We’re on a Summer tour of Eastern france, heading towards Sisteron and Lac de Serre Ponçon. It’s wonderful weather on this September morning, as we leave the incredible Pénitents des Meés behind us. Then before we know it, we come across a Citadel town perched high on a rock. Wow! This is something we’re not expecting.
To be honest, we can’t remember if we’ve been here before, but soon decide that we probably haven’t! Next, comes a sign for an Aire, bringing an ideal excuse to park up and take a look around.
Although there’s an option for paid parking at the adjacent Flot Bleu of 7 Euro for 24 hours, soon we realise this is for peak season only. So today, we’re able too park up for free – excellent news!!
Sisteron lies along the wide expanse of the Durance River. Most significantly noticeable is how this fee-paying Citadel dominates the landscape. Who can miss this fortress like structure, as it clings to a rocky outcrop above the town? Temptation gets the better of us, so let’s start exploring!
At this point, we’re not actually sure what Sisteron has to offer, as it rises up like a phoenix, it’s seen for miles around.
A walk through the ancient narrow street of the old medieval town is a welcome find. For those not wanting to tread the hilly inclines on foot, low and behold there’s the iconic Petit Train to take you to the top.
Located in the Haute Provence region of South East France, Sisteron is typically French. We love the intricate alleyways and stone steps guiding us through the historic centre. Above all, we feel this is a charming place, where views spread out before us.
Now we can see the river in all it’s glory, as it flows beside the town, crossing it sits a bridge, linking two sides together. Then we get to see the large pinnacle of rock, towering over the opposite bank like a skyscraper of stone.
There’s a few climbers making their way slowly up the steep rock face, attracting a few onlookers in the process.
In Summer there’s a large, free-foam bathing pool at the Base de Loisirs, ideally located a short distance from the Aire. Unfortunately, the season for swimming is over. Despite the heat, all that’s in the empty depths today, are workers, power hosing it down ready for Winter.
I imagine this lagoon full of fun and laughter in the height of the Summer sun.
Although we could stop the night, our itchy feet lead us North towards the direction of Gap.
Passing orchards of ripening apples, seemingly they spread across the landscapes forever. Without a doubt, it reminds us of the richness of the land. Not forgetting just how strong this vast fruit-growing region still is.
Before long, the draw of another ancient village awaits. This time, it’s Tallard, a tiny place in comparison to Sisteron, yet equally enticing on this warm evening.
Luckily, we find a free Aire to park up for the night – of course, this is France – what more would you expect?!
Our hunger pangs get the better of us, so we eat before taking a stroll through this quaint, deserted village. Then it’s time to take a look through these tiny alleyways of extremely rustic buildings, many of which look a little crumbly!
One thing’s for certain – time has indeed stood still here. And, we can’t help but think, how incredible it is that these fascinating little villages are still standing today. Probably, they are even more intriguing in this humble condition, where we can hear the voices of those behind the shutters of these darkened alleys.
For us, as darkness falls through the castle ruins above the village, we decide to call it a day. With that, we return to the comfort of the van, for a peaceful nights sleep beside the river.
After a morning run, the refreshed energy levels bring a surprise message from an old school friend – Lesley. Coincidentally, she’s parked up with her husband, Steve, in their own motorhome – at Lac de Serre Ponçon!
First of all though, our chores are calling – that’s laundry and shopping, followed by fuel and water. This is where things got a little awkward, because the fuel pump wouldn’t accept any of our British cards! Now this is something we’ve had before in France, but not for several years. So, I guess we sort of thought the problem no longer existed – whoops!
Then, after seeing our struggling expressions, along comes a friendly French guy to our assistance. Next, he’s offering to fill up our tank in exchange for cash to refund him.
Well, what do you know it? As usual with Nigel and I, it soon becomes apparent that we’ve been here before! To Lac de Serre Ponçon that is!
This scenic blue lake of Lac de Serre Ponçon was created in 1961. Not to mention, it’s actually one of the largest dams in Western Europe. On our last visit, many years ago, we stopped at some fabulous rock formations – The Damoisellles Coiffees. However, this time, we just past them by. That’s only because yesterday, we’d spent the morning walking through some similar formations. If you haven’t seen any before, then they may well be worth a look, in our opinion they are quite intriguing.
As we drive along the lakeside route towards Savines-le-Lacs, we admire the scenery of mountains and water. It’s quite a country-type of drive, elevated in most places from the lake with nothing much around other than greenery.
Not forgetting, some incredible locations, where several motorhomes are parked, overlooking the waters edge. We don’t drive down to check it out, but it looks like they’re staying the night, possibly a spot of wild camping in this idyllic setting.
There’s not much in the way of options for Aires up until now, but we do pass campgrounds, with enviable positions overlooking the lake. The Aires we do find around Savines-le-Lacs, are all fee-paying with a barrier entrance, a lot has changed since our last visit!
We remember how we drove in all those years ago, of course, even then the Aires were busy in the height of Summer.
Outside a municipal campsite close to the shores of the lake at Embrun, is where we meet Lesley and Steve. Chatting and sipping wine until the clock struck midnight, we reminisce about the good old days. Then, a grumpy French chap appears in his pyjamas – the glare in our direction speaks volumes!
Retreating indoors and saying goodnight, brings an end to such a pleasant evening. Our exchanges of travel and hopes for the future bring a welcome relief to the woes of the virus. One thing we notice about travel, is that sometimes you really do loose the ability to hold a decent conversation. So, it’s no surprise that when you meet a fellow English speaking person, especially when it’s someone from back home, there is no stopping us once we get going.
The following morning we wake to the sight of the local Gendarmerie, knocking on the doors of the grumpy chap and his neighbour. We wonder why? Then, the next thing we know, both motorhomes drive off their levelling ramps, leaving the tyres firmly on the ground and those bright yellow ramps resigned to the garage.
This is the first time ever, in 15 years, that we’ve seen the “no ramps rule” enforced on an Aire. Although we’ve always known this rule exits, personally we never use them partly for that reason.
It’s a reminder that even here, in the ultimate motorhome-friendly country that these rules should be adhered to.
A walk by the lake brings a chance for both a closer look at the area and more of a catch up with my old school friend.
There’s plenty here to keep the active types entertained. From cycle paths to sailing, walking routes to parks, it’s a pretty low-key, attractive setting. When Summer arrives, so do the crowds who flock to the water-side beaches for swimming and relaxation beside the lake.
We take a detour up towards the hilltop town of Embrun, where a steep path leads us up to the centre. For us, there isn’t a much of a Wow factor here, instead, it’s more of an ok kind of place. There’s a shopping street and views over the fields below, where we can see the lake in the distance.
Probably, in normal times, we’d have stopped for a drink in a pavement cafe, but this is the height of the virus, so caution is still forefront of our minds.
Now, our sights are set on different shores – The Vecors Regional Park. And a driving a route that we’ve come across in our book – Back Roads France . Starting just North of Gap, our first destination and parking place for the night is absolutely incredible.
This is the Sources des Gillardes, and we’re at an Aire in a gorgeous setting amongst a river-side forest area, making a perfect lazy evening below the pines.
Next time – We take the most fascinating walk to the Sources des Gillardes, where bubbling water marks the start of this scenic river.
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