We are coming back into France on the west side of the coast and head to a place called Biscarrosse Plage, a long stretch of sandy beaches. Jumping waves may sound childish to you, but these waves crashing from the Atlantic ocean were enough to send a grown fat french man tumbling down like a sack of bricks to my amusement, it was a rush. Peak season still and filled with many holiday goers we camp the night inland in a small town. The following morning we are heading to Europes biggest sand dune called Dune de Pilat, here it is a staggering 3km long and at an altitude of 115 metres. We left early in the morning to get there before the hords, something like 7:30am and the sun was rising when we got there, minimal number of people and we set up to behold the view. One side misty in the cool rainsoaked sands with the thunderstorm that howled all night. That same thunderstorm and torrential rain on the other side of our view with the sun in the middle rising out from the breaking clouds. You couldn’t ask for a more atmospheric scene. This place moves eastward 4.5m a year swallowing the woods it towers above and a hotel that has already been engulfed. Atop the dune looking across the coast it looks never ending as it slowly disapppears into the mist. Fantastic views it’s worth your while.
We head on through the wine region of Bordeaux and set up camp at a winery in the St Emilion region, this place is called Château Berbaud that has been around for 4 decades. The place consists of 15 hectares of vines and is very much run in the family. The owner rushed off his feet, at this time was looking after the place himself.
Bordeaux is one of France’s most important wine regions. We try his popular St Emilion red in this particular winery and acquired a bottle for our trusty collection in the camper. Their wines are popular in Germany and Belgium. We had ourselves a cosy spot beneath the trees in the vineyard and were accompanied by an older English bloke called Bernie who is travelling around alone in his camper and scooter attached on the back, our night consisted of reds and a real pleasure chatting and socialising with the ex merchant navy engineer. A real knowledgeable and insightful guy with a heart of gold, having been to NZ and telling us the story of the 5 to 6 swell in Auckland where orders finished at 6pm for everyone to smash as many drinks as they can before heading off! Life, politics the works we had an absolute cracker of an evening!
Time to head west into the Dordogne region where there is a mass discovery of caves with pre-historic drawings and inhabited by animals from a very long time ago. Thanks to Ian for the heads up, it was a stark reminder of how small we are in time on this planet. First cave we plan to visit is Grotte De Rouffignac which is in the middle of the forest and we camp outside it in the Green Machine without having any idea the significance we would encounter the following morning. We got in 8.30 in the morning with queues going out the door (cave), this place being extremely popular. Now I’ll tell you why, tickets paid for and a certain number of people go in on a small rail train heading deep into the cave, no more than 2 metres in height. Getting further in you look at these unusual scratch marks on the walls of the caves and sometimes on the ceilings if it is low enough, here cave bears sought refuge and we bore witness to the many countless scratchings from these bears, they died out long before prehistoric man, which meant bears and man never came into contact. The Rouffignac cave is a very large underground network of about 8 kilometers of galleries occupying 3 levels.
We will go between 700 and 1000 metres into the cave where the paleolethic artwork was discovered, this cave is the work of 60 million years of chemical amd mechanical action of water carved and flushed out this network of underground passageways. There is now only one entrance in which we entered the same one used by prehistoric artists 14,000 years ago. One of many artworks we encountered is the mammoths, they were so clearly recognizable with many of them facing each other, gouged deeply into the fragile rock using a stick. The detail is stunning. The other was the woolly rhinoceros that lived in Western Europe at the the same time as the woolly mammoth, these animals died out around 10,000 years ago at the end of the last glacial age. These were depicted as a freize in one of many rooms, the drawing was done with black colouring that consisted of manganese dioxide crayon. Rhino’s in Western Europe how cool is that!
Another we saw was a 10 mammoths frieze the biggest of compositions of cave art in the world, heading further in the cave it’s very noticeable the pits created by the bears that slept and hibernated in this cave. Moving further in 14,000 years ago this Great ceiling we have entered 1000 meters from the entrance was barely a metre high above the floor, here we encountered on the ceilings artwork of many animals that included mammoths, rhinoceros, horses, ibex and bisons all swirled in random chaos. It’s an absolute jaw dropping experience to see something so old yet so well drawn, unfortunately and for good reasons to, you are strickly not allowed to take photos of this amazing artwork. I note that these images below are painted copies or images taken from experts.
Next we head to a completely different set up in which this was inhabited by prehistoric man 55 thousand years ago, this is La Roque Saint-Christophe which is of 1 kilometre long and 80 metres high along a cliff face. Here it was seen as an ideal place defensively and provided inhabitants with the ideal shelter as it offered cave like canopies all along. At the end of the first millenium it was used as a fortress from the Norman and Viking raids.
Some of the caves are visible with ropes threaded through holes in the ceiling were they tied up their animal stock. This being the largest suspended rock shelter in Europe had a huge terrace developed by man during the middle ages, by being enlarged and deepened so that it could be converted into dwellings, church, stables and stone quarries. You can see remains of how they bulit into the rock with many houses suspended carefully close to the edge. It’s an incredible use of space and such a great use of terrain that has been successful in repelling attacks, mainly by being next to the river they had posts along the river to sound the horn if troubles arrived. Two such different discoveries, well worth the visit and a good rain day activity as both are obviously sheltered.
From here we are making our way up through the middle west side of France to Tours, the city itself did not do much for us, the old town looked nice with its timber framing brick buildings and the church from the outside looked impressive but not alot to rave on the inside. From here we head east of Tours 20 minutes to the Château De Chenonceau, this Château is quite impressive and cleverly built over top of the river. It was built in 16th century over top of what was previously there before, it was given as a present from King Henry II to his favourite lady Diane De Poiters. It has gone through many ownerships and one that stands out is the use of this Château for The First World War as a hospital for the wounded, Simone Menier was the patron responsible for this from generous funding to equip and transform this at her families expense (Menier Chocolate Factory). Over 2,000 wounded would be looked after here, Simome was also responsible for the French resistance on numerous occasions during World War Two. This place just as you would deem it to be, adorned with the most prestigious tapestry and colourful decor, it’s essentially a palace. Extensive gardens before the river, alot of money has been put into developing these from past owners. The Queen of France also lived here Louise of Loraine after the death of King Henri III, and withdrew into mournimg here wearing nothing but white for the rest of her time.
Time to head a little way up north and we decide to stay in Amboise, the next morning we only planned to use the information site for wifi and gather information on Versailles. Well turns out over the wall we parked next to last night is the Château du Clos Lucé in which for the final 3 years of his life Leonardo da Vinci lived! Under the invitation by then Frances King François I, Leonardo da Vinci settled here in 1516.
Here Leonardo da Vinci continued his creations and improved inventions of other work, models of the work he did are here to see aswell as the life he lived in this Château. A really fascinating find as we both didn’t know a heack of alot about him, he was a real inventor but also a clever talented artist, who painted the Mona Lisa. Now this is cool bit of information , he accepted the French kings request to come over from Italy and rode on the back of a mule at the age of 64 with several of his disciples crossing the alps that seperate Italy and France! François I appointed him “First painter, architect and engineer of the king”. During our walk around you can see alot of his works, mechanical engineering particularly water moving, weaponry and staircases.
Leonardo da Vinci died 2nd of May 1519, it is told he had wept on his death bed for having offended the Creator and the people of this world by not working at his art as he should, so told by Francesco Melzi, favourite disciple of Leonardo da Vinci.
We decided to explore Amboise old town before setting off to the much surprise that Leonardo living here, the old town with the huge Château like castle on the hill was quite impressive which is said that Leonardo da Vinci is buried here, plus the many houses that looked to be built into a cliff face. Here the old town is bustling with people and loads of Creperies to which we devoured into later on! The similiar style to Tours old town with the timber framing houses with red brick. A very cool place to explore to only originally planning on staying the night to move on.
Now we approach Paris and will stay here for 3 days with 2 of the days to explore Paris and 1 day with Karens brothers family at Disneyland to the much surprise of Hannah and Michael Karens niece and nephew. The first day we head into the centre and first point of call is the Arc de Triomphe, this arch aside from Eiffel Tower is one of Paris symbols. Built in 1836 for Napoleon’s 1805 victory at Austerlitz, it also has the tomb at the base of an unknown soldier of whom 1.3 million French soldiers died in World War One, this has a burning flame that is rekindled at 6:30pm everyday. The structure was pretty impressive with many intricate sculptures displayed, also it’s right in the middle of a huge roundabout which gives great viewing standing there alone.
Next we walk down Av des Champs Élysées this is the main street of Paris that leads from Arc de Triomphe, with top of the range shops and restaurants that cost a bomb, walking down with many flash cars of Lambrogini and Ferraris hired out for people to drive at €90 for 20 minutes…. You’re not going anywhere fast in Paris! Also saw a Red Bull formula 1 car. Heading towards the Grand Palais and Petit Palais I capture a moment with a bride and groom in front of the steps, whether genuine or just photo shoots for the magazines it was a timely picture. We walk across the bridge over the Seine and walk along the river towards the Eiffel Tower with many cafes and restaurants bustling. Along this stretch of river are many games and hurdles that are busy with young and old playing games, from chess, backgammon and draughts, there’s swingball, badminton and table tennis. A real lively spot down here which was great to see.
We head inwards from the river and stroll some local streets and take in the architecture that’s very prominant to this country. And wolah, stand and behold Effiel Tower is towering above the street we walk, you know it’s big but not as big as when you see it in person! We get our shots on the camera and admire it before walking under, it’s an overcast day so wouldn’t be great viewing. That didn’t stop the mass of tourists queuing up which would seem hours before you get up. We head back on the other side of the Seine river and make our way back on the train to our campsite, the next day will prove to be a long one.
So we are gearing up to head into Disneyland Paris for the day to spend time with Karens brother’s family Mark, Alex, Hannah and Michael. Now personally I’m not that big on Disney and the glitz of it all and the ridiculous amount of money that’s used here, your stuck and have no option but get your wallet out. Karen on the other hand is a child again! She loves it and I will just have to embrace the magic. So we meet Mark at the entrance and takes us to their hotel room, the kids have no idea and the door opens with Mark saying “Look who I found!” the scream from Hannah with a confused Michael was priceless and a hug with a “You look like Santa Clause” ….. Guess this beard is getting a little out of control… Nah!
So the day basically hanging out and doing a bunch of rides, I’ve got to say the rides were pretty wicked! Top 3 would have to be Tower of Terror which takes you up to the top of the building with random segments of videos and light shows in pitch black to then screens open up and you’re looking out over the view of Disneyland for this thing to drop and jump up and down scaring the crap out of you. 2nd would be Aerosmith rock theme rollorcoaster inside a buiding that’s pitch black, with cork screws and loops, it ouzes power too!! And 3rd Big Thunder moutain, this was done in the evening so to add to this cool ride it was pitch black and quick as hell. Many others I could rave about but I will just stick to 3. The day heading into evening we set to have dinner with the characters and the looks on these kids faces says it all, Micky Mouse, Eeyore, Pluto and Tigger they just get overwelmed by it all and Hannah and Michael loving every bit. The Frozen sing along with Micheal belting out fully engrossed just pulls at the heart strings he was gone into the scene of it all!
Finally the light show and fireworks with lazers and projection screening onto the castle itself was quite impressive telling stories of the characters with music, the amount of money they pump into this would be surreal and it happens 7 days a week. A fantastic day with the kids and Mark and Alex it was nice for us to spend some time with them and have a laugh. That in a nutshell was Disneyland Paris, special thanks to Mark & Alex for the tickets and the contribution from Karens nan, Ian and Maureen towards our 30th Birthday gift, I’ve got to say never thought for a moment to do that for a 30th!
After a long day in Disney with catching the train at midnight and getting back at 2am in the morning we were quite shattered. We use the day to explore more of Paris and head to the other side to view the Cathédrale Notre Dame, this as we all know is linked with the fairy tale of Hump back of Notre Dame. This Cathedral was built in 13th century and has gone through many alterations, intricately decorative with carvings and gargoyles adorning the top reaches of the structure it’s a real gothic feeling and feels even more so inside. Dark with nice stained glass windows the church itself not much to say for on the inside, just has that gothic look of darkness. We wander around and would say this is Paris 3rd biggest attraction judging by the hords of tourist. From here we walk back across the river Seine and walk around the many streets that dart through this city. For me Paris is very similar to London, it’s a big place full of palaces and ornate architecture and has a big river running through the middle. Both places being the capital and money no object. We finish off Paris with lunch in the Jardin des Tuileries which is a big garden park in the middle of Paris, at one end flanked by the The Louvre.
And that would conclude Paris and part one of the France blog, such a varied itinerary moving up France it has offered a great deal of interest in exploring more of this place. The highlight being in Dordogne with the prehistoric paintings will just take you aback the sheer time that is being talked about. Moving west we head over to the coast of Normandy. Au revoir.