Saturday 7 November 2015

Aix-en-Provence, The Calanques and around

France, 30th October – 3rd November 2015

We had intended for one of our next posts to be a financial report to help give a guideline for motorhomers thinking about long-term travel.  However, today we’ve been blessed with a wonderous combination: a relatively cheap Aire located within a booser aerial’s reach of the tourist office’s WiFi signal.  Given that it’s much more data intensive to upload photographs than it is a couple of pie charts, I’ve opted to work on getting our travel updates back on track.  So, time to talk about our time in western Provence.

After leaving the Verdon National Park we met with our friends Steph & Matt once more, this time at their home in Aix-en-Provence.  It has to be said that there is something very strange about walking into someone’s home and being able to say it’s the first house you’ve been inside in over six months.  It was a Friday night however and we wanted to see Aix, and so we all went for a walk into the main city centre.  We visited during the evening without a camera, so don’t really have any pictures of the place to show you, but as a place it’s quite attractive, with the roads being a mixture of tree-lined boulevards and small cobbled backstreets, and lots of fountains all over the place.  The artist Paul Cézanne is a big deal here, having been born and died here (although I can’t say I’m educated enough in art to know a thing about his work).

Aix (pronounced Ex) is a university town, and so with its younger population it has a great nightlife scene, with lots of bars and restaurants spilling out onto pedestrianised squares.  After going for a great meal, we joined some of Matt & Steph’s friends for drinks in one of Aix’s many squares.  If our only goal for this trip was to meet people from other cultures, then it’s fair to say we succeeded in this goal in one evening alone; thanks to a combination of work colleagues and friends from French lessons, at one point we had five or six nationalities sitting at our table.  It seems the student atmosphere must have awoken something of our student days, as despite our plans for the next day we still found ourselves walking home around 2am dosed up on Jägerbombs.

The next day, the four of us left Aix in the direction of Cassis.  Again, we found something very peculiar about leaving the van behind and getting into a car for the first time in six months; after getting so used to cruising at a usual max speed of 90 km/h, it felt amazingly fast to be going down toll roads at the 130 km/h speed limit (that’s about 80 mph).  By the time we reached Cassis however, we were very grateful to be in a smaller vehicle; the streets were tight (albeit one way) and often steep, and still very busy to say it was a seaside resort on the last day of October.  We eventually found a parking spot a few streets away from our intended destination: the Calanques.

Port-Miou - Once a limestone quarry, now a natural harbour.
The normal starting point for walking into the Calanques.
The Calanques are a group of inlets surrounded by steep limestone cliffs that cover the area between Marseille and Cassis, accessible either by foot or boat.  The area has been protected as a national park and so there are no busy access roads; just the opportunity to hike through the lovely scenery and take in the views.  Access to the Calanques is often restricted during the summer due to the potential for forest fires, which might explain why the area was still so popular at this time of year.

The walk was about 13km, following marked walking trails around the cliffs.  There are a few coves where there are beaches you can swim from; unfortunately with the sun being low in the sky at this time of year the beaches were a bit shaded in the afternoon so we didn’t take the plunge, but I imagine it must be fantastic earlier in the day.  It was a warm, sticky day and we weren’t expecting the trails to be quite so hilly, so the walk itself was pretty exhausting.  The views were amazing however, and well worth the trip.

It was back to Matt and Steph’s house for the evening, where we were treated to the comforts you get in a house that we would have once taken for granted but come as a luxury in a camper (hot showers and free laundry!).  They made an amazing curry for dinner, which should tide us over until we’re back in the UK (whenever anyone asks us what we miss—other than family and friends—about the UK, my answers usually alternate between proper sausages and curry).  After that it was a quiet evening with our third film of the journey (Jurassic World, if you’re interested, and we thought it was rather good).  So thank you if you’re reading this Matt and Steph, you’re fantastic hosts, and if you do decide to treat your Aix friends to a curry night they’re in for a treat!

Sausset-les-Pins Aire - Near a main road but quiet at night
We had originally planned to tackle Montagne Sainte-Victoire, but the next day we were all a bit too exhausted to entertain the idea of another long walk.  We headed down to Sausset-les-Pins and got set up on the free Aire there (GPS: 43.33816, 5.10914, €4 for water), which is about a 10-15 minute walk from the town centre and beach.  Unfortunately our friends had to turn back due to illness so we went it alone, but Sausset was still a fairly active place on the Sunday with a busy market and most of the seafront restaurants looking to be near full.  We had an afternoon on the beach (mainly gravel/small pebbles, comfier than it sounds), but left the swimsuits in our bag after noting that all of the locals were sunbathing fairly clothed.  Chilly water maybe?

Sausset-les-Pins harbour

Our time over the next few days was spent alternating between here and the next town west, Carro.  Carro was pretty much a ghost town with the exception of two groups of people: motorhomers, and windsurfers/kitesurfers.  The Aire here (GPS: 43.32856 5.04052, €6.30 out of season including service point, more in summer) was still busy, but we managed to get a spot looking out over the sea.  This was only the third time we've paid for overnight parking since the start of October, bringing our total overnight costs to €24.70 over almost 5 weeks!  A quick look at the water was enough to put any ideas of getting out on the water out of Matt’s head, and I was certainly a little relieved to hear it.  The water was packed with dozens of windsurfers and a few kitesurfers, but I can only assume they’re very skilled and/or keen as the water was a landscape of whitecaps and big rolling waves crashing against the rocks.   We instead contented ourselves with watching from the safety and warmth of the van.

Next stop: the Camargue.

- Jo

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