19th of October 2009 0
ght (c) 2009 Michael Ogden
We saw it, so it seemed, every time we entered or left a town of any decent size; a sign depicting a hand that appeared to be holding some cards and/or the word DECHETTERIE. We looked it up in the ordinary phrase book but we had to admit defeat. This sign was to haunt and tease us for the next two weeks.
We had decided to go to a Club Med resort near Le Lavandou in the Var region on the Mediterranean coast not far from St Tropez. ‘We’ were three; me, my wife Alison, and my wife’s mother – otherwise known as ‘La Belle-Mere’ (mother-in-law).
Monday in Le Havre dawned cool and dull. So we set off on the Autoroute Normandie towards Rouen, then diverting on to the N154 towards Evreux and Dreux to avoid the Paris ring road.
From Chartres we picked up the Autoroute again all the way past Orleans and Vierzon and Bourges.
Alison & her mother were all tired after a short and poor night’s sleep and an early start so we did not get quite as far that day as we would have liked. After we had stopped for a doze the third time we realised there was not much point in pressing on so we searched the Michelin and Logis guides for somewhere to stay. Eureka, just what we wanted! At St Amand-Montrond, a two-knife-and-fork restaurant with rooms recommended in the Red Michelin. We had time for a nap before a most delicious dinner.
In general, signposts in France are not as good as ours. They are often placed at such an angle at a junction that it is difficult to judge which was they are pointing. We could always find signs to Dechetterie, though, whatever it was.
On Tuesday morning, we took the pretty route down the Cher valley. Shame it was still drizzling! We picked up the autoroute for about 130km and then turned onto the N102 which was a very windy road that lead through the Ardeche mountains towards Montelimar. It was very slow and tiring driving requiring unremitting concentration. We had hoped to reach Avignon that night but at 5.30pm we were still 80km away and concerned about finding rooms for the night. There didn’t seem to be much choice in the guide books but a small town called Pierrelatte had two hotels and a restaurant with two k&f right next to one of them, so we headed for that only to be told it was full. After a tour of the industrial area of the town with plenty of signs to Dechetterie we managed to find our way to the remaining hotel to find it only had one room, but it did have a double and a single bed. In view of the late hour we decided to take it and asked the proprietor to book us a table at the ‘Gourmand-Gourmet’. Since the hotel next to it was fully booked we thought we might have difficulty getting a table, but there were only two other tables occupied. As neither hotel had a restaurant we wondered where all the other people were dining. They missed a real treat!
Wednesday morning was just what we wanted. Pleasantly hot with a light breeze. Perfect for our visit to Avignon; we all wanted to go and see the famous bridge in the song. It is a fascinating ancient walled town and we spent far longer there than we intended so once again we had to get a move on. We took the autoroute most of the way past Arles and Aix-en-Provence but the road from the autoroute to our destination was again windy and slow and we finally reached our hotel at about 6.30pm. We were not late to bed that night!
One advantage of having our own transport was that we were able to do some day trips in the area. Our first trip was an excursion into the mountains described in the green Michelin guide book. It was very enjoyable in many ways. We went through some beautiful countryside and picturesque villages but the driving was very tiring. Much of it was along single track mountain roads with no crash barrier and a very long drop. Passing places were few and tight and French drivers drive as if it were a one-way-street. One part of the route took us though part of the forest west of St Tropez which was badly affected by fire in July. Although we saw very few houses in that area we did see a burnt out car and, not far away a huge pile of flowers by the side of the road. It was quite distressing and we were all very quiet for a while. Every town had its signs to Dechetterie though.
Our second day trip was to Grasse, the perfume centre. It was a lovely drive, partly along the coast, a bit of autoroute and some ‘N’ road. Grasse was a delightful town built on a high hill with wonderful views. We spent a long time in the Perfume Museum and Cathedral and could easily have spent several days exploring its alleyways. We took a different route home and, were struck again by the devastation of the forest fires.
Apart from one or two trips locally we didn’t venture out much. We knew we had a lot of driving to do on the return trip.
We set out for the return trip on a Saturday morning. We had booked the ferry to return on Monday night and knew we did not have too much time to spare, especially as we wanted to drive through part of the Camargue on our way. It was very enjoyable and we even saw several of the famous white horses of the area. As we approached Arles we noticed on the map the remains of a Roman aqueduct that we thought we would like to visit, and also a place called Moulin de Daudet. Daudet was a French author that my mother had studied and wrote a series of stories called Lettres a Mon Moulin. We visited both. The Roman remains were of interest, what there was of them but not really worth the detour, but the windmill was charming. Once again we found ourselves having to stop short of our target and turned off the autoroute into a village called La Cavalerie. Here we found rooms in a hotel which was recently refurbished (it even had a lift)
On Sunday we set off in good time. We had hopes that a new part of an autoroute round Millau would have been finished but it was still under construction and, as the area was quite mountainous, our progress was slow. That section of autoroute is going to be quite spectacular when it is finished. In places it stretches out 500 feet above the valley floor. We pushed on as fast as the road conditions would allow. We finally reached the autoroute just south of Brive and made good progress for a while before turning north-west heading towards Poitiers. We actually avoided Poitiers by turning north to Chauvigny where we stayed in the Lion d’Or with excellent cuisine. We had expected to be much further north that night, but a look at the map assured us that it was only about a 4 – 5 hour drive to Le Havre and the ship didn’t sail until 1130pm. No problem.
On Monday the driving was easy compared with previous days. The roads were relatively straight and there was more autoroute. Although we didn’t have much room for shopping we decided to stop in Pont l’Eveque to buy some cheese. For some reason, we had great difficulty buying cheese in the town itself. One shop was closed for annual holidays, another had sold out. Of the local cheese! We were gobsmacked! However, we had picked up a map in the tourist office which showed an Atelier Fromager so we decided to go and see if it was open. As we approached we saw yet another sign to Dechetterie. We could not leave France without discovering what this was so, after purchasing our cheese we boldly went where no British person has ever been before. We followed the signs down the road to the very depths of the retail park and there the mystery was revealed. A Dechetterie is a recycling centre – the town dump!