The French Mediterranean coast is renowned for its wind. The coast and I have much in common. After two thoroughly enjoyable winters down here, we’ve become accustomed to the Hymer’s gentle rocking overnight, leaning forward as we walk along exposed beaches, or sudden sideways lurches as we drive cautiously along windswept coastal roads. These experiences have been tender preparation for our spring drive north.
Motorway matrix signs warned us about hazardous driving conditions, our iPhone weather apps told us about potential wind disruption and, as we prepared to leave Bages, we struggled to open our habitation door against the strengthening gale. I knew the day’s journey would be entertaining.
We drove slowly north-west through Languedoc to Provence. High sided vans maintained their breakneck pace as they hurtled towards us, drivers giving their steering wheels an occasional violent twitch as sudden gusts pushed tonnes of racing metal into our path.
We enjoyed a brief wind free interlude at a motorway service station. One of the open eateries was a branch of France’s high-end bakery stores, PAUL. As she paid for our lunchtime quiche and baguette, Cynthia enthusiastically introduced Paul to a less than impressed PAUL employee. First the wind and then frost. The day was going from bad to worse.
The Mistral can blow for days on end. The fierce northwesterly is responsible for removing roof tiles and patio furniture, causing bad tempers and sleeplessness, increasing suicides and causing madness. I managed to escape with a pair of fiercely aching forearms and a tension headache. I suppose I should be thankful.
After a full and exhausting day on the road, we stopped for the night in Marsanne. Our aire was on the town outskirts opposite a small school nestling beneath a hillside ruin. It provided the usual generous French motorhome amenities; free parking, potable water and waste disposal. After a little sleuthing, we also discovered a working sixteen amp connection in an adjacent field. We liked the town so much, and its supply of free electricity, that we stayed for two days.
We realised yet again how lucky we are. Frantic parents used our gravel car park for the weekday school run. Vehicles skidded to a halt twice a day to quickly deliver tiny children to their little school before stressed owners roared off to fill their busy days with money earning work. On our second day, we watched this hectic activity as we enjoyed a relaxed breakfast and discussed a leisurely walk through the town’s steep streets to a hilltop ruin.
We popped into the Mairie, the town hall, on our way to the long-abandoned abbey. Marie, a bubbly town hall administrator, put the majority of English government employees to shame. She greeted us with an enthusiastic bonjour, treated us to a torrent of delightfully accented English and bent over backwards to help.
Cynthia needed to submit her tax return. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, her US-based accountant had completed and emailed Cynthia a form to sign and return. Thanks to the wonders of the US Treasury Department the form, which took milliseconds to reach us, needed to return to America via the French and US postal system. The second leg of the journey will take a week or two.
Marie from the Mairie printed the form from our memory stick free of charge. Then she offered us a comprehensive hardback guide to the region, again free of charge, and looked genuinely upset when we declined her kind gift because we had to leave France the following day. Marie is typical of the French officials we have met on our travels. We’re very much looking forward to meeting more of them when we return to France in the autumn.