As we pointed Basil’s nose northwards towards the high Pyrenees and France it definitely felt as if we were heading home and bringing this trip to a close. In reality we have been angling our way towards Blighty for a few days now, but since this trip had primarily been about Spain, travelling to France seemed terminal somehow.
Our drive through the high Pyrenees was not as exciting as I had hoped. The mountains were high, up to 12,000 feet (3,600 metres) in our area and the road soared to a height of 6,000 feet (1,800 metres) by the time we reached France, but the peaks just did not have the jagged attraction of the Dolomites or even the Picos de Europa.
To cross the border in France it is necessary to go through a tunnel of 3.5km in length. The unusual thing about this tunnel is that somehow the approach of a large vehicle (e.g. Basil) causes a barrier to come down at the entrance of the tunnel so that the lorry, motorhome or caravan can only progress when the tunnel is empty in the opposite direction. The tunnel is just about wide enough for two lorries, and it is certainly wider than some of the horrific tunnels we tackled in Norway last year, but I presume the philosophy is better safe than sorry.
On the Spanish side of the border autumn has only just started, with the leaves of just a handful of trees changing colour. Interestingly when we emerged from the tunnel in France, the temperature was 3 degrees Celsius cooler and most of the deciduous trees were orange in colour. The only explanation I can come up with is that in France most of the mountain slopes will be north facing so will be cooling faster than those in Spain.
I had yet again changed my mind about our direction through France. I decided that Albi would have to wait for another trip because it was too far out of our way and instead I have plotted a trip stopping at some of France’s official “pretty villages”. Some villages in France have an official designation of “Beaux Villages de France”. Before I retired I mapped out these villages which can be found on our map section.
We bounced and rattled our way through beautiful rolling Gascony, at the agonisingly slow new speed limit for Basil of 43 mph, until we reached the tiny village of Sarrant. Sarrant is a village which in some respects is a Bastide. Bastides were a series of new towns set up in the 13thand 14thcentury to occupy some remote areas of France and usually under the patronage of one person. Sarrant was established under the charter of Phillip IV of France and so qualifies in one respect, but the majority of Bastides were built in a grid shape around a central market place. Sarrant, on the other hand, is built around a central church.
I hope we will visit a more typical Bastide tomorrow, but suffice to say that many of the houses in Sarrant are extremely ancient and very attractive. It is extremely small however, and a full exploration took us no more than 10 minutes. In the summer it looks as if it is totally reliant on tourism. Several of the old houses are set up as Gites de France and there are various craft shops in the old village and just outside.
Basil is set up on the free aire (43.775837, 0.928123) on the edge of the village. Unfortunately, although it has a place to fill up and empty water, there is nowhere to dump the toilet cassette, but that can wait until tomorrow. The other problem is that the whole surface is at a bit of an angle and so I risk rolling out of bed during the night!