Thursday, 7 May 2015

Annecy, Sisteron, Gorgeous Gorges...

Me with Robbie and Meg ;)
It was a little emotional leaving Sainte Foy, and the Alps, after a season of awesomeness. Saying good bye to people never has been, and I don't think ever will be, a forte of mine.

We weren't leaving alone though. Raf and his Family, Daughter Meg and Son Harvey along with Meg's boyfriend Robbie, were trucking out of town as well, and both vans were headed for warmer climes ;)

We'd decided to head South for a spot of R + R. (Because we hadn't had enough already!)

First stop out of the mountains was Annecy, a quaint little town perched on a huge Lake right at the entrance to the Alps. Kerry and I had been through Annecy before, even spending a night there, but we didn't explore properly and listening to Raf's stories it would appear we missed quite a lot!

And as it turns out Annecy is a spectacle of medieval architecture and cafe culture nestled amongst little canals from the river that feeds the Lake.

We enjoyed a day in the Palais de L'ile museum smack bang in the centre of town. It dates back to the 1300s and was first used as a prison and other associated functions like court rooms etc. At some point it was used as a Counting house and even forged some of the local area's coinage. Later in the Second World War it was turned back in to a prison of sorts, holding some Nazi Generals.

I much preferred the town at night. Not that it isn't stunning during the day. Everything is brightly lit up with different colours, giving it a jovial feel. Pubs seemed full and we enjoyed just ambling about the town, from the castle at the top of the hill down to the Lake.

Robbie is a good BMXer. I'd enjoyed an afternoon watching him ride the skate park in Bourg Sainte Maurice back in the Alps. When we were driving in to Annecy, the skatepark was the first thing he spotted. So Kerry, Meg, Harvey and I pootled down for an afternoon watching mainly kids (and Robbie) on their blades, boards, bikes and scooters. It was a nice afternoon. It made me feel like I was a teenager again, hanging out at the skatepark, doing things I wasn't meant to be doing... the good old days ;)

The days were really hot, with the sun beating down on us, but that all changed at night. We were still close to the mountains and once the sun had gone in it was time for jumpers and the van heater. We left Annecy late one day and drove South skirting past the entrances to the various valleys of the alps. Waking up the next day to find we had parked up next to a spectacular view of a ridge line... again parking in the dark is always fraught with delights!

Heading South again we entered Gorge country. The roads meandered through huge cracks in the earth, climbed steeply over huge ridgelines and plunged back in to a gorge again. Rivers ran everywhere. We were taking the route slowly as Raf's van was a little underpowered, but it was a saving grace as Kerry and I were able to take in all of the sights.
Raf's van

Raf came on the radio on one of the steeper descents down the mountainous roads that he thought he had some problems with his brakes. A daunting prospect with all of these declines!

The convoy were headed towards Sisteron and it was decided that we would stay overnight in the nice Aire de Campingcar located in the middle of the town.

Upon arrival it was clear we'd made a good decision to stop here. Sisteron is a small town located on the borders of the Alpes de Haute Provence and the Alpes de Cote d'Azure regions. It's commonly called the 'Gateway to Provence' and for a good reason. It's located on the banks of the Durance river right where two mountain ridgelines come together and plunge down to let the river flow through them. Kind of like a gateway!

Perched on one side of the river, looming above cliffs, is a medieval Citadel formed over thousands of years and seeing many a battle from the Barbarian invasion after the fall of Rome, to Napoleon passing through on his march north.

We scoured the local town for a motor factors and got Raf some new brake pads on order which were due in a couple of days later. The citadel was the perfect way to while away the days. We paid to go inside and were able to meander around the old defences as they wound their way down through various narrowing points. You get a real feel for what it must be like to try and attack these places, built on hills and heavily fortified. Arrow slits lined each gantry and sluice gates adorned each doorway.

An impressive looking bell hung at the top of a large tower which doubled up as the main water catchment for the small community. It also had very impressive views North along the Durance valley with the modern town of Sisteron spreading out to the South.

It was so hot during the day Robbie, Harvey, Kerry and I decided it'd be a good idea to investigate the shimmering blue water of the river. Robbie and I thought it was so enticing we ventured in, despite the current looking fairly strong. Luckily the side we'd picked to go in was fairly slow flowing.... but freezing freezing cold! It was obviously run off from the mountains and it took our breath away! Harvey, being 10 years old and obviously much wiser than us, decided to stay on the river bank!

Raf's brake pads finally came in and we had a morning of engineering, removing the old, very worn ones and fitting the new ones.

Then we were off, heading for the coast and a bit of seaside. We showed Raf, Meg, Robbie and Harvey the delights of Port Grimaud, St Raphael and all of the coast between Cannes and Sainte Tropez where Kerry and I have frequently spent a couple of weeks whiling away the time.

As we progressed Westward the weather started to turn for the worse. Robbie and Harvey were looking forward to a few days riding a huge skatepark in Marseille, however, with the looming weather looking to last atleast a week Kerry and I decided to say good bye to the other van and speed North, cutting the 750 miles through the Centre of France in a day and catching the midweek (cheap) ferry to get back to Blighty.
Having a cold swim

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