much time there.


We did find some lovely little coves heading North up the coast.





On leaving Palamos, we drove to Saillagousse just over the border in France. This necessitated crossing the Pyrenees rather than “scooting round the edges” as we normally do. Luckily the weather was warm and sunny and there were no signs of snow. We passed the Spanish Ski resort of La Molina. The lower slopes were looking very sad for the first week in February, and the “thin white stripe with no visible snow either side” nature of things lead us to suspect that the snow machines have been working overtime to keep things running.


We think that the Collada de Toses, at 1790m, is probably the highest Kampington has ever been. Certainly he won’t have done much mountaineering during his former life as a white van, and he just did some rather tame camping holidays in the UK with “Kampington’s Dad” (as Mark refers to him) and his wife before Kampington came to live with us in 2012. The only other high place we could think of that we’ve been with Kampington was the Gerlospass in Austria. Must look up how high that one was…. <I did – the Gerlospass was apparently only 1500m>

We reached Saillagousse and stayed overnight in a small car park, waking up the next morning to… Snow! We wondered how much snow there was on the road we’d travelled on the day before, and how long it would stick for…..

Our reason for crossing the Pyrenees where we did had nothing at all to do with Saillagousse, lovely little town that it was, but rather with a small town called Llivia a few kilometres down the road. Mark likes to read books written by motorhomers describing their travels. He’s worked his way through quite a few, starting with the only one I’ve also read, aptly titled “Marie Potter and the Campervan of Doom”. Earlier this trip he read a book by a couple who’d travelled the perimeter of France. His verdict was that the style of writing wasn’t exactly riveting, but that he’d learned about quite a few interesting-sounding places. One of these was Llivia, a tiny bit of Spain completely surrounded by France. Neither of us had heard of the place, so it was duly added to our list….


In the event, Llivia was a very pretty little place with the stone and wood architecture I generally associate with Andorra (but is of course most likely a feature of the broader region). It’s close enough to Spain itself that in case of need it’d most likely be within Chorizo-throwing distance. There’s nothing much to see there but we can now say that we’ve been.

The next morning dawned bright and sunny. We set off and very soon came across an unexpected bit of Vaubannerie at a place called Mont-Louis. Hurrah! that Vauban really did get around! We stopped, of course, to take a look, this time not repeating the mistake we made earlier this trip at Valenca do Minho in Northern Portugal when we followed a sign to the citadel and ended up having to drive right through the narrow gates and into the centre of Vauban’s handiwork. This time we carefully ignored the tempting signpost inviting us to our doom and found a parking area outside the walls.


Mont-Louis has a very small fortified village part together with a full-on Vauban star-shaped fortification which is unfortunately still used by the French military and so can’t be visited.



After our unexpected stop we quickly got back on schedule. We were now entering a critical phase of our journey. Back in November 2014, we visited a small French village called Lapradelle-Puylaurens. I knew that there was a Cathar Castle nearby. All we saw on arriving at the (very nice) aire by the fire station was thick mist and rain. Ditto the following morning until suddenly, the mist dispersed slightly and a castle appeared above us in one of those “holy heck” moments generally only seen on TV. We’d tried to go and look at the castle anyway, but the access road was blocked by a raging torrent…. We had quite a few run-ins with floodwater-closed roads that day……

All was very different this year. We continued our journey to Lapradelle Puylaurens in bright sunshine and through spectacular scenery.




The next morning brought more good weather, and we drove up the access road to the parking area below the castle, having carefully ignored the “chateau ferme” sign at the turning below (please forgive my lack of French accents… the chateau was closed, not a farm… I haven’t found an easy way to do them in WordPress on my laptop…..).



We were now confronted with an empty ticket office and a chain hanging at knee height across the path with a notice hanging from it. It transpired that this contained a long list of rules and regulations in a very small font. Having noted that regulation number one was that access to the castle was forbidden outside official opening hours, I thanked my lucky stars that I can’t read French and stepped over the chain to catch up with Mark who was already a good way ahead.


We followed a path uphill at what I noted was a very steady gradient. One of the information boards later mentioned this and said it was intentional, to ease access for both people and beasts of burden (oh, hang on, I forgot, I can’t read French….).

Closer to the castle we came to some zig-zag stone steps up the steeper last part. These were very cunningly designed with slits in the walls etc to give plenty of opportunity to pick off marauders as they approached.


We were amazed to find that there was no big metal grille blocking the entrance to the castle itself and that we could just wander in… The castle itself was fantastic and had great views over two of the valleys below (which it was of course strategically positioned to control). It was well worth coming back!






Slowly heading North, we passed Carcassonne (which we visited on our way South in November 2014) and spent the night at yet another nice little town, Villeneuve Minervois. The following day, Tuesday, brought steady rain all day, so we used the time to travel North, spending Tuesday night on the library car park at Bozouls, just North-East of Rodez. Reviews of the aire on Camper Contact had mentioned a nice walk to a gorge and sure enough, on arrival, we spotted a sign on a wall with a map of the “site geologique”. The rain had really set in by this point (4pm) so we decided that the gorge was best left until the following morning. A good choice as things were looking much brighter the next day.



To be continued……

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