14 days road-tripping in the South of France
1. Vieux Lyon and Moire
When travelling around Europe, sometimes big cities can seemingly merge with similarity. Similar apartment blocks with quaint shutters, a boulangerie on every corner, seedy French or Italian men loitering in smokey cafes. Not Lyon…well at least not Vieux Lyon. It is the essence of ‘old’ France with gorgeous cobbled streets and authentic cafes and bars serving food fit for Kings and Queens…because as you must know, Lyon is the gastronomical centre of France….perhaps the world. It is a place where the image of horse drawn carriages and ladies dressed in lace and long swishy skirts is vivid in your mind…you can almost hear the sound of horses hooves clinking on the stone, echoing through the narrow streets. It is one of my favourite cities in Europe, and consequently has, in my opinion, the most beautiful Basilica (cathedral) in the world. It is situated on the hill with the most spectacular view over Lyon. When the autumn leaves shine bright hues of red, orange and yellow…the view is simply breathtaking. We had a sublime dinner in Vieux Lyon on our first night consisting of and entrée of two salads, one with steamed potatoes and a creamy sauce of garlic and herbs, the other a Lyonnaise speciality with salade, lardons, croutons et oeuf poché ( lettuce, bacon, croutons and poached egg). The mains were barvette a l’échalotte (steak with shallots) and Le délice du Villon (sausage and mushrooms baked in a 4 cheese bechamel sauce). Simply delicious….the French certainly know how to cook! We enjoyed exploring the rest of the city, namely the Roman amphitheatre ruins and markets along the Saone river.
View from Basilica, Lyon
View from our accommodation, Vieux Lyon
Roman amphitheatre ruins, Lyon
Moiré is a little village proudly perched on a hill, about 40 min north west of Lyon. This lovely place is where I spent the better part of 8 months in 2009 working as an aupair. I must say that being back there made me very nostalgic and brought back a myriad of fond memories. The wonderful family I lived with had alas, moved on, but it was just great to wander through the streets, admire the panorama of vine yards and the cute clusters of villages nestled into the country side. After travelling quite extensively throughout Europe, I think Moiré, and the surrounding towns to be one of the most charming and breathtakingly beautiful places in the world. It was an absolute treat taking Owen back to my past..I think he loves it almost as much as I do now. I was fortunate enough to meet up with a dear friend Dawn, and her family and catch up on the last 4 years…such lovely and hospitable people.
Moiré, where I lived in 2009
Oignt, near Moire
Wine grapes, Oingt
Le Bois d’Oingt
2. Campervan quirks
When we picked up the campervan, we were like school children riding on bus for the first time. Owen played with all the buttons and I craned my neck out the window to look at everything as it flew by. One of my highlights with the van was the first of many, food shops. If you haven’t experienced a European super…and I mean SUPER market…then you have been missing out big time!
They certainly have their priorities right….at least 3-4 aisles dedicated to cheese, a plethora of fresh fruit and vegies not to mention every type of creature from the sea displayed tantalisingly on fresh ice, and look-a-like fishermen in thick aprons and gumboots serving customers with a cheery smile. Who in Australia would go to that much trouble? The last seafood deli experience I had in Sydney, the lady didn’t even eat fish!! Forget the exchange rate for a moment, and you’ll soon see, that food is much cheaper to buy in France. Or at least thats how I justified purchasing all the wonderful food we ate…
3. Alp d’Heuz
The village is abuzz with cycling fanatics. Men proudly ponce around in their oh so tight cycling attire. Owen’s eyes are wide with boyish excitement. All those hours sitting watching the Tour de France have contributed to this moment of bliss. He looks up at the mountain with such admiration, as if it were an old friend. Scores of pelotons fly by, each man with the same look, the same boyish grin.
I’ve never understood this craze, although I fully support the idea of exercise in any measure. I felt fatigued just driving up the windy, steep as anything mountain road. I stopped a few times to wait for Owen to pass to make sure he was ok and took the liberty of taking some cracking shots of des alps and the town below. Each time Owen passed, he was as sweaty as a pig and puffing like a steam train BUT that ‘look’ never left his eyes. He was determined to press on, regardless of the great difficulty and steep terrain, he kept going. And for this I will always admire his strength and perseverance. I on the other hand I had quite a lot of fun chuffing up the alp in the campervan…this thing has a whole lot of get-up-and-go! Owen tells me the number of hair pin turns are 21 in total but it felt like much more.The sun is shining brightly and warming the cockles of me heart, the air is crisp and fresh, the view is spectacular and Owen just finished the ride and triumphantly held his bike in the air…Owen, King of Alpe d’Huez! What a wonderful achievement, what a wonderful day.
Bike, check… helmet, check… camera to record my crusade, check…. months of preparation and training… Oh well, I’ll do this one on sheer will power!
Owen before he rode up Alp d’Huez
He made it to the top! Alp d’Huez, France
Lakes on top off Alp d’Huez, France
4. Top camping spots
Something that pleasantly surprised us was the vast array of free campsites in France, ranging from simple rest areas in car parks to sublime spots by rivers or on the edge of cliffs overlooking the sea. The app was called park4night and it was one of the most valuable downloads of the trip.
Here are some of our favourite campsites on the trip…
Camping in The Alps
Camping by the lake, near St Chamas, The Mediterranian Coast
Camping on the Spanish Border, Bagyuls sur Mer
We woke up to this view from our boot, Bagyuls sur Mer
Bagyuls sur Mer
Medieval village, Dordogne
Beynac castle, Dordogne
Beynac castle, Dordogne
5. Cassis and the Mediterranean
Cassis is another of my favourite spots, and for good reason. I’ve been there three times now, and each time has been wonderful in a new way. Cassis is a little seaside village that until a few years ago, was completely unspoilt by hoards of eager, photo taking, cafe sitting, sandal clad tourists. We do not class ourselves as that ‘type’ of tourist…we try our hardest to blend in with the locals and certainly do not wear sandals. We stayed in the caravan park which was only really good for a hot shower and a loo. How fortunate we were to stumble into the town’s marvellous market day, where all the best saucisson (like mild salami), fromage (cheese) and only-picked-this-very-morning vegetables and fruits of the best quality were on display. We went a bit ballistic buying 10 euros worth of saucisson which turned out great as we got to share it with friends later on.
We spent the rest of the day exploring the surrounding areas and came back to Cassis for a lip-smacking dinner of mussels and local fish stew..
Fresh food markets in every town
Near St Chamas
This trip has been a whirlwind for our tastebuds. French food at its utmost simplicity is to die for. Simple things like melon with jambon cru (rockmelon and prosciutto)…the fragrance of the melon fills your nostrils with the sweet smell of summer. We often prepared lunches of bits and pieces, a bit of prosciutto or saucisson for saltiness, some mini pickles for acidity, some brie or smoked cheese for creaminess, sun dried tomato pesto and kalamata olives for an explosion of flavour, and of course….fresh baguette. French bread is something everyone has to experience. The best baguette is crunchy on the outside and fluffy yet slightly dense in the middle. It is so good, that it usually doesn’t make it halfway home as it is eaten on the way…without jams or spreads…just el’ natural. Such simplicity, such grace.
I also had great fun cooking on the little stove in the back of our camper. We got sick of eating out for every meal in Asia so it was such a relief to be able to cook again. Idea’s would formulate in my head, the ingredients finally selected at the supermarket would be create these to the best of my ability, with the limited culinary resources I had a my disposable. I also bought a cookbook with all the French essentials…reading the ingredients in French was fine, it was the method that required google translator.
Lunch most days
Cooking in the back of the campervan
7. Visiting Friends
A road trip isn’t complete without dropping in on some old friends! Cait and Zippa are about as ‘old’ as they come, and it was a delight to share a few nights with them in Pau. Their elegant flat is nestled at the top of a classic old french hotel not a few minutes walk from the centre of town, where the lady of the house was kind enough to show us a few of her favourite places.
If we had spent more time exploring the place, Pau could have been one of our favourite destinations in France! But to be honest, that wasn’t the point of this stop. It was just lovely to relax in the one place for a while with top notch company without feeling to need to photojournalise our experience of the town. The point of this stop was to share some love and break some bread so to speak.
The highlights of Pau for me will be the wine shared with life long friends, deep conversations accompanied by cheese plates and Nutella smothered on baguette after baguette, delicious coffee sipped in a cosy kitchen, and oddly to feel completely at home in a foreign country. This is the greatest compliment I could give to our fantabulous hosts. It was the rest and recharge we were in need of after an extremely adventurous month of relentless travelling.
In Pau with our friends Caitlin and Afusipa
We are now on a farmstay in Normandy for two weeks where we will be immersing ourselves into French and farm culture. We’ve been away for 4 weeks now, how fast time flies when you’re having fun!
Until next time, we say au revoir!