Posted by: Stevie D | September 24, 2012

Slovenia.

I don’t know about you, but I have a subconcious league table of my favorite countries and places I’ve visited. This list
has gone unruffled on this trip so far until, out of the blue, a dark horse has barged it’s way right into the top three.
Slovenia. It says on the tourist blurb that it’s the cleanest country in the world. I couldn’t argue with that, although
I’ve not been everywhere of course. The air, the rivers, the streets, all absolutely pristine. Great roads, cheap beer
and real friendly people. We loved every minute of our stay.

As we entered Slovenia, we also entered the Triglav National Park.

We passed the quaintly named mountain village of Log Pod Mangertom.

We based ourselves at Bovec, in the Julian Alps,an area popular with adrenaline junkies hooked on whitewater rafting,rock climbing and riding sports bikes very fast on mountain roads. It’s on the edge of the Triglav National Park and adjacent to the River Soca, one of the most popular kayaking/rafting rivers in the area.

We arrived at Bovec on my birthday and Jayney helped me celebrate in a way which has become traditional with we Brits, wherever we are.

The first two days it rained and thundered for 18hours followed by a freezing wind and heavy showers for the next 24. After that the sun came out and we had several days of great weather just made for exploring Slovenia’s beautiful landscape.

After the storm, the hilltops around Bovec were left covered with their first snows of the autumn.

The River Soca was covered with a misty haze as it raced down the valley.

We rode north from Bovec to the top of the Vrsic Pass which, at 1600 metres up isn’t the highest pass in the Alps,but the 26 hairpins took their toll on the clutch going up and the brakes coming down again, that’s for sure.

Great roads, great views and crystal clear air makes this place unique in my (OK limited) experience.

From the top of the Vrsic Pass looking across the Triglav Narodni Park.

One morning, we set off in the sun to see the Boca Waterfall, Slovenias highest. We were enjoying the ride so much, we went right past the falls and after a great spin down wonderful biking roads we found ourselves at the Italian border. I couldn’t resist just going a few metres in, just to say we’d done it, before heading back to to find the falls. It’s that kind of riding here. You just don’t want to get off.

On the Italian border. Typical Italians. Always ‘red-lining’ it.

Sometimes you just don’t wanna stop.

Our search for the Boca waterfall led us, wrongly, to the Soca river. But it was a great spot for a photo or two.

Just occasionally, I post a picture just for my mum. This ones for you, mum.

We finally found the Boca Waterfall. More impressive in spring, I’m told, with waters from melting snow.

When we left Kamp Polovnik at Bovec, we travelled the length of Slovenia down it’s western side and saw nothing to change our view that it had been a privilege to spend those days in this beautiful country. All too soon it was time to take our leave, but I leave Slovenia with this promise. ‘I’ll be back’.

If you go nowhere else, visit Slovenia. And I’m not paid by their tourist board.

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Posted by: Stevie D | September 15, 2012

Villach/Faak.

We were heading for the town of Villach, in the heart of the Alps and not far from both the Italian and Slovenian borders.

As we got nearer, the amount of two-wheeled traffic increased markedly, as one would expect, because Villach this week played host to one of Europe’s major bike gatherings, at Faak am See. Organised by H.O.G.,this is a free festival of music, bike shows and dealer and other stands, selling everything from clothes to clothes including boots, waistcoats, ‘T’shirts, jackets, fancy jewellry, bandanas. Everything your sartorially correct biker could ever wish for, and a whole lot he wouldn’t be seen dead in. OK, rant over. I say this because I was hoping to pick up a new air filter for the bike and spent hours looking through the hundreds of stalls, but only a handful sold anything remotely useful, and hardly any had any replacement, mechanical, necessary bits. Zodiac had a stand but weren’t selling anything, just demonstrating what they could sell, if they wanted to.

Apart from that, the atmosphere around the place was brilliant. The noise and the general buzz was a world away from our lives of the last few months and it was enough to just wander around and soak it all in. There were, I think, four different music stages, and loads of food stalls selling plenty of variety to satisfy the taste buds of the bikers from a multitude of different nations. In short, it was brilliant, and here are a few photos…….

The trickle of fellow riders helped lead our way to the site. Thanks go to them.

Soon, the trickle became a stream.

By the time we had reached the vicinity of the site, the stream had become a river.

By the time we reached the log-jam at the main entrance, we had luckily found a place to park up just outside.

There were many show bikes on many different stands. My eye was drawn by this baby in the ‘Paintless’ category.

I guess it’s like a multi-lingual Sturgis.

Jayney watches the melee on main street.

Saturday was ‘ride-out’ day and Jayney and I decided to find a good spot to watch the procession go by. The police closed off the roads and before long, a huge snake of riders went roaring past. Impressive, hilarious, exhilarating. Watching the spectacle was all of these things, and before too long we were on the bike and riding with ’em. Being with them was just as impressive, hilarious and exhilarating as watching had been. The onlookers enthusiasm never wavered as they cheered and waved us along and most seemed to enjoy it just as much as we.

You see all sorts on motorcycles nowadays.

With the police having closed off the roads, smooth and rapid progress was maintained.

A good afternoon out for all concerned.

The event finished the next day and the air throbbed all day with the sound of riders setting off to the four corners of Europe to resume normal service back home. Meanwhile, Jayney and I saw a mountain and, in true ‘Notwithoutthebike’ fashion, we decided to ride up it. Fortunately the authorities had built a steep and very twisty toll road up most of the way and then a gentle stroll in the sun took us up to the top.

From the top of Gerlitzen looking down on Ossiacher See, beside which our campsite was situated. We ate our picnic on one of those benches.

Looking across towards Grossglockner, Austria’s highest peak.

Next day we left Austria behind and headed for a country which, for me at least, was very much an unknown quantity. And I like that.

An evening stroll down to the banks of Ossiacher See made you feel all sleepy and ready for bed.

Posted by: Stevie D | September 13, 2012

Lovely Austria.

We crossed into Austria near Poysdorf and wound our way around the north side of Vienna to the town of Krems. Here we took the road which travels along the north bank of the Danube for maybe 50 miles to the riverside town of Grein. We camped for a couple of days and checked out the town and took a ride up into the hills around.

The Danube at Grein is a mighty river.

The town’s Schloss towers over the campsite.

It’s one of the great roads that runs along the Danube.

Lovely riding in the Weinberger Wald, north of Grein.

We had a Pizza in the campsite bar that evening and were treated to an amazing thunderstorm.

It was a lovely bar at Grein campsite, and they did the bestest Pizza’s.

Our Pizza was interrupted by a massive thunderstorm.

Next morning we set off south once more. The weather hadn’t cleared completely but ,as the day passed, the sun broke through and by the time we reached our next destination, we were bathed once more in warm sunshine which, to be honest, seems to have been the way of things this summer.

In the Alps, dodgy weather only adds to the spectacle.

Sometimes I look at my ole Harley and fall in love all over again.

Posted by: Stevie D | September 12, 2012

Czech this out! :-)

What to say about the Czech Republic?

I wanted to see Prague which Jayney had seen some years previously. World renowned for it’s amazing gothic architecture, Prague is number one on every Czech visitors list of to-do’s. After that, see which way the wind blows, so to speak.
We camped just south of Prague in the village of Zlatniky-Hodkovice in what turned out to be one of the best campsites of the trip so far. Grass, great WiFi, brilliant showers etc and cheap as chips. What more could we ask?
The weather turned bad for a couple of days but we didn’t care. Just sat around reading, catching up with the blog, drinking very reasonably priced Czech beer. It was good to take a break from hardcore sightseeing.
In between, we took two trips into Prague and checked out the local sights on the bike.
First trip out on the bike gave me some indication of possible problems ahead. We headed south from Zlatniki to Jilove, then cut west to join the road that follows the banks of the River Vltava back to Prague. Lovely scenery, Jayney tells me but I didn’t see it ’cause I was busy dodging ruts, holes and the like which Harley softails aren’t designed to handle.

Jayney took loads of pictures but most were ruined by ‘camera shake’.

Our route took us for many miles along the banks of the River Vltava.

Not too sure what they used the mini-railway carriage things for. Answers on a postcard please.

This massive advertising board is reminiscent of the famous Spanish bull signs.

Prague itself is amazing, no other word for it. In fact, it can all become too much as you’re swept along in a sea of camera-wielding tourists from all four corners of the globe. I’ll not post photos of it’s most famous buildings here. Anyone can hit Google and see them. Just a few which hopefully show the cacophony of images which assault the senses as you enter the centre of the city.

Prague is wonder upon wonder.

Just a couple of guys hanging around beneath someones balcony.

Jayney gives her senses a much needed break.

Prague Castle is an amazing place with great views over the city.

Anywhere else it’s a work of art…..in Prague, just another streetlight.

Jayney on one of several bridges which cross the River Vltava in the city. A bridge too far, perhaps.

I know ‘Prague-lovers’ will hate me for this, but, in a way, I found it all a bit OTT. Too much of a good thing. I felt it was in danger of becoming almost a caricature of itself, when a building which, anywhere else, would bring a little gasp of admiration, got a bit lost in the sea of wonder. Everyone should see it, sure, but perhaps it would be better if it was broken up and spread around the country a little.

When we left the Prague area, we had planned to head to the south of the country for a few days and then on to Slovakia and Hungary. However, these plans were thrown into disarray when we headed down the E50 towards Brno, one of the country’s main routes. The road had obviously been built with an endless series of concrete strips. However, no two strips were at the same level so every 4 or 5 metres, there was a ledge which , when you hit them at normal road speed, caused a massive shake up of all our worldly goods. Consequently, we spent a fair proportion of the time doing 15mph down the hard-shoulder with hazard lights on.

Eventually though, a rethink was called for and we decided to tar Slovakia and Hungary’s roads with the Czech brush and give them a miss. We cut due south and headed for the Austrian border, spending one more night in the Czech Republic at Strachotin.

Finally, a mention to another travelling couple whose van we saw at Dresden, and we met briefly in Czech when they were camped next to us. They also do a wordpress blog documenting their experiences. Kath and Darin, from Texas I believe, doing their own trip of a lifetime. Visit them on

http://www.ourjolleigh.com

I quite liked the Czech Republic, and if the roads had been better, we’d have stayed longer. However, I ain’t wrecking my suspension for no-one.

There were some lovely scenes like this, sunrise at our camp. Note the barbed wire to keep us in.

Posted by: Stevie D | August 31, 2012

Dresden.

Ordinarily, Jayney and I wouldn’t have gone to Dresden. After Luxembourg and Berlin, we didn’t particularly want to hit another concrete jungle. However, Jayney has an old friend that she hadn’t seen for 20years who lives in the city and it was too good an opportunity to miss to renew acquaintances.

So off to Dresden we went and were very glad we did.As well as seeing Jayney’s old buddy and his family, we took in the sights of the old Saxon capital and its surroundings.

The centre of Dresden, as many will know, was almost completely destroyed towards the end of WW2 but the intervening years has seen a painstaking process of reconstruction take place. Many of the cities beautiful old buildings have been completely rebuilt. The pile of rubble that was post-war Dresden was sifted and sorted and put back together like some vast 3D jigsaw puzzle. It really has been a most amazing feat and the only signs one now sees of those terrible events in 1945 are the blackened stones which make up the original buildings. These matters resonate more with me as I have spent much of my life in and around Plymouth, which also suffered much destruction back then but was rebuilt in a completely different way.

Jayney and I took a day to explore the centre, completely unprepared for what we were to find.  We started at the main Railway Station and just strolled up through the centre.

We started off, as do many, at the main railway station(designed by Norman Foster,no less).

Much of the city has been developed with the pedestrian in mind, with open areas and a huge indoor mall, the Altmarkt Galerie.

Soon, the new gives way to the old.

The Zwinger Palace is a sight in itself, but also incorporates several galleries and museums.

From another angle, the Zwinger Palace.

The Hofkirche was one of many of Dresden’s buildings which was seriously damaged in WW2 and patiently rebuilt since.

The Residenzschloss is one of Dresden’s most famous landmarks.

I think The Fürstenzug is one of the most awesome buildings I’ve seen. 23,000 porcelain tiles make up the intricate mural which decorate it’s walls.

Jayney’s friends led us to some of the city’s less famous landmarks.

The ‘Blue Wonder Bridge’ is a notable Dresden Landmark.

The complexity of this piece of 19th Century engineering can only really be seen as you travel across it.

They also joined us on a trip to the nearby countryside. Rauenstein is one of a number of sandstone outcrops between Dresden and the Czech border.

Rauenstein is one of several sandstone outcrops in the area.

Looking across at the ancient hill fort at Lilienstein.

Those that make the trip to the top are rewarded with great views and a welcoming restaurant.

As ever, when I visit another country, I always try to sample the local culture.

Beerdrinking is the national pastime in Germany. And hey…when in Rome….as they say.

Finally, a big thank you to someone who helped us out in our hour of need. You may have noticed I run those fancy whitewall tyres on the Heritage. The rear tyre has, of late, been rapidly approaching the end of it’s natural life. I didn’t rate my chances of finding a replacement very highly but help was at hand. A big thanks to Big Bike Station in Fischhaus Strasse , who got a new tyre in within 24hrs and did a real professional fitting job. Good coffee too. Thanks a lot guys. I’ll wear your shirt with pride.

Also, thanks to Jayney’s friends for showing us around and showing us some home comforts we hadn’t enjoyed for some time.

We have now left  Germany behind and oh! what joy to have decent WiFi once more. More soon.

Posted by: Stevie D | August 29, 2012

Germany.

Germany.  Economic and technological powerhouse of Europe. It’s innovation and invention driving forward the otherwise stagnant European Union. Home to many of the worlds most prestigious and well-known brand names. So how come hardly any of it’s campsites or bars provide WiFi?  A minor detail you may think given the extent of it’s success in other fields. But to the travel blogger out in the field, communication is all, so this minor oversight becomes a serious obstacle which can throw the whole operation into chaos.

We are currently at our fifth, and probably final, German base camp since we crossed from Luxembourg, and this is the first with WiFi. Every other country we’ve been, with a little careful planning, no problem. Maybe we’ve just been unlucky. A couple of places normally had it, but it wasn’t working. Either way, it’s put me three weeks behind with the blog and someone’s gonna have to pay. And yes Germany, you’ve guessed it, the fall guy is you. Normally, there’s a post for each major stop-off along the way. But Germany will be crammed into one. All the great riding, spectacular buildings, lovely people, bratwurst and beer, squeezed into one little post.

It’s a real shame, because we’ve really loved Germany. Either way, on we go.

We crossed from one of Europe’s smallest countries into one of the biggest (being sure to fuel up before we did so).

Our first stop-off was at Diez, near Limburg, but it was only ever going to be an one night affair and we moved on next day. We travelled east and settled in the small town of Kelbra, nestled between the Harz and Kyffhausen National Parks.

The view across the lake at the campsite.

I’ve rarely seen so many motorcycles in an area without some big event taking place. They were everywhere, and well catered for by the locals with Bikers Welcome signs on many roadside businesses. They came for the roads which, I can imagine, were bliss for a guy on a hairy sports bike.

Riding in the Oberharz is a dream come true for budding ‘boy-racers’.

The (very) old town of Stolberg, where I enjoyed my very first Bratwurst of the trip.

The roads in the area were fantastic,great surface,great bends,great scenery.This shot was taken on the old border between east and west.

We had an interesting chat with a guy camped next to us. We were in what used to be known as East Germany until 1989, when ‘The Wall’ came down. He was one of the few who escaped over the wall back in the sixties, when he was 17. He, his girlfriend and another friend had crossed the barbed wire and a minefield to reach the west. We spoke at length about those crazy days in Berlin when the world changed. It had been moving to watch on TV at the time and it was special to talk with one so closely involved.

The morning we left saw an incredibly red sky over our campsite, which foretold of much rain to come.

Next it was off to Berlin to take in the sights. All the stuff I’d seen on TV, there before our eyes.

Berlin is a hurly-burly of old and new,tossed around in a sea of humanity from all corners of the globe.

One of the worlds most famous landmarks, the Brandenburg Gate.

The awe-inspiring Reichstag building.

The atmosphere at Checkpoint Charlie seemed a whole lot more relaxed than I remember seeing it on the TV when I was a lad.

The old sign at Checkpoint Charlie is still there, and is a magnet for tourist photographers.

One of the last surviving sections of the infamous wall.

Our next stop was the small town of Falkenberg, just north-east of Leipzig. We were camped by a lake which was thronging with German tourists and where few people spoke anything but German. It was a good place to use as a base though, and we had some great rides around the area, which had more level crossings than anywhere I’d been before.

The lovely old town square in Torgau, on a very hot Sunday afternoon.

I became quite fascinated by German roofs. Their skylight windows look like little eyes, don’t you think?

Many villages around the area had cobbled streets and an ‘olde-worlde’ feel.

The campsite at Falkenberg had much to be commended, and it’s fine Biergarten was near the top of the list.

Finally, I must admit to telling a falsehood. I said at the start of this piece that all Germany would be covered in one post, but we were so impressed by our final port of call that they get their own, personal post. Besides, they did have WiFi, so don’t deserve to be punished like the rest of their countrymen.

More soon.

Posted by: Stevie D | August 24, 2012

The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.

Neither of us quite knew what to expect when we entered the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.
We camped for a couple of nights in the border city of Esch-sur-Alzette, the 2nd city of Luxembourg.The campsite was in a thick wood and on the evening of our arrival it rained, heavily. So we spent the evening in the campsite bar, trying to speak either French or German to our fellow shelterers. I’d never found the language situation to be so confusing as in Luxembourg.Most residents speak French or German, as well as their own, native Luxembourgisch. Some also speak a little English, which helps no end, but not knowing whether I would need French, German or whatever when speaking to
someone new, made getting into a ‘language groove’ very difficult.It became easier as the evening passed and the beer flowed of course.
Next day we stayed in the van until quite late as all around was wet and muddy. Finally, I ventured into Esch to get some supplies and found to my surprise, once I’d left the confines of our wood, the sun was shining and it was a lovely day. I walked down to the city centre and bought our necessaries. I was surprised at the quantity of Portuguese goods I found around the place, a fact which was later explained when I learned that there was a high proportion of Portuguese living and working in Luxembourg.
Our main reason for coming to one of Europe’s smallest countries though, was to visit it’s capital, Luxembourg City. So we left next morning and camped in Hesperange on the city’s south side. That evening we took a ride into the centre to check it out. Although evening, it was still busy, and like many capital cities around the world, everyone seemed to be in a hurry. They also used a strange system where drivers on the main road had to give way to drivers joining from side roads. Fortunately, I found this out when someone stopped to let me out of a side road, rather than me ramming some hapless local who happened to pull out on me. I found all this rather discouraging however, and we (wisely I think) decided to take a bus into the city to look around next day and leave driving in Luxembourg city to those who knew how to do it.
Next morning, we took a busride into the city.It seemed to have, in some of it’s buildings, an almost fairytale quality.
But in many other respects, it was bang up to date and buzzing. Built around two deep river gorges, it seems to sprout buildings from many levels, giving visitors views of the city from all possible angles.

Looking down and across the various levels of Luxembourg City.

It has a really unusual layout, on the sides of the gorges.

The cityscape combines both the natural and the man-made.

The city’s War Memorial is indeed memorable.

Between the two gorges is a vertical sided promontory of rock which people long ago realised would be very easy to defend. So they dug a labyrinth of tunnels throughout this promontory, a feature of the city now known as the Casemates and a big tourist attraction. These tunnels provided safety to 35,000 Luxembourgers during bombardment in the 2nd World War.

You could spend hours walking around the caves, but that would seem a little pointless.

Luxembourg is not just a city however, it’s also a country. A very small one perhaps, but none the less lovely for that. In fact, it adds to it’s charm because it seems the people cram all you find in a big country into their tiny one. You have cities, villages, woodland, agriculture. All crammed together like sardines in a tin. It really is great to ride around. You can’t go too far because you’ll fall off the edge, but you don’t have to, because it’s all there, close by.
We had a full day exploring on the bike.

The roads around Luxembourg’s countryside are great. Constantly changing and really well maintained.

Echternach was just one of many small towns and villages we passed through.

The buildings have their own feeling of ‘Luxembourgness’.

Lovely place for a lunch break. My best girly making the sandwiches. Sun glinting through the trees. What more can one ask?

I think I used to know the old guy who used to live here. Count something or other I think it was.

Finally, a word about our campsite at Hesperange. One of the best we’ve stayed in and it was hard to leave. But on we go, to one of Europe’s biggest countries where, I’m led to believe, there are more breweries than the rest of the universe combined.

The campsite’s residents were very interested in the Harley.

Posted by: Stevie D | August 11, 2012

A Taste of Champagne.

A few hours drive saw us set up camp at Epernay, which is billed as the ‘Capital of Champagne’, as it sits in the middle of the champagne region. Many of the best known champagne houses have their vineyards and storage in and around the town and there is a well known name around every corner. We took a day out to walk around the town and see the sights but, to be honest, apart from the nameplates, the town itself was a bit, shall we say, uninspiring.

The locals waste no opportunity to make the most of their main industry, as this roundabout illustrates.

The famous Castellane Tower is a notable landmark.

The town revolves around it’s famous product.

I don’t think I’ve ever actually tasted it.

Riding though the champagne countryside was the best, however.With one notable exception when we had to ride about 15 minutes through thick, loose, tar-covered gravel when we came across some unfinished roadworks. Not the best for a belt drive. That apart, it was great to ride amongst the vineyards, and the sun shone, and all was well with the world.

Vineyards covered the hillsides for miles around.

It wasn’t all vines of course. It wouldn’t be France without sunflowers.

We came across many memorials to those lost to war, all still carefully tended.

You pass many like this as you travel through northern France.

The memorial at Dormans is the national memorial to all those that gave everything. And a striking edifice it is too.

On another day we headed East on some superb roads until we reached the town of Mourmelon-le-grande. From here we cut back to the city of Reims, famous for it’s elaborate cathedral.

All roads should be like this.

I think the sign translates as: ‘A train makes a mess of a car’, or words to that effect.

The cathedral at Reims is the best we’ve seen to date. Ornate. Huge. Spectacular.

It’s no surprise it took hundreds of years to complete.

We had a walk around Reims while we were there, and found much more going on than at our Epernay base. Altogether a very fine city.

We spent several days in Champagne country, but then it began to feel a little flat, so we knew it was time to move on once more. Not just to a new town or area, but to a new country.One which neither Jayney or I had ever visited before.

 

 

Posted by: Stevie D | August 9, 2012

Vichy.

We didn’t travel far before our next port of call, the historic city of Vichy. It sits on the River Allier, and our campsite also overlooked the river, on the outskirts of the city.

Vichy is famous for three main reasons. Firstly, and it’s oldest industry, are it’s thermal springs which have bathed the sweaty bods of the rich and famous for hundreds of years. On a similar note, the cosmetics company L’Oreal has laboratories in the town and uses the Vichy name on skincare products, none of which I care to use myself. Finally, it was, basically, the capital of France during the 2nd World War as the discredited government which collaborated with the Nazis was based in Vichy.

What Jayney and I found when we visited was a quite sophisticated city with lovely riverside parks and a bustling centre with many historic buildings and landmarks.

The park which separates the town center from the river doubles as an arburitum.

Fountains are a typically French addition to their city parks.

The Thursday evening market in Vichy is a lively, atmospheric event.

Vichy has many, quite grand buildings which tell of it’s opulent past.

This unusually designed church called Notre-Dame-des-Malades was completed in 1937.

France has been scarred by two wars on it’s soil in the last century. Current generations however, don’t forget the sacrifices made by their forefathers. There are many memorials and the like around the country dedicated to the countless people who died during those terrible conflicts ,all tended and cared for as though the events were only yesterday.

The impressive War Memorial in Vichy.

One of our ride outs took us along some typically great French rural roads and we ended up at Marcigny, a small town on the banks of the Loire in the Burgundy region. It had a fine town square with several cafe’s, so we parked up and took a coffee break.

One of our ride-outs took us to this fine little French town on the banks of the Loire.

We had a coffee in the old square and took in both some sun and some ambience for a while.

The Loire is impressive, even this far upstream.

Next morning we left Vichy and headed north once more. The French countryside was at it’s glorious best and all was well with the world. No if’s or but’s, it was a lovely day.

There are fine old castles and Chateaux around every corner(it seems).

Just an ordinary bridge, but someone has kindly decorated it for our arrival.

We took an overnight stop in a tiny riverside village called Gurgy, just outside Auxerre. And what a great little place it was.

Our overnight stop-off was a fantastic place.

An idyllic spot.

France, summed up in this amazing bridge.

Next morning, we reluctantly left Gurgy and continued northward, where we would find a touch of the Champagne lifestyle.

Posted by: Stevie D | August 5, 2012

Back into France.

We left Spain and headed into France after having had one of the best weeks of the trip so far in the Picos. We knew France would be a completely different experience,however. Where Spain is about spectacular, France is more about an ambience. Where many of Spains attractions are natural (despite their array of lovely old towns), much of France’s beauty is derived from the way the French people themselves treat their land and their towns and villages. It’s striking as you drive through, how much care and civic pride goes into the innumerate displays of flowers which adorn almost all French communities.Lawns all freshly mown. Hardly a hair out of place. The same applies to the countryside. All the crops appear to be in perfectly straight rows. All neat and tidy, with no unsightly hedges to get in the way. It’s almost as though, when a farmer chooses what to grow, not only must it be useful, it has to look good in his field too. Hillsides carpeted by vineyards. Huge fields of sunflowers with their faces turned at just the right angle for best effect.The roads lined on either side with tall, straight, identical trees. These are the images which stick in my mind as we travel up through this lush land from our border crossing point near Biarritz.

The signs on the motorway show French and Spanish names and also Basque versions.

We headed first to Seignosse, a holiday town on the Atlantic coast, not far north of Biarritz. We stayed only two days as it was very busy and quite expensive. I think if you can stay in the town you can have a good time here for a few days but we were well out of town and soon got bored with the walk into the centre.

The beach at Seignosse, busy, but not unbearably so.

Surfers make up a good proportion of the tourists on this coast.

We decided to head over to eastern France, which neither of us had seen much of before.

A typical French road, with typical French trees lining either side.

The villages we pass through are all tended with lots of loving care.

The roads in France are great for riding. They seem to like long, long straights, and the surfaces, away from the towns, are generally very good. I often think it’s worth riding in France, even if you’ve nowhere to go. Just for the ‘joie de vivre’, so to speak.

Our next days travelling bought us to St Sylvestre-sur-Lot, a small town on the banks of the River Lot. Unfortunately, it was Sunday, so everything was closed down, so despite the attractiveness of our surroundings, it was a rather quiet, uneventful overnight stop.

A fishing competition added a little life to a sleepy Sunday afternoon.

Next morning we were off again through some lovely countryside and fine towns.

Passing through the lovely old city of Cahors.

That night we stayed in another deserted village in the middle of nowhere, Cayrols. It’s setting was idyllic and you could touch the silence as the evening drew on. Next morning, we breakfasted under the trees with the morning sun breaking through, and we contemplated the wonders of nature.

Our overnight in Cayrols was as quiet and peaceful as one could wish for.

Next day, off again. We headed into the Livradois Forest, as we’d seen a campsite in the guide which we thought would suit us. The Livradois is a huge area of forest which covers the area to the east and south-east of Clermont Ferrand.  Almost mountainous too, and it was heavy going reaching our site at Vollure-Ville. The site was perched high on a hill, and seemed to overlook the whole of France. It was owned and run by a Dutchman, Jan, and we had a very pleasant couple of days surrounded by seemingly half of Holland, who must have made the trip to support their countryman in his enterprise.

The views across the Livradois Forest were spectacular.

Looking down on Vollure-Ville from our campsite.

After a couple of days though, and bearing in mind our previous two stops, we decided to leave and find a bit of life and, perhaps, a little French culture. More next time.

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