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France 2010 - Calanques to Cévennes

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Calanques to Cévennes

We reached the Mediterranean in gorgeous sunshine and installed ourselves on a small pitch at Camping le Cigales on the edge of Cassis. We had visited the town a few years ago and found it motorhome unfriendly with no parking allowed in the town centre but the campsite was only one kilometre from the quayside and it is best explored on foot anyway. We checked out the options for the boat trips to visit the Calanques the high limestone fjords to the west of the town. There was a central booking office for the many boats so it was easy to select from the options of visiting three, five or seven of the inlets. The next morning we walked down to the town early and visited the colourful street market before booking the "five Calanques" option for €16 each which was about a one hour trip with a commentary in French only. The Calanques can only be reached by boat or by the clifftop footpath and they are also popular with rock climbers, and from the boat we saw hikers in seemingly inaccessible places by the cliff edges. In the afternoon we lazed around the town and campsite enjoying a day without driving and started planning a route west to avoid Marseilles.

Cassis beach
Cassis beach
Cassis market
Cassis colourful market stall
Cassi colourful boats
and colourful fishing boats
    walkers on cliff
                     How did they get there?

   fallen rock
            fallen rock jammed in crevice

Having got caught up in the suburbs of Marseilles a few years ago we headed north back towards Aix en Provence then cut across west on the yellow D roads to Marignane passing through many industrial areas and a huge centre commercial and after getting lost a few times ended up on a free section of the A7 autoroute overlooking the Etang de Berre and oil refineries. We bypassed Salon-de-Provence and Les Baux crossing the low Chaine des Alpilles hills to St Remy-de-Provence for a walk around the attractive old town with a massive church with mixed styles and and an equally mixed modern yet old fashioned Jules Verne themed carousel, before negotiating more busy roads to reach the pleasant riverside aire at Comps just north of Beaucaire.  

   St Remy old roundabout
            carousel at St Remy de Provence

From there we drove down to Arles via another centre commercial for a hypermarket shop and free wifi at the Mc Donalds and then parked on the quayside with other motorhomes, to look at the Roman amphitheatre and old buildings. We came across several Camargue horse riders in traditional dress in the main square providing a guard of honour for a funeral. We also visited the Éspace Van Gogh, a quiet courtyard with pleasant gardens for a rest before returning to Comps for another peaceful night.

     Carmargue horse and rider
          Carmargue horse and rider Arles

Now heading north west we drove along  rough country lanes to Uzès crowded for its popular market  and diverted a few miles to St Quentin-la-Poterie famous for - pottery and previously a centre for tilemaking. It was rather quiet with many of the workshops closed on a Saturday, but a few interesting murals around the village.  Driving back through the middle of the crowded market in Uzès (probably worth a stop but far too busy) we continued through farmland and vineyards to Anduze, a pretty town on the River Gardon but often subjected to severe flooding, as recently as 2002 from the plaques on the wall. There were large clumps of tall bamboo trees in the park and also at the Le Pradel campsite we booked into for the night. These plants had spread from the Bambouseraie de Prafrance a short walk from the campsite which we visited the next day. An interesting place with large tree plantations, reconstructed Laotian huts, displays and a Japanese garden, also next to the steam hauled Train Touristique de Cévennes.

   Laotian bamboo hut
                             Laotian house

             varieties of bamboo
                    Variegated bamboo

Les Calanques
Les Calanques from the boat

cave in cliffs
Calanques cliff cave

St Remy en Provence church
St Remy de Provence church

Arles Roman amphitheatre
  Arles Roman amphitheatre


Arles espace van Gogh
Éspace Van Gogh at Arles

Bambouseraie de Prafrance
Bambouseraie de Prafrance near Anduze

Bambouseraie Japanese garden
Japanese garden

We walked back to the campsite and then drove the short distance to St Jean du Gard where the steam train terminated and famous as the final destination for Robert Louis Stevenson's "Travels with a Donkey", commemorated with a fountain. After lunch we topped up with water at the free borne by the station then decided to drive over the impressive winding Corniche des Cévennes road with views across the mountains to start with, then becoming shrouded in mist and drizzle, this apparently being the wettest region of France, so we kept driving to Florac at the eastern end of the Tarn Gorge and found another busy aire near the town centre.

steam train at St Jean du GardR L Stevenson fountainFlorac chateau
Train touristique at St Jean du GardRL Stevenson fountainFlorac chateau