End of Season in France

 

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Stewart Webb arrived the Wednesday before the start of the boar hunting on his motorcycle – a 1999 Kawasaki 650 which looked uncannily like my 1969 Triumph Bonneville. He had driven over 2000km to get here and stayed dry the whole time!

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We had always planned to have some short breaks on the bikes when Stewart arrived so on the Friday, we went off to see the Gorge de l’Ardeche which is about two hours south of here following the Rhone then heading south-west from Montelimar crossing the river at Viviers. Lovely roads and lots of stops as the sun was out and, as the schools were back in, the traffic was reduced but still busy. The Gorge spectacularly cuts through the land for around 30km with the river winding it’s way towards the Rhone. The most famous point is probably the Pont D’Arc which is a natural arch by a bend in the river – Stewart and I took the opportunity to stop there for a dip along with a hundred or so others but it was lovely and refreshing after sitting in the saddle for a few hours.

We drove up river, looking over serious drops down to the river below which is only accessible at a few places from either side but is full of multicoloured canoes that wind their way down the length of the gorge stopping at designated spots where their tents have been prepared for them and their luggage deposited for the night only to continue their journey the next day.

We then turned north once again heading for Privas over a Col then dropping down for what seemed forever on twisty roads finally arriving home early in the evening quite tired but with a grin on our faces.

The hunt on the Sunday offered little in the way of wild boar as the weather has been that warm this past few months that the dogs could not track any scent. We did start at 0700 and wandered the woods going to favourite watering holes but found nothing and once the weather got warmer, at around 0930, decided to call it a day and head back to the cabin to meet the rest of the hunters to drink some wine, eat some saucisson and break some bread as is normal for breakfast – a few hours later we went home only to return at 1300 for some more to be followed by a lovely meal at a friends house – thank you (again) Fabrice and Isobel.

Our next venture was a three day camping trip through the Vercors and along to Lac du Serre Percon which has become quite familiar to me this year as I have now been there three times.

Bikes all packed we left sharp on the Tuesday morning and headed for my regular stop-off at Pont en Royans with the intention of following the balcony route through the Gorge by La Bourne however this road was closed for road works. This was to be a common theme over these three days as, once the school holidays finish, these roads are closed for repairs to the cliff face to secure loose rocks for the following year – unfortunately I had planned the route to follow quite a few of these type of roads…

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Not to be dissuaded, we followed the diversion signs and I entered new territory which fortunately did not disappoint! Tunnels, hairpin bends, drops and fabulous views greeted us as the miles went by.

We stopped at the town of Chappelle en Royans and before having a coffee, visited the church as this whole area (the Vercors) was the last stronghold of the French Resistance during the 2nd World War and was where some of the worst atrocities had been carried out. In the church was a memorial stone to those who had been killed during the conflict which was a sombre reminder of the events that took place.

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Our next stop was near the town of Vassieux en Vercors and to the Memorial de la Resistance which is perched on the hillside overlooking the town which is in the plateau. This building is austere and as you leave the reception area and push open the large doors, you enter into an area with exhibits showing life during the war. You wind your way through corridors looking at exhibits until you reach one of three theatres where films are played explaining what transpired through those dark times with both archive footage and more recent interviews with those who lived through the period. An MP3 player is provided for those whose understanding of French is not the best and Stewart confirmed that the translation was excellent and in tune with the films.

This is a worthwhile stop for anyone wanting to learn more about the history of the Maquis.

Off we went again to descend via another col (Col de Rosset) to the town of Die then to climb up and up leaving the Vercors and heading for the High Alps via Gap to Lac du Serre Poncon which was to be our home for the next two nights. On arrival at the camp site we were told that the restaurant was closing for the season in a few days and that we could choose any pitch we wanted as the place was quite quiet. This was great and we toured round the camp site and eventually settled down only 20 or so metres from the lake, near the restaurant and quite close to a shower and toilet block.

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Tents pitched, we grabbed a beer (or four) and watched the sun set over the lake and mountains. Our host for the night was a laid back chap who was very pleasant but as well as being barman he was the chef, cook and bottle washer! Our choice for dinner was a home made steak burger with chips and when it arrived, we realised that he was using up everything from the freezer so the helpings were enormous!

A good nights sleep and off for a run for the day into the mountains only to find more road closures and diversions but as we had only loose plans, our routes changed often and we ended up driving over the Col de Vars at over 2100m. Lunch was frois gras (courtesy of Aldi), tomato, crisps with a French baguette finished off with a fresh melon all al-fresco on a picnic bench. We then descended on the other side never far from the Italian border and worked our way back to our temporary home.

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Dinner that night followed a similar theme to the previous night but after the first beer we were told that he had run out of draft and that we were now onto bottles. The steak burger was even bigger but the chips had run out so we were given a plateful of macaroni cheese along with salad – too much to eat but we did our best!

Thunder and lightning that night but we stayed dry letting us pack things up the next morning to cross even more high roads following the Route Napoleon from Gap to Grenoble. This is another of those ‘must do’ roads with spectacular views across the valley and to the high peaks all around.

Stewart managed some more hunting on our return whilst I played some golf but the weather finally broke and we had a weekend of rain which was good for the garden and the land but not so good when you have visitors and plan things outdoors.

What I have learned these last few weeks is that it is worthwhile coming out of season to France and taking advantage of the lower prices and emptier camp-sites and hotels but you have to plan carefully as there will be road closures and some places will close to tourists altogether but the weather is still hot, the sites still spectacular and people still friendly.

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Come and see – French Living

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