Next for our viewing pleasure, we travel uphill for what seems like the first time since entering the country. The landscape of Normany, Brittany and the Atlantic coastline had been incredibly flat, ideally suited to the agricultural production that seems to dominate – apples, sunflowers and the like- we even knew when we were passing fields of onions or leeks as the warm humidity filled Leo with an aromatic fuzz. The Dordogne made way to gently undulating hills, sporting vineyards like regiments of soldiers in perfectly straight lines, evidence of meticulous mathematical planning. Woe betide the vine that dares to grow a little bit scraggily.
Now though we are climbing into the national park area of upper Langedoc. Here the roads twist and coil their way through serious craggy country, and wild olives and the stripped bark of cork and eucalyptus take centre stage. We wait for beret wearing old men to drive herds of sheep across the red dusty roads. The campsites are deserted or boarded up. We thought the coastal areas were quiet out of season, but this place has shut down, all except the racing circuit at Castellet, and the roads that surround it. At every corner (and there are many on this winding trail across the Black mountains) we observe wilted bouquets, and cairns, and epitaths to the dead. The modern love for speed jars with the slow, traditional beauty of the landscape they must pass by in a blur. We stay in Montelieu, and visit the fairy tale-esque Cite at Carcasonne. A mish mash of Gaul, Roman, Moor and Cathar fortifications, with a healthy dollop of tinkering by the 19th architect Viollet-le-Duc it is easy to see why this has been used for many film sets, and why tourists flock from all over to buy plastic helmets and swords for their children, and blow their ciggarette smoke out against the ramparts over their coffee and galettes.
Tiddler of course is more interested in the warrior living statue making a few euros in the carpark, and the Italian brothers offering hand machine stiched merchandise. They sew her name on a piece of card for her, quicker than I could write it. It reminds me of roadside tailors in India, with such skill and dexterity that their labour appears as chorographed as a piano recital, should one have the time to marvel at it.
From there we continue eastwards, visiting Arles, Varjas and Mandelieu. This is all fairly indistinguishable. The growth of seaside resorts along the Meditteranean has led to a conglomeration of urban conurbations, with apartment blocks springing up, We enjoy beatiful days on the beach, swim in the sea and enjoy the glorious warmth of the sun in October, but the environment is as claustrophobic as the many tunnels we whizz through to avoid Marseilles, and Cannes, and Nice, and Monaco. We are clearly not of the same ilk as the thousands who flock there.
We take a short detour to Saint Tropez, unexpectedly coinciding with a Porsche rally. We see plenty of low sleek cars, and wide sleek yachts, and low slung sleek golden glowed folk-about-town, but we spend the walk around constantly lifting Tiddler up to avoid the dog mess that carpets the hallowed streets of Saint Tropez. Dick Wittingdon this certainly isn’t. We journey on.
Next posts: how is our budget actually doing, and Au revoir France and Buon giorno Italie!