Magical Mystery Tour's Last Days in France - Days 7, 8 and 9
The Magical Mystery Tour continues with our last days in France exploring Pezenas, the Gorges du Tarn and the Camargue.
Read on for Euan Landsborough’s ‘The Mo’, daily commentary.
Follow the Magical Mystery tour, view days 1-3 and days 4-6.
Day 7 - Overnight Pezenas - Thursday 17th September
Today is dedicated to the less touristy region around the Gorges du Tarn.
First stop of the day will be to explore the medieval village of La Couvertoirade. Located on the Larzic Plateau, La Couvertoirade dates back to the time of the Templar Knights, and it is on the list of ‘plus beaux villages de France’ (one of the most beautiful villages in France). We were lucky in that the rain held off whilst we explored this compact, fortified village, which dates back a mere 800 years! As we walked through the sleepy citadel everything was so quiet, and all appeared completely unchanged. Small stone houses decorated by pretty little pots of geraniums and other colourful flowers bordered little cobbled streets and narrow alleyways.
We walked up the slope to the ramparts to take in the views across the hills and fields around us. Some of us enjoyed a brisk walk over to the old windmill on a nearby hilltop over looking the old town whilst others explored the many little laneways of the old town. The small church was quite plain inside, reflecting the simple place of worship built by the pious Knights Templar. In the graveyard the gravestones were each engraved with a symbolic cross of the Knights Templar. A fascinating, perfectly preserved, fortified town.
We then drove on to Millau on the dramatic Gorge du Tarn. I had informed everyone something truly special was coming up, but not what it was! As the weather started to clear and Karen announced over the microphone, “Ladies and Gentlemen, you are about to cross over one of the greatest engineering feats of the 20th century” we drove over the incredible Millau Viaduct. Built at a cost of 400 million Euros this giant bridge is 2.4 kms long. But the drama is the sheer height of the span the Gorges du Tarn. At 325 metres high, the top of the tallest support is 20 metres higher than the Eiffel Tower. The viaduct motorway we were coasting along was at the same level as the Eiffel Tower’s top viewing platform. Karen smiled as she pointed out that whilst the French are so boastful about constructing this staggering feat of engineering…. It was actually designed by a Brit!
On the far side we stopped at the Bridge visitor centre and some of us walked up to the viewing platform to take in the huge span across the gorge when the the sun decided to come out revealing the true elegance and grace of this monstrous structure. What a glorious sight!
On our way to lunch we dropped down to the river and stopped on a relatively small bridge to take a group photo. The setting was impressive with all of us lined up leaning over the side of the bridge, with the towering leg supports behind us and the gigantic viaduct just above us, outlined by clear blue skies.
Now time for lunch, so we drove upriver past Peyre (also on the list of ‘plus beaux villages de France’) and stopped at a small ‘Auberge’ (Inn) set its own vineyards, where we enjoyed a hearty grilled lunch washed down by ample wine and laughter. Delightful! Later we took a slow and winding route through the back roads and villages to Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, where we to enjoyed a tour through the ‘caves’ where they prodce the famous, blue-veined Roquefort cheese. Absoulutely delicious cheese.
Day 8 -Camargue - Saintes Maries de-la-Mer - Friday 18th September
Today we went on to the Camargue!
A very leisurely day. Our main stop for the day was in Nimes which was enjoying its annual “Feria de Nimes” festival. As we walked along the tree-lined boulevard we came across the gigantic 2,000 year old amphitheatre, the best preserved Roman amphitheatre in the world. The movie, ‘Gladiator’ was filmed here and it is still used for public spectacles, musical performances and during this ‘Feria’, traditional bull fighting. And yes, sadly, the bulls are killed. (In other areas of France when they fight bulls they are not killed. These bulls are bred differently, being much lighter and with horns that point upwards. Their horns are decorated with rings and ribbons and the task of the matador is to take them off the rampaging bulls). The whole town was buzzing in preparation for the festival. The locals were already out in numbers filling the bars and cafes, which spilled out into the streets.
Nimes is a glorious city in the region of Provence. The whole ancient heart of the city is pedestrianised, and it spans out from the Amphitheatre, through restaurant filled squares and streets lined with shops, boutiques and bars. Karen walked us through town to the Maison Caree, the best preserved Roman Temple in the world. Dating back 2,000 years, this stunning white building is lined with tall, marble Corinthian columns.
A short walk away are the ornate ‘Jardins de la Fontaine’. Covering 100,000 square metres, these 18th century gardens, with grand staircases and walkways, are among the best in the world.
In the mid afternoon we continued to Saintes Maries de-la-Mer, deep in the Camargue National Park. The first three nights we stayed in a Chateau and the next three in a converted ‘distillerie’. For our last two nights in France we stayed in simple, white-washed cabins of the L'Auberge Cavaliere du Pont des Bannes, amongst the marshes of the Camargue. Our cabins were scattered around the complex on land reclaimed from the marshes, interlinked with pathways and small bridges.
Day 9 - Camargue - Saintes Maries de-la-Mer - Saturday 19th September
Breakfast was poolside and marsh-side. Some passengers chose to swim in the clear blue waters of the swimming pool which contrasted perfectly against the white washed villa walls, and the green reeds of the marsh.
After a leisurely start we drove to where the ‘Petite Rhone’ empties into the Mediterranean. Here we boarded the Tiki III to enjoy a 2 hours cruise upriver, past the Camargue marshlands and farmlands. We saw heaps of egrets, storks and all sots of birdlife, plus wild white horses and bulls.
Later we continued to Aigues Mortes where we were joined by a local guide for a brief walking tour. Aigues Mortes was created by the French Kings as an assembly port to launch the 7th crusade. After some free time inside this compact walled city, wandering through the picturesque pedestrian streets, we jumped on a ‘petite train’ to enjoy a ride through the massive pink salt flats. The 13th century walls of this historical town end dramatically where the vast salines (salt flats) begin, forming a striking contrast.
Tomorrow we will fly via Paris to….Italy, where will meet our new coach, driver and tour manger, Gilberto. Understanding therefore that this was to be our last evening with our Tour Manager Karen, we all assembled outside her hut for farewell drinks and canapés. As we toasted her health, and thanked her for such a good time, a flock of beautiful pink flamingos did a ‘fly by’ overhead in the blue, late afternoon sky.
Later some of us jumped on the coach to enjoy dinner amongst the white washed houses and restaurants in Saintes Maries de-la-Mer. Others had picnics in their cabins.
Tomorrow we rise early, and fly to a new destination!