Week 1, 8th March to 14th March 2018
The finale to our current trip through France, Spain, Portugal and Spain again was of course France. Leaving San Sebastian was early and uneventful as my birthday hangover and tiredness was no where near as acute as normal (cue: Lagos, 2017, which took a full two days to recover from) and our drive over the border to Dax in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine in southwestern France was completed in the sunshine.
Of course we had co-ordinates for a free aire as we were now in the leading country for motorhoming (in our opinion) and this lay adjacent to the town’s bull ring but also right next to the wheelie bins for the local Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet. We decided that since we were this close that a fix of American fried food would be what we needed causing I am sure many a local chef to ‘disapprove’ as our purchase from the Colonel meant that we missed out on one of their probably much better ‘plat de jours’. As a point of reference, the KFC cost us 20 euros for two people so joking aside, a plat de jour for that money is a possibility.
The Andalucian styled bull ring at Dax
We found Dax itself a pleasant place with a town centre that actually had people wandering around unlike so many other French locations. Also for me and Rita who whilst on a walk discovered the large park in the grounds of the bull ring, where on this mid week afternoon was taken up by multiple boule games, where over 100 local people battled it out on the shingle park paths.
We were travelling quite slow as we still had plenty of time before our ferry was booked meaning that we drove to the next region and decided to stay at Casteljaloux, Lot-et-Garonne. However this small shunt north was enough to return back to poor weather swapping the sunshine for drizzle and this meant the massive nearby LeClerc had it’s attractions. We actually made some purchases, Sharon optimistically bought some sunglasses and I decided I needed some new cheap pumps to kick about in. We spent two nights here chilling out, I managed a visit to the local ‘Grand Cafe’ where I enjoyed a few Pelforths chatting to a local cyclist and we all survived a rainy walk taking in the historical old town and river side. Also quite comically due to my poor French and the Pelforths, I enquired at a vets about how much they charged to complete the ‘5 day before travel health check’ where Rita got placed on the scales, she now weighs 13.2 Kgs which is slightly more than when she was picked up by 2ndhand4footers back in August 2017, which we both concluded was a good thing as we think she looks in great condition.
Old timber framed houses dotted the town of Casteljaloux
We continued north choosing a small village called Clérac in the Charente-Maritime department in southwestern France as our next stop. The free aire was a picture of tranquillity as it lay on the outskirts of the village next to a small lake in park land which seemed popular with local dog walkers. Sharon’s recent purchase proved to be enough for the weather gods to change their minds about the climate as we discovered the local area in blazing sun. We also found the two privately owned chateaux and a football game taking place at the village’s ground. We also discovered that the village’s bakery and shop were closed meaning we would have to survive on stock that lay around in the cupboards.
Our parking place at sleepy Clerac, we had the place to ourselves until Tim and Martha pitched up!!! “We hope you guys are doing well, we would love to see you again and lets try and meet up in Portugal winter 2018…..”
Upon return to the aire another motorhome had appeared and since it was a tag axle Autotrial we guessed correctly that it was an English van. The occupants were lazing around on a nearby picnic bench with their dogs and also intriguingly looked to be of a similar age to us. Naturally we went over and introduced ourselves and as history has proven we ended up sharing our travel stories and exchanging notes of places to visit and see. Two memories of our meet up with Tim and Martha was that it was their second night on the road with their new motorhome and they were full of excitement, as we were in 2016. Also, they had just started and were embarking on their adventure and we were depressingly on the way home, leaving us with a really happy feeling for them and a slight depression for us, we had to make the most of our now short time on the road. The second memory was that we decided to cook for them and to Sharon’s despair she managed to cook such a small portion of rice that it was almost embarrassing, even Tim commented once we had served them undersized portions and him noticing the very small amount left for us “Aren’t you guys going to eat?” and us in return feigning that we had small appetites. I reckoned that Sharon must have being seeing double due to all the wine as normally she cooks far too much!!!
Verteuil-sur-Charante was next up and we instantly fell in love with this small town with it’s skyline that is dominated by the Chateux de Verteuil. Again, another free excellent aire nearby to the river that winds itself through the centre. Heavy rain greeted our arrival and following on from the closed shops of Clerac we needed to find some local amenities, after all this is France and often local shops are closed at seemly sporadic hours. Digging out my Camino waterproof, I ventured into the town finding that I had just missed the opening hours of the small supermarket (it was 12:40) and I therefore had to venture into the often scary for non french speakers looking local butchers purchasing some massive pork chops and selection of locally grown vegetables.
The town of Verteuil in the distance. As we walked around we picked up by chance the ‘Camino de Frances’
Verteuil was such a beautiful town that we decided to stay another night and enjoyed a long walk through the surrounding country side on our second day. It was Tuesday afternoon and therefore we were confident that the local shop would be open, I had even checked the opening hours that morning on Rita’s walk as we needed some supplies (editors note, read: beers for Matt) but of course it was not open and we were met with a had written sign saying due to ‘exceptional’ reasons the shop was closed. Therefore I was really pleased when the occupants of the French registered motorhome that was neighbouring us were sitting on the communal bench and instantly offered if we wanted a beer in native southern English accents. Mike and Michelle were living in the Charante region and were staying at Verteuil for family reasons and it seemed they wanted a blow out from their recent loss and therefore we joined on the bench enjoying their cold Spanish beer in exchange for our warm french wine, cheers and merci beaucoup!!!
We picked up this bottle of lemonade from the butchers in Verteuil, I think the label is pretty cool!!