Posts tagged activities
The Verdon Gorge is Europe’s equivalent of the Grand Canyon, and grand it is indeed; a must-see for any visitor to France. We were passing close to it, but having already seen it on a previous holiday, we opted instead to visit the Gorges de L’Ardeche, a long chasm surrounded by green hills. Its most oustanding feature is the Pont d’Arc, a natural stone bridge over the river. We took a leisurely drive along quiet roads (not so in peak season!) stopping here and there to admire the view. While enjoying a tasty picnic overlooking the river we saw a small canoe meander gently down the river and resolved to get one last canoeing adventure in before the weather got too cold.
The following day we hired a canoe in Vallon Pont d’Arc. (Ph: 04 75 37 17 79; http://www.canoe-ardeche.com open: Apr-Nov) We were offered wetsuits by the canoe company, which we dutifully refused as self-respecting weather hardened Zimbabweans acclimatised to cold Britain. Pride, of course, comes before a fall, and having already fallen into the river on our last canoeing trip we ought to have been more sensible.
I had a little map indicating the bigger rapids on the river, one set of which is meant to be scouted out from the bank before engaging them, according to my map. Either my map skills were below par (quite likely) or the river was not flowing normally for we reached this point without first stopping on the side to plan our route and we suddenly found ourselves wedged on a rock on the opposite side of the recommended route, with strong currents beating against boulders on either side of us. It was do-or-die time, our only option was to push off into the fray and wing it. Several strong heaves dislodged us from the rock and, with a long shriek from Chris, we surged through the rapids emerging completely soaked on the other side. Drenched though we were we still felt a sense of victory. No swimming this time round, and just as well as we were the only people on the river.
Cinque Terre is a series of small villages that hug the coastline of Liguria in Northern Italy. What makes them unique is that there is almost no traffic as most of the locals use their feet to get around. We left from Levatano, a 5 minute train journey from the first of the villages, Monterosso. The camper stop is right next door to the train station and a short walk into town where you can buy a combination train and walking pass for a mere €8.50. Odie was allowed to come along but we were told he needed a muzzle, which we never used.
We boarded the train later than expected (10am), having treated ourselves to a lie; all due to the cloudy weather of course 😉 The train was rammed full of tourists and school kids; I dread to think how busy it gets in summertime. Just five minutes after boarding we hopped off and started along the blue trail.
The walkers come in waves as the train only stops every hour and, after leaving the station, we were followed by a stream of people dressed in hiking boots and armed with walking poles and happy-snap cameras. After about half an hour of steep climbing the traffic began to thin out a bit. We enjoyed spectacular views down to the stunning coastline and wandered amongst farms of lemons, olives, grapes and tomatoes.
The five villages are very busy when you reach them, especially at lunch time. Tourists gorge themselves on pizza for their onward journeys, though it’s hard to imagine why some need so much pizza to fuel them to the nearby train station. Part of the blue route was shut for maintenance so we opted to climb up the mountain pass. This added some extra exercise to our day with relentlessly steep ascents tormenting us at every corner, but we were rewarded with a spectacular view at the summit where the path meandered through hillside vinyards.
We had only appreciated the view for a few minutes when we realised that we were far from the next village, from which our train would soon be leaving. Admiration of the surroundings quickly turned to much cursing of the steep paths as we rushed downhill to get to the station on time. We needn’t have bothered as, in true Italian fashion, the train turned up half an hour late.
In all it was a fantastic day out and an experience we would highly recommend!
After the hustle and bustle of touristy towns, we escaped to Monti Sibillini and its eerie National Park, which straddles the Le Marche and Umbrian region of Italy. We stayed in a grassy (and free) area di sosta close to the town of Castleluccio, surrounded by mountains.
Handgliders and paragliders make good use of the flat basin, perfect for easy landings. Some of the more adventurous ones could even be seen disappearing in and out of clouds that tumble down the sides of the mountains.
The area is perfect for hiking and mountain biking; we did both whilst we were there. Apparently, there are numerous wild animals and plants to be spotted, but the wildest thing we saw was a bleary eyed shepherd and five sheepdogs who thought that Odie looked like a good appetiser.
Our stay in the Dolomites started at the Dolmiti camping village. They have a camperstop option of €19.50/night if you stay for 3 nights. A bit of eyelash fluttering got us the special price for only two nights. Alternatively, there is an area di sosta just next door for about the same price. In the end, we forgo rafting (the river did not look very wild) and opted instead for a mouton bike route. It turned out to be quite a climb up some very steep Dolomite slopes, but our hard work was rewarded with a fantastic downhill stretch. Near the top is a fantastic waterfall crashing to the rocks far below. David was keen to get a picture but after climbing over the barrier fence it soon became clear that he’d have to do some rather perilous climbing among the pine trees jutting out over the sheer drop. A stern look, followed by several agitated shouts and promises of pizza forced him back to the safety of land. No photos for our trip, but an intact husband, phew.
Last night we experienced the coldest night of our trip so far in a campsite which is home to humans and a variety of forest dwelling gnomes. The temperature in Austria plummeted to zero, and, in a bitter example of irony, our gas (and therefore central heating) spluttered and gave up the ghost right in the middle of cooking dinner. Chopped garlic and onions had to be hastily stashed in the fridge, followed by frantic scratching around for spare blankets and jerseys. Brrr!
Fussen is most famous for its castles but there is a lot more to it than fairytale architecture. The town is full of quaint shops and has much to offer the visiting tourist. There is a beautiful alpine blue river running through the town, with its own beach if you dare brave the freezing water! A fabulous cycle network leads you to Lake Forgensee where there are various watersports on offer. You can also cycle to both Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein castles.
We decided to scout out the parking situation for the castles. Arriving at 12pm we discovered hordes of tourists milling around and realised we needed to arrive as close to the opening time (8am) as possible, to avoid queuing for hours for a ticket. There is a beautiful lake near the castles which is virtually tourist free. Swimming is permitted at a designated spot where you can hire deck chairs and make the most of the crystal clear lake waters. Having no swimming costumes with us we opted to cycle up the mountain. What started off as a reasonable road soon turned into a perilous path with near vertical drops and numerous rockfalls. Our ride very quickly became a bicycle-carrying hike to the Mariebrucke. This bridge gives a great view of the fairytale Neuschwanstein Castle.
The following day we booked ourselves on the castle tour. There are tours in German and English, or audio tours for the rest. We managed to get onto the first English tour which thankfully had substantially less than the standard 50 people per group. The tour lasts only 30 minutes and felt rather rushed but is nevertheless well worth taking. King Ludwig II was clearly away with the faeries. The castle is built more for artistic value than architectural sense, but is in some ways all the better for it.
Up to now we have missed out on many of the local festivals as we seem to leave the towns a few days before they take place. When we found out that there was a reggae festival happening in Fussen we jumped at the chance to attend, especially when we read that they were a South African band and we could get a little taste of home. However we are not convinced that they are actually from South Africa as the mike was passed to David at one point and he sung ‘Ishe Komborera Africa’ to a very puzzled looking lead singer.
Rain, rain, rain! We had hoped to make the most of Lake Constanz but the only constant has been a steady downpour. Luckily, while drifting through Friedrichshafen, we spotted signs for the Zepplin Museum and decided to check it out on a whim. As it was early, we were fortunate enough to find a parking space easily but they were few and far between when we returned to the van. Get there early if you don’t want parking headaches. The museum itself was fascinating. I can’t believe how huge the Zepplins were, especially considering how few passengers they could carry. What we did find rather odd was that the top floor was home to an art exhibition. The rather tenuous reason (or should that be excuse?) for its existence was a little sign with the words “Science is art and art is science”.
We found a Stellplatz adjoining a campsite near Lindau. At last a chance to do some washing! A brief break in the steady downpour allowed us to go for a cycle to explore the area. We stopped at a cafe for a warming cup of tea and a very delicious apple strudel. On the cycle home we noticed a sign showing the way to Deutscheland and realised that we had accidentally strayed across the border into Austria for our strudel!
When evening fell we cycled, away from Austria this time, into Lindau town. The bay is lit up at night and is very pretty, apart from a rather odd neon sign at the top of a statue which changes every few minutes from a smiley face to a sad face. The restaurants on the water front are very expensive but a short walk to the end of the row will take you to a funky little cafe which serves cake and beer, a combination I have come to love 😀 We suspect that although it has a lovely riviera feel at night it would be very different in the day, heaving with tourists.
As my 30th birthday was fast approaching we needed to source a large number of bottles of sparkling wine in order to celebrate the event properly. We had visited Limoux previously and it is well known for producing sparkling wines that rival champagne in taste and quality. A very rapid tour of 5 different caves ensued and we finished our visit armed with 30 shiny new bottles. The rosés are the most delicious (and proved to be the most popular) whilst the Cremant is made with the same grape combination as champagne. The Blanquette de Limoux is made with a particular grape of the same name only grown in the Limoux area.
The town itself is quaint, straddled across a river with a beautiful square and some fantastic restaurants. I tried the local dish, Cassoulet; a bean stew with duck and sausage. Superb for the palette, not so great for the waistline ; )
Carcassonne is a town straight out of a fairy tale. The fortified city stands high over the town and is a tremendous sight when lit up at night. Inside the high walls are shops, restaurants and bars. On a summer evening the atmosphere was fabulous, full of the vie de France. We took a boat trip down the Canal du Midi. There are two options, one going into the city and one going outwards. We chose the latter though with hindsight the city trip would probably have been more interesting.
We wanted to get out onto the water instead of being under it the whole time so decided to rent a kayak (€40 / half day) from Montgo in L’escala. The vendor warned us that our outward journey could be a bit rough, but followed with the encouraging idea that the homeward bound stretch would be easy.
Out in the ocean proper we discovered some rather large waves for our rather small kayak and both Odie and I had an attack of nerves. I insisted that David paddle us back towards the shore but he was adamant that it would be easier to drift back towards the bay if we were further out. An argument ensued and he was finally convinced to head towards shore after I let out a small (to my mind) shriek. David enjoyed surfing the waves with the kayak which I now have to admit may have helped the journey home.
Book ahead if you want to visit Iles Medes for snorkeling in peak season by boat trip . We missed out as not a seat was to be had. Luckily we found a quiet dirt road along the land portion of the nature reserve and, after a bumpy drive and walk down some steep cliffs, found some excellent snorkeling opportunities instead. The best locations are often discovered by accident!