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Europe 2013 - A Week in Provence

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A Week in Provence

The road inland took us through Sophia Antopolis a large modern area of corporate headquarters in parkland and a slow route through Grasse which is the centre of perfume manufacturing but quite industrial. Eventually after passing large areas with luxury villas dotted across the hills we reached Salernes where we found a new free aire just past the Terra Rossa ceramics museum in an old tile works. The next morning we walked into the old town centre with a helpful Office de Tourisme and some interesting buildings, and then visited the tile museum where terracotta floor tiles had been made. There were excellent displays of modern decorative tile panels by several artists who had studios locally and a large collection of old wall tiles. After lunch we drove to Sillans la Cascade and walked about 1km to the waterfall spilling over a wooded cliff. We continued our journey to Cotignac another popular tourist town, then through poppy fields to Le Thoronet where there is an impressive old abbey. Taking narrow back lanes we reached Entrecasteaux with its imposing chateau overlooking the village before returning to Salernes for a second free night.

salernes campanile
Salernes campanile
        Sillans la Cascade waterfall    
 Sillans la Cascade
The next morning was still sunny but with the continuous cold north wind that had blown for the last week or so. A short drive took us to Villecroze another small village where we walked around the attractive botanical gardens with palm trees and more streams cascading over the wooded cliffs and then to TourTour, a typical hilltop village on the tourist trail with smart restaurants and artists' studios, and then a short drive to Aups and Camping les Près on the edge of the town where we had stayed years ago. Aups is the largest town in the area with interesting narrow streets and a large market in the shady square on Saturdays which fortunately was tomorrow. The wind had dropped the next morning so we strolled around the market with few bargains then visited the small Segal art gallery with a small room at the back with a fascinating display of the local resistance movement in WW2. At last it was warm enough to sit outside for the afternoon and into the evening.
 Colorado Provencal Rustrel   
Colorado Provencal at Rustrel
Another warm sunny day so we drove north across barren scrub (called garrigue) countryside to the turquoise Lac de Ste Croix and down to the small rebuilt village of Ste Croix de Verdon where there was a large free car park beside the lake (and a popular aire) so we lazed around until mid afternoon watching the Sunday trippers enjoying the usual lake activities of pedalos and sailing. We decided to head west then realised that we needed fuel so drove up to Riez where there wasn't a filling station open but luckily found an automatic one at a Carrefour mini-market on the edge of Valensole (Every year I get caught with low fuel on a Sunday!). We headed on the main road towards Apt then turned off across hilly countryside to Viens and the Colorado Provençal at Rustrel where we were able to park overnight before taking one of the marked walks through the ochre cliffs. After a shopping top up in Apt we drove to Gordes and the large parking area for the Village des Borries about 1 km out of the town where several motorhomes were parked including two more Adria Twins one British the other from Greece so we had a good time comparing notes on the mostly plus and a few minus points! We walked to the busy town centre the next morning with another expensive market with many stalls aimed at the tourists.and then drove to the working town of Cavaillon where for the first time we met a traffic jam with lots of lorries at the autoroute junction and then took a minor road across the low wooded hills of the Chaîne des Alpilles to reach the very crowded Les Baux de Provence where the was an aire listed but we didn't find it and ended up for the night on the small quiet CL type campsite, Camping Ancient Chemin d'Arles near St Rémy de Provence.

Continuing westwards and bypassing Arles we headed towards the Camargue and took the minor road alongside the eastern edge of the Étang de Vaccarès to Salin de Giraud and after stopping to look at the saltworks on to the vast beach at the Plage de Piémanson where there were about 30 motorhomes parked before the shanty town of old caravans and the naturist beach. A friendly place with motorhomers of all nationalities. Luckily we stayed on the firm sand but one French van got stuck and our griptracks did the job - rewarded by a bottle of wine! After a glorious sunset and a peaceful night we drove back round the Étang and down to Stes Maries de la Mer where we pulled in to the ACSI Camping Le Clos du Rhone to catch up on the washing and wifi before walking into the town centre where "Vehicules habitable" are banned except at the aires but they were extending the large parking area to the west of the town.

Camargue flamingoes
Camargue flamingoes
We then drove inland to Aigues Mortes, very busy and the aire was full with barrier access and €16/24 hours so we decided to continue inland rather than along the coast which looked built up on the map. Avoiding the suburbs of Montpellier we reached Sommières where after negotiating the grid of narrow one way streets we eventually found the aire outside the municipal campsite. It turned out to be a delightful old town with narrow streets and shady squares behind the old gateway by the River Vidourle. There was a large brocante (flea and antiques market) on the Saturday morning with lots of expensive junk and a good street market with more reasonable prices. Gerald Durrell spent his last few years here and several artists have studios in the area. 

Cotignac main square
Cotignac main square

Entrecasteaux chateau
Entrecasteaux château

Villacroze cascade
Villacroze cascade and botanical garden

Ste Croix du Verdon
Ste Croix du Verdon

Gordes market tomatoes     Gordes market - colourful baskets
Gordes market - tomatoes and colourful baskets

Sunset at Plage de Piemanson
Sunset at Plage de Piémanson

Sommieres square
Sommières square

Sommieres gateway
Sommières gateway


    Aups doorway          Aups Dubonnet sign           Aups narrow street  
Some sights around Aups - our favourite town in Provence   
Now in the Herault department in the Languedoc - Rousillon region we drove on back roads across the wooded hills through several small towns with new housing estates being within commuting distance of Montpellier, and eventually reached Aniane where there was a small free motorhome parking area behind a housing estate. In the rather wet evening we studied our guidebooks to plan the next few days route.