Wine-Culture!

After Hector ignored the “France Passion” opportunity of our first night, it now is time to move further West and head for a vineyard.

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A clichée of a vineyard? Perhaps, but a Good One: Domaine de la Cune, Saumur

I heard and read a bit about Saumur, e pretty town at the Loire, and even the idea of seeing some castles seems like a smart one. The arrival at the Domaine de la Cune in the late afternoon comes with the right picture: endless rows of vine up to the horizon, framed by green forests and spreckled with neat “chateaux”.

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Where does all the Wine come frome? Oh yes, from the Friendly Man Next Door…

With my TomTom navi and its tendency for interesting roads, I am happy enough that Hector is such a slim van. Only once a sharp correction is required when the road underbridges a maximum height of 2,5m, but that is nothing that a turn to the right could not fix and apart from this, I am fine and enjoy the beauty of narrow wine-villages.
The day ends with fresh salad and a freshly opened bottle of wine. The bottle accidetially happened to become part of Hector’s groceries upon the encounter with the friendly vintner. Of course I know that I am not obliged to buy some of the owner’s products on my vineyard-overnight-stays, but even when thinking hard about it, I do not find any reason against.

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The next morning will present dropped temperatures (< 20°C! Perhaps I should turn on the heating…) and a cloudy sky. The evening though is warm and the wine is gentle – good night, world.

2018: Start into France

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Bienvenue en France

Everyone knows that spontaneous holidays are best based on thorough plans and exact milestones. Hence, a “France Passion” address is driving my navigation system towards the Alsatia while the temperatures are driving towards 35°C.

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This is so Hector

It comes as no surprise when Hector decides to speed up and only stops at the shore of a lake: forget about fancy food “en Alsace”, welcome to the lake “Etang du Stock”! The campsite at the foot of the small church is simple, but just fine for our first holiday night. “Bien sûr”, with an immediate dive into the lake right away.

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I conclude that 18€ for camping are well invested while Hector concludes that he likes lake-nights best. Unless there is sea and beaches available, that is.

The hot summer weather proves the very first Hector owners right who had ordered a full 100% of the available extra equipment: eletric step at the living room door, electric windows in front, electric rear mirrors, double airbags and (tadaa!) aircondition – makes 5 out of 5 possible features. The latter is most welcome these days and eases the hours of driving.

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The first day has passed by easily and I am curious what the second day will bring. How about the fridge and the regular troubles with the gas cooling? How about vineyards in the region of Saumur? What about culture and castles along the Loire??

 

 

Surf-Prep: Skateboard Training

Quite some people have asked me about the skateboard lessons I joined, so here you go:

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Aiming (naturally) high, I decided to get trained by the Bavarian Skatemaster TomCat. Even though the target group is about kids from 5-12, age does not matter much when we all gather together for sports and action. I can only recommend: go for it, send your child, join yourself, have fun!

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Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

I may be wrong, but most probably I pushed my surfing ability with the skateboard training I passed before the holidays back in 2016. Hence, it is like surfing your home town (only less wet, that is)…

 

France Ahead! or: Spontaneous Travelling

What I love about camping holidays? The spontaneity! Nothing needs to be booked, no long-lasting preparation is required and all you need is a bikini, a credit card and the keys for Hector.

As a matter of coincidence, the pleasant anticipation of the surf holidays made me blow the dust off my skateboard and run the local skatepark once a week. Apart from the fun, the practice may be of use when trying to ride the waves of the Atlantic Ocean later this summer.

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Hector, always eager for sun and water, used a lazy Saturday morning for some water polo (says he won the trophy, being the first to hit the target). With the windscreen now being washed from all sides, I am finally able to see his sparkling silvery dress from all perspectives – even inside out.

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At least Linda remains relaxed. Holidays at the sea = all routine, no preparation needed. My only concern is that she might outperform my fragile wave surfing if she continues her open water swimming: Kilometres and kilometres in rough sea, pumping her arm and shoulder muscles like superwoman. Great that she will be still vivid after each surf lesson! Thus, there’s someone (superwoman) who can take care of food and drinks while I will be totally “crevée” (exhausted), sleeping off on the couch.

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The Girl with the Camping Diploma: Linda

Great Holiday Expectations ahead!

Nepal Finish / Prep France

The Trek = 141 km, 7.107m up and 4.119m down, that is the summary of my Himalaya holidays. Just as expected, it was easy enough for me due to long-lasting, profound hiking experience: I have started long before the trip in my earlier youth. In May 2017 to be more exact.

 

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Now when I look back, I see that the cloud on which I floated for weeks and months has dissolved somehow. Still, some things have slightly changed along the way: Heights above 5.000m had been nothing but a number, while now I remember how it felt to be up there. Only time will tell, yet there is a fair chance that Nepal might become one of those life-changing trips. Not as a single baboom-event, but with subtle, longlasting influences on my perspective of things. We will see…

While the Nepal trip has been a fantastic experience, some (me included) might ask: What about camping? And here we go:

Finally, Hector will be star of the road again, carrying me to France. 4,5 hours of (new) finest music, 8 hours of weekly sports and 1 new bikini are all it takes for the preparation of the next trip. At least, almost. Getting more and more into my well-known enthusiasm for sun, beach, sea, food, wine and surfers, I spend some spare time on nice-to-have preparations such as

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  • Sort all snippets about recommended restaurants, promising vineyards or camper parkings neatly into a colourfal roadmap => checked
  • Fresh up & improve my skateboard skills => checked
  • Make Hector sparkle and shine => upcoming
  • Throw 3 bikinis, a wet suit and the skateboard into Hector’s closets and head up straight West. + South. Well, wherever the sun is visible!

 

 

The plan is to stop every now and then, see castles, medieval villages and uncounted grains of sand along the coast line. Counting down the days until low season kicks in!

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Resumé Part II / Finish

Physics say, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. What physics might have ignored is the sensation of a single-lane road, surrounded by heavy trucks and with construction sites speckled every few kilometers. The travelling part of the trip was mostly great, but next time I will look out for alternative routes rather than the Route National N70, even though it was the straight way from Bordeaux to Lörrach.

Start of the Western part of the trip was St. Jean de Luz and then I followed intuition and the sun. Drawing the map of the main destinations was a lot going back and forth, but as I love that spontaneous way of travelling, I am totally at ease with some km more.

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On the way South and a bit West, Uzès was great for 2 days in between (980km from Munich and 560 km from Bordeaux). At the West coast itself, I missed a lot of all possible places to go and things to do. There is no way NOT going back someday, continuing the tasting, the surfing and for sure: never stop travelling.

What we missed = yet to come:

  • Canoe trip: between the étangs (lakes) and the sea, beneath the pont du gard, …
  • Bicycle trip: from the European bicycle infrastructure, the main part is available (so far) at France’s West coast with hundreds and thousands of kilometers – all waiting for sporty girls…
  • Bastides = defensive villages from medieval times, such as Sarlat, Domme, Beynac, Castelnaud
  • More of St. Émilion and its wine and eating culture
  • Places like La Roque-Gageac (micro-climate with unexpected palm trees) or Arcachon (oyster cultures) or the region of the Béarn.
  • Les Courses Landaises = ancient form of bullfighting (without killing the animals)
  • More food! More wine!
  • Flying at the dune du pilat: tandem paragliding

Well, we are young, we are beautiful and we will come back (Hector, me and Linda or any choice of it).

Resumé Part 1

How often can you live to see a perfect holiday trip? This for sure was one of them.

The combination of travelling and relaxing, time for myself and common days with close friends, sightseeing highlights and new experiences – what else can you expect?

I learned a lot about regional particularities, about myself and about Hector’s breaks still working fine when 100% of their pads are used up. I learned surfing and how to cope with an Australian accent. I enjoyed wonderful days with Linda and delicious food. I got lazy taking pictures and routine for regular sports. And, last but not least, most of the time I got good weather!

While the most artful aquarelle of the route will follow, here comes the entire trip summarized with local highlights, prices and everything:

 

  1. Aeschi / Thuner See, Switzerland

Beautiful landscape, inhabited by Swiss people with all their willful attributes. Camping Stuhlegg, Krattingen, is totally ok, for 1 van + 1 person I paid 29,40 CHF = 28,13 € by end of May 2016. Included in the price is the free bus to the close villages plus further rebates for local sightseeing.

Highlights: “Feldschiessen” and lawn gnomes.

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  1. Uzès, France / Languedoc-Roussillion

Romantic old town, surrounded by dulcet landscape. The entire region, especially in Uzès and in St. Quentin-la-Poterie has enough restaurants with delicious food to stay for weeks. Camping Mas de Rey is clean, relaxed and quiet, 2-3 km away from Uzès (parking close to the centre-ville Uzès is easy for any size of camper van with only a 5 minutes walk to the very heart of the town). I paid for 1 van + 1 person 15,60 € per night (still end of May).

Highlights: Roman aqueduct Pont du Gard and fantastic dinners at Bec à Vin and at the central place beneath the arcades.

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  1. Carcassonne / Département Aude

Everybody tells you to go here, it is supposed to be fantastic. In fact, it is above all crowded and touristic. I left within 15 minutes and that was not only due to the heavy rain.

No highlights, no pictures.

 

  1. Isle du Tarn

Sort of a wallflower region, located North of Toulouse. Hilly landscape with a lot of wine and farms and some old cathedral nearby. I only did a stop-over for a night on a vineyard with my France Passion pass.

Highlights: Big calm, friendly people.

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  1. Pau / Pyrénées-Atlantiques

Pau is a nice town to drop by. Close enough to the pyrénées to give an idea of the cold, rough mountains, especially when you see snowy peaks from the Boulevard des Pyrénées. You can park any size of car for free on the Place de Verdun.

Highlights: Castle and mountain view.

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  1. St. Jean de Luz

It looks like Pays Basque, it feels like it and it tastes like it: St. Jean de Luz is only 16 km away from Spain and shows the typical basque houses, regional food and relaxed atmosphere. The coastline is hilly and green with sandy bays scattered here and there. The typical basque churches may be plain white from the outside, but full of dark wood and galleries in the inside. Two campsites are available, one beside the other at the beach Erromardie: the better view offers camping le bord de mer, but as I missed its tiny entry, I spent two nights at Camping de la Ferme Erromardie. Both are less than 20 meters away from the beach (with no-swimming when the current is at full strength). In the first days of June, I paid for 1 van + 1 person 15,60 € per night, mini pool and okay sanitaries included.

Highlights: Church St. Jean Baptiste de Saint-Jean-de-Luz, aperitif at the beach bar + dinner at the Bistro du Mata (both beach Erromardie) and the beautiful coast line.

 

  1. Biarritz

If you look for a town that is not too big and not too small, with culture and history but with beach life and nature as well, with restaurants and surfers and with further sightseeing destinations around – then you will probably end up in Biarritz. I passed it by for only a couple of hours but enjoyed it instantly. Better than going straight downtown is the choice of a suburbian parking (eg parking floquet) and to hop on the free shuttle bus “Navette”.

Highlights: Hotel du Palais, the Grande Plage and the walk to the Rocher de la Vierge

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  1. Vieux-Boucau-les-Bains

Vieux-Boucau is much calmer than Hossegor, but with everything you need: endless beaches, 5 surf schools (best: Alternative Surf School), 2 camp sites and a small town. Here you are at the straight coast line with all kinds of surfing waves, the beach is inviting and clean, the water is clear. The village offers a choice of restaurants and shops and the lake is okay for a short bike tour. The Camping Municipal Les Sablères is much calmer (and in a better overall condition) than the expensive Camping Le Vieux Port. At Vieux Port, I paid 25,- € per night + 5,- € instable WIFI, located on steep / uneven ground and with a non-swimming beach due to the strong current. After I relocated Hector, I had stable WIFI for free on even, grassy ground and paid 16,70 € per night at Les Sablères. Best restaurant was La Plage with a nice view and friendly waiters, serving me delicious dinner.

Highlights: The market (low season: Tuesday + Saturday), the beach and Surfing!!!

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  1. Saint Émillion

The most adorable town of the entire trip 2016. It is fine by me that so many tourists prefer Carcassonne or other touristic hot spots, leading to less crowded streets at St. Émilion. The town bears the risk to get lost in wine shops, but that is okay. If only for wine + food, I would suggest to split 4 weeks up into 50% Uzès and 50% St. Émilion + vineyards around.

Highlights: The town itself, the monolith church, macarons and wine. And the warm welcome at the vineyard Domaine de Grand Homme (for free due to France Passion).

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  1. Lacanau-Océan (+ Hourtin)

“Chez Marie” at Hourtin turned out to be the best place for lunch – despite the quirky way of the waitress. Forget about Hourtin Plage and rather go to Lacanau-Océan: not the most exciting spot worldwide, but okay due to the surrounding with lakes, cycle paths and the Camping Les Grands Pins with the most modern and definitely most proper sanitary rooms ever. Plus restaurant, bar, 2 pool areas, wellness + massage, rental surf boards, skate park, rental bikes and whatever else you could ask for. We paid 21,20 € per night for 1 Hector + 2 girls with daily 2x 30 minutes WiFi included.

Highlights: Dancing on stage with Linda, lunch chez Marie and massage appointments during heavy rain.

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  1. Montignac, Lascaux, Château de Losse

Nice town with the Vezère flowing through and the camp site Le Moulin du Bleufond only a 5 minutes walk away from the centre. Lucky me the most inviting art gallery was closed when I admired some fine paintings, otherwise the holidays would have cost some more. For 1 van + 2 persons we paid 21,80 €. The camp site’s restaurant and the pool are inviting, the rest is okay for a night. When eating out, the regional specialties based on duck or goose were best. The Château de Losse was okay, with more stable weather the café surely is enchanting. The caves of Lascaux are worth every penny of the ticket prices of 10,50 € (assuming that all guides are as good as ours).

Highlights: The paintings of Lascaux and seeing some more of the region Dordogne.

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  1. Bergerac + Monbazillac

Take some time and focus on the small roads through the Dordogne – it is a lovely part of France and offers you food, wine and old towns. Bergerac has restaurants spreading out all across the historical centre and may be worth a stay for 1 or 2 days. However, we passed it by for just one evening, meeting nice and helpful locals and the central camp site La Pelouse. We paid 19,66 € for a night with modern showers, local ducks and a place directly at the bank of the Dordogne. The château de Monbazillac was a pretty sidestep on our way.

Highlights: Picnic on the road, Bergerac, Monbazillac, relaxed travelling.

 

  1. Dune du Pilat / Pyla

We checked out 3 camp sites around the famous Dune du Pilat but only one has this fantastic panorama and direct access to the Dune: yelloh! Panorama du Pyla. The staff is not interested in their guests or in their comfort, but the location is unbeatable. We paid about 25,- € per night in June which was okay (sincere recommendation: never go there in high season!)

Highlights: Girls in a sandbox and the gorgeous view.

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  1. Carcans Plage

A relaxed place with a clear focus: Surfing. Cycle paths, lakes and forests exist, but most of the people come for the pretty beach and the waves – leading to the best surfer camp atmosphere of the whole travel. There is only one (real) camp site, but it is pretty okay: Camping de l’Océan is large, but not crowded (in June). I paid something close to 20,- € per night with stable WIFI for free (available close to the reception only).

Highlights: The surfing atmosphere among other travellers and Pete from Australia with his guitar and his poker face when being confronted with probably the worst coffee of his life.

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  1. Lörrach / Bad Bellingen

My step-brother’s home, or: the marble palace. One of the best dinners I had for weeks, a warm welcome and my new nephew from Kabul. All of this is a highlight, however, a very personal one. Concluding the holidays with a personal highlight is probably the best way to come back to normal life.

Surfing the West Coast: Carcans [3.145 km]

Time flies when you’re having fun!

Linda has to go back to the Netherlands while I still have three days left. We discuss our options: Me, staying on the current camp site feels too much left behind. Turn East and stretch the way back over five days feels like shortening the holidays. Finally, Linda goes to see some of Bordeaux centre, but gets handicapped by the European football championship: all baggage rooms and lockers are closed for safety reasons and Bordeaux with your luggage drawn behind is less fun.

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Although Bordeaux must be beautiful, I am drawn to the coast to see some more waves. The nice German surfer that I met in my second week mentioned a pretty good camp site at Carcans, so after a big hug and farewell to Linda I turn slightly North and head for the one and only camping at Carcans-Plage.

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I look for surfer’s atmosphere and in fact that is all that Carcans-Plage is about. Three restaurants, two snack bars and a ragtag music bar spread out over a hand full of tiny roads. Two souvenir shops, a supermarket and three surf shops, accompanied by a surf school and a camp site – there surely is a clear focus on touristic beach life. Even though the landscape with dunes und forest is a playground for further activities, I am fine with the beach and a rental surf board for the next days.

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Baywatch at Carcans

The beach and the weather work hand in hand with temperatures up to > 30°C. Due to yesterday’s full moon, the waves come up quite powerful and the current here is stronger compared to Vieux Boucau, but the beach surely is inviting. The afternoons fly by between warm sand and a swim (sort of) in the atlantic waves, while the morning hours are perfect for surfing practice.

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The days at Carcans motivate me to continue with surfing until I am good enough for the change to agile fiberglass boards. The “mousse” boards that I currently use are just too heavy for a girl like me and the distance of 1000 meters from the shop to the perfect waves. Well, I wanted to exercise more anyway, so for these days I am fine. With Vincent’s guidance running through my head I try to read the coastline and identify the ideal spot with gentle swell and harmless current. Soon enough I start with my routine of jumping on the board, steering left and right and get carried along by the whitewash.

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I always think, I should show more of the landscape. Well, this is my preferred one…

Between surfing and beaching, the camp site offers relaxed and basic circumstances: Hector is parked among other solo travellers, all surfers (what else). The Swiss guy chills in his hammock while Pete from Australia plays the guitar. Some clichés are just perfect when they hit real life!

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Pete: thanks for playing! And for ineresting conversations and, last but not least, for the wonderful surf-support!!

On Friday, I start running out of time: I have to go back to work and this is the only reason why I turn the engine and drive 1.000 km straight East. After 12 hours of driving, my step-brother and my sister-in-law welcome me with luxurious dinner and with my new nephew from Kabul. When I lay down in the guest room I slightly miss the wind rocking my bed and the humming sound of Hector’s control panel. 4 weeks of holiday have not stopped my travel bug at all…

Girls in a Sand Box [3.004 km]

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It is Friday, the sun fights its way back to the West coast and we have a couple of days yet to come. Girls like us should not be kept away from the sea for too long and thus we head for the famous Dune du Pilat.

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Dune du Pilat: 2.700m long, 110m high, quadrillion grains of sand

6 km away from Arcachon downtown, a choice of camp sites waits for Linda and me to check them out. The yelloh! Panorama du Pyla camping is the only one with direct beach access and sea view at least on some places. While most areas spread out in the shadow of high trees on hilly ground, a hand full of places is located directly on the shoreline. Based on detailed analysis of wind, sun, view and further comfort factors, Hector settles down a few meters from the edge.

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The perfect pitch

Not only do we have a 3-side panorama view on blue sea, blue sky and the enormous dune, we are furthermore surrounded by flying men.

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After all we have seen those last travelling days (several camp-sites, cave of Lascaux, two castles, two cities and a lot of landscape), we now enjoy regarding the sea for quite a while. During low tide the oysters on the next sand bank are visible, while during daylight paragliders pass by above our heads. Every now and then we spend sunny hours at & in the pool, get suddenly stressed for keeping up with the ridiculous opening hours of the camping’s supermarket and go down to the beach. With the city of Arcachon being some kilometers away and with the steep, hilly landscape in between, we are fine with the lazy mode that slightly took over.

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Relaxing days at Pyla

Right beside our campground, Europe’s largest dune piles masses of fine sand up to 110 meters. Thanks to our home-base, we do not care about parking fees or tourist crowds on wooden paths, instead we just take a side step and start our walk already on 2/3 level of the total height. With Saturday, sun and wind coming together, innumerable paragliders take off from the dune and fly up and down all day long.

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We walk straight to the top and enjoy the sensation of an endless desert horizon.

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It is a very particular surrounding, bringing both your mind to a rest and your head to the creation of funny ideas. While the sea-side already has a reasonable slope, the other side seems to fall straight down to the forested ground behind. One guy jumps down there and lets gravity take down his half-naked body for 30–40 meters. Due to the sand peeling, his chest is already shimmering red, but the smile in his face tells us that he does not care too much about it.

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downwards

It is wonderful here: the landscape is so special, the sea lays bright blue at our feet and the fooling around in this endless sand box is a lot of fun. Linda jumps up, sails down, obviously carried away by life, the universe and everything.

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The joy that brings a simple (but huge) quantity of sand is indescribable. We run down, step up, jump high and fall down again until we have a fling and change for a bath in the sea.

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Holidays change your perspective

In fact, there is not a lot you can do around the Dune du Pilat. You can wander the dune up and down and across, you can swim in the unruffled sea, spend time at the pool and that is it so far. Unless you are a paraglider, then it is sort of a paradise with the most gorgeous view of all.

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Fly another day

Finally, on our third day here, I remember my holiday mission: try out whatever is offered! Lucky us, the paragliders that offer tandem flights are right around the corner and we agree to fly with them later that day. Unlucky us, the strong wind decides to cease just that morning, destroying our flight plans. This eases our financial cash flow (most of the things at the camp-site have to be paid in cash with no cash dispenser being around) but is a bit disappointing anyway. We compensate it with perfect beach weather, delicious dinner, dancing at the beach and some profiteroles. And with the wonderful plan to come back some day.

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A very special landscape

Castle, Wine, Picnic – France’s Wonderful Facets

 

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The region of Bergerac is famous for shimmering yellow sweet wine. Consequently, our first stop in the morning is Chateau Monbazillac, a castle surrounded by vineyards. Fortunately, this time we may find our own way through the building and do not have to follow a guided tour. The admission charge comes along with a flyer that offers information about the castle and its rooms, so all we miss is the repetition of “dö-dö” that still runs through our head from yesterday’s visit.

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Rheingau or Médoc?

Lingering through the chambers, Linda and I fantasize how we will furnish our shared house in here. We agree on two large rooms and an oriel for each plus some common space in between. As we will probably take over the entire staff, I greet the gardener outside demonstrative friendly.

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My Home is my Castle

The morning proceeds and it is time for the tasting: Linda tries the very sweet dessert wine and buys a bottle of it (if you are friend or family of Linda, please be ensured: yes, she did buy wine). After I take a sip from her glass, it is clear that we will not need to fight about it, it is all hers. For the choice of local white wines, I can confess that the least sweet one would be okay with fruits flambé, sunset and an austere man. However, it is unpredictable when all those ingredients get together, and consequently I rather go for six bottles of dry red wine.

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In one of the villages on our way we stop for croissants, fruits and vegetables at the local market. Now fully equipped, we choose at random any of the Médoc vineyards for a picnic. Within a minute, we have our chairs outside and enjoy our culinaric prey in the sun.

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We surely know how to hit the road

After the sightseeing overflow of the last two days, Hector then carries on to get Linda and me to a beach. We pass by Bordeaux (4th time so far), aiming for Europe’s largest sand dune. Only there I will learn that there is no use looking for a camp-site I knew 20 years ago: the dune wanders quite some meters every year and my ancient memories are long gone.