Lordy Lourdes

Lordy Lourdes

Whatever your religious beliefs, Lourdes is worth a visit – out of season!

On a cold November morning snug underneath the duvet, an air of anticipation crept over me as I thought about the morning’s adventure. After a seven hour journey the previous day that took us from Carcassonne in south west France, we had finally landed in Lourdes, partly as a stop over because we were exhausted and also we thought we might check it out before the snow came in. Lourdes wasn’t on our radar for specific personal pilgrimage; for us it was just a great chance to explore a much talked town that has a global reputation and it intrigued us. Well perhaps it more intrigued me.

Although I was educated in a Catholic Convent school as a small minority of non-Catholic students, my beliefs moved to a more spiritual and scientific nature as an adult. Yet I have always had a strange draw to Churches, influenced by my teenage years. It’s not so much about the religion per se, it’s more about the faith and devotion that goes into creating these magnificent buildings and the reverence that is encased within their walls. So coming to Lourdes was not a bucket list entry, although it was certainly a chance to pique my curiosity and uncover what lies behind a pilgrim’s determination to receive a holy blessing and a miracle cure from its waters.

Lying in the foothills of the Pyrenees in the south west of France, Lourdes is a market-town that was originally built up around its chateau  fortress that rises like a Phoenix from its craggy base. Sheltered by majestic mountains, Lourdes could be so easily missed, although one day in 1858 its destiny shifted in a heart-beat, thanks to the apparition of a young girl – placing them both firmly in the history books and on the international religious stage.

Bernadette Soubirous was the eldest of eight children born into a life of poverty. Many of her sibblings didn’t survive birth and Bernadette herself was a sickly child, contracting cholera when she was very young and tuberculous in her thirties. Yet when she was 14, out collecting firewood with her sister, a simple moment in time changed her life and that of her community forever.

An apparition spoke to her that day and on a further seventeen occasions, eventually revealing herself as the Immaculate Conception. The townsfolk were divided in their views of Bernadette’s claims, some of them thinking she had lost her mind. And yet throughout her interviews with the Church, she maintained her story and by 1862, the Church confirmed her visions were genuine. The building of the Sanctuary of our Lady of Lourdes began and people came on pilgrimages to drink the holy water in the hopes of a cure from their ills.  Today, Lourdes is the third most important religious site after the Vatican and the Holy Land. A town that started with simplicity at its heart, now must harness the partnership between religion and tourism, receiving over 6 million visitors each year. To this day there are no explanations for the miracles that occur here and to find scientific cause would in some way dishonour the faith and belief that this beautiful town has evolved around.

Making the most of your visit to Lourdes

Whether you come as a pilgrim or an intrigued visitor like us, then a trip to Lourdes will not disappoint as long as you caste your eyes away from the religious influenced tourist shops. Every significant town of tourist merit of course has them, although move beyond them and the crowds and you will begin to feel the unquantifiable magic of Lourdes.

My first recommendation has to be to visit out of season. I can only imagine that the crowds from April to October are suffocating with people loosing their grace and humility to grab a drop of holy water and that Instagram selfie. At the end of November we had the place to ourselves and I am convinced that this added to the positive experience for us, as you could really hear the silence and reverence as it swept around the town’s major monuments.

Second recommendation is to follow… not the yellow brick road – instead follow the blue-lined roads, which guide you around the town’s best bits.  This will ensure that you don’t miss the important historical jigsaw pieces that build up the evolutionary canvas of Lourdes.

Thirdly and paradoxically, get off the beaten track and be prepared to deviate from the blue-lines. We’ve always been a bit non-conformist in our explorations and like to find the real hub and throb of a place beyond the way-marked walks. There’s more than just religion in Lourdes. There was life before the apparitions and to feel Lourdes’ origins by visiting the fort, the undercover market and the back streets are all part of this town’s package.

And finally, make sure you have a minimum of three hours and up to two days to really soak up Lourdes’ subtle hews and palpable vibe – as to give it any less would be to miss something special about this holy ground.

7 Sights of Lourdes’ Soul

Tourism and religion work in partnership in Lourdes and for those making the pilgrimage to be at one with its healing magic they have a sole purpose. For the rest it is about seeking the soul of Lourdes beyond the holy waters and looking to understand the stories that lie behind the architecture, the ancient buildings and the protective landscape that surrounds it. Lourdes is one of the places of the world that really requires no marketing – it has an effortless allure.  So for your trip to Lourdes, here are seven of the many major sights that need to go on your exploration list.

1. The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes

This has to be the number one draw for all visitors as this magnificent building housing a number of chapels, is at the heart of the apparitions of the Immaculate Conception. The building is truly devine with its magnificent architecture taking your gaze to the skies to marvel at its stone work. The slightly out of place and ostentatious golden cross creates a beacon as it sparkles in the autumn sunlight and the sweeping staircases either side of the Basilica looks like something out of Gone with the Wind. Although it is an incredible structure that has you transfixed in so many ways.

Walking into the many chapels I felt myself humbled by the sheer reverence that filled the air as people prayed on the basic looking pews.  The sense of hope and faith is palpable, there’s no doubt. Yet it is as much outside the chapels that has you mesmerised.  The paintings on the lower chapel walls, with closer examination are in fact the most intricate mosaics. And I defy you not to want to walk through Le Porte de Vie and see what is behind its doors.

We’ve been to the Vatican and have to say that the Basilica in Lourdes stands firmly shoulder to shoulder with the Pope’s Palace and you can imagine, with a mass of worshipers gathered beneath the cathedral, that the ambiance is quite electric. Experiencing all of this without the crowds though seriously appealed to me and no suffocation required today. Just a humbling opportunity to absorb the partnership of natural beauty with intriguing religious evolution. A strange and yet powerful combination.

And before you leave the Sanctuary’s embrace, a walk down the tree lined avenue towards the river Gave is yet another perspective that you cannot miss and will no doubt have your camera working overtime. The whole body of this place has a very special energy to it, as people armed with their plastic bottles scuttle towards the holy water taps and nuns in their beige attire walk purposely towards the home of their dreams.

2. Lourdes’ Market

Heading up the tourist gauntlet having crossed the river from the Sanctuary, you will be amazed by the sheer number of hotels that line the streets, almost paling the tat into insignificance! Lourdes is secondly only to Paris for the sheer volume of accommodation establishments. And restaurants of every nationality will greet you – opening your eyes to the global influence of this small mountain town.   Heading right you find yourself in 10 minutes at one of the most authentic features of any town across Europe – the Market Square where the locals gather and live their lives oblivious to the throng of passing tourists. We always love coming to these parts of town as there is no tourism here, just life – pure and simple. Wander around the daily indoor market stalls to find local Pyrenean produce that will whet your appetite.

3. Lourdes’ backstreets 

Lured by the call of the chateau, you find yourselves walking through Lourdes’ back streets where suddenly the blandness of homes that are close to the Sanctuary change to a picture perfect blaze of colour. Facias of multi-colours take on a life of their own as they cluster around the ancient Tour de Garnavie holding onto their originating history. The tower is one of the last standing monuments of Lourdes’ military constructions and dates back to 13th Century, still standing guard over the town, in the shadow of the chateau.

Past the fortress, the rest of the backstreets bring you back to more recent history and Bernadette’s birthplace and home. The Moulin is now a museum which was shut whilst we visited although the street shows you where her impoverished family barely survived. Who would have thought that their existence would bring so much wealth, fame and notoriety. What would they be thinking now if they could see how their homes were interwoven into such a powerful tale?


4. Chateau Fort and Museum

If the cathedral is about Our Lady, then the chateau would be personified as king as his lofty presence looms over the valley Gave creating a spectacle all of its own. Over a thousand year history will amaze you as you take the newly created lift or old fashioned staircase into the heart of this ancient community.  For €7 per person you will be treated to a self-guided tour of not only the chateau walls that the Pyrenean ghosts still call home, you will also experience a very well put together museum that portrays life in this mountain region through the ages. What enticed us into its kingdom was the prospect of the views from the towers and wow they are incredible. A full 360 degree vision awaits you are you wonder at its panorama. Yet don’t miss the model villages that take you back to another time where locals of the region made their homes.  These Lilliput style monuments are beautifully crafted and bring your tour to a lovely conclusion.


5. Funicular – Pic du Jer

If keeping your feet on the ground feeling Lourdes’ soul is enough for you, then you will have plenty to amuse yourself. Although if a little more adventure and activity is your thing and you have a bit more time than one day, then Lourdes has an array of possibilities. You can kayak, mountain bike, trek the Ice-Age lake 3km away or simply take the Funicular up 1000m to see Lourdes from a completely different angle.  In Lourdes’ attempt to appeal to a diverse traveller, the activities in the area are limitless for those seeking adventure.

6. Grotto Massabielle

Outside of the pilgrimage period (April to October) the grotto is a serene place where you can contemplate, meditate or simply think of the people you love. With only a few people milling around, it is a perfect opportunity to capture the moment; a time when something special happened creating a religious evolution for Lourdes. Sadly between November and March, massive red water barriers hold the holy waters at bay and spoiling the image, although the ambience is palpable none the less. What I found slightly more disturbing is that to appease the masses (over 200 million visitors have come to Lourdes since 1860) the water has been channelled into taps that look more like they belong in a toilet block than a spiritual capital. So people go along with their plastic containers, press the tap and get their fill. It seems like a rather odd experience, although there have been 69 unexplained miracles after drinking the water, so make of it what you will. We said a little prayer for a friend who is going through a difficult time right now – so whether holy or not, this place certainly brings out the compassion in your blood.

7. Le chemin du Croix – The way of the cross

There are two paths you can follow – The way of the cross – High Station is adjacent to the Sanctuary going up deep into the woods.  Or you can take the river walk on the opposite side of the river Gave. Before reaching this pathway, you will find a number of black kiosks that invite you to buy a pretty expensive candle and light it in honour of a loved one. Wandering through this area, which strangely has security guards surrounding it , is a sensual experience; the smell of burning candles fills the area, you stick to the carpet of wax beneath your feet and the sense of hope and faith that is behind the lighting of these candles make this a vibrant place to walk through. Beyond this is the way of the crosses; modern-day statues that depict religious scenes from the cross, which are beautifully designed and the views from the river are quite amazing, giving you a completely different picture of Lourdes yet again.

So should you come to Lourdes?  Without doubt, a resounding yes. Lourdes is mostly certainly an appealing place for pilgrims, explorers and sport enthusiasts alike. It absolutely has something for everyone. And religion aside, the journey that this humble market town has taken, tucked away from civilisation, is a testimony to its valour, strength and courage – standing out to proclaim its greatness. It is a true warrior and deserves its place on your route’s itinerary.

For more information, check out this comprehensive guide to Lourdes and its surrounding area.

There are plenty of accommodation options, from hotels in the town to campsites just a few kms away.  We stayed at Camping de Loup which was €13 for the night without electricity and allowed us a five minute walk into town.

Lordy Lourdes blog, Lourdes, France

Les Plus Beaux Villages de France – Part 1

Les Plus Beaux Villages de France – Part 1

Travelling opens up our horizons and our experiences as we move out of our own country comfort zones and into a different culture that has history, tales of love and war and unique community values ingrained into its fibres.

Every country has its own complex jigsaw creating a cultural canvas that gives us the privilege of stepping onto its land, walking through its labyrinth of villages, towns and regions, to understand its music – from its heart and its deepest soul. And France is one place where that soul is so freely expressed. Ghosts of past eras guard their secrets in the ancient walls where their homes are honoured and more importantly preserved for future generations.

Les Plus Beaux Villages de France is an association that officially launched on 6 March 1982 and was the vision of Charles Ceyrac.  There are currently 157 villages throughout France (including the island of Corsica) which have the enviable label of being one of the most beautiful villages in France and this body offers the community a chance to conserve their heritage.

It wasn’t until we began to travel full time in March 2016 that we stumbled upon this gorgeous collection of places with awareness of their role in French culture. Without much structure, we started to visit places, not because they were on the list necessarily, just because they looked or sounded beautiful.  And yet it was with woeful realisation that we had only actually visited a mere 15  of 157 village and a large majority of those were in Provence, during our three months there last year.  Shame on us!  From that moment on, we committed to exploring more of these delicate delights and knitting together our own French cultural experience by meandering our way through the countryside.  This blog and the many more to come over time, I’m sure, is a short insight to those we visited and the routes we took, with the hope that perhaps you too may decide to continue your cultural education en France.


Part 1 – Occitane in Autumn

Autumn is a great season at the best of times, although in the oak forests of Occitaine in south of France, you will be treated to a canopy of colour. Every shade along the spectrum from brown, green, red, gold, orange and yellow.  In fact the colours we have seen this week make Joseph’s Techni-coloured Dream Coat pale into insignificance.

Our mission this week was to explore the area east of Cahors – covering the Lot, Tarn et Garonne, Tarn and Aveyron regions and what a treat we were in for.  We started our route from Toulouse and we took just over five days, taking a pretty relaxed pace.  If you click the markers on this interactive map below, you will see the villages we visited.


St-Cirq Lapopie

Hidden in the depths of the Parc Naturel Régional des Causses de Quercy, our route took us through some wonderful scenery. Meandering through the forests, we felt as though we were being transported into our very own private Narnia. We became one with the oaks; leaves falling like snow, covering the ground with a golden carpet. And yet after thirty minutes we were suddenly left speechless and breathless as we reached the junction for St-Cirq Lapopie.

With the village to our left, the river to our right – we saw emerge from behind the trees, a village perched high above the valley floor – dominating the sky line with the grace of an eagle. This Medieval village dates back to 13th Century where history of family feuds is evidenced by the three different castles looking for supremacy against one another. Sat 300 metres above the Lot valley, this lofty village commands a view to the hills beyond and is master of all it purveys.

Within its protective embrace, St-Cirq Lapopie has 13 listed buildings and is a homage to the artisans who crafted their wares; from button makers, wood turners and skinners. Climbing up from the valley floor to the height of the castles’ towers, we got a real sense of medieval tunes played out through the ages. And today on a crisp, autumn day, the chimneys puffing out their smoke left us with a feeling that we had gone back in time.  No tourists to cloud our view, only cobbled streets that took us in-between the houses that have so many ancient scars and stories to tell.

This is a completely 3D experience; we approached the town from the river beneath, and looking up to the skies there was a perspective of grandeur; then within the walls we smelt the bygone era of artisans and felt like Alice in Wonderland, and then on the road back down to the river, we saw the village stretch out like one of those concertina Birthday cards giving us a totally different view of the multiple layers of streets and rooftops, framed by the Lot valley beneath us.  What a ‘wow’ this place was and a magical experience.


There’s two camping opportunities; both an Aire and an official Campsite, both just down the hill from the village. We stayed at the Aire on the river’s edge and for €7 with free services.  We had a grand position along the river Lot, staring across the banks at houses carved into the gorge walls and the distant sound of the weir as the river made its way through the valley.   A short walk along the river’s edge brought us to a mill and lock on this navigable river and soon the prospect of a stretching climb to the village heart.  (44.47017 1.67893).



After a couple of nights, sitting out a weather front in nearby Monteils, we headed off to Najac, a completely unique village nestled in the Aveyron valley. The drive to it gave us glimpses of what we would experience, although we were not ready for this village’s mystery. In the distance a castle silhouette caught our eye, although we were brought back into the present moment, by the distraction of the  most enthralling oak-lined road to this village kingdom.

Parking at the foot of the castle hill, we diligently climbed through the woods.  As we reached the church and castle, we were most definitely impressed.  And rightly so as this has royal heritage, as one of the many chateaux royeaux in the area, demonstrating the Royal control of Najac back in 13th Century.  It’s said that the dungeon here was where the Knights of the Templar were imprisoned. Sadly the fortress was closed when we visited, although it is still an incredible sight with its fairy-tale turrets that look to the valley below.

As we continued our walk through the old village, we couldn’t help thinking that we’d climbed all this way for just this tiny hamlet and – don’t get me wrong, it was lovely and certainly very quaint with its ancient architecture, although we felt a little underwhelmed at this point. And then the walk continues – just up one street.  There are no others – just one street and soon we came to appreciate the unique status of this plus beau village.  The whole place is just on one street along an entire rocky ridge.  With the church and chateau one end and the town square and fountain at the other, this 0.6km long village is like nothing else we’ve ever seen. The cobble streets gives a feel of Dickensian England yet with its typical French shutters we were left in no doubt which side of the Channel we were stood.

Highly coloured shutters and facias rewarded our continued walk, with stone and wooden structures that give it such an authentic feel. Suddenly the love for this village oozed from within us. A respect for the way the residents perched their existence in the most of unlikely places and yet thrived for over seven hundred years. It was like a movie set and to appreciate it without the buzz of the crowd on this cold yet stunningly beautiful, blue sky day was a honour. Najac is a delight.


We stayed at a free Aire in Monteils about 20 minutes away (44.26702 1.99721), although there are two options in Najac itself, on the valley floor:

Camping Paisserou (44.2206 1.9693) which has river frontage pitches for €16 except for July and August when the price rises to €27.

Najac Aire (44.22137 1.96741) opposite the municipal swimming pool, an old tennis court has been converted into an Aire where you can park for access to the village for €2 for 2hrs or €6 for 24hrs with facilities.




After an overnight stop in Saint Antonin Noble Val, which in itself is worth a visit for its canals and ancient buildings, we took the Aveyron Gorge route, which was very special. If you’ve ever been through the Gorges de Verdun, then this is a second-cousin twice removed, with the same hallmark narrow roads, craggy outcrops and stunning valley floor views – just a little shorter. If your vehicle is under 3m tall and less than 3.5T then traversing this road is very easy, if not a little caution needed.  The other side of the gorge, Bruniquel was waiting for us; a bastide, which is a fortified village common to this region of France.

As we walked up from the car park, we had a welcoming view of the village’s hub – a clock tower that proudly sits at the gateway. With this as a welcome we wandered around the outer edges of Bruniquel, marvelling at the deep red Virginia Creeper clinging to the old walls and the radiant yellow maple trees.  Ancient portals signal the outer reaches and soon we found ourselves weaving back into the sanctuary of the bastide’s embrace towards the gardens and chateaux. Again out of season the museums were all closed, although to walk through the streets of this tiny village is almost enough to sense the feuding cousins that split the chateau into two.  This is a small and compact village with charm and delight.


There is a dedicated camper parking area with water facilities two minutes from the village, although Saint Antonin is so close with its Aire, that this is a perfect stopping point.  (44.152091 1.75128).  Alternatively you could motor further onwards to Puycelsi another 30 minutes drive away, where there is parking available. (43.99426 1.713816).



Rising up from the valley floor our eyes fell upon Puycelsi and although some way in the distance, we just knew it was going to be something special. We were so excited to explore this one and I can’t quite tell you why;, it was a just a feeling in the depths of my stomach – like a butterfly had been released.  After an overnight stop in the parking area at the bottom on the village, we woke with anticipation. Sadly an early morning mist had descended and shrouded the whole area in an eery, white blanket. Somehow this made our whole exploration that bit more intriguing and atmospheric. The 800m thick ramparts, on the face of it, seem to be unwelcoming although that soon altered when we walked around the rampart walls. We imagined what the view beneath the four cornered bastide might look like as it stretched invisibly in front of us over the Grésigne Forest and Vère Valley.

Unlike the other villages, the buildings seemed to have been steam-cleaned, they were so pristine. The love and tender care that radiated from the bricks gave this village a really energetic feel. Children laughed in the small school playground and the mist still clung to the buildings like a child being prised from its mother’s arms.  Although as it turned out – it hadn’t always been this way – even up until recently as the history books told us.

Wandering through the alleyways of this charming village, the mist didn’t change how the homes gathered around us in comforting embrace. Puycelsi had such a lovely feel about it – we felt immediately integrated into it. Its 13th century history of sieges and survival of four major epidemics made the village resilient and its strength grew. It was only after World War 2 when the houses were abandoned and fell into disrepair that Puycelsi lost its courageous hold. Although it didn’t take long for people to gather and put a concerted effort into renovating this prosperous and ancient village and hence the love we felt in the walls of each home.

Puycelsi, with its fortress reputation, defensive walls and resolute spirit is written into every cobblestone, into every brick and every rafter – its medieval tale is one that will now be held as a legacy in this stunningly restored village.


There is a car park just in the shadow of the towering ramparts, attached to the Tourist Information, where camping overnight was permitted – see Bruniquel for co-ordinates.  We had a sheltered and quiet night there and once the mist had cleared by lunchtime, the views were incredible.


Castelnau de Montmiral


The final village on our list for the week was a short drive down the road from Puycelsi.  Through beautiful autumnal agricultural land, where the shadows extended like long fingers towards the horizon, Castelnau soon appeared above the Vère river valley with the residue of mist curling around its turrets.

Castelnau de Montmiral is another bastide and dates back to 1222.  Yet it is not the towering village ramparts that struck us most; the first thing that we saw was the monument on the hill – a Virgin Mary standing gracefully at the village entrance, enticing us into the bosom of the community.

This, unlike the others has no chateau, as this was destroyed by war.  Yet what it lacked in victorious castle splendour it made up for in its village square, which had us spinning round in awe as we took in the medieval architecture, archways and central fountain.  It is said that the pillar of one of the buildings was used to tether adulterous women, thieves  and animals before they were sacrificed. We could almost  imagine the sound of the villagers’ heckles when we stood still for a while, as their voices echo around the square.

One final wonderment that we couldn’t miss was inside the church.  Whilst the walls needed a bit of TLC, the beautiful blue ceiling  was pretty impressive with its magnetic portrait of religious design. Although we moved deeper into the church to seek out the small ante-room where the famous 14th Century Reliquary jewelled cross, once owned by the Counts of Armagnac, is kept safely. Whilst it is behind protective gates, it is an incredible sight with its sparkling jewels.

The final draw of Castelnau is not found in the streets, nor the timber framed walls of the ancient buildings.  No you must look to the sky and watch for the clouds of Red Kites and Storks that encircle the village on the day’s thermals. It was a truly magnificent sight – there must have been 30 birds just floating in the sky, playing not hunting and it was a sight to behold.


There is a car park dedicated to Motorhomes at the side of the village, although it’s not very level for overnight. So we headed out of the village where we had a couple of options; there were two France Passion sites en route to Gaillac although our ‘home’ for the evening was actually just beyond the town along the river Tarn, at Lac de Bellevue (43.861818 1.818547).  This was a great spot close to the lake with full facilities.  A perfect end to a perfect week.


And so there is our autumn extravaganza around the most colourful, atmospheric region. A tour that allowed us to rub shoulders with ancient ghosts, battle scars and charming streets that old legends have now made into modern homes.  The protection of Les plus beaux villages de France allows their history to be honoured and never be forgotten.  Our visit was made even more special by the autumn colours and no crowds.  Whilst there were no shops or cafes open we were happy to not share these special places with anyone else.

From this point forward, our exploration of these charming and characterful villages will continue – may not be tomorrow or next week, although rest assured our French education will expand in the future of our Motoroaming Adventures.

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Camping-van Problem-solving en France

Camping-van Problem-solving en France

So, it’s  been an interesting fortnight at Motoroaming HQ as we took time out to see our French friends in Toulouse as we were in the area.  We hoped that they could help us navigate our way through resolving an ongoing problem  with our shower, buy new batteries, get a service booked and contact the local Pilote dealer where we could get our annual Habitation Check sorted.  We’re due up in December and given that we’ll not be back to UK until March, we needed to sort something out in France or Spain.

Whilst Myles’ French is pretty good, when you’re on the spot trying to find the right technical vocabulary, it’s a challenge and can be stressful. So we hoped that having a Frenchman supporting us, we would nail these tricky manoeuvres with the dexterity of a slalom kayak!!

However it’s not been that easy and the ensuing chain of events has created some important learning that we wanted to share for anyone in a similar predicament whilst in France and more particularly for anyone out there having to resolve issues with their Pilote.  So here’s today’s Classroom of learning!

The Batteries

  • If you need to replace your leisure batteries find a Battery Specialist found in most reasonably large towns.  Take one of your original batteries in with you so that you can be sure to get like for like.  One of the most important phrases we needed to use was to ask for a Slow Release Battery for a Motorhome which in French is Décharge lent pour un camping car.  The two new batteries cost €320 and although we had to order them in, it only took 48hrs.


The Warranty

  • We have a December 2015 Pilot P740 and we had the idea from somewhere that we had a three year warranty.  This is not correct.  We have had it verified that we have a 2 year Mechanical Warranty and a 5 Year Body Warranty.  So do check what you have so that you can make informed choices.


The Service

  • If the timing of you being away means you need to get a vehicle service done in France then ask a local for a recommended Garagiste rather than using a dealer as it will be significantly more expensive. You need to ask for Une révision annuelle. The mechanic should be able to source your specific oil and filter although we bought ours from a Car Parts shop, which you will find in most large towns.  Expect to pay €56 for a filter and 5 ltires of oil on top of which you will need to pay the mechanic’s labour.


  • A service that includes the oil and filter change is called a Vidange in French


  • If you need to get a Gas and Electric test (rather than have it done as part of your habitation), then that is a Contrôle de gaz et electrique, which you can get done at a motorhome dealer.

Habitation Check

  • To protect your Warranty you will need to have your Habitation done as close to your anniversary as possible. If this happens to fall whilst you are outside the UK then this shouldn’t be a problem. We were advised that we must go to a Pilote dealer to ensure that any future claim was not null and void and that a note of our Habitation could go onto the central Database. There are two parts to your Habitation; The Gas and Electric check (see above) and the Body Check (which is the bit you need for your 5 year warranty.) We tried phoning the local Pilote dealer in Toulouse only to be fobbed off with a ‘He’ll call you later,” and of course never does.  We suggest you physically go in ask to be booked in for one. We had ours done within four days and cost us €123.  It took four hours in total, partly because there were other people in front of us.


  • The phrase for arranging the Body Check part of the Habitation is:  J’ai besoin d’une Contrôle d’étanchéité pour mon camping car, s’il vous plaît. 


  • If you own a Pilote, then it is possible to arrange to have your Habitation deferred for up to three months, as long as you contact your Dealer and put this in writing.  We have been co-ordinating with Martin Storey, who is a Pilote UK Agent, who has been terrific in helping us to navigate our issues. He confirmed that although it would be better to get the Habitation done around our anniversary date, if it was impossible then Pilote would be prepared to defer it until we got back to UK as long as this was within three months.


Warranty Work

  • If you are away in France and have an issue that falls within your warranty, you do have the option of sorting this out directly with your Dealership in UK, although you can also get this done in France at an appropriate dealer, if you’re with Pilote.  Other brands may have different arrangements, so it’s important that you contact your dealer in the first instance.
  • If it requires urgent attention and you cannot return to UK to get it repaired – as in the case of our leaking shower, which has been an ongoing issue for 12 months, then (certainly with Pilote) this can be dealt with by any Pilote dealer in Europe.  Once they open up a warranty claim it goes onto the central system and even if it cannot be dealt with locally, once it’s on the system then your dealer back home can deal with the paperwork. So with our shower, we had the option of trying to get the Toulouse dealer to resolve it, do a temporary fix and open up a warranty claim so that our Dealer in UK could resolve it when we returned.


  • We’re yet to see if their fix has worked, although because of the paper trail that has now been undertaken, we will have plenty of recourse when we return to the UK.


A note for Pilote owners.  The issue we have with the shower is the shower base doesn’t seem to be supported efficiently to the floor and so with pressure on the base, the edges come away from the back wall leaving a gap as the silicone cannot support the weight (and we’re not heavy by any means).  Apparently this is a Manufacturing Issue and is common in Pilote vans, so be aware of this and ensure that more than just a re-sealant fix is carried out for you, otherwise it will return to bite you on the backside. In the Toulouse dealership they use Sikkaflex which is the best stuff on the market.  We’ll see what happens over the course of the next couple of months.

Whist our French friend was terrific, much of this saga was negotiated behind the scenes with Pilote, so if you have any difficulties and you need support as a Pilote owner, then we suggest you contact Martin Storey, who is incredibly helpful.  He is a Pilote Agent for UK owners and you can contact him at mstorey@pilote.fr or on 00441902 256990.


Camargue’s Stunning Diversity

Camargue’s Stunning Diversity

France’s Camargue – the land of true diversity

Imagine travelling through the heart-land of a delta region – what jumps out at you?  Is it the flatness of the region or the endless acres of salt flats divided by borders of gravel banks leading to who knows where – perhaps just the horizon or some other equally distant destination that is unattainable.  May be your mind leaps to a haven of wildlife and even flamingoes, hidden by seven foot reed-beds defying your camera lens access to the private ornithological playground.

Whatever your impressions or images are of delta regions, I would love to set you a challenge of falling in love with France’s Camargue.  We’ve been to four deltas during our 20 months on the road; two in Spain, one in Romania and one in Italy.  They are all very different – and in their individuality you can look deep within their characters to experience the true battle between land, river and sea and watch unfold an incredible evolution that serves both the human race and the natural world in an incredible dance of harmony.

 Camargue Map

Yet the Camargue, the largest delta in western Europe is one of the stand-out areas for me such is its diversity, expanse and intrigue.  Nestled in the arms of the Rhône that splits out into two; the Petit Rhône to the west and the Grand Rhône to the east, the south of France claims protection over this incredibly fertile and rich plain.  With a blend of Mediterranean Coast, a Spanish cultural influence and a highly balanced ecosystem of salt lagoons cut off from the sea’s reign by sand dunes and reed beds, the Camargue has supremacy in Europe for tradition, cultivation and ornithology.  It is so much more than a land of flat nothingness.

Let me see if I can inspire a visit with these seven reasons to put the Camargue on your list:

1. Sexy Salt-flats?

So let’s talk salt-flats and deal with the iconic delta landscape before we delve into cultural intrigue.  Now these are no ordinary salt beds; the Camargue has coloured salt-flats that just cry out for a few ‘Ooohs and ahhhs’ from passers by.  Thanks to the algae in the region, the landscape is quite breathtaking and in the mid-day sun the hue sparkles pink and purple.

There’s also something quite earthy about the salt industry here, because although there’s a slight hint of exploitation of the earth’s resources, somehow there feels like a grace in which this process is undertaken, almost as if, with gratitude the salt is lifted and manufactured.  A mixture of salt we use for cooking and also road salt – this production line has huge benefits to the local community and beyond.  Fringed with coarse plants and crystal rocks, this area defies you to not be impressed. Go to the Visitors’ Viewing point about 2km from Salin-de-Giraud and you will be treated to a magnificent sight.



2. Arles

Arles is Camargue’s capital and a thriving city that boasts the splitting of the Rhône in two. Although we didn’t spend any time here other than passing through looking for petrol, it certainly looks like a place to stop.  It has one of the region’s longest and most major markets around its city walls, every Wednesday and Saturday morning and if you love markets, then get your walking shoes on and go explore.  On top of that you have a UNESCO site in the Roman monuments, theatre and amphitheatre and its main claim to fame is that it was host to Vincent Van Gogh who called this home for a year, creating over 300 hundred paintings. So Arles is definitely worth exploring and we will do it justice next time we’re in the region for sure.


3. Sainte Marie de la Mare

Black Madonna – Sarah

This small, Spanish influenced, whitewashed town on the Camargue’s coast has strong links with the Romany people, for whom Sarah or ‘Sara the Black’ is their patron saint. The Black Madonna, as she is also known is honoured at Sainte Marie each May, when there is an annual pilgrimage of Romanies to the town.  The drive there transports you to a land that time forgot, with Ranches spring out of nowhere, where the famous Camargue horses form the heart of local’s passion and their livelihood.

It is here that you start to feel the culture behind the Camargue, where Gardians or cowboys hold their centuries old tradition of raising black bulls for the Spanish Bullfighting industry and using the wild horses to round up their herds.  Today there is more of a tourist feel to this town as many of the Ranches offer horse-ridding excursions around the Delta, although it is quaint enough and definitely worth hanging around to pick up an evening vibe.



4. Aigues Mortes

 Aigues’ Castle Walls

Of all the Camargue towns, Aigues Mortes (name source; stagnant water) was our favourite.  As we cycled along the main road from Montcalm where we were camping at their vineyard, we crossed a river, which at its end has an imposing tower that entices you towards it. With increased pedal power you find yourself intrigued and soon enough you enter the almost Disney-like scene in front of you. Impenetrable walls that for centuries have protected its farmers and salt-miners, standing up against those who wish to claim the land for its own.  Back in the day, Aigues had direct access to the sea, so protection from the Crusaders was absolutely necessary.  Today bridges over the canal, a silted moat and a great road network has you within the bosom of Aigues within no time, although you certainly feel its protective prowess as you approach.

This ancient city is beautifully intact and as you walk around the walls you get a real sense of the stories that were created here and how today’s town has claimed its identity.

Inside the walls, it’s like another world. A place where you can feel the security and as you wander through the grid-like alleyways, you seriously feel like you have teleported into a Dickensian era.  If like me, you take your camera with you everywhere, then Aigues is the place you will click the most.  Outside of the walls you have a  masterful spectacle; waterways that now provide tours for eagerly awaiting landlubbers with a chance to see the Delta up-close-and-personal; and then there’s the romantic, encased town claiming its own unique personality with sandstone walls that tell tales of battles fought, won and lost in bygone eras.  In fact the town saw the largest massacre of immigrants in modern France, when in 1893, Italian workers who were brought in to work on the salt flats began fighting with the French contingent leading to riots and a massacre of Italian workers.  It caused a huge diplomatic incident between France and Italy leading finally to compensation and justice.

We were lucky (or unlucky as the case may be) to have visited early October, where they have a week-long festival of Bull and Horse Running through the town.  Local Gardians and Romanies gather to celebrate their Bull raising traditions and although I hate the idea of bullfighting in any manner, this bull running through the town’s streets is not something that results in death, thankfully.  Whilst I love to experience another country’s traditions, the crowds that these festivals attract don’t make for an authentic visit.  So whilst I appreciated seeing something completely new and I must admit to being intrigued, I would love to return so we can wander through the streets without the throng of the crowds.



5. Le Grau du Roi 

I think when you come to a new place, visiting as much as you have the time and energy for seems appropriate. It’ll certainly help you form an overall impression of a place and help you decide whether a second visit or a recommendation to others is worthy.  So on our last day in the Camargue, we decided to check out Le Grau du Roi and sadly it was our least favourite of all the places we visited.  Whilst the canal leading to the sea and the old town to the west is full of character and we just love marinas and boat-life, which this has aplenty, the rest of the streets and harbour-front were just full with wall-to-wall tourists shops and restaurants. It left us cold and the beachfront with its high-rise hotels and marinas simply didn’t do it for us.  It’s almost as if this section of the Camargue has lost its soul to the devil and really doesn’t have the same spirit as in the heart of the National Park.  Whilst Le Grau du Roi is to the west of the Camargue, this town marks a significant change in both the landscape and the authenticity that the Delta offers.

Le Grau du Roi coastline

From this point as you head west, small fishing villages have been swollen up by consumerism and commerciality, with hotels rising above the trees in some sort of fight for supremacy and the authentic nature of the coastline lost to holiday-makers. Montpellier sets its southern coast marker where crowds flock rather than birds – and for us, it just wasn’t our cup of tea. We were glad to visit to see the other side, although it was a face of the Camargue that was less appealing for us and we were glad to have moved inland to find a bit more French authenticity.


6.Camargue wildlife

If like me, you love nature and the wonders of the world, then the Camargue will not disappoint.  Away from the towns and their tourist trade, you enter a magical world where nature seems unperturbed by the frenetic human activity around it. As if in some grand snobbery, flamingoes defy the photographers’ lens and coach loads of adoring ornithologists. This is a sanctuary to them, a haven of food and relative safety from the elements where they can raise their young and live their simple lives amidst the lagoons, teaming with their favourite dish of the day. Dragonflies dart amongst the reed beds, birds wade, horses roam and buzzards soar all to the delight of the onlookers.

You can visit the Parc Ornithologique at Pont de Gau close to Sainte Marie de la Mare which is open all year – here you get 2.5km of intimate sanctuary that allows you to see seasonal wildlife in a protected area.  Alternatively, just spend time, like we did, cycling or driving around the region and see the area teeming with wildlife everywhere.  Autumn and spring are great seasons to visit as migratory birds will be more evident here, although whatever time of year you go, there is always something on the horizon.

7. Carmargue beaches, sunrises and sunsets

Perhaps beaches are not the first thing you think of when you picture a Delta, although the Camargue has them in bucketloads. Perfect golden sands that stretch for miles offering a barrier to the lagoons from the sometimes harsh energy of the sea. As a south facing landscape, of course the added benefit of the coast is its unmistakably beautiful sunrises and sunsets.  With just a little patience and commitment to perhaps an early morning or two, then  you will be rewarded by the most incredible colours that turn the sky and the land into an artist’s canvas.  Whether you love kitesurfing, horse ridding or simply walking with your bare feet on the the golden grains, the Camargue’s endless beaches are magnificent and just so the diversity of this treasured land.

I hope that these seven reasons for visiting the Camargue have inspired to add this French beauty to your ‘must visit’ list. Easily accessible by plane with flights into either Montpellier or Marseille and a road network of motorways from Spain and Italy, there is no excuse not to visit.

If you decide to come by car or camper, there are plenty of places to camp out which enhanced our Camargue experience although one piece of advice before I leave you – if you are driving from Martigues in the east towards Sainte Marie de la Mare, you will find a ferry that takes you across the Rhône.  Take it!  For no more than €10 you can cross this channel and get direct access to the Camargue, otherwise you will have a 80km detour to Arles which is the only other crossing point from east to west.  Learn from our mistake and just pay the Ferryman!

Here are our camping spots should you go with your own vehicle:

  • Sausset Les Pins – Free Aire (43.3318816 005.109914)
  • Arles Plage de Piémenson – Wild camping on the beach between the lagoon and the Med.  Windy, although stunning location in good weather.  (43.348050 004.784010). Services available in Salin le Giraud.
  • Domaine Montcalm – France Passion Vineyard – camping for free.  Free wine tasting although no obligation to buy.

There are plenty of other camping options in the area, including official ACSI sites.  However you come – just come and discover the treasures of the land that is the Camargue.

Lake Salagou, France

Lake Salagou, France

Imagine a beautiful lake encased within a basin of iron-red earth that in the autumn is home to yellow and rust-coloured trees dotted around the hills.  Accompanied by autumnal warmth that has you basking as if in a pottery-kiln and sharp blue waters that makes the camera scream out for shots, there is so much that Lake Salagou has to offer the late season visitor.  Let’s see if I can tempt you.

Salagou Lake Map

Just an hour away from the Mediterranean coast and 90 minutes away from the Camargue, this beautiful region of Languedoc-Rousillon is perhaps one of those ‘Road Less Travelled’ places, as people flock to the seaside resorts. This typically French countryside with its iconic vineyards and roads lined with plane trees, gives you so much more than the over-populated towns along the high-rise south.

Lake Salagou… there truly is something for everyone

Lake Salagou is actually man-made, back in 1968 as a preventative measure for the, prone-to-flooding river Salagou, whose swollen waters often threatened the agriculture of its surrounding land.  That said, the lake is beautiful none the less and whether you love sailing, fishing, kitesurfing, SUP, kayaking, cycling or horse riding, there truly is something for everyone.

Salagou curves

One of the things we loved the most, was the shape of the lake which actually belies its man-made conception. It has formed its own curves, inlets and secret coves over the last fifty years and provides refuge to a veritable feast of wildlife and I’m sure a sanctuary to its carp-filled waters.

Get off the beaten track by taking one of the many forestry paths or the lakeside cycle trails that tests out your mountain biking skills with its rugged terrain and see the lake’s many faces.  Each corner offers a new vista of this stunning blue treasure.  Parking areas are dotted around everywhere and you will see many campers bunked down for the night in both official and unofficial places, which out of season seems to be tolerated by the local Gendarmerie.

Salagou Cycling

On the northern side of the lake, a must-visit site is Celles, When they built the lake, the original intention was to raise the water level firstly to 130m and then to 150m, which would have flooded the village that stands at 144m. So the village was abandoned although the second level was never initiated, leaving Celles unaffected, paradoxically.  Today, the buildings of this tiny hamlet are in rack and ruin, with vegetation being the only resident in this slightly eerie place. With the lake licking the fringes of the village’s perimeter, the local commune are currently planning to renovate the entire village, having already started with the local Mayor’s house.  Over time, each building will get the loving care that is needed to bring it back to life and breathe fresh energy into this once thriving agricultural community.

Deserted Celles

Further outside of the lake, not more than 30 minutes away heading north-east, you have Les Gorges de l’Herault, Le Pont du Diable and the medieval village of Sainte Guilhem le Désert.  You will notice plenty of walking signs around and through the village, which are part of the pilgrimage route Santiago de Compostela. Also en route to the village you have caves that look interesting, although we didn’t stop here.  Certainly the Devil’s Bridge is a great place for swimming and picnics, and Guilhem cut up into the mountain rock, with its ruined castled keeping watch is a must visit, given that it is on the 100 Most Beautiful villages in France list.  We would recommend out of season though, otherwise you run the risk of sharing the place with the crowds.

Pont du Diable

There are other sights, such as Gignac, Claremont l’Herault and Cirque de Mouréze which is a natural amphitheatre of dolomites and all worth seeing if you are in the area for more than a couple of days, unlike us sadly.  Although so beautiful is this area and Lac du Salagou in particularly, that we will be back to explore some more.

In the meantime, why not divert your path away from the crowded and built up region of the south coast and head inland.  Place your feet upon the earth that is shaped by Mother Nature and cultivated for its richness and feel the tranquility that Lake Salagou offers the humble visitor.

Scoobie’s camping spot

If you are coming with your camper, then there are plenty of wild camping spots along the lake. There are a couple of campsite that are open from April until beginning of October, and two official Aires that whilst have no facilities, do allow you to park up for free.  Here are the co-ordinates:

Wind 34  – 43.644036 003.383137

Camping Le Salagou – 43.645460 003.389700

Rive d’Octon – Overnight parking with services 43.65425, 3.318127

Come on!  Give it a go – you’ll not be disappointed.


Salagou Gallery

Colmar Christmas Market

Colmar Christmas Market

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Well, how cutsey was that… Colmar Christmas market is a must. Put it on your list…..

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