France. I’ve said for many years I would like to live in the south of France. I had nothing to base the idea on, I’d not visited nor did I know anyone who had been. It was just something that got stuck in my head.
Now that I’ve actually been to the south of France, I definitely would like to live there at some point.
I wasn’t on holiday but as one of six adults who took a group of 35 Young People to the PGL centre at Lou Valagran.
The journey to Lou Val was taken by coach, and as you can see by the map, it’s a long way!
The journey down took 19 hours very nearly to the minute. We crossed the English Channel by ferry, which was a new experience for some of the Young People, and a nervous one for those who don’t like boats or water, and that included one of the drivers!
We crossed at around midnight, I can’t remember the actual time, but I had the grand idea to have a coffee; I very rarely drink anything with caffeine but as we had Young People in our care and they were moving around the boat, I thought I should be awake. The downside was once we were on French soil I couldn’t get to sleep properly. So as the new day dawned I was awake, and had been for very nearly 24 hours.
Despite the length of the journey, it wasn’t that bad. The drivers made regular stops, and they were of a good length; no 5 minute leg stretch and quick pee stops here.
On arrival at Lou Val we were shown to our cabins and then given a quick orientation of the site. As we did so, we were told that once it was done we would be doing our first activity. One called ‘Jog & Dip’, the centre has its own private beach onto the River Ceze.
The activity didn’t sound too appealing; we had been on a coach for 19 hours, we were all tired and it was very warm. After a quick change into our clothes for the river, we all lined up along the bank and were given the good news. We weren’t expected to jog along the bank but rather into the water before dunking ourselves into the cool and very refreshing water.
So a fun start to the trip and the fun continued until the moment we left.
The 35 Young People were split down into four groups and I went with a group that consisted mainly of those that knew me. After the trip I remarked to Emma the Group Leader, that in hindsight I thought that was a bad move by me, as I didn’t get to know the other Young People as well as I could have. Whilst Emma partly agreed, She also stated that perhaps the Young People that I knew in my group would have gained confidence to carry out the myriad of tasks presented to them because I was in their group. Thinking back over the trip, that did make sense to me, as there had been examples where a bit of banter, some jokes and good old fashioned encouragement had helped some of the Young People to achieve what they though unachievable.
During the course of the trip the Young People took part in the following activities; Kayaking, Rope climbing/Jacobs ladder, high ropes, archery, mountain biking, raft building, a walk to a local swimming spot, a visit to the local town, an excursion day and a two day descent of the Ardèche river.
Everything that is carried out is done with a sense of fun, this helps with confidence building, and many of the tasks on the river; Jog & dip, kayaks & raft building are all in the programme to improve water confidence within the group, whilst not ramming that point home. So when it came to canoe down the Ardeche for two days, none of the group had any fears of being on or in the water. Very clever!
This satellite map shows the site. Going from left to right. The first marker is the cabin I shared with Wayne. The second is the entrance to the site and the third is the private beach.
What it doesn’t show is the elevation. The site is on the side of a hill, and the path up to the two rows of cabins that we occupied was rather steep.
On our second evening we went to a local town called Gourdages; For reasons I cannot explain, I didn’t take any pictures there. It’s a very pretty town, with a canalised stream running through the centre, which also divides the main street.
The Google streetview is taken in winter, it looked much better in Summer.
On the right hand side are all the restaurants & cafes. It was packed with people eating al fresco, the food looked amazing.
Just to the left of that view is an alley that has an ice cream parlour, I think just about everyone went in for one. The shop is called Glaces et délices.
Our excursion day took us to two places; Aigues Mortes & Le Grau-du-Roi.
Aigues Mortes is a medieval walled town. This is the main gate and below is a close up of the shield/plaque you can see above the entrance. Unfortunately I have no information as to what it symbolises.
I did manage to pick up some rather snazzy shades for 5 euros. Although one of the Young People took a fancy to them and they were on her head more than mine.As I couldn’t get a sense of the space I was in, nor could I wander off and explore, I bought a postcard and was blown away to see what I was actually standing in.It was probably one of the hottest days we had experienced, someone said it was getting on for 38 degrees, and I decided to buy chocolate!!
The street we were on, I think it was the main street, has a spectacular sweet shop, just imagine a French version of Willy Wonka. The shop is called La Cure Gourmande and can be found all over France. I bought some chocolate olives which were very tasty but I didn’t eat them quick enough and put them in my rucksack and forgot about them. Shop link La Cure Gourmande
We moved on from Aigues Mortes to the beach at La Grau-du-Roi, which is about 10 minutes away. As we approached the coach driver, who coincidentally had lived in this area for a few years, told us that the sea bed was pretty much flat. As he had been spewing out odd facts that didn’t always ring true, most of us were sceptical!
But he was right. I’m not a great swimmer so wasn’t sure about getting in the sea, I couldn’t however pass up the chance to swim in the Med. So I walked out, and kept walking and walking and the water didn’t get much past my chest (and I’m short!), there was a little dip where it went up to my neck but it soon flattened out again.
I think we must have been about 1/4 of a mile off shore. Thankfully Emma the Group Leader was away dealing with a crisis, otherwise She may have been having kittens on the beach!
Having had my fill of swimming really badly in a lovely part of the world I headed back to the beach. Have you remembered my chocolates? It was at this point that I remembered them too, and they weren’t so much olives as they were a chocolate pancake!
Not to far from Lou Valagran is a swimming hotspot called Les Cascades, I’m sure you don’t need to be able to speak French to realise they are a series of waterfalls. We walked there on our last morning, we were also due to walk into the village of La Roque-sur-Ceze but due to some timing issues that wasn’t possible. I snapped a couple of pictures of the town as we walked passed.
First up the Les Cascades – We only went to have a look, it wasn’t safe for our Young People to go swimming here. It was full of locals & tourists swimming about and jumping off rocks that didn’t look entirely safe.La Roque-sur-CezeThis area is full of vineyards, it seems every available bit of land is used for the production of wine grapes.I tried every activity at Lou Val but thankfully there aren’t too many photographs of me. One I do have is of me climbing the a telegraph pole to jump & catch a trapeze.That was taken on the afternoon of our last day, we would be setting off for the UK about four hours later. It was an extremely hot day. Once I’d completed my jump to the trapeze, I set off to finish my packing and ‘hurry up’ any Young People I could see to do the same. I spent about two hours doing laps of the site, including many trips up and down the steep hill to the cabins. In that two hours I drank two litres of water and didn’t require any trips to the little boys room, I did need to wring out my t-shirt though!!
What I haven’t mentioned properly is the trip down the Ardeche River. It was a two day descent and was one of the hardest and most enjoyable experiences of my life so far. As we were on a river, I didn’t take my camera but I know a few did. I will follow up this post with another when I get to see the photos. It will be a bit bland just describing it.
What I will say is that I had one of the most frightening experiences of my life about an hour into the first day. I was in a canoe with two of our smaller boys, I think both are aged 9 or 10. We came to one of the first of many rapids that we would experience, unfortunately it was all a bit much for the boys and they stopped paddling and panicked; as did I although I manged to start paddling again.
That was enough to send us tumbling into the fast moving water. I came up on the downstream side of the canoe, one of the boys appeared on the upstream side but the other one was nowhere to be seen! Thankfully a member of the river crew, Rio, was on the rapid and he moved like a ninja from his canoe, into the water, bringing up the other boy. This all happened in about 5 seconds, so no one was ever in any danger, as is the professionalism of the PGL river crew. Shook me up though!!
Here are two of the river crew: Rio (one of the most laid back men on the planet, my saviour on the rapids or a ninja or a samurai & Big Tom who is named for the obvious reason!)The team at the disco on the last evening: From L to R – Steve, Kay, Me, Dave, Emma & Wayne.One last photo. In between trying to get the Young People to get packed up on the last afternoon, and the other groups finishing their activites, I went for one last look and paddle at the river. As I stood there cooling my feet down, I looked to my right and there was a heron (I think it’s a heron) trying to catch a fish. I had my camera with me and managed to capture it, just, as it flew off. You can just see at the centre of the frame I enjoyed my experience at PGL so much, I’m thinking of applying for season in 2013. I’d also like to go back to Aigues Mortes and spend a day or two wandering around the streets and alleys. When I got back home, one of the first things I did was check how much flights to Montpelier are and how I could get from there to a hotel on that beach!!