The beautiful landscape of Provence in France
Newly retired and all the time in the world we were back on the road in our blue campervan. We set off south in April sunshine hopeful we would find beautiful and interesting places and have some fun. Just being in the ‘van is relaxing and we were soon in a meandering frame of mind, stopping when we found somewhere lovely, making coffee among gorgeous scenery and taking strolls to interesting places. Our first night was at the popular aire at Pont au Mousson, our second in the lovely Bourgogne wine producing town of Beaune, stopping on the way to stroll around Langres, on its stunning hilltop position. We passed through pretty honey-coloured villages where men chatted outside the Marie, drove by large fields hunted by buzzards and under trees dripping with mistletoe.
Leaving the vineyards of Beaune we got mixed up with the circus vehicles in the next town, around us were vans and cars blowing their horns to announce their arrival. We used the aire at Bourget-du-Lac and had a sunny afternoon walk to the lakeside, the ruined Chateau St Thomas II and the bird hide overlooking lovely pools busy with cormorants, red-crested pochard and one great egret and we watched marsh harriers flying low as they hunted. We also walked in to Les Bourget-du-Lac and found the priory with its stately garden.
The weather was being so kind to us and after resisting the urge to stop in the Ecrins we treated ourselves to a couple of nights in Digne les Bains to give us time to stretch our legs after days of mostly driving. We were now among the rocky Mediterranean landscape rich with herbs. Our early evening stroll from the campsite took us to the large orderly cemetery of the Cathedral de Notre Dame du Bourg; we strolled around the fascinating graves enjoying the glimpses in to people’s lives. Later as we ate sitting outside the snow covered mountains at the end of the valley were pink from the setting sun.
The campsite in Digne les Bains was perfectly placed for the lovely circular three chapels walk. The path with signposts followed a lightly-shaded path through small oak trees and broom, the path edges blooming with cowslips, thyme and marjoram. The route is only around five kilometers but follows a steep rocky path to give great views over the town. Chapel number one, St Vincent, is a large church-like structure above the town. Continuing uphill we found chapel number two, the Chapelle de la Croix, a tiny chapel perched on the highest point at 870 metres. We ate our lunch enjoying the panoramic views and the peace, just the butterflies busily flitting around the flowers and small lizards taking in the sun. We followed the ridge and then took the path downhill, meeting a group of mountain bikers struggling up the craggy path. Chapel number three, Notre Dame, is in the trees just above Digne. This small ruined church has a shrine underneath it in a cave. We found cooling ice-creams in Digne before walking back to the ‘van.
From Digne les Bains we drove through the stunning scenery of Castellane and Grasse. The road climbed over cols and took us through woodland, the landscape becoming more arid and more dramatic. We stopped to take in the staggering vistas on a mountain road; I was awestruck by the landscape of white layered limestone rocks dotted with attractive Provencal farmhouses. Our final night in France was in Cagnes sur Mer before we headed in to Italy to catch our ferry to Greece.