Southern France (Part Two)
We hit Chateauneuf-du-Pape for one reason only: the wine. Every 10 metres along the road was another shop offering wine tastings (in other words, heaven). It was similar to St Emilion but nowhere near as pretty. We arrived a little late so most places were closing, but we managed to find three shops that stayed open for us. The Cotes-du-Rhone region consisted of mostly red wines and we discovered that they were not our favourite wines in France. We bought one bottle as a token of our time here before leaving the wine behind and following signs to a camping ground.
On arrival we learned that this camp site had only been open for four months, which was obvious by the lack of people (there were only three other cars), no reception building and hardly any facilities. They had to set up the washing machine for us to use it. Nevertheless, it was in a picturesque, quiet spot, surrounded by tall trees and what felt like millions of miles from civilisation.
For dinner Danny made an Asian dish, the first since living in the van. He said it was mixed veggies in a generic Asian sauce, which coincidentally turned out to be exactly like a black bean sauce. While he was making dinner a bird flew in our back door and straight out the kitchen window. It scared the hell out of Danny, which in turn scared the hell out of me, more so due to Danny's reaction than to the bird itself. I'm glad it found that window.
Our drive out of the Rhone valley was breath-taking, passing vines that actually had some green shoots on them. We made our way to the Provence region and of course our first stop was a store offering wine tastings. Provence is all about rosé, which we would never normally order but we gave it a go. The rosés seemed a lot lighter in colour than any I had seen before and tasted not completely awful. The whites were terrible though. We bought just one bottle of rosé, another token bottle to say we had visited the region.
Next we headed for Aix-en-Provence. I know I have complained about parking before but this was the epitome of bad parking. It wasn't a big town but there was absolutely nowhere to park. At one stage we found a public car park and thought we would go in to see if there were any spots available. Unfortunately, I didn't see the tree branch that was bending over the entrance to the car park. Forgetting that we were in a tall van and I was supposed to look out for things like that, I drove straight into the tree, putting a huge dent in the top corner. I reversed out and drove 10 minutes along a busy road before finding a place to stop to assess the damage. It didn't look pretty. I was extremely frustrated with myself. At this stage we were both immensely irritated with Aix-en-Provence and decided to leave without visiting the town. Danny took over driving from this point.
Instead we drove on to Marseille. We took the coastal road until we found a car park, about 10 km out of town, overlooking white limestone cliffs. We ate lunch looking out at the sea, watching local kids jump off the rocks and into the water. We needed a couple of hours to chill out after the morning's events.
After deciding we had experienced enough car parking troubles for one day, we left our van in a residential area and caught a bus into town. The bus stopped several kilometres from our destination, so it was a long hike for us to reach the main port. Marseille looked very much a working class town and was not somewhere you would come to admire the buildings or the cleanliness. Run down and dirty were the adjectives that came to mind. We eventually located the port, with hundreds of yachts in the harbour and restaurants along the sides - this sight didn't seem to fit with the town we had just walked through. We ambled along one side to a fort, which we climbed for the obligatory views. Around the back of the fort was a stunning cathedral, that also stood in stark contrast to the rest of town.
Back at the Prince we drove down the coast until we spotted a car park with other like-minded nomads, right on the coast overlooking the water. Marseille didn't give off a particularly "safe" vibe, so the presence of other campervaners gave us some relief. From our window we witnessed the most spectacular sunset over the Mediterranean - definitely one of our better overnight locations.