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Chapter Twentythree

Day 64

Sete – Beziers -Narbonne – Argeles

We leave Sete passing the many boats all moored along the waters edge like a vast carpark for boats. The landscape, although still fairly flat, has mountains in the distance. Coming to Agde there are quite a number of campsites and at a large horse riding stables it is feeding time for their horses, some of which are so small and sweet with their colourful blankets and saddles,as we stop to take a look at them. A little further on is Beziers, quite an ancient looking town with a large fortress sitting up above the town. A wide river runs through and there are several nice bridges, one of which looks to be an aquaduct and quite old. The Canal de Midi is signposted from here.

Driving along the country road brings us to Nissan, a small quaint village, the old houses having been lovingly restored and the surrounding countryside has acres of vineyards thus the need for the ‘Cave Cooperative, Vignerons de Nissan’. The old town of Coursan is full of really ancient looking houses, very traditional of this area, again with their own ‘Caves’ and above the main road there is a banner advertising the Flower Festival to be held on the 22nd April. At the far side of the town there is a shopping park and industrial area in stark contrast to the quaint old part we first came to. The road away from Coursan is one of those very straight tree-lined roads so typical of France and so pleasant to drive along, and this takes us as far as Narbonne where we decide to stop for lunch. Travelling on we pass by even more acres of vineyards and the terrain is now more rugged and mountainous, the perfect place for the many windfarms that are here. The terracotta-coloured rock and rich red soil often disguise some of the little hillside homes of the same colour. Again the sea appears on our left and apart from the vineyards, the vegetation has a rough and windswept appearance.

As we drive towards Perpignan we have the motorway on our right just above us and a train track on our left. There is a large lake behind which a narrow finger of land contains a few small towns whose pink and white buildings are being picked out even more by the sun as it pokes through the clouds. Behind the ‘finger’ of land is the sea and in the distance the mountain tops peek through as the clouds swirl around their ‘feet’. The black skies of the earlier heavy rain has now gone out to the sea and there are now blue gaps in the clouds, although the spray from the passing traffic is still quite heavy. The road we are travelling on is right next to the motorway for quiet a way and passes by the airport, there seems to be a lot of work being done on the roads and they are good roads to travel along. We drive into Perpignan in the rush hour, timed that well!, and it is stop, start all the way through the large city. We stop and call into a phone shop to ask about the internet connection but unfortunately it does seem to be a problem in France and we come away empty handed. (Windows seven is possible but not always and Vista is not possible at all). Germany and Italy have been very good I am surprised that France is so difficult. Not being able to park up and see the town we make our way out and towards Argeles a small seaside town with lots of holiday homes and a lovely beach. We park up near the beach for the night as the place is still very quiet and the holiday season has not yet begun.

Day 65

Argeles-sur-mer – Perthus – Figueres – La Jonqueira

Waking up to a deserted beach and a brilliant view over the now very calm sea. In the distance a small blue boat drifts slowly by. Many of the holiay homes here are unoccupied at the moment and the little streets that run between the houses are empty. Everything is quiet and still. We follow the road out of Angeles-sur-mer and taking a winding mountain road towards the Spanish border, the road is good and runs alongside the mototrway for quite a while. Just before the border we reach Perthus with its XVII century Fortress. Decidiing it can’t be too far a walk we start off and the road gets steeper until we reach a sign saying another 800 meters. As we are walking and there is no sign of geting any closer to the fortress, a man stops in his van and asks us ‘do we know that it is closed until May?’We tell him that we are just going uo to take some photos, he offers us a lift which we are very glad of and even more happy when we see how much further and steeper it was. Thanking him we jump out at the top and take a walk around the huge structure. The views are simply amazing and you can see for miles in each direction. In the distance we can see the mountain tops of the pyrenees still covered with snow and Perthus below us looks like a dolls town.

It takes us a couple of hours to look around just the putside of the fort before we head off back down the mountain to the town. At least going down is a lot easier than climbing up. The shops are very busy and are coming out with carrier bags filled with bottles of drinks and boxes of cakes. We buy a couple of bagettes and go back to the van for a bit of lunch. In the centre of Perthus is the border for Spain. We carry on until we pass through La Jonqueira a bustling border town and then on to Figueres, the town of Dali’s birth which houses a museum dedicated to him. Finding a parking space was not easy but at the outside of the town we eventually found one. Walking back towards the centre of the town through the narrow streets you can see the difference in the architecture, many of the highrise buildings are plain and straight whilst others are really ornate with small wrought iron balconies and really preety. Nearing the centre of the town the pedestrian zones are nicely paved with large tiles and there are all kinds of shops and cafes with outdoor seating giving the whole are a really relaxed feeling. In the centre is the huge and very strange building of the Dali Museum. The building is bright pink with yellow blobs that to me look a little like teddy bears stuck all over the exterior. Around the top of the building are gold statues with outstreched arms and inbetween each one ther is an egg shaped object. To the front of the building in the square are golden soldiers with what looks like a bagette on their head. At the rear is a large glass dome on the roof. It is a very streange-looking building but one that sticks in your mind and maybe that is what it is designed to do. There are large groups of students here with their teachers visiting the museum and coaches full of tourists from Germany and France arrive at the same time so it is quite a busy place while we are there. We pay a visit to the church of ‘Sant Pere’, a very large church and there are some very beautiful stained glass windows. Behind the Baptismal font is a large painting of the landscape around the river Jordan where Jesus was imself baptised, the painting also shows Bethlehem and Jerusalem. A very peaceful place with soft music playing in the background.

Back out in the busy streets we walk to the main street and into a central park at the end of which is a shiny round object sticking out of the ground around which is a streched picture on the floor when you look at the reflection it is the face of Dali, intersting. Through another street towards the Theatre is an object that looks like something from a childrens playground, pieces of wooden shapes of different colours with the edges cut, if you look very carefully you can see the face of Dali again in the cut out shapes all very clever stuff. We head back through the central park and past the streets of shops back to the motorhome and make our way out of Figueres via the very small back streets. This way brings to a small village of Vilabertran with its large monastic buildings of The House of Canons of Santa Maria which is interesting in the context of medieval Catalan architecture because of the perfect preservation of the range of buildings around the cloister. When we visited we had the whole place to ourselves which was nice so we could take in the peaceful beauty of the place. It is presently being renovated and there were parts that were closed while the work is being carried out, but the parts that we visited were lovely. In a glass case is the 14th century silver cross. In the 18th century a new chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows and a sacristy were added to the north side of the church. The arched walkway around the gardens are beautiful and peaceful. The buildings range from the 11th to the 18th centuries.

We make our way back towards La Jonquera and parking up alongside several other motorhomes before taking a wander along the many shops that border the main road of the busy town. We go for our evening meal at ‘El Buffet Libro’ a large restaurant offering 157 different dishes plus wine, beer, champagne or soft drinks all for the price of €15 per person, very good value and we sit for quite a while and enjoy the variety of food and drink, I don’t think that we will need to eat again for a week!

We decide on an early night but are woken up at around 01.30 by a noise at the door. Jumping up and taking a look we see two men running off and jumping into a car which then speeds off. Checking around the motorhome we notice that they have damaged the door lock but they did not get in so we have to be glad about that. We set the alarm and pull down the blinds a little and go back to sleep.

Day 66

La Jonquera – Andorra

We wake up early, not that we slept very well after last nights antics. There are several French vans around us and they seem not to have had any trouble but a van and trailer at the far end of the car park is looking around his van so we go over to see if he has had any trouble. In the van is a man and his wife and four children, one of which is only a baby, and they had the same trouble last night and also had some of their belongings removed from the van and placed on the floor outside, maybe they were disturbed and this is why they did not take the things away. The father, Raphael, tells us that they are travelling down to Malaga to live and have their belongings with them on the trailer he is distressed for his children. We wish them well and hope that they arrive safely. Safety when travelling is becoming a big issue and has been a problem that has got worse over these last few years. From our experiences over the the last ten years it is France and Spain that have caused us the most problems and talking with other people they tell the same sort of experiences.

We head off out of La Jonquera and towards Andorra. Along the way we see a lovely lake and small village. We park up and take a walk around ‘Ville de Vinca’. It is the most unusal little village and really pretty, all the houses in the centre have been restored and have lovely wooden shutters and doors and the stonework has been all cleaned up and filled in. The streets are very narrow and one street just leads into another like a maze. On the outskirts of the village there have been some new houses built and have been built in such a way as to fit in with the rest of the buildings already here. The church in the centre is adjoined to the houses but is closed at the moment as is the shop and the tourist information office, in fact all the streets are deserted and we can only presume that the people of the village are all having their lunch. The road is now travelling along through the mountains and in the distnce we can see the snow capped Pyrenees which give these villages a beautiful backdrop. As we drive through Marquixanes we can see a mountain village built right on a steep slope. A sgnpost pointing towards it says Eos and the church of St.Vincent. A short way further and we go through Prada where there is a sign for a large Abbey of note. The Mountainside become more steeper as we travel further along the road and past more lovely scenery, villages and castles. A river appears alongside us and adds to the beauty of this area. Situated next to the river we come to Villefranche de Conflent, a fortified town dating back to 1092. The town is situated at the confluence of the rivers Cady and Tet. The fortified walls blend into the surrounding countryside of mountains, rivers, rocks and caves and externally looks much as it did 300 years ago. Around the town a lot of pink marble used, this is because of its hard wearing properties and for its sumptuous colours and grains. There are two main streets, dedicated to St.Jacques and St.Jean.Along the streets are small shops with many interesting regional products for sale, and restaurants are situated in courtyards and squares.The Stone built church of St,Jacques de Villefranche is situated here on the secondary pilgrimage route to St.Jacques de Compostelle. A sign states that this is one of the most beautiful villages in France and I can certainly recommend a visit here to this UNESCO site.

Nearby are the ‘Grottes des Canalettes’ wonderful caves with calcified stalagmites and stalagtites a spectacular place to visit. On the other side of the town are pre-historic caves that have been used as a fort. Entrance tickets for all these can be purchased in the town. The road continues through the ‘Gorges de la Caranca’ and climbs along a long and winding road high up into the Pyrenees until we are back in the snow. We make a short stop at Saint-Louis, a fortified mountain town with the fort situated above the town and still a military area although there are guided tours to be had around the fort. In the place de la Republique at the centre of the small town is the church of Saint Louis. Another UNESCO site.

The road straightens out and runs alongside the snowy mountains past vast open spaces interspersed every now and then with small mountain villages and farms. This is certainly a good route to take to see the Pyrenees-orientales and Pays Catalan. We take the road that goes over the pass and seeing the steepness and the twists and turns of the road above us, we decide to turn round and go through the tunnel, it is worth the €13. Coming out the other side we have a steep climb again through the clouds and snow upto the border of Andorra and arrive in Pas de la Casa as it is starting to snow again. The temperature is dropping as we watch the illuminated sign in the middle of the road. W e go down from the main roundabout and turn into the Aires (Camperstop) to park up for the night. Because of the low temperatures the water tap has been switched off and we are almost out, luckily for us there is a man in one of the warehouses and he lets us fill a couple of containers to see us through. The parking for the night is €1.90 from 20.00 to 08.00, the daytime parking is by the hour. We go to bed hoping that we will not be snowed in by morning, as that was what happened to us last time we visited here.

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