Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Spring Break roadtrip to southern France.

This year we were playing with the idea of going to Morocco or Portugal for the spring break, but at the end, we had a time issue and thought there is still so much to explore in France, that we decided to just head down south in the end.

Our first stop was at the artificial lake "Lac de Saint Croix" where the Verdon canyon ends and the river enters the lake.   Since it was late in the day, we found a perfect little wilderness camping spot and settled in.  I made dinner, we set up the tents, and then we made a campfire.  We roasted marshmallows, bringing back some nostalgic memories of our North American home...  The stars were bright and amazing that night, so I attempted to capture some star trails over the lake.

Getting our shelter ready with style.

Dinner Time

The resevoir at dusk.

Wild thyme.

Agent Smith?

Marshmallows over the campfire.

Deep in thought...

Star trails in the Orion constellation.

Sunset over Lac Saint Croix.

Our home.

Since Jakub brought Tommy's kayak along, this was a great opportunity to take Tommy on flat water and practice paddling a bit.  As the boys entered into the spectacular limestone canyon with its turquoise waters, I got a little jealous that I also didn't have a watercraft to float on and explore the surroundings.  To our luck however, we noticed there was a paddle boat rental place just across on the opposite beach, so we went to inquire about the price and availability.  It turned out that a boat would be available soon, so the girl team (me, Anna, and Sarka - Jakub's mom) ended up following the boys into the canyon.  It was a good leg work out to turn the paddle wheel against the river current, and the sites were just amazing.  See for yourself on the photos below...

Quite comfy on the paddle boat as we enter the canyon.

Boys on their way back.

Tommy dusting off his kayak.

Some pretty awesome waterfalls.

Getting chilly.

Giving the bats a scare.

Later that day we went to do a little bit of easy climbing with Anna at "Le Galetas" limestone cliffs, while Tommy and grandma were chilling by the lake.  Finally, after this eventful and sportive day, we headed to our next destination: Touet sur Var where we camped for two nights.

View of Lac Saint Croix from Le Galetas craggs.

Miss climbing girl.

Pink dot on the cliff, so girly.

Getting some beta.

On the way to Touet we made a few stops to admire the depth and greatness of the Verdon Canyon.  We also made a few stops so that Jakub could do push ups.  To explain a little more - Jakub received a work out program which would apparently train you to achieve certain number of push ups by the end of it.  The program consisted of doing a certain number of push ups at a specific frequency per day.  Sometimes it was 5 push ups every 30 mins, sometimes 15 every 15 mins.  Then it got crazy because Jakub's timer was beeping so often and every time we stopped, Jakub got down and was working out :)))

Verdon Gorge.

Verdon Gorge.

Push Up O'Clock.

On the bridge.

Sun set...

In Touet, we found a campsite called Domaine de l'Amitie, owned by an older couple in the midst of a horse farm on the banks of the Var river.  The couple was quite nice to us and since we were there out of season, it was very quiet and peaceful there.

Our plan for this particular region was to do two Via Ferratas, one each day.  The first day we did a Via Ferrata called the Balma Negra which is located near a picturesque village of Roubion. 


As we made our way through the village, we were stopped by some local residents who are likely in charge of the ferrata.  They saw Anna and probably thought she was too small to do it so they discouraged us from going there.  We told them we would try it out and see for our selves.  I must say Anna did awesome, she was not scared nor did she whine about any part of it.  I think the fact that we take her climbing and/or ferratas regularly really helps.  I must also mention that Tommy is a pro at these ferratas and does them with great speed.  He's always ahead of us and has no fear at all.

Roubion with its narrow alleyways.

Local church.

Window of imagination.

The Via Ferrata above.

Tommy in the lead as usual.

Enjoying herself.

The crew behind me.

Up up we go.

The wire traverse, Tommy swinging.

Anna going at it.

After this super nice warm up, the next day we did a much longer via ferrata "des Canyons de Lantosque".  As the name indicates, this ferrata was located inside two beautiful river canyons for about 95% of the time.  The canyons were very green, lush and shady.  The route started along the river Riou and then finished up along the river Vesubie.  The end of the ferrata was completed by climbing a super long ladder and then walking across a huge and airy suspension bridge!

Hands free!

Traverse above the waterfall.

No fear.

Wedgie ;)

The girlzzz

Tommy going up there.

The rest of the team below.

The ferrata was strategically located for Jakub to go kayaking on the Vesubie river.  So while he was going for a run, we hung out on the beach to greet him with chilled beer.  But when we finally made it to the beach (most likely trespassing on private property), a helicopter flew by and hovered right above us.  We were unsure whether they are there to tell us to get out because the dam was getting released or because it was private property.  But then they flew off again and came back.  We realized that they probably don't care about us, but are either doing a real search and rescue or are doing a practice one.  At the end it seems like it was a practice indeed but it did make our stay at the beach anything but peaceful.

Beach butterflies.

Daddy's back.

Anyone for a swim?

Search and rescue.

Having a good laugh.



That night we camped in the wild, in a beech grove, but we noticed some wild boar had dug up the ground around the trees.  Jakub actually set up his mom's tent right by one of these areas so she was wondering if she'll get a surprise visit during the night.  We had a bad phone signal there so at night I walked up the road a bit and heard some loud noises in the forest wondering if those are our furry friends.  In the morning Jakub was imitating pig noises so well that he tricked his mom a bit into thinking a boar was near her tent.  We all had a good laugh.  That day we had planned a hike down to the river valley and back.  The depart was from the village of Gilette and the destination was the l'Esteron river.  The hike was easy going but I found that people in this part of the world were a bit careless and messy.  We saw garbage in a few areas of the forest and people properties were rather unkempt.  Other than that we still had awesome weather and were thankful for that.

On the way back up to Gilette after reaching the valley.

l'Esteron river.

Admiring tulips in someone's garden.

Up there somewhere is our car.

Spring in full bloom and beauty.

Don't forget those push ups!

After all this exercise we decided to add in a bit of culture.  We drove towards Grasse and stayed at a campsite on the way.  In Grasse we went to visit the famous perfume museum which is worth visiting.

The rooftops of Grasse.

Our next and favourite destination was Cassis and Calanques.  The kids always love to visit the mediterranean (whereas Jakub does not) and we wanted to combine that with some easy climbing in the oh so famous cliffs of Calanques.  Here we anchored our tents in the Cassis camping site for 3 nights.  As we arrived in the evening, we had a bit of time to go check out the beach in Cassis and have a view of the castle.  I would really recommend to anyone I know to visit this area as Cassis has a character;  it's very picturesque and relatively small sized.  Apparently a law was passed that prohibits the building of any high rises/hotels which is probably why this little gem is so appealing and looks the same as it did 50 yrs ago.

Cassis by dusk.  Kids could not resist the waves.

Cassis harbour.

On our second day, we hiked to the Calanques d'en Vau, which is one of the closest approachable Calanque inlets.  I am always amazed how turquoise the waters are and how white the cliffs are.  I was surprised how many people were hiking around and when we reached the beach, it was actually packed - at the end of April (off tourist season!) go figure.  Some people were courageous enough to swim.  After a bit of lunch and siesta, Jakub convinced me to do a very easy multi pitch climb on the cliff adjacent to the beach (called La Saphir).  It was actually very fun and each section had different features.  On top of that, the limestone was not too polished as it commonly is.

Calanque de port Miou.

On our way to the beach.

Calanque d'en Vau

La Saphir multipitch climb.

Calanque d'en Vau as viewed during our climbing expedition.

At the top looking at the mediterranean.

One more time.

The last day in Cassis was spent regenerating.  I went to the beach with Šárka and the kids, while Jakub was catching up on his sleep in the tent and healing his knee (too much running) and elbow (too many push ups??).

This photo was cleverly taken, but the beach was full.  Later on there were some rowing races as well.

Ahh, that fickle sibling love.

The next portion of our trip was a small interlude of wine tasting in the Rhone valley, or the Cote du Rhone region, which is the closest popular wine region to Grenoble.  We visited three areas in total: Gigondas, Vacqueyras and Chateauneuf du Pape.  At this point the weather became a bit soggy so this worked out perfectly for the wine tour.  I must also not forget to mention that we own a comic book about the Rhone wine region and even though it was initially a present for Jakub, Tommy managed to read it several times and memorized all the different wines, and other such details.  By the time we reached the wineries, Tommy was able to consult us on what wine to get, how it will taste and which food it will go well with.  We were all in shock as he was educating us each evening.  He also never wanted to miss out going to the grocery store with us because he felt responsible for choosing wines for us.  Gotta love that kid!!

We went to visit a really cool wine museum at Chateauneuf du Pape and learned quite a few interesting things we didn't know.  For example, I had no idea you could make white wine from red grapes or that the yeast for the fermentation comes from the grapes themselves.



Budding grapes of the future vintage 2015 to come.

Castle ruin, at Chateauneuf du Pape.

I guess people drink considerable amounts of wine here :)

Some pretty flowers on the way....

Only this wall still stands.

Our very last trip destination was Ardeche/Massif Central where we planned to do some hiking.  We did one small hike that Anna chose in our guide book and then we did a very long 15km hike in the national park Les Cevennes.  We also managed to have one last camping night in in the wilderness, where we roasted some trout and shrimp on the grill and drank some of those nice wines we picked out.


Gotta love camping in France. :)

Grilling time!

Sandwiched grandma.

Another clear night.

The last, looooong, monotonous hike of the trip...

After leaving the Alps these "little" hills are so boooooring.  :D

Vegetation still dry and dead up in the mountains.

And this sums up our spring road trip.  It was really fun and we lucked out with the weather this time as it was at the end of April.  It wasn't Morocco or Portugal, but I think our sport/adventure needs were satisfied.  :))))  France always has so much to offer.