Tag Archive: camping


We had been looking forward to visiting Carcassonne for quite some time. The fascination with the place started a few years ago when Sarah had a regular Games night with her friends Pam and Ari. As three is an awkward number, she went to a local specialist games shop looking for a game that would be fun to play with only that number of players. They recommended the award winning (yes, they have awards for games!) tile building game ‘Carcassonne’, which fast became their favourite.

Next we both read an excellent historical fiction called ‘Labyrinth’ by Kate Mosse, which is set in Carcassonne and the surrounding area.

Because of all this, Carcassonne had featured as a definite destination in our travel plans from the start. We were over the moon that our first view of it was magical, with it looking as splendid in reality as we could have hoped for.

Sarah found a campsite called Camping La Cite within sight of the old city walls, which had plenty of space and was quiet as it was approaching the end of their season. We booked in, and it was good to be able to hand in my RAC Camping Carnet at the reception instead of having to surrender one of our passports. We picked a spot amongst a stand of walnut trees near to a stream, set up the tent, and settled in.

That evening we received a telephone call from our friend Rob, who was in Bordeaux with his girlfriend Martina. We had previously talked about the possibility of meeting up, and they now decided that they would travel south and meet us at Carcassonne. I was blown away as they only had a few days of their holiday left and we were quite a distance further south than they had been planning on travelling, particularly given that their ferry back to the UK was sailing from Calais.

They were tired of camping, so we decided to ditch the tents and share one of the mobile home type units that were available on site. The fact that the mobile home had heating was a big decider as the nights were definitely turning cool! They arrived early the next evening and we all chatted and caught up over a meal.

We had heard mixed reviews of Carcassonne, with some saying it was wonderful, and others saying is beautiful but over commercialised, being full of bars, cafes and souvenir shops. We decided to walk there along the riverbank and find out for ourselves.

As we approached the old city of Carcassonne my first impression was one of awe, as the fortified city is huge, very imposing and in excellent condition. It is obvious that various parts have been renovated, but I found it to be impressive and beautiful. Yes there were a lot of businesses inside that were aimed at the tourists, but there were also normal shops, and to my surprise some private houses. I had no idea that people actually still lived inside the walled city. We had the benefit of seeing the place out of season on a weekday, but I can imagine that our impressions would have been quite different had we been there on a busy Sunday in August.

After we had looked around a little, we headed for a bar. How unusual I hear you cry, but for once it was not just our desire for a drink, but a rather more sad occasion. Wayne, a friend of ours who had celebrated with us at the Wed-n-Fled rally (amongst others) had been killed by an allegedly drunk driver who failed to even stop at the scene. Whilst I would like to rant on about the sort of despicable person who would do that, I had better not as this is really not the time nor the place and the matter has yet to go to court. We coincided our drink with his funeral so that we could be there in spirit to celebrate his life. Ride free Wayne!

Of course one drink led to another, and after we had polished off a couple of bottles of wine I had my first taste of Grog, a drink made with rum, hot water and sugar. I think that interesting is the best way for me to describe it, needless to say that I won’t be rushing to order it again. Martina had moved on to Irish Coffee, which was like none I have seen before. It came in a large glass and was multi layered, with hot whiskey and brown sugar at the bottom, espresso coffee in the middle and cream on the top. It came with a straw so that she could sup from any of the layers at will! A better choice than the grog, methinks.

After we left the old city we decided to finish off the day with a BBQ and made use of the one of the communal BBQs that were scattered around the campsite. It took some time but was delicious!

On our way to Carcassonne a couple of days previously, we had passed a very picturesque marina on the canal du Midi, and as the next day was beautifully sunny, we decided that this would be a good place to visit. We parked up near to the marina and walked, as the road that ran down the side of the canal was closed by an armed Police officer whilst workmen were tarring and stone chipping patches of the road surface. Hot tarred and chipped feet anyone?!

As we approached we saw a number of the boats which had “Le Boat” written on the side, which I thought was particularly helpful for the landlubbers amongst us.

We made enquiries and discovered that Le Boat was the name of the local boat hire company, which prompted us to go for a pleasant and relaxing boat trip along the canal midi.

Our final full day in Carcassonne was rounded off with another very pleasant evening at the campsite.

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The Sunday of the rally dawned bright and sunny once again. When I say sunny, of course, there’s something a little different about the sun down in the valley. As we were surrounded by such big pointy mountainy things, the actual sunshine didn’t reach the valley floor until a good 2 or 3 hours after sunrise, and left a similar chunk of time before sunset. An interesting phenomenon that meant that in the Winter, folk living in the valley receive only about 20 minutes of actual direct sunlight, where higher up the mountains they got to enjoy a lot more of it. Lower temperatures with the altitude make up the difference though, so it’s all swings and roundabouts.

Then there was... just us left!

It was Tony’s turn to be a tad hungover this time, so he slept on whilst I was up and chatting to some of our new friends. A lot of folk were up mega-early and had packed and left before I was up at around 9ish (I know, early for me!), but our fellow Brits, of which there were 8 in total, all took their time to pack up so that their tents had a chance to dry in the sun from around 10am. No rain, just a heavy dew, as the weather gods had once again been kind to us with a beautiful weekend.

We took our time and made sure that we were the last tent still standing, and old rally tradition of mine that we just happened to resurrect. First on and last off, seems fair! One of the Valais club members, Jean-Maurice, had offered to take us back to his house for lunch, and very patiently waited till we’d finally finished packing and were ready for the off at the crack of 1pm.

Still waiting...

He wanted to show us some of the roads which we had missed from the ride the day before, so took the scenic route up some amazing hairpins to Lac de Champex and back round again to his small village near Verbier. Absolutely beautiful, and an interesting challenge with fully loaded bikes, even with the hints on how best to handle the hairpins that he gave us beforehand.

Yes, the water was very cold!

After a wonderful 30-odd mile ride, we came to his house and were welcomed in by his family. Veronique, Jean-Maurice’s wife, who was originally from Mauritius, had prepared a delicious Mauritian dinner which we all dived into after whetting our appetites on the ride.

The view from Jean-Maurice's veranda!

After we had completely stuffed ourselves, Jean-Maurice pulled out some maps of Switzerland and Italy, and we spent a happy hour or two plotting possible routes to and around Mandello del Lario, and looking at the options for heading over to the Stelvio pass.

We eventually took our leave and headed off to get the tent back up, as we’d decided to stay in Valais for a few days. Jean-Maurice had offered to take us on another tour around the region, so we’d exchanged phone numbers and he promised to call us later. Another place with so much to see and so little time to see it in, but we wanted to fit in what we could, including a day at the thermal baths that sounded so relaxing! We had spotted a small campsite by the waterfall on our way to Collonges for the rally, so went back there and got ourselves set up in just enough time before the light left us.

OK, so the road gets a bit twisty up ahead...

Jean-Maurice called to say that the weather forecast was good for the next day and then expected to rain on and off for three days after, so suggested that we postpone the trip to the baths so we could take our tour on the good day. We arranged to meet him in Martigny at 1.30pm, and, as we were nicely full of the meal we’d been treated to earlier, we decided on an early night so that we could be up at a reasonable hour the next day. Well, reasonable for us, anyway!

Tony enjoying the view

Monday saw us up, breakfasted and on our way in plenty of time. We met up with Jean-Maurice and off we went on what turned into a 70+ mile trip. We picked up a couple of J-M’s friends en-route, who we just happened to bump into, 2-up on their Very Purple BMW K100RS. They decided to join in the fun, and away we went, up hill and down dale, or should I say, up mountain and down more mountain! I had the SatNav on so we could track the trip, although I have now found out, 8 days later, that it seems the SatNav only saves the last 7 days, so it’s gone. Gutted! It was a wonderful day, though – we saw all sorts of amazing roads, fantastic vistas, and strange and wonderful things such as the rippley pyramids, which are indeed a natural formation.

Yes, they are actually a natural formation, or that's what they tell the tourists, anyway!

We stopped for a coffee break at a hotel in Nax, a small town perched on the side of, yes, you guessed it, a mountain, and at the juncture of 3 valleys. The break was very welcome to me, as I’d discovered that needing to go to the loo most definitely affected my riding when dealing with the twisty turnies, so the relief was two-fold!

Many miles later we all parted company and we headed off back to our campsite, tired but happy. We decided that we’d done enough riding for one day, so walked over to the restaurant attached to the campsite, and perused the menu. Not cheap, but that was something we’d come to expect in Switzerland, so when we spotted Chateaubriand on the menu, we decided, sod it, we’re on honeymoon, let’s push the boat out! This caused much amazement to the owners of the restaurant, who said, “But the English usually eat cheese omelettes!”. After a little light bantering, it turned out that in 28 years of running the place, this was the first time that any Angleterres had ever ordered Chateaubriand! Good to know that we continue to surprise and entertain as we go.

Camping by the waterfall

The meal was absolutely excellent, and the local wine that they recommended to accompany it was also delicious. We retired to bed fully replete once again. Happy days indeed 🙂