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A spa town
We were close to Digne-les-Bains and I really wanted to have a look at this town, given it was noted as a spa town at the foothills of the Alps, and also home to the shooting of Les Miserables, one of my all time favourite theatre productions. We found a safe place to park just out of the city proper, so rode our bikes back in. It was freezing this morning. The Mistral was blowing, the yellowish leaves shimmering almost silver as they were pushed about by this cold wind. We’d experienced the Mistral last year when we were staying in the Provence region, and it’s not to be messed with.
We stopped off for our morning dose of french pastry, once again favouring a millefeuille, but this time a more traditional one.
The markets in Digne-les-Bains
Then it was onto the food market, the smells of which were drifting down the tree lined main street of town, tempting even those who weren’t hungry to venture on down. It wasn’t long before we were tasting the rotisserie Toulouse saucisson, and drooling over the roast potatoes.
Then I found a lady and her market stall where she was selling all things duck. The only strategy now was how to leave here without buying absolutely everything. Restraint was clearly needed. I settled for a jar of canard rillettes. I knew these were going to be delicious and hindsight now tells me very clearly that I should have bought a dozen or so. I could eat these jars like people eat tins of tuna. Note to self – find more and buy up big.
By the time we had made our way through the market we had purchased a beautiful piece of salmon for tonight’s dinner, a framboise crostada and another local cheese speciality, Le Banon. This aged chèvre, wrapped in chestnut leaves, was featured by French chef (residenced in Australia) Gabriel Gate as part of his “Taste le Tour” on this year’s Tour de France. The lady who sold the cheese to us was very excited that we had seen the clip on SBS.
The Gorges du Verdon
Last year when we were in the more western parts of Provence, I had wanted to visit the Gorges du Verdon, but the distance to where we were staying meant it did not fit into our itinerary. This time, I was determined to see it.
From Digne-les-Bains, we headed south towards the start of the gorge, to a little town called Mouistiers St Marie.
Just a little way on from Mouistiers St Marie, is the largest artificial lake in France called Lac de Saint Croix. There are no other words for it except spectacular. At the end of the Gorges du Verdon, the lake is a visual sensation. It’s waters are a stunning turquoise. This colour is as a result of the combination of glacial waters and rock minerals that are suspended in the water.
No where else but here would be satisfactory for our baguette lunch today. We found a spot right alongside the lake, along with a couple of other motorhomers with a similar outlook.
For 42 km we wound our way through the mountains, at a slow and steady pace. It would have been fantastic if everyone else had the same approach, but my driver was on full alert today, with all manner of terrible and inconsiderate drivers making his task all the more harder. For me, sitting right off the massive mountain drop-offs, there were moments when I thought it was a little too close for comfort.
As we travelled through the mountains, we were reminded once more of the seasonality that Europe has, with many people going about their tasks to ensure they are ready for winter. Back where we live, the most we have to consider really is when we stop swimming.
Could the views get any better?
At Point Sublime, we parked up and walked to the edge of the mountain where we were afforded with a dramatic view of the mountains and the deep ravine that carried the turquoise water down towards Lac St Croix.
Finally, we arrived out the other end at Castellane, a city identified by the enormous rock that sits over it, with a church perched right on the very top. Down at water level, rafts of adrenaline junkies set off down the rapids. We thought this was a spot worthy of an afternoon break so pulled up for a cuppa and the framboise crostada we had bought at the markets earlier.
It smells good in Grasse
Onwards now to Grasse, the perfume capital of the world since the 16th century and our home for the night, at yet another France Passion site. As we drove towards Grasse, at Col de la Faye, the mountains in front of us opened right up, exposing a view right down to the French Riviera.
Our France Passion site tonight was a business run by a local. He had spaces for five motorhomes, and when we arrived we already had two for company. Another sign that we were getting into larger cities and it also validated what we were seeing on the roads in terms of an increase of motorhomes. We went straight in and spoke to our host, who was probably the most excited of any of our hosts so far to have us here. As we perused his shop, full of all manner of condiments, jams, syrups, chocolates and oils, he came out to give us some samples and to explain what everything was.
We tried the flower syrups, something Grasse is particularly known for. Rose and Coquelicot (poppy) syrups were mixed with water and poured into little cups for us. The rose didn’t really tickle my taste buds, it was just like eating a flower straight off the bush. The poppy however was refreshing and tasty, so much so that this was to be one of my daily France Passion purchases. We added to this with a jar of Luberon olive tapenade, not local, but one that we bought last year in I’sle sur la Sorgue, and one we knew to be of excellent quality.
Adjacent to the shop was an area that was the playground of a beautiful black and white goat and his protectors, two geese. The moment we walked near the fence, the geese were on the march, coming over to see who we were and to let us know who was boss in this part of town. The goat, on the other hand, was placid, and perfectly happy to hang out with us and eat some grass. Every handful of grass we gave to the goat was done with a careful eye on the geese who were happy to honk at us and try to bite us through the fence.
We settled in for the night once again, this time with some Aligote, a Cotes du Rhone red and some Loire Valley bubbles.
At 7.30pm, our host locked us in. Literally. He closed a massive big steel gate, tied it together with chain and a padlock and as I lifted my wine glass to say “bonne nuit”, he smiled and was off.
A little strange to do this. We were lucky we hadn’t gone out for dinner, or planned to leave early. He obviously thinks he is keeping us safe, and perhaps his business, but as a France Passion host it’s probably something he should have mentioned.
It was another good place to stay though on the whole, although having been sleeping in farm paddocks and tiny villages in the middle of nowhere, we did notice a little more street noise. Nothing that kept us from being extremely comfortable in our home on wheels.
Highlight of the day
- Digne-les-Bains was gorgeous but there is only one real highlight – Gorges du Verdon. If you are in the area, be sure to put this on your must-do list.
- This was the first time we had driven the Napolean Route from Grenoble to Cannes.
France Passion review
Espace Terroirs – Grasse, France
- Parking for 5 motorhomes directly in front of his shop. Flat, gravel surface
No additional services for motorhome
- Shop has a great range of condiments, jams, syrups, chocolates, soaps, tapenades, sweets and honey
- Very secure, as noted above the host locks you in. Be aware of this if you plan on going out
- Noise level is moderate. You’re not in the country here!
- Beware of the watchdog geese. They bite but the goat doesn’t
- Extremely welcoming host who is happy to have a chat
- GPS is useful but instructions are quite good
- Very close to the French Riviera and an easy drive into Cannes