Summer Camper Trip – The Pyrenees, France.

Woo – hoo we have been adventuring up high! Parked up and camping in a village at 1,700m altitude. We’ve had the luxury of mountain views, hikes, hundreds no thousands of bikes, great company (new friends) and a full moon to remind us just how amazing this life is. I may have also begun to nail how being organised and spontaneity can hold hands without hurting each other.

Last time I left you we were driving through fields of sunflowers towards The Pyrenees. We made our way to Saint Gaudens, not a town to explore but a great overnighter with green space and mountain views. A cool €8 for the night and each site has electricity and its own water supply! Most motor home sites have electricity (the cheaper paid ones) but individual water taps are a bonus. Private caravan parks tend to have a water tap per site. We’re trying to avoid these and keep our accommodation simple and budget. More money for cheese and basically we don’t need it – the luxury is in the camp life. Oh and unlike most things French that are sexy the road tolls definitely aren’t! They are sexy without the ‘s’.

Our plans were to head into the mountains and move between stage 17 and 18 of Le Tour de France. We had such a brilliant time last year watching a stage in the Jura mountains. Camping on a mountain means no electricity and minimal shops so first we needed to get organised! Hello to the beauty of the one stop shop in France. A place to shop, wash, empty facilities, top up water if needed and to refuel.

After sorting ourselves and organising the above with a stop at an Intermarche (one stop shop) we were off again. The rivers and villages in the mountain valleys are some of the prettiest I’ve ever seen. I always feel that all is right in the world when I drive through these beauties. The rivers sparkle with a fresh kind of beauty as they flow away from the mountains and through the towns.

We anticipated parking up to watch the cyclists at the peak of the last climb but as we started driving up the mountain we soon realised we weren’t alone. Every available piece of mountain that could be parked on … was being parked on! We drove up, and then we drove down then the other side. There were a few square metres of available mountain space. But, in the end we decided it wouldn’t be fun parking on them for 24 hours if it meant that we needed to confine our four kids for safety!

Onward. We’d go to the next stage and be a day ahead! Guess where we ended up … back at the Intermarche. Yes, we had to drive back up and over the mountain and into the village with the one stop shop. I’m not usually a fan of dryers (environmentally and for care of clothes) but given that we still had an afternoon of driving ahead it was a smart move. We stopped made our lunch, baguettes of course (France) and popped the freshly washed clothes (from the morning stop) in to dry.

After a long day we made it! Up into the ski village of Saint-Lacy. Parked up between two campers with GB plates (English but living in France) we put the fridge on gas (it charges on the car battery as we drive) and popped a few beers in the freezer. The gas can also heat the water so we have access to warm showers. Sorry digressing … after the beers went in the freezer, the awning went up and camp set up we set off into the village to stretch our legs and explore.

Ski villages are hives of good energy in summer, full of adventuring types. Add that a stage of the Tour de France is about to pass through and it’s a village buzzing with the excitement vibe. The village was packed with campers and tents – literally wherever they could fit! All respectfully parked up without any charges. Seriously €0 for three nights accommodation with those mountain views . While wandering we happened on the last of the Monday market and bought a local cake. A Pyrenean specialty, Gateau à La Broche, or a cake cooked on a spit. You can read more about this type of deliciousness here.

Yes the hills are alive here in The Pyrenees. There are many hikes in and around the ski resort and we decided we’d hike up to the Col de Portet where the tour will pass through just before the finish line the next day. I also need to get some training under my belt for my upcoming #hikeforonegirl challenge in September.

By now our kids know we are going to hike them when we travel and even when we don’t ;). The little one fought it a bit at the beginning, perhaps it was the uphill as far as the eye could see. With a set of hiking poles and some gentle herding from his papa he was mightily pleased to have made it up to the 2100m Col (saddle) for our lunch break (ps we have that sign on board as a souvenir). Notice the family setting up camp there! Their kids are smaller than ours. Lunch was a brief stop as the clouds were turning. As we headed down the mountain we were graced with the fun of a brief hail storm. Mountains really are the boss and can change weather on a whim. Lucky we had rain jackets in our day packs. (Husband is always prepared).

Nights are super cosy in the camper! We tend to stay in nature where it’s generally quiet and the air is fresh. It’s quite conducive to dreaming … each night I’m having the longest most bizarre dreams. It’s a good thing to be dreaming at night I think. The food is fresh and home made. It’s so nice when the days are long and food becomes a treat not a chore … and it’s super nice when the French living Brits from the surrounding campers join you for an after dinner wine and life, travel chat.

Aah and then what we came to this mountain for! Stage 18 of Le Tour De France. What an amazing day. Cyclist husband was peaking with excitement and answering all of our questions (including those from the new friends from the GB camper who spent the day with us) … the guy (husband) has been watching Le Tour for as long as I can remember. Expert.

There was fanfare and freebies! And characters that made us laugh. But nothing quite beat standing alongside the tour as the riders made their way up the mountain a whisker away from us. That was something special. Afterwards we made our way down and wandered past the tour busses. The kids were excited to see Chris Froome on his bike cooling down and even more pleased to be gifted the riders water bottles from the team Sky bus. It was a little nerve wracking having my kids in the media scrum but they thought it was fun! The FULL experience.

If the Tour de France is something you want to experience, a mountain stage is unreal! Up close and personal plus they don’t race past at 60kms an hour just a leisurely 25kms! I’m not joking – these guys are unreal. Husband managed to cheer each Aussie on by name as they past him – sounded like they were old mates. :)

This morning it was time to leave our mountain park up and drive towards new adventures. We’ve arrived in the town of St Jean Pied de Port, sound familiar? It should! It’s where I started the camino back on April. I’m excited to share this town with its great historical and personal significance with my family … and perhaps take them on a little wander up the first section of the camino. Although first they’re origami’ing as the washing dries on the bonus washing line while Greg heads out to find some decent phone coverage for a work call. A bit like a home day!

Now we’re up to date friends and just in time to roll into some new stories. And briefly about routine and organisation – I’ve been resisting them the past couple of years thinking they prevented me from being spontaneous and free. But really the two can hold hands can’t they. I found that day in day out on the camino. We stopped to be organised to camp on the mountain and that didn’t stop us from changing plans and rolling with them when the first mountain was full, we spontaneously adapted … and because we were organised it was easy. No, routine and spontaneity aren’t mutually exclusive – perhaps it is in the combination of both that gives us freedom. One is not more important than the other … that’s my lesson.

Buen camino dear ones. I’ve got to keep moving and hit some tennis balls with the littlest one!

Fran xx

Camper tips:

Clothes!

Don’t pack too many. Obviously it depends on the season but for instance one jumper and a good wind, rain jacket is often enough. How many times do we pack something just in case … and then never wear it. Put them straight away once they come off the line or out of the dryer. Have a dedicated washing bag again I brought ours from home. Bring pegs and rope for a line. Last time we stopped in caravan parks for our wash stops. Now we put a load on when we do the shopping and hang in the camper park. It’s €8 for an 18kg wash the same as a caravan park yet staying in a camper park is €8 compared to a minimum €30 in a caravan park for the night. It’s like anything – we get better the more we practice!

All our kids have a cube for socks and jocks. When choosing a camper do look at storage … it makes such a difference. If you can hang everyone’s t shirts up in one spot it makes choosing and rotating simple. I also hang the t’s on hangers on the lines so they go straight to the cupboard. I do that at home to.

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