Oradour-sur-Glane, remembered forever

Oradour-sur-Glane, remembered forever

Oradour-sur-Glane, an unassuming name on France’s map that looks like any other of its neighbours. Yet this innocuous village bears deep scars that speak a thousand words of horror.  It is a story that needs to continually be told so that memories of Oradour’s families can be kept alive and honoured.

On our pilgrimage to connect with Europe’s World War history, we have travelled east to Treblinka in Poland, south to Bovec in Slovenia and Kalavrita in Greece and west to the harrowing region of Ypres, Verdun and the cemeteries of northern France. So when Myles said he wanted to visit Oradour-sur-Glane, it made perfect sense. I have heard others talk about their visits to this village, ravaged by war, although had no idea about its history or what we could expect there.  One thing was for sure, our experience would undoubtedly be moving if our other commemorative visitations were anything to go by. 

From memorial stones and razed killing fields to the profound and stark images created by the Birkenau railway just west of Krakow. What would our souls be called to learn at this little-known village in central France?  Check out our memorial visits on this interactive map.

 

 

Our visit to Oradour-sur-Glane

It seemed fitting that our visit to Oradour coincided with All Saint’s Day –  1 November. An important day on the Religious calendar when the dead are remembered and celebrated. What a symbolic day to be visiting a memorial site where a village fell to its knees, at the mercy of an army set on retribution and annihilation.  

As we drove into the village of Oradour-sur-Glane just north west of Limoges, it was clear from the map that there were a large number of cemeteries around the outskirts. Nothing necessarily unusual about that per se. They were sheltered from the road by trees to create some privacy for those buried there. Yet the grim reality soon stood out, as this village turned from a name on Google Maps to a village martyr.  Separated from the new village by a road and underground walkway, the ruins of an entire community lay bare as we drove past in mesmerised silence. Only one expletive uttered from our mouths, which was one of incredulity. Oh my god! 

Parked up opposite the ghost village, images went through my mind about what unfolded here and, more importantly why. A story that would not really become any clearer as we entered the commemorative arena, built by its modern day citizens. 

The first thing that struck us as we walked to the entrance was a 100ft statue. A monument of a woman being engulfed by flames. Engraved words triggered the beginning of a story that we knew would not have a happy ending. The events that unfolded on 10th June 1944, told simply by this statue, began our Oradour journey. 

‘Ici des hommes firent a leurs meres et a toutes les femmes, les plus grave injure. 

Ils n’epargnerent pas les enfants.’

‘Here men made to their mothers and all women the most serious insult  – they did not spare the children.’

As we walked across a flat tarmac pavement towards the Oradour village plaque, we were taken down some steps generating a surreal feeling of going into another world.  Underneath the ground a shop, a ticket desk and a museum greet you giving you options. Turn right into the museum where upon you pay 2€. Or go straight on towards the ruined village, which is free to enter. As we had been travelling all day we only had time to do one or another, so we chose to visit the village, where we knew we would feel the soul of the place.

Through a dark tunnel, adding to the atmosphere of Oradour’s tale, we were presented with a photographic project that the community is still working on. Their aim is to collect pictures of every single inhabitant of this tortured village and honour them on this Remembrance Wall. And so like our experiences at Auschwitz, seeing the faces of young and old made the whole experience more real and poignant. This was no longer a story, or movie to immerse ourselves in – this was real life. This was a moment in time of people’s lives, captured by these images.

I felt my heart skip a beat as I saw families; generations of mothers, brothers, fathers, aunts and grandparents, dads and sons all lined up on both sides of the tunnel. The eldest I saw was 81 and the youngest just 2 months old. This truly set the scene for what were about to witness. 

Returning to the surface, the cleverly created tunnel that protects the village, really transports you from the new to the old. Streets in tact with pavements and electric cables for the tram that travelled through the beating heart of this place. Yet then the stark reality dawned on us as we saw the fire torn buildings, with chard rubble strewn where the rugs would have lain. Rusted shutters at the windows that now just let the wind course its way through. Signs for the garage, the café, the boulangerie, the sabot maker and the coiffure.  And the faint yet distinct smell of smoke still hung in the air making the massacre all the more real. The walls vibrating with the sobs of scared children looking to their mothers for answers. Fear trodden into the dust that has settled between the buildings holding secrets of their death. 

So what events unfolded here to create such a travesty?

 

Oradour’s Massacre – the why’s

There is some ambiguity about the reason for this insane massacre on a peaceful village where children played on their bicycles and cafés bustled with war-time stories. Because only 6 people survived and the commander who order the attack died days after, the real justification for this attack has many shades of truth. The definitive reason may remain buried beneath the rubble with the muffled screams of those who perished.

One of the suggestions was that it was retribution for the capture of a German officer. Another that it was because of Resistance activity centred at the village. Or that it was simply German frustration over the D-Day landings that occurred just four days earlier.

The why’s are tough for us as we try to get our heads around such atrocities. Yet however you look at it, the reason for this act of terror can never be settled in any sane mind. What seems more poignant is the unfolding of events on that day in June 1944. A mere 74 years ago, where 24 hours saw terror run through this community leaving only the echo of the victims’ screams for mercy.

200 Nazis stormed the village on 10th June where upon they rounded up the community. Women and children were taken to the church and men and boys over 15 were gathered, ostensibly for the purpose of an identity check and a  search for explosives and weapons. Those held captive in the church, after a failed attempt to gas them, were shot and then set alight. The men were separated into 6 groups and taken to different barns, where upon they were shot from the knees down. Only intending to wound and prevent escape, the Nazis then covered them in straw and wood and set them on fire, left to die the most horrific death. 

Then they burnt the whole village, looted homes and businesses and left without any explanation. The Nazi troops  headed up to Normandy to join the fight against Allied troops from the D-Day landings. In Devine retribution, many of those soldiers and the Nazi commander Diekmann, who ordered the massacre were killed and in a cruel twist of fate never brought to justice. 

 

Oradour’s memory

Some time after the massacre and whilst the smoke still rose to the sky, French President, Charles de Gaulle ordered the village remains to be left as a memorial. To honour one of the biggest massacres on French soil, Oradour would serve as a reminder of the atrocities, the victims and the horror. Only 6 people survived; 642 were brutally murdered, including 205 children and each and every one will be remembered by generations to come. To walk in the footsteps of their terrified souls as they were led to their deaths is a surreal and sobering act. And if you are in the area, a visit to this village martyr to pay your respects is a must.

Whilst it seems the world has not learned its lesson, we can only hope that memorial sites like Oradour serve to remind us of the importance of kindness, love and respect. 

Check out our Gallery of photos from our current World War visit by clicking the image below.

 

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New Zealand Road Trip – North Island

New Zealand Road Trip – North Island

New Zealand – The Land of the Long White Cloud; two islands, two different climates, characters and charm. After our South Island excursions which you can read about here, what would North Island have in store for us? Despite views that south is best, we decided to split our time evenly between both islands. And we are so glad we did. In fact we had too little time in the north and missed a huge amount of this fabulous island. Although here are our Top 6 highlights from our North Island exploration.  Check out our Interactive Map below with all our POI’s and overnight stopovers. 

 

 

1. Marlborough Sound and Cook Straight

The first of our highlights has to be Marlborough Sound. Renowned to be the most beautiful ferry journey in the world, the trip from Picton to Wellington is certainly an experience. With a 3.5hr crossing through Cook Straight, named after Captain Cook, you will be invited to explore the joys of Wellington. Although think not of the capital, because appreciating the Marlborough Sound with its inlets, coves and bays is a must. If you don’t get to see Abel Tasman National Park, then this journey offers a taster of this incredible part of New Zealand. 

Before you know it Wellington is your host as you disembark the Interisland ferry.  New Zealand’s capital (not Auckland as many think), Wellington is one of the world’s classically understated capitals. I would put it in the same category as Bratislava, Slovakia and Zagreb, Croatia The first sight is a built up area of docks and shipping terminals although in the city’s heart you feel its youthful vibe and arty characteristics. We didn’t see much as our primary focus was attending the ICC World Cricket match between England and New Zealand. Although I guess in truth we saw more of Wellington than we expected because the match was dire. Still, the less said about that the better. 

Our two hours around the city gave us a great flavour and our one recommendation would be to take a trip up in the iconic Wellington Cable Car to the Botanical Gardens. The panoramic views across the Cook Straight, the docks and city is amazing.  Myles summarised the day up nicely, saying that it was “A great palate cleanser between the two isles and cleared the decks for an equally magically ride ’on t’other side’”.

 

 

2. Whanganui River Adventures, Pipiriki

We love taking the route less travelled and getting off the beaten track. Sometimes it get us into trouble, although on the whole we find some absolute gems. And Pipiriki is one of those treasures. With a gift from my mum for our anniversary, we decided on a Rafting and Jet Boat adventure up the Whanganui – what a top drawer choice. 

It was a 5 hour trip from Wellington, yet as we drove through the isolated valley to Pipiriki our spirits were raised by the landscape. It looked like it had jumped straight out of the pages of The Hobbit’s Middle Earth.  Our arrival at Pipiriki was just sublime and the Whanganui River Adventures team welcomed us with open arms. We stayed at their lovely campsite and with a good night’s sleep we were prepared for our next adventure.

Now rafting down a river through a stunning gorge sounds quite tranquil. What we didn’t realise was that there were five rapids to negotiate on this sedate meander downstream. Although that was for the return journey. In the meantime we had the most spectacular high-sided gorge to immerse ourselves in and its Maori history.  On top of that we also had a hike the the Bridge to Nowhere, which a fabulous sight. A bridge built literally in the middle of nowhere, to absolutely no where! 

Our trip back down the river was, in part on the Jet Boat which skimmed the surface of the mid-summer water with exhilarating hand-break turns. The final stretch of 10km back to camp was by canoe. We were told that it would be a Canadian Double Canoe, as if somehow that would make all the difference. Alas it still meant we had rapids to navigate. Despite the water level, this part of North Island benefits from more tropical weather so the rapids were still pretty fierce for us as first timers. I look back now and have very fond memories although it wasn’t without its challenges, check out our video below to see exactly what we mean.  

The rest of the trip was just insanely beautiful, especially as the sun started to change the visions in front of us. Like a stage, spotlights of the sun’s rays started to bounce off the gorge walls and light up the crystal waters. With echoes of the historical ghosts dancing amongst the gorge, it left us feeling that this river adventure would be on our Top 10 list. 

 

 

3. Thermal Wonderland 

The thermal wonders of North Island are out of this world. When people try to compare the two islands, my view is you can’t. North Island has a rawness where the earth quite literally opens up, like windows for you to see into its soul.  The only downside to this particular region is that it is most certainly not off the beaten track. It is full of visitors looking to see the geysers (that predictably go off at 10.30 each morning!!). There are thermal parks everywhere and so you must do your research to find the right one for you. Just beware that some Parks really are quite commercial, especially if you are keen to see the Haka dance by the Maoris.  

The drive north offered us a clue to the thermal activity we were about to experience; a trio of volcanoes filled the sky line. I’ve never had a close encounter with a volcano before and there was something very humbling about treading its molten larva pathways. What history has been strewn around this land. Seeing these active volcanoes up close, was amazing as there was a tantalising uncertainty about when it might blow next. Especially given the billowing pillar of white smoke coming from one of the smaller volcanoes. They are still very much alive and kicking and they commanded our respect. We highly recommend popping in to see the Whakapapa Village at the Tongariro National Park. We didn’t do the famous Tongarriro Pass hike, although it is said to be an experience all of its own.

The volcanoes were just an introduction to the geothermal adventure for our next two days and we were enthralled by the earth, quite literally steaming. It is called a living landscape and you can see why. It was such a surreal vision to see bursts of steam coming out of the vegetation like hidden dragons waiting to pounce. We visited Haka Falls and The Craters of the Moon a great introduction to the thermal landscape so iconic in North Island. Rotorua is the capital of the Thermal Wonderland and you will smell it before you see it. The sulphur aside, Rotorua is worth looking around and of course it is the centre for exploration of the thermal parks and Maori culture.

The thing that struck me most, as we visited a Wai-o-Tapu thermal park outside of Rotorua, was that New Zealand is a powerhouse of seismic activity and each Island has its own unique way of expressing it. The south is disturbingly unpredictable, secretive and threateningly powerful – whereas North Island is very transparent in its seismic expression. You feel it, see it, smell it and hear it. Every sense knows that just below the surface, there is a cauldron of fire from Earth’s soul being thrown into our world.  To be privy to these one-way conversations from Earth’s core was just incredibly primal and puts so many things into perspective. The futility of our materialist living put in its place with the volatility of the planet’s existence. I bow to your magnificence.

Wai-o-Tapu was mindblowingly beautiful with its myriad of colours going way beyond the spectrum of a rainbow. 7 colours is just insufficient to describe the hews and palette that we were presented with. This volcanic wonderland had a real treat in store for us. Iridescent greens, lime, burgundies, bright reds, intense crystal blues and opal, primrose yellows and snow-like whites. My eyes and imagination were in heaven. 

Closer to Rotaruo was the Living Village of Whakarewarwea,  which was the most authentic way to see Maori life without the obvious tourist traps of some of the other expensive parks. It allowed us to submerge ourselves into Maori culture, see the children who lived here and contribute to their way of life without feeling like too much of a tourist. We found ourselves loving this whole area at a spiritual level. Just one of those places that you just have to go to to experience as there is insufficient vocabulary to do it justice.  

Check out our Gallery of pictures from this staggeringly beautiful region.

 

4. Coromandel Peninsular

When you think of New Zealand’s North Island what jumps into your mind? The thermal activity I’m sure, perhaps the Bay of Islands or may be 90 Mile Beach.  What about Coromandel Peninsular? Not many people we talked to mentioned this eastern edge of North Island. So good enough reason for us to explore the area whilst indulging my camera lens in some iconic New Zealand coastline.

Coromandel Peninsular is home to the iconic Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove, Cook’s Beach and a plethora of hikes, cycles and kayaking opportunities –  ooh plus a bit of natural hot-tubbing on the beach.

Hot Water Beach is stupendously beautiful, with magnificent surf that any Cornish dude would be willing to negotiate. With golden sands like velvet beneath your feet. Blue sea, trimmed with white foam and thunderous crashing waves -this is a heavenly place for all the senses. 

The surf aside, the reason you go to Hot Water Beach is to dig your own hot water jacuzzi in the sand at low-tide. The underground thermal spring waters that your digging reveal then wash over you. It’s somewhere between a mud bath and a hot water spa. So armed with our spade, we headed off. The beach was strewn with early morning revellers of all shapes, sizes and nationalities. Whilst English may not have been spoken by everyone, there was only one language required – dig, shape, sit, smile and enjoy.

Creating our own DIY jacuzzi was a pretty unique experience and whilst it took us 20 minutes to get the right temperature, it wasn’t long before we too were languishing in a thermal induced heat being nicely stewed and looking like overcooked prunes. 

Hahei Beach and Coromandel Cove

How do you follow that? We took ourselves off to Hahei Beach and had a boat trip around the coast and out to the Islands. What a great introduction to the seascape that offered the most perfect setting for Pirates of the Caribbean. With secret coves, blowholes, caves, seals and sting rays, what a way to see this volcanic influenced coastline. If the boat isn’t an option for you, then you could experience the famous Coromandel Cove with its iconic formations either by kayak or by foot – either way you must visit here.

We found a sensational freebie campsite at Cook’s Beach, where we parked up right in front of a golden beach that we pretty much had all to ourselves. The sound of crashing waves would be our evening’s lullaby and our morning’s alarm once more. What a fabulous end to this amazing part of the world.

 

5. The Land of the Gannets – Muriwai

On our last expedition before returning to Auckland, we were in turmoil about whether to blast it up to Bay of Islands or just mosey our way to the city. Our six week road trip had taken a bit of a toll on us and we were travel weary. So we decided to head to Muriwai for our finale because I’d heard about the gannets here. I was a great spot to rest up.

We heard Muriwai before we saw it – surf waves as tall as buildings – or so it seemed to my eye. It was like a thunderous applause for the kite surfers working their magic. It’s a deafening roar, as if a thousand lions are calling their loved ones.  This part of North Island is seriously wild and you can’t help than to feel alive when you feel the wind on your face, the salt upon your lips and the primeval elements of nature colluding. In fact this area in Maori legend is known for the war against the Father of the Elements, the Father of the Forests and Father of the Oceans. And you certainly get full force of all three as you stand precariously on the cliff edge, watching, listening and feeling the effects of the battle.

Add to this the Gannet colony that is perched on the cliff edge, close enough for you to get right up close – if you have a strong enough stomach and nose for it, that is. Truly amazing. Just a dream for the photographer in me. If you love Mother Nature at her best, then this is worth driving west for.

Check out our Gallery of images of this magnificent area.

 

6. The Big Smoke – Auckland

So to our final recommendation, Auckland. It is fair to say that you could have a week in this area alone, with the neighbouring vineyards, the harbour and the city itself. Although given we’re not huge city lovers, having just a day to explore before we flew back to UK was taster enough. And what we saw was great. It is certainly a lively and vibrant place.  From its beaches, marinas to its shopping area and Sky Tower, there’s plenty to entertain. The Tower is definitely a highlight for us and whilst we took the lift up and down, if you have one of those adventurous spirits in you, then you could always take the Zipline down instead!

Take some time to see the city as some of the skyline images are wonderful.  

Aotearoa, you thrilled us with your natural beauty and culture, you inspired us deep within our bellies to travel more and see the world. And so with gratitude we thank you, with respect we honour you and with pleasure we will remember you for all our remaining days. It has been memorable for so many reasons. It has been a journey that will undoubtedly give us many stories to tell. 

New Zealand is most certainly one of those places you need to come to in your life, just once and may be twice. The Land of the Long White Cloud, we applaud you. 

Complete your New Zealand journey by checking out our 11 Highlights from our South Island trip by clicking here.

 

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New Zealand Road Trip – South Island

New Zealand Road Trip – South Island

New Zealand was the trip that changed our lives, beyond all recognition. Although on the face of it, it was a celebratory Bucket List holiday for our Anniversary, it ended up being so much more. Read why it changed our lives here.

Six weeks to explore New Zealand’s two islands – would it be enough, would we get to see all our highlights without getting too exhausted? Well we were about to find out as our adventures began at Christchurch on South Island. We had chosen to hire a motorhome to cover our entire trip and so with our trusty steed, Baz a Swift Bolero from Iconic Motorhomes we set out like intrepid explorers. Armed with a dash of adventure, a pinch of excitement and a whole basket full of joy we drove off for some fun. What would this ‘clean, green’ adventure playground offer us?

Here are our 11 Highlights as we tripped the light fantastic around the most iconically beautiful islands in the world. A bold statement perhaps. Yet The Land the of Long White Cloud presents the most incredible scenery, activities and memories, which is why tourism accounts for around 6% of their GDP.

Check out our Interactive Map below for a comprehensive route plan, POI and overnight stops along the way with co-ordinates.

 

Our Compass Headed West

Our virgin journey from Christchurch was nerve wracking as we familiarised ourselves with the speed, size, width and general noise that a van makes when you’re hurtling down the highways. Although given our past experience with motorhomes, it didn’t take long to find our groove. Our first stop for a couple of nights to ground ourselves was Akaroa.

1. Akaroa Peninsular

Our first stop was in a volcano crater, created thousands of years ago. A mere 50 miles south east from Christchurch, this was an incredible initiation to the New Zealand landscape. The town named after the Maori for ‘Long Harbour’ was claimed by the French who arrived on the shores of Banks Peninsular, only to find that the English had beaten them to it. Still, the town today is very much French influenced with road names, shops and architecture all in style Français. 

I had hoped that one of my ultimate bucket list activities might well be achieved on day 2 of our trip; alas the weather prevented us taking a boat out into the harbour for me to swim with the Hector Dolphins – the rarest and smallest dolphins in the world. Sad that it didn’t happen, although it was just not meant to be.

Still having Akaroa as our first destination was lovely and with undulating hills, bays, azure blue waters, this was a great insight and preparation for what was to come. If this was impressive, what would the rest of South Island share with us? We stayed at Akaroa Top 10 Camping for two nights. 

 

2. Lake Tekapo

From Akaroa we headed west towards the beating heart of this stunning landscape where the mountains are king and the visitor simply minions, reverent to their magnificence. The scenery was incredible and I can’t find enough superlatives to describe what our eyes captured. The topography undulates with mesmerising curvaceousness.

Lake Tepako was our first stop with the Church of the Good Shepherd, an iconic symbol of the lake and surrounding hills – if hills is not too much of an insult. Had it not been for all the tourists it would have been a magical place – oh we were one of those tourists. Our overnight stop was in an amazing site over-looking the crystal blue waters with clouds kissing the mountain tops. Pines lined the shores completing a canvas of rainbow colours.

 

 

3. Mount Cook/Aoraki and Hooker Valley

If you were to list the top three photos that summarise New Zealand, then the shot looking across Lake Pukaki to the towering giant of Mount Cook would be up there. On a clear day, then that snow peaked baby, which is the highest mountain in New Zealand, will fill your lens with magnitude and grace. They say you can tell the forecast at the Park by the amount of cloud covering the mountain. If you can’s see it, then the weather is bad. So it might help make your decision about the journey to the Park. 

If the weather gods are shining, then taking Route 80 transports you into the spiritual land of the Mount Cook National Park, where the famous Hooker Pass hike, glaciers and icebergs await you. We camped on a DOC site, which had very few facilitates and is naturally wild, although fabulous in its rawness. This is nature at its best and we were camping right in the centre of it. 

The Hooker Valley walk was a delight for our eyes and ears as we ventured into the heart of the mountain wilderness. The wind called us, or so we thought and yet as we turned the corner, there in front of us was the raging torrent of snow-melt run off, coursing over boulders and through gorges. Our path took us over the tumbling waters by way of a suspension bridge and on deeper into the valley almost nose to nose with the Mount Cook Glaciers. Living, breathing, moving feats of Mother Nature’s subtle power. 

 

 

4. Clay Cliffs of Omarama

After some research, I found a spot that appealed to our introvert personalities. En route to Queenstown from Mount Cook, we visited an ‘off-the-beaten-track’ location that took our fancy. Few tourists come to New Zealand’s Clay Cliff’s of Omarama, partly because of the road quality and partly because Queenstown is the more obvious draw with visitors’ tight schedules. 

We braved the road, which was a good three miles of dirt track with pot holes, although wow, it was worth it. Imagine a Country and Western movie and you have this unique geological gem. Thousands of years old, these gravel and silt peak and cavity formations have been created by glaciers. They are so different to anything else you will see in New Zealand and for that reason alone, worth visiting. For a $5 donation at the road’s entrance, you can experience this incredible place, its silence and natural history. 

 

5. Queenstown Area

The views heading south west continued to inspire us and every spot the scenery changed. Mountains morphed from curvaceous and voluptuous undulations, tropical rainforest covered valleys, towering, craggy giants to then flat plains covered in fields of sheep, cows and red deer. Each view spectacular in its own right and well deserving of the respect they command.

Then we reached Queenstown. This is New Zealand’s adventure playground Mecca and a centre-piece for so many visitors, although it wasn’t for us and the weather had a part to play in this. Couped up in a car-park style Top 10 Campsite we felt claustrophobic and the beauty we expected from New Zealand temporarily hidden from sight. There were a couple of nice spots in the surrounding area; The Golf Club at Kelvin Heights was amazing, Arrowtown was charming and the infamous Bungee Jumping site at Karawau Gorge was definitely worth watching for an hour. Although apart from this, we were glad to leave Queenstown and was the least memorable part of our trip.  For many though, the draw of the adrenalin activities would make this an unmissable focal point for their holiday. 

6. Fiordland; Doubtful and Milford

I had imagined that with our visit to New Zealand in their mid summer season, that our weather would at least be better than back ‘home’. Although we were sorely disappointed, so do be prepared on South Island for the weather to change rapidly and to get really cold up in the mountains. Whilst cold fronts are typically unheard of, it does happen, just like any other weather anomaly – so come prepared.

Unfortunately these weather fronts do affect the full experience of the Fiordland region. Clear weather really does favour this natural architectural beauty, shaped by millions of years of glacial activity. Still, we decided that we weren’t going to come back to this part of the world, so to not visit both Fiords seemed a travesty. Depending upon the time you have on your itinerary you may have to toss a coin and chose one or another. So perhaps my descriptions below may help you choose.

 

Doubtful Sound

There are only two days in my life where I have been as excited as our trip to Doubtful Sound just south of Te Anau; Disneyland when I was 13 and my Wedding Day. I really don’t think I can adequately describe our experiences, which involved a ferry, a coach and then our three hour exclusive cruise on the most stunning fiord. How do I describe it and give you a sense of our experiences?

Imagine a stream and enlarge and lengthen it by a million. Imagine the colour blue and intensify it by 100. Imagine a hill and stretch it by 5000 and colour it with a few cotton wool buds tickling the tops of the mountains for good measure. Oh and add dolphins, penguins and seals. The final thing needed to your imagery is the sound…. Imagine only the sound of lapping waves on the catamaran’s hull, the eery vibration of a mountain’s towering presence, the cry of a seagull and the crashing of the waterfalls full of the recent snowfall melt. If you add a shake of magic and dash of rainbow colours and a sense of Christmas Eve excitement, you can share just some of our experience. At one point the captain turned off the engines so we could listen to Mother Nature’s orchestra and I have to say that the serenity made me cry with joy. On top of that I had dolphins swimming right alongside the boat, which just topped it all off. This is one of my New Zealand highlights.

Milford Sound

There’s no doubt for me that Doubtful (pardoning the pun) will hold a special place in my heart and yet travelling the route to Milford Sound, added even more colour to our travel log. The road itself was interesting with lakes that look like mirrors reflecting the mountain backdrop and tunnels that carry you through the most stalwart, granite mountain monsters and hairpin bends that rival the Swiss Alps. And then there was the Sound itself – we decided on a small boat cruise that had only eight passengers, making it quite an intimate affair. It was just like the brochures show; iconic, dramatic and so totally different to its southern sister. Sheer mountain faces, characterful shapes that enticed your imagination, caves, seductive clouds skimming the giants’ heads and waterfalls that gushed out of what seemed like thin air.

As I reflect on the two sensational experiences, I realise that each held a completely different energy within them. Doubtful was feminine – gentle, embracing, alluring, curvaceous, nurturing, satisfying and unforgettable. Milford was more masculine – tall, strong, powerful, dominant, a little jagged and over too quickly, leaving you wanting more. I’m so glad we did both Fiords as they were both special in their own ways and both taking just a little bit of space in our hearts. 

 Gallery of images – click below to see our Fiordland images.

 

Westlands and New Zealand’s Southern Alps

7. WanAka

Our destination en route north was WanAka – I purposely put a middle capital A, as a number of our ’speed reading’ Facebook friends missed out this crucial letter and gave this beautiful town a rather sorry nickname. The non-tourist road to Wanaka was simply stunning. There were more twists and turns in it than in a Jive. Good old Baz, the motorhome managed admirably and our prize was the oasis town of Wanaka, which, no surprise was held in the clutch of yet more magnificent mountains and with its own beautiful, azure lake.

With plentiful hiking and cycling around Wanaka’s peninsular you will get to experience yet more non-touristy South Island. You will find deserted beaches, forest paths and riverside-hugging biking tracks. Add to this the abundant smell of the authentic Tea Tree bush making a visit here for a couple of days feel like a healing zone.  

 

 

8. Haast Pass

Westlands, is all about the most famous glaciers and mountain passes. I must say that we navigated more hairpins than an Elizabethan monarch’s hairdo – blimey it certainly tested my driving skills. Every bend was a wow, an OMG or some similar expletive. There were gorges with topaz blue waters thundering through them, carving out their presence on the granite rocks below. Snow-capped mountains towered above us, coming in all shapes and sizes. Rainforest, still ruling the roost with 20ft ferns dominating the skyline and roads lined with brilliant orange Star Gazing lilies and crocosmia. In fact I don’t know about 50 Shades of Grey, I think we saw 50 shades of the Rainbow. 

Now I mention our next overnight camp, Lake Paringa, partly because it was beautiful, right beside the water’s edge, although more for the pest warfare that began that day. People consistently mention the Battle of the Sandfly in New Zealand, particularly on the West Coast and we took heed of their warnings and duly purchased a spray to ward off the little blighters.

The sandfly makes the mosquito look like a cuddly teddy bear, and those Scottish friends amongst you who know the pleasures of the Blue Cross mozzies, I’m sorry to say that they are child’s play compared to New Zealand’s sandflies. They look so innocuous as they land on your spray coated skin and believe me they will find access to any piece of flesh they can, especially if it is unprotected. At the time their bites seem innocent, yet it is a day or two later when the chickenpox itching starts and they swell up your ankles and you look like a teenager with acne within 24 hours. It’s bad man so beware.

 

 

9. The Glaciers; Fox and Franz Joseph

At the planning phase of our trip, Fox and Franz Joseph glaciers weren’t on our list. Given that we had seen the Tasman Glacier at Mount Cook, both of us felt like we had ‘done’ glaciers. Well that was until we saw the Helicopter Flights that landed right on the top of these magnificent giants.  Despite the cost, ($270 equating to around £137 per person), I had a sudden wave of Carpe Diem and before we knew it, we have reserved a place on the tour that included a snow landing which was key for me.  To quote the Carpenter’s song I really wanted to be: ‘…On top of the world, looking, down on creation…’ I wanted the rawness of the height, the space, the silence; Mother Nature in her most natural and organic state and to be at one with it. 

We were lucky enough to have our flight upgraded and without any additional cost we were blessed with a trip up Franz Joseph, flying around Mount Cook, a snow landing and down Fox Glacier for 40 minutes.  To cut a long story short, the trip was sensational with such a perfect weather day for it. So many people don’t get to do this because the conditions are too bad. It totally met and exceed my expectations.

 

 

10. Hokitika

As you head north towards Abel Tasman, there is the opportunity to have a short stopover at Hokitika. It is renowned for its driftwood and each year there is a competition down on the beach, which is definitely worth viewing. Hokitika itself is like a Wild West town although is quite charming.

 

11. Abel Tasman National Park

The northern coast of New Zealand’s South Island is paradise supreme. This National Park was first colonised by Dutchman Abel back in the 1600s, who is credited for being the first European to land on New Zealand shores, 100 years before James Cook.

Abel Tasman is the most incredible coastal vision I have set my eyes on and being a sea baby, I feasted on its lusciousness and allowed it to feed my soul. Golden sands sparkle like gold bullion. Dense forest canopies keep the sunshine at bay. And the exotic blue seas come right out of the Caribbean movies. We just needed Hale Berry to emerge out of the sea to recreate that famous James Bond scene. There is a real rawness about these shores that just brings out artists and nature lovers.

Limestone and granite mountains plunge straight into the crystal coves and beautiful bays create a safe haven for a host of flora and fauna so unique to this area. The peaceful inlets provide shelter to the abundance of crayfish, green lipped mussels, clams and blue cod, most of which are sent to the Asian market. What a treasure chest of delights that is Abel Tasman.

For the energetic and physically driven, the AT heralds the famous tramping track that can take from between three to five days. Pathways hug the coast, taking inward turns into the heart of the forest. Then there are teasing peaks of the tumbling cliffs below, revealing brilliant blue seas that invite you to dive right in. Water taxis buzz like bees up and down the coast dropping off trampers as they negotiate sections of the park to suit their abilities. Campsites and watering holes are sporadically located along the way for the more serious walkers to stay overnight. 

The sound of the cicadas sing like an electric fence without a break in their circuit. Conducting their harmony was the odd Tui and Bellbird, which sound a bit like R2D2. The musical orchestra was heaven for the ears. For the eyes, a feast of coastal rainforest, granite outcrops holding precariously poised pine trees and romantic beaches that just invited a naked swim! For the soul, well just being in this special place was enough to fill any heart full of joy, beholding the vistas that just melt you. 

This National Park is an absolute must if you love nature, coastline, hiking and water. 

 

11. Queen Charlotte Drive – en route to Picton

Our final South Island destination before our northern leg was Marlborough Sound and the Queen Charlotte Drive. It is famous for its wineries although we were heading for its watery surprises. This sea flooded wilderness was littered with little inlets and islands and yet reminded me so much of Doubtful Sound. It was strewn with voluptuous mountains and curvaceous coves, sheltering tiny isles with inhabitants looking for seclusion, their only links to land by boat. Yet again, off the beaten track we found ourselves an amazing free campsite – Double Bay Reserve that we shared with only four other vans and our own private beach. 

Arriving in Picton we treated ourselves to a cruise up Queen Charlotte Sound and this was no ordinary tourist cruise. It was a working boat. During our 3 hour trip, there were eight drop offs that allowed the disembarkation of both human cargo, trampers for the famous Queen Charlotte Track and, more surprisingly freight. There were suitcases for remote lodges in secluded cove, boxes of beer and wine supplies and the odd 58” Widescreen TV! It was great to be part of this working cruise and see how life in the Sound is sustained and nourished. 

From Picton, you are at the point of no return when it comes to South Island. After the highs of the Fiords, The Alps and the mountainous National Parks, the remaining task is to take the ferry over to Wellington. And from this point, your North Island adventures can begin.

 

 

Our closing thoughts on South Island

New Zealand’s South Island is truly beautiful and so much more than our 11 Highlights. It is a place where someone or something has created the most incredible natural tapestry for us to enjoy. Raw, untouched and precious. A land that needs to be treasured and honoured for all its splendour. What would North Island offer, if this is what South Island is all about? Tune into our northern highlights here. 

 

 

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New Zealand – The trip that Changed our Lives

New Zealand – The trip that Changed our Lives

New Zealand 2015 – a trip that unwittingly shaped our lives into one we never need to escape from.

 

New Zealand – Our ‘where it all began’ story

The years have treated us well and we often look in the mirror and gasp at where the years have gone – nearly 30 years married – really? Where did that time go?  In October 2014, we started to plan a celebratory trip for our 25th Wedding Anniversary and decided it was a significant milestone to tick something from our Bucket List. And New Zealand was on both of our lists. After some deliberation, we agreed that the best way to experience it was to hire a motorhome, enabling us to get into the real heart of the place.

We splashed out on a six week tour and hired our van from Iconic Motorhomes. After years of running three businesses, having 12 hour days and working 7 days a week for far too many years, we agreed we were worth it.  With my love for organisation we had ourselves a rough route and highlights. One of these were tickets for ICC Cricket World Cup in Wellington and, high on the list was a White Water Rafting adventure somewhere along the line.  What a great trip this was going to be.  One of my dear friends, the wise old bird that she is, said that New Zealand would have a profound impact on us – although we were not expecting her prophecy to evolve as it did.

Our Business Class Flight to New Zealand

Prior to us leaving for our trip, I shared some concerns about how we would cope for such a long time in a 7 metre van. We had 25 years together as a couple yet with a certain amount of independence thanks to our careers – and now, suddenly we’d be in each other’s space – how would we fare? Would my high maintenance tendencies be all too much to bear?

After our 24hr flight to Auckland and then onto Christchurch, we were ready to collect our temporary home – Baz we called him.  We loved the idea of travelling with our home, allowing us to explore every nook and cranny. A bit of wild camping was on the agenda too and thanks to a great freebie app CamperMate we were able to source some incredible spots along the way.

That sense of freedom was as potent as the fields of lavender in Provence; powerful, heady and very here and now. A real sense of the canary released from its cage as it flew with wild abandon and joy. That was how we felt in our early days as we chalked up our experiences.

And some of those experiences are now priceless memories, sunk deep into our subconscious photo album. I will never forget my first sight of Lake Tekapo en route to Queenstown. The colour of the water was indescribably blue, a blue that I’d never set eyes on before. And it was one of the first times I remember crying, feeling so overwhelmed at the beauty of it. Now I use my tears as a true measure of how a place feels to me and how its beauty gets caught underneath my skin.

 

Our Business Class Flight to New Zealand
Our Business Class Flight to New Zealand

As we sat in comfort in our motorhome, we were amazed by the eclectic mix of campers. Motorhomes like ours, vans, trucks and cars – each with their own home-from-home touches, albeit sometimes a bit rustic. Camping is just a way of life here for locals and visitors alike and it was starting to stir something deep within us. I loved the wildness of everyone ‘getting away from it all’ and how we all shared a love of our natural environment. And sometimes those campers had a real influence on our journey because of their stories. And sometimes they became life-long friends. 

Seeing how people travelled in New Zealand was a complete eye-opener. Sheltered from the opportunity to travel by our corporate hamster-wheel, we learnt how life outside package tours really thrives. And more importantly travel provides an authentic connection with life, nature and culture. Don’t get me wrong we had some very nice short breaks although nothing with a genuine submersion into a country’s customs. And our motorhome journey exposed us to this connection and we were hooked. I knew that our holidays, from this point forward, would change beyond all recognition.  

My other profound insight was how nourishing I found the transience of our travels. Whilst I love people and their experiences, as an introvert I also love my own company.  I remember when Myles asked me how I found our NZ trip – for me it was the freedom to move I enjoyed most. And bear in mind that this comes from the woman who always needed roots and direction. Yet this trip taught me about my love for exploration, how much I adored going to a new spot every day and the fluidity that our lives were richly abundant with.  I relished the space we found in between our connections with other travellers and, paradoxically enjoyed the distance we could create if we needed it. What a joyous realisation this was about life on the road.

Our Business Class Flight to New Zealand

And what of the ‘living in a box’ concern, I hear you ask?  Well I had no reason to worry as we soon found our groove. When you have a deep relationship, it matters not a jot whether you are in the same room or apart, you have a thread that binds you as fine as silk and as strong as metal. And whilst it wasn’t all plain sailing, our ability to work out our niggles brought us closer together. I wasn’t a nightmare and I surprised myself how easily I adapted to the small space. 

By the end though we were both ready to go home. Our six weeks had been amazing although we felt it was time to return. We often reflect back on our highlights and experiences and really do feel that we celebrated our 25 years together in style and honoured our marriage – without doubt.

 

Our Business Class Flight to New Zealand

So how did this trip change our lives?

In isolation it was easy to put our New Zealand trip into a ‘bucket list’ box and see it for what it was. Super memories and incredible experiences. Although when two weeks later, your introvert husband who had clearly been mulling things over said, “How do you fancy going travelling for a year”, you could have knocked me down with a feather.

Until that moment, life had resumed its normal rhythm.  I returned to the school where I was teaching meditation and my weekly volunteering job at the Donkey Sanctuary. Myles took to his office and had the odd game of golf. And I got back to my healthy regimes.  

It was a defining moment. The world stood still as I took in Myles’ question and contemplated the enormity of what he was suggesting. You see we had got ourselves caught up in a new hamster wheel. Whilst our move from the stress of our corporate days had to some extent ceased, we had created a new norm with a new wheel in Somerset. Whilst many of our routines were nourishing ones, we both still felt the chasm that our New Zealand trip had filled. We didn’t feel complete and we found ourselves drawn back into the Matrix of conformity, where Sundays were set aside for roast dinners and Monday-Friday norms were honoured for fear of failing our peer group expectations.

And it was New Zealand that showed us how travel could enrich our lives; its simplicity, choice and freedom all filling that gap which had crept into our lives.  New Zealand suddenly became a profound event and not the extended holiday we had imagined.

So what did we do with this realisation that our missing jigsaw piece was travel? Well our circumstances supported Myles’ ‘gap year’ plan giving us the budget to travel and get our ‘house’ in order. Then after our year we could come back to truly settle down with travel being the centre-piece of our lives. 

From that point our search began for a motorhome that would suit our needs. Yet a weird mix of excitement and fear crept into my mind as I battled with the shadow of doubt and anxiety. It felt like such a big change; letting go of so much. Was I ready to be a nomad – albeit for a year? 

My fear played havoc as ‘What if’s’ clouded my mind and storms of anxiety brewed in my heart at the prospect of leaving everything behind. Although the turning point was my mum saying how she had regretted not doing something similar with my dad years back. Her need for security and roots were so strong that she couldn’t leave. “Life is too short not to,” she said supportively.  So the decision was made in that moment – we were going to make this happen.

Within four months the van was ordered, delivered, insured and all our material ties severed. Plans were in place with military precision and checklists in every room. And on 4th March 2016, we said our goodbyes and set off for the European sunset with a year of adventure. Although neither of us said it, we wondered how we would feel after six weeks, given our New Zealand wall?

In fact it was a positive milestone, a moment of realisation. The awakening you get when suddenly you find a rhythm that you have been searching for all your life. An ease, a simplicity and a sense of happiness that filled every cell in our body.  I knew that I had found my missing jigsaw piece and that this was going to be so much more than just a gap year. In the same way that New Zealand was always more than just a holiday.

I fell in love with the simplicity of life on the road. I woke up to the notion that material things don’t define life or happiness. I connected with all the things that really brought out the best in me; like writing, photography, nature, learning about different cultures and quite simply being! Watching sunrises and sunsets, feeling grateful for each day that graced my life, gaining a new sense of purpose. We found digital work that embraced our talents and the world became brighter, lighter and multi-dimensional. Sounds became deeper and life’s experiences more meaningful as we delved into languages that were alien to us and cultures that offered us an alternative perspective.

Lots of people have called us lucky to live the life we do and for sure we feel incredibly blessed, although we have not arrived here by luck. As the famous quote from golfer Arnold Palmer says,

 The more I practise the luckier I get.

Over the years we have worked our fingers to the bone to reach a position of comfort which by its very nature has been difficult and often painful. Although our commitment to our long-term future has paid off and despite a nervous break down or two between us, we have rallied through, become stronger and more determined to be in that state of happiness and contentment. So luck is not the driver of our chariot – we are and continue to be so.

With travel as our teacher and the world as our classroom, we look back at New Zealand and all that it showed us and realise how pertinent that experience was to the rest of our lives. And however long we are blessed to do this, we will always be thankful to The Land of the Long White Cloud for creating a fire in our bellies for exploration and the inspiration to change our lives to one that we no longer need to escape from.

Change is possible, fear can be overcome and life can be the happy place that we all desire if you have vision, work hard and have the determination to turn your dreams into reality.

 

Dreams come a size too big so that we can grow into them.

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Rocamadour – France at its best

Rocamadour – France at its best

Rocamadour is one French landmark that we have been trying to get to for nearly three years and for one reason or another, it has eluded us. Although as we so often say, ‘It’s not going anywhere. There’s time enough.’  Finally 2018 – the year we made it and marked it as an important day in our calendar.

Some icons around the world are built up so vividly in our minds, thanks to those who have gone before us, allowing us to craft an image of what it will look, sound and feel like. Blogs play a fabulous role in inspiring us to visit new places, although equally they can construct an expectation that, when seen with our own eyes, can disappoint.

 

Whilst I had heard plenty about Rocamadour, I had never seen any pictures and as a visual girl, I was very grateful to have a blank canvas to paint with my own experiences. And I’m so glad, because our visit, one autumnal day in October was not just any old day. It was 4th October and whilst this may seem insignificant to most, it is the day we celebrate my dad’s life.  I so didn’t want to be disappointed, as my parents had been here a couple of decades ago and so to tread in their footsteps on this day, of all days, I wanted it to be perfect.  Check out our video footage showing the footprints we left behind at this gorgeous village and then I’ll tell you all about it…

 

 

 

Rocamadour, one of those iconic French villages that is on so many people’s lists and a place that draws you into its valley of wonderment, peace and spirituality. Known as the Sacred City it is famous for a number of things;

  1. For being vertiginous – yes I had to look this up – it means being extremely high or steep.
  2. For its important religious status and a source of miracles, placing it firmly on the Santiago de Compostella pathway.
  3. For its three-levelled construction, each one having a completely different character and charm.
  4. For its 8 sacred religious buildings, one of which is the UNESCO Basilica and the Notre Dame chapel, home to a walnut carved Black Madonna that is a thousand years old.
  5. For its 216 steps up the Grand Escalier – the Pilgrims’ Staircase.
  6. For its medieval castle that perches regally above the valley asserting its position in the Dordogne valley.
  7. For its annual Montgolfiades Balloon Festival at the end of September, which looks like a sight for sore eyes.

Let me tantalise your senses with Rocamadour’s splendour, because this is what will entice you to experience this place for yourself.

 

A Feast for the Eyes

We approached the village from the southern side and this gave us the most incredible glimpse of the rock temple with a face-on perspective. The castle, the Sanctuary, the little houses precariously built into the rock, created a vision that was almost out of this world. Surely this was not human-made. It looked like something that was crafted by a giant girl making a doll’s house village. Although whilst this was surely a photographer’s dream, once drawn into the alleyways, Rocamadour takes on a whole new identity.

As we wound our way to the northern aspect and parked up our van in the free overnight Aire, our eyes would be further satiated by the wiggling path that takes you to the village floor and to the heart of Rocamadour’s sacred space. And as you walk through the gates to the Sanctuary that conceals its Notre Dame and Basilica, the vista is hard for the camera to capture. It is only the eyes that can really digest the whole scene as you turn 360 degrees trying to take in this magnificent complex of buildings. Chapels, spires, staircases and intricate detail in the balconies all create a very special vision.  The tower reaching way above the village looks like a Disney castle and you half expect to see Rapunzel standing there with her flowing locks. Its majesty is seen from almost every street – it is hard to not have it as centrepiece of every photograph.

 

And of course you cannot miss the image after the setting sun; the village set against the blackness of the night illuminates its beautiful architecture and an orange hew castes its dominance around the buildings. I wish I had taken my tripod to capture the picture professionally, as it was a sight to behold and completed my Rocamadour experience beautifully.

 

 

Music to your Ears

Upon the hour, the Sanctuary rings out its bell, which reverberates around this dramatic rock village in the heart of the valley. It’s almost as if the sound bounces from one side of the mountains to the other, as if in competition. And if you are fortunate enough, legend has it that you may even hear the sound of the miracle bell that rings from the inner sanctum of the Notre Dame chapel. The bell is said to ring when an oceanic miracle happens and a marina’s life is saved.

 

Combined with the melee of tourists that creates its own energy even in the autumn, Rocamadour hums with an accent of appreciation from its visitors, some of which are pilgrims making their own spiritual passage. And yet it is the sound of silence that will grip you the most as you pass through the religious chambers and wonder at the nobility who have graced these floors.

 

In stark contrast, as you head down the pilgrims’ stairway, the cafés and shops on the village’s lower level create their own music as they entice you to buy scented pebbles (which are delightful) and to taste their gastronomic fare.

 

A Sense that reaches into your Soul

There are some places around the world where there are simply no words to describe your experience; where just by standing still you can feel its heart-beat and the stories that contribute to the fabric of its identity.  France’s Rocamadour is one of those places and I’m not sure whether it’s a spiritual energy brought by pilgrims past or if it’s the pure beauty of the architecture and its precarious cliff position that draws you into a speechless state. Either way, Rocamadour has a certain something that whether gazing from afar or admiring from within, there is a special vibe about this medieval ‘cité’.

 

Feel your feet in the footprints of those before you, feel the hope in the walls of the cheerleading houses that line the streets and sense the 1000 years of legend and history that has put this iconic village top of France’s tourist map. Built on the site of a shrine to Madonna, Rocamadour symbolises healing, borne out by the 8 religious buildings in the Sanctuary complex. And with that reputation comes a deep sense of faith, which is palpable, whether you are religious or not.

 

Out of season, Rocamadour is a perfect time to visit, allowing you to contemplate the historical souls magnetised towards this place, or perhaps simply acknowledge the reflections of your own thoughts as you climb the steep and winding Path of the Crosses. It gives you permission to gaze in wonderment at the underground pillars that, in some Herculean feat are holding up the rock above or perhaps sit in prayer in one of the chapels to offer your own appreciations and gratitudes. Perhaps you need some healing… well this place is certainly somewhere where you could express hope and feel that, beneath the shadow of the Black Madonna’s presence you feel compelled to trust that you are being heard by someone or something in the Universe.

 

 

How to make the most of your experience

1. Getting there

Although there may well be day trips by coach from Toulouse or Marseille, it is best if you have your own transport, enabling you to time your visit to avoid the crowds. We took the D39 and D32 which brings you in on the southern road, offering you the most staggering view of the village. It is a perspective not to be missed. For those of us in campers, this is a narrow and winding road, although it is doable for long vehicles. I always comfort myself in the knowledge that if coaches can reach it so can we.  Although I suspect they don’t take this route.

Parking is plentiful around the village and all for free. The lower parking by the river is small and in high season probably very busy. It is the easiest parking area for anyone with walking difficulties or disabilities as there is little ‘hiking’ up or down to be done from here.  The middle parking area, Parking de la vallee de Rocamadour has height restrictions of 2m so is limiting depending upon the size of your vehicle. The upper car park, Parking de Chateau, is the largest space and if you have a camper is ideal as there is a specific Motorhome Aire that allows free parking day and night.

 

2. Getting around

Depending on which parking area you choose, there is some walking to be done so come prepared. Whilst the lower streets with the cafés and shops is fairly level, the steps up to the the religious complex are more demanding depending on your fitness. Whilst pilgrims ascended on their knees, I wouldn’t recommend it; by foot is more than enough of a challenge.

If you park at the upper car park, then you have the Path of the Crosses from the chateau to navigate, which whilst going downhill is fine, coming back is a good calorie burner. There is a lift that can take the effort out of the climb which takes you to all three levels of the village.

3. Camping

As we’ve mentioned, there is a free Aire at the chateau that you can stay at for free, overnight. There are no facilities although it is perfect for visiting the village and seeing it by night too. Alternatively if you prefer campsites with your tent or camper, then there Camping Le Paradis, which is within walking distance, albeit it a good hike. They are open from 1 April until 30 September, so not great if you are looking for genuine out of season visiting.

4.  When to visit

For us as introvert travellers, we love the peace and quiet to experience places with the solitude that they deserve. Although sometimes this is just not achievable. So if you can, we recommend visiting in March, April, September or October as these are probably the best times to experience the place without claustrophobia and shoulder barging. If this isn’t realistic for you and the summer season is all you can do, then do visit either early morning or late afternoon, when most of the crowds have dispersed. The added advantage of this, of course, is that you get to see the village in its nighttime glory, which is definitely worth staying for. It is a spectacle for sure.

I would love to have visited a week earlier so we could have caught the Balloon Festival. I can imagine how magnificent the balloons are set against the backdrop of this medieval cité. Although with over 20,000 visitors for this last weekend in September, I bet it feels a bit all-consuming if you are introverts like us.

 

 

Final thoughts of Rocamadour

Whether you have a specific reason to be at Rocamadour or perhaps you just are looking for a special experience, either way this Sacred City will not disappoint. With its commanding vistas, its Devine architectural tapestry and its charming and characterful three-tiered streets, it will take you on a journey; spiritual may be, although for sure an exploration that will enchant you from the moment you set eyes on it. Knowing I was treading in more important footsteps than the nobility before me, made it a memorable trip and one that brought me closer to my dad. This place is seriously worthy of a diversion en route to the south coast.

Rocamadour – iconic France at its best….

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Iconic France symbolised in the vertiginous medieval cité of Rocamadour

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