Following our epic decision to cut a whole country we left first thing Monday in a South Easterly direction towards Toulouse. After a fairly long day driving we gave up 30 minutes from the city and headed for Samatan, a small market town a few miles down from the main road. We found an aire outside a hotel just off the town centre, only us there and we couldn’t work out how to pay, we need not have worried, later in the evening a jolly little French Monsieur with his petty cash tin knocked on the door and looked enormously relieved that we had the money ready and he didn’t need to translate that we had to pay him.
We kept on with the budget reduction strategy of keeping off the toll roads until Toulouse when we splashed out €2 to use the ring road instead of having to drive through the city centre. Absolutely worth it for the lack of stress and the lack of driver / navigator altercations about lane changes and directions. At Albi we popped into a Carrefour supermarket to fill up with supplies. It seemed quiet, the lights started flashing, there was a tannoy of something in French. Iain jokingly said bet they are closing, then we realised they were indeed shutting for lunch and all the staff from the store were waiting for us to pay and leave before they could go. Seriously that is like Tesco closing for lunch, we know smaller shops do but we didn’t think it happened in the large supermarkets. Onto Albi where we were faced with three choices on route – Sat Nav, road signs or mine – ‘we’ chose Sat Nav, an epic fail. The most minor of minor roads across the mountains, made even worse by fog which was so dense our visibility was less than 50 yards in places. We stopped off for lunch in the town that France forgot, Requista, we are sure its lovely but we parked in the town square and made lunch and didn’t see one person for the hour we were there.
By the time we had arrived at Millau we decided to head into the town and find the aire, get the kettle on and chill. We found the aire but couldn’t actually get in. The computer said no, and no matter what we or our new friend the French campervanner did over the next 20 minutes we were not getting in. All the while we were very aware that the aire was right outside a Resto Coeur, where large numbers of French homeless were receiving food and clothing, and then settling down to watch the dumb British try and open a barrier, with the machine piping up in English every 30 seconds with “do you wish to enter the area” as loud as it could. In the end we gave up and rang the aire company, Camping Car-Park, and within seconds they had opened the barrier and we were in. We had bought the Etape Card but you need to ring and activate it before the barrier works, now it all makes sense but would have been easier if the machine also knew that.
Millau Viaduct, is absolutely breathtaking. It is the highest road bridge in the world, and just over 2490 metres across; the scale is just too immense to describe. We drove down to the bottom of the valley to look up at the pillars, up and over to the various viewing points, walked to the closest spot possible for photos and then coughed up the toll to drive across (although everything showed we would pay €25 the auto machine charged us €10.90, result). As ever photos do not do this structure justice. The central pillar is higher than the famous French icon, the Eiffel Tower, and even the smallest pillars dwarf the Statue of Liberty and Big Ben. To be honest, it was bloody freezing, 37 degrees and snow in the distant hills. There are only so many ways and vantage points you can look at a bridge from – so by lunchtime we had enough and decided to clear off and find warmth.
Now he have Camping Car-Park etape card validated we decided to use their next aire just down the A75 at La Cavalerie. This would have been a better stop off for the viaduct as its just off the A75 and a few miles down rather than the long haul into Millau, we still live and learn. Anyway, this time we were in and kettle on in seconds, its so easy when you know how! After a warm up we crossed over the road 200 metres into the village and just wow! A few streets of oldish French houses and then right in the centre the village founded in the 12 th century by the Knights Templar and fortfied in the 15th century. The most incredible houses, tiny streets and archways through the walls. The strangest thing was we were literally the only people within the fortified walls. There were a few people outside the walls, but inside the shutters were closed and people must have been keeping warm. One of the benefits of touring at this time of year? we have these unbelievable sites all to ourselves.
Tomorrow its moving on time and we have taken up a tip of the Pont Du Gard on route into Provence. Fingers crossed its going to be a fairly quick run down as far as Montpellier as we are on a toll free motorway, then an amble over towards Avignon. Once we hit Provence we are going to find a campsite, we need a full clean out of the van and we have a mountain of washing so a couple of days somewhere we have ample hot water and cleaning and washing possibilities is high on the list, if there is any such place open!