I was sitting in the dappled shade of a pine tree in Northern Spain when I heard a clicking sound. I looked up and there looking down at me from the trunk of the tree, its pointy nose and erect ears twitching, was a red squirrel. Down he came, head first with a flash of his white furry chest and his long fluffy tail following behind him.
The red squirrel in Northern Spain has a darker red/brown coat than its UK cousins and is a little smaller too. In Spain the squirrel was a delicacy but they are now protected by law and the country is free of the American grey squirrel too which is great news as it has driven the beautiful red squirrel from many of its native habitats.
We drove up into the mountains of north eastern Spain, along the narrow, mountain hugging roads. It was amazingly green after the barren hills and plains further south. We passed under avenues of deciduous trees, the sun penetrating through the leaves giving a soft dappled shade. The roads followed along the banks of rivers and streams that gurgled and babbled while sparkling in the sunlight.
We camped near one of Spain’s most beautiful towns, Albarracin. Built around the 12th century on top of a rocky hill, with a river that nearly encircles the town flowing far below and a wall that extended up into the mountains. The town was well defended against any marauding tribes.
Paul and I walked into the town, up the steep, cobbled streets, through narrow, shady alleys, past tall houses of red clay with iron grilles cladding the small windows, solid, old timber doors with great medieval hinges and knockers as entryways, until we reached the plaza where we had to stop and rest and grab a cold drink. We were both exhausted and our legs were shaking due to the steep climb. How unfit we are!
We crossed into France and made our way to Avignon, one of our favourite places, as it was hosting a musical event to celebrate the summer solstice, the longest day, on the night of 21st June. In every plaza, square or little nook was built a stage, bands played and sang everything from heavy metal, 80's hits, French pop to Rock ‘n Roll. A choir took the stage in the Place De L'Hoeloge near the Palace of the Popes, their voices filled the warm night air.
We walked from plaza to plaza, stopping to listen before moving on to hear what was playing on the stage around the next corner. The musicians and singers kept the city pumping until 2am the following morning.
What Paul and I did notice was the number of middle aged to elderly men who appeared to be alcoholics. Many were sitting on benches with a ‘tinnie’ clasped in their hands, looking a little ragged and worse for wear, a bit grimy too. Others danced and sang along with the bands, thoroughly enjoying themselves, but it was quite a sad sight.
As we drove through Provence a pungent scent often wafted past our noses, it was lavender. Small fields of this spiky purple flower dot the landscape in this part of France. The area is famous for its lavender products from essential oils and soaps to edible lavender flowers. The slopes, hills and rocky outcrops, gorges and valleys of this renowned part of France are covered in oak trees. Not like the giant, gnarly oaks of the English woods but more spindly and a little stunted with the branches covered in grey lichen.
Did you know that France has its own grand canyon. We certainly didn't until it was pointed out to us. Grand Canyon Veredon. As advised, we followed the narrow road along the canyons edge, twisting and turning, taking us under giant rocky overhangs, along roads just wide enough for us to pass with no visible barriers to stop us tumbling down in to the gorge far below and through arches in the rock just wide enough to squeeze our van through. It was a roller-coaster sort of ride.
We picked up a road going north called ‘Napoleon Route’. The exiled Napoleon re-entered France and marched his army along this route in 1815, to Paris, to oust the recently crowned Louis XVIII and reclaim his power. Napoleon’s second reign lasted just 100 days. On 18th June 1815 he was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo and once again was forced to abdicate. He died in 1821 in exile.
That notable road led us to the medieval town of Annecy and last night we wild camped along side its lake, a beautiful spot with lush green hills and mountains all around. We were so close I could sit on the vans steps and dangle my feet in the cool, crystal clear waters. Just magical.
Hope all is well.
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Liz and Paul x