Slumming it in the South of France

At the start of this trip I imagined I’d be posting updates and pictures with the usual frequency, if not daily then certainly every couple of days. Turns out that travelling with somebody new has all sorts of unexpected but largely pleasant distractions, some of which end in compromise; the types of road you ride, when you stop for food, where you pitch up for the night. Another key difference is that instead of talking to myself through a keyboard during the evenings, I’m swapping observations and nonsense with somebody who’s just lived the same day through their own eyes, and those evenings have so far been the best part of the trip. (yes, this is a lame way of saying I’ve not written anything for ages, sorry, etc)

Clifftop view of Monte Carlo bay

We’re snoozing on our sleeping bags on the grass, clothes drying on the bungees which tether a bike to a tree. It’s unbelievably hot. Ours are the only tents on a campsite which clings to the side of pretty Lumbier, a hilltop town of cobbled alleys and shady streets yet to be ruined by commerce, let alone tourism. This morning we explored on foot, repeating the journey undertaken yesterday with motorbike in shorts and flip-flops, hoping to secure some food before everything shuts down for midday siesta. Like most days our efforts are rewarded with bread, cheese, some sort of pork based amalgam, wine and cold beer. And good natured smiles from locals who don’t mind us butchering their language. Gotta love Spain.

Rewinding clock by about a week (never said I was punctual) we left Tende and the twisty stuff behind, headed for the Gorges du Verdon via sweaty Monte Carlo, where we were repelled by a 4 star campsite complete with multi-lingual signs of don’ts and nevers. Instead we settle further down the road at a small site whose owners pride themselves on keeping things simple and natural; the one restaurant only served bruschetta and the sole entertainment was a beagle pup chained up on the veranda. Again we had the site to ourselves, apart from three French bikers – proper ones, with Harleys – and two lesbians with the biggest tent you’ve ever seen. Two happy days were spent getting drunker on local wine and candle light at our own picnic table, laughing at the owner’s braying donkey and giggling at the at the ladies with their comfortable shoes and even more comfortable tent. I forget why this was so funny, but we were holding our sides too much to wipe away the tears.

The next day’s camp was less inspired; a touristy site in the middle of the Carmargue, impenetrable bare earth and no cover from other refugees of the road. Try pitching a tent on a snooker table covered with gravel. Amazingly we’d both arrived at the same time having taken different routes all day to better suit each other’s riding styles: straight and relaxed for her, twisty and demanding for me. My route turned out to be terrible, all hillside forest S-bends with poor visibility and worse surface, while Boss-girl enjoyed herself enough to do a spot of shopping on the way. As always the wine was good, but the goat soup turned into a long-running joke with several encores.

Even the worst of campsites is easily fixed by application of throttle. Scrape up tent, jump on the two-wheeled place machine, ride straight into the arms of John and Carole. Having sold up and retired to the outskirts of Toulouse 17 years ago, they’ve set about creating an unpretentious yet idyllic home out of an old farmhouse, complete with some land, chickens and donkeys, and a guest annexe. No goat for us tonight – instead we’re treated to homegrown salad, green beans in butter and garlic, dauphinoise potatoes and roasted ducks legs. Eau de Vie follows the wine follows the Kir, and at the end of it all we’re almost too tired to appreciate sleeping in real beds.