Motorhome and Away
Europe 2013 - Hérault to Cantal

Home > European Touring > Europe 2013 > Hérault to Cantal

Hérault to Cantal

The weather had now improved with more sunshine as we travelled through the Hérault department. we drove up into the hills to Saint Guilhem le Désert, a very picturesque old town set in a steep wooded valley. In the summer there is a park and ride from the nearby Pont du Diable (Devil's Bridge ) but we drove up to the village only to find that camping cars are completely banned. Luckily we fitted in a small layby about one kilometre down the valley and walked back to the town. The narrow main street climbed past flower covered old houses to the large Romanesque abbey and shady main square. Many of the houses had large dried thistle flower heads on their doors. The village is one of the Plus Beaux Villages and a Unesco World Heritage site so it is very popular and crowded at weekends.

St Guilhem le Desert
St Guilhem le Désert
Saint Guilhem le Desert
St Guilhem le Désert
St Guilhem le Desert abbey
St Guilhem le Désert - abbey

St Guilhem le Desert dried thistle
dried thistle
Lac du Salagou
Lac du Salagou
Lac du Salagou pebble writing
Pebble inscriptions at Salagou 

We then drove to St Jean de Fos, a pottery town but everything was closed on a Monday so we continued west to the large town of Clermont l'Hérault and on minor roads via the Cirque de Mourèze to reach the Lac du Salagou in low hills of red sandstone. After a stop to look at the many inscriptions set out with white pebbles on the rocks we continued to the east end of the lake passing several places where motorhome parking is permitted, to stay at the municipal campsite as we wanted to use the washing machine and wifi. There is a small aire for six vans by the entrance but that was full. After a quiet night we drove back around the lake to join the main road through Bedarieux then turned north on a narrow winding road up through the woods to Combes and across yellow broom covered countryside to the Col de l'Ourtigas where there were super views across the rocky hills to the Gorges d'Heric. At La Salvetat sur Agout we decided to head for the aire by a small leisure complex on the pleasant Lac de Laouzas, near the village of Nages, and lazed around in the warm sunshine for the afternoon at this peaceful spot.

Ambialet barrage on river Tarn
Ambialet - barrage on river Tarn

Heading for Albi the next day we followed a green route marked on the Michelin road atlas on a high ridge road with extensive views to drop steeply down to St Sernin sur Rance before climbing up a very long hill on the main but empty D999 road. We took a detour to Ambialet where the river Tarn makes a sharp horseshoe bend and a low barrage with a rather wet  road across the causeway near a hydroelectric power station and a chapel on a high rock. Back on the main road we reached the busy city of Albi and managed to park just below the massive red brick cathedral, although the official camping-car parking places were all taken. As it was lunchtime the parking was free from noon until 2pm so we walked up to cathedral with its austere exterior and contrasting richly decorated interior. Beside the cathedral is the Palais de la Berbie which houses the largest collection of paintings by  Toulouse Lautrec who was born locally. Once we had found our way out of the city centre we ended up on the free autoroute for a few miles then headed on back roads through vineyards to Cordes sur Ciel, a lovely hilltop bastide town with an excellent aire below the town, although it doubles as a coach park during the day. We stayed here a few years ago so waited until the next morning when it was less crowded to tackle the steep walk to the town centre.

Now heading north we skirted around the former mining town of Carmaux to join the main road, now being upgraded to an autoroute, and took another detour to look at the impressive Viaduc du Viaur built by Eiffel and now overlooked by a new high concrete viaduct carrying the autoroute. More back roads led us to another of the Plus Beaux Villages - the attractive bastide town of Sauveterre de Rouergue for a wander around the shady collonaded square and came across an interesting old device for restraining cattle and horses. The aire naturelle was full with several old caravans which appeared to be long term residents, so we drove on to an aire in the tiny village of Castanet. We thought we would be on our own but as often happens a German motorhome turned up at 11pm and left early the next morning. (I hope they noticed the honesty box!)

Continuing north we bypassed another Plus Beau village at Belcastel and took minor roads along the wooded valley of the Dourdou river to reach Villecomtal, a pretty red sandstone village although not listed in any of our many guidebooks. We parked next to the former campsite which is now an aire and strolled around. Luckily the main street was deserted as the café occupied the whole pavement! Hearing "English" voices we stopped to chat with a couple who were keen motorhomers from New Zealand. They owned an Autotrail that was apparently cheaper to import from the UK than buy a new one. We continued over the hills to reach pretty Estaing in the Gorges du Lot then took a deviation to a viewpoint marked on the map as the Puy de Montabès which turned out to be a low tree topped grassy hill with lots of wild flowers where we met another British motorhoming couple. After stopping at a small aire de pique-nique for tea we descended a steep hill to the the town of Entraygues sur Truyère where we found a free aire just across the main bridge near the campsite. Late that evening we suddenly realised that Sheila had lost her handbag with her passport and bank cards. After turning the van inside out we decided to wait until early the next morning and retraced our route about six miles back up to the picnic site where it was still lying in long grass where we had stopped the previous afternoon. Luckily the bag was dark brown and while we had sat there only a couple of cars had passed. Somewhat relieved we enjoyed our breakfast before returning to Entraygues and decided to have a relaxing day so pulled in to the small ACSI campsite as there was a Vide Grenier ( literally empty the loft - a car boot sale) and brocante on the Sunday morning with the same sort of tat as in the UK.

Gorges d'Heric from Col del'Ourtigas
Gorges d'Heric from Col de l'Ourtigas

Albi cathedral de Ste cecile

Albi cathedral interior     Albi cathedral painted chapel
Albi - cathedral de Ste Cecilia

Albi Palais de la Berbie
Albi Palais de la Berbie

Cordes sur Ciel gateway
Cordes sur Ciel gateway

Eiffel's Viaduc du Viaur
Eiffel's Viaduc du Viaur

 Sauveterre de Rouergue

Sauveterre cattle and horse restraint  Sauveterre de Rouergue collonade  
Sauveterre de Rouergue

Villecomtal    Villecomtal pavement cafe

       velzic church       Velzic old oven in countryside      
Velzic - church and old oven 
We now continued on our route north and reached Aurillac which appeared to be mostly blocks of flats on the outskirts. Following a complicated route through the town centre we realised as we drove out along a country lane that we needed to top up our fuel so turned back to find the Centre Commercial where the supermarket filling station was open on a Sunday morning. Luckily the automatic pump accepted our credit card so now relaxed after negotiating the town centre yet again we headed towards the Monts du Cantal along the Route des Crêtes and pulled in to the free aire in the small village of Velzic. An evening stroll along the lanes led us to the church and an old oven in the fields. Tomorrow we would head across the winding road over the Col de Legal to Salers and on to Puy Mary, taking note of the one way timing system for camping cars.