The Last Aire Before Spain
It’s 7pm on the 6th August 2022 and our travel diaries are reaching the Mediterranean coast of France. After leaving the dramatic water’s of The Gorges d’Héric, we’re ready to stop at the last Aire before Spain. This is a place we’ve to before, but only in Winter, so we’ll see what awaits in the hot peak season.
First of all, our plans change slightly, when we realise we’re at the Canal du Midi, and another place we’ve been before. The little village of Ginestas is a small port with a few canal-side restaurants. Seeing we’re passing by, we decide to stop the night, but finding the Aire is a little tricky.
Ginestas port on The Canal du Midi
After taking a few turns off the main road, we suddenly find ourselves in the middle of some residential houses. Oh heck – this can’t be right or is it?
The directions lead us down some narrow roads, where finally we see the canal. There’s a mixed parking area where a few motorhomes are parked up, but this is more of a location that’s tolerated rather than official.
Luckily there’s room for us, so we park and open the doors for some well needed fresh air. The heat is intense still, despite it being early evening.
After a while, we’re off exploring the port, which by now is filling up with visitors. There’s a lovely vibe on this Summer evening and open air dining options provide a lovely atmosphere.
The Canal-du-Midi is a lovely route in itself and one that can be quite easily followed by motorhome on its 150 mile journey through Southern France.
Tonight, we need water and by that I mean for the campervan. Luckily the tourist office is still open, so Nigel pops inside to ask if there is any nearby.
Apparently, we can use a tap that’s working outside, attached to the rear of an old outbuilding. There’s only one snag – it’s far from our parking spot and we can’t drive here. That means only one thing and that’s to fill a our water container a few times and carry it back on foot.
It’s funny sometimes how you can drive for what seems like ages and just find nowhere to fill the tanks. Anyway, this will have to do for now, until we find a proper Aire tomorrow.
A Beaver and a Pizza
Ginestas is entered along the Canal, with not much in the way of activity beyond. Walking along the waterside is really lovely, especially as the restaurants beside us are so full of life tonight.
Then we notice a rather large Beaver munching on the grass verge beside the water and not bothering one little bit about the passers by.
We’re quite intrigued, so stop a while to watch it. Then a local couple join us and confirm the English translation of the wet, furry mammal.
After our Beaver watch, it’s time for another good pastime – Pizza night. Luckily we manage to get a table at one of the outdoor eateries and settle down for a bottle of Rosé and a really good pizza.
Flamingoes and Salt
The following morning we’re ready to embark on the next leg of our journey – Spain. Then, for some reason, we decide to have a slight change of plan, simply because we fancy a dip in the Mediterranean.
Leaving Ginestas behind, we find ourselves along the long coastal road of the French coast near Narbonne. To be honest, this stretch of coast isn’t our favourite, so we know there aren’t too many choices of places to stop.
Maybe, I should say, places where we want to stop! Although, there are a few good Aires which we know of, we want to try and find somewhere new. By now, we’re beside the lagoons where Flamingoes feed in the shallows and salt flats add interest to the views.
Towns along here are busy and quite inaccessible along some roads, which lead to tourist accommodation and dead-end routes.
The authorities want motorhome’s in set areas and those left aren’t that appealing.
Attempting a few Aires
This year we have the Camping Car Park card so take a look at Port La Novelle and La Palme. Although we’re always enthusiastic about an Aire, both are a little unappealing, perhaps it’s the location but we decide to keep driving. They both look close to the road and out on a bit of a limb, although I guess we should be grateful for these areas all the same.
Onwards we drive, passing Perpignan and still there’s nowhere to stop that appeals. Once again, these are places we’ve been to before and there’s no surprise on the route or the options available for overnight.
Instead, we choose to continue to an Aire that we know is close to the beach and is ok for an overnight stop.
Port Vendres – The Last Aire Before Spain
Port Vendres is the last official Aire before Spain and it’s a good location for an overnight stop. The Aire is located on the far end of town near the police station and the more industrial looking side of the port.
When we arrive, it’s busy, dusty and hot. Ok, so it’s not exactly the best, but it’s practical for our route to Spain today. Now, remember that water situation last night? Well, this is the time to fill up, because there’s a free water point and dump here.
Whilst filling up, we get a bit nervous about loosing a place to park the night. Luckily there’s still a few places available by the time we finish, despite lots of arrivals in the meantime.
We’ve only been here in Winter before. One thing we notice is that it’s quite a different atmosphere in the height of Summer.
Not only is it packed, there’s also a few “permanent” looking vans which have every conceivable bit of kit stretched out around them. Obviously, these people are here for the Summer, and the Gendarmie mustn’t be too bothered. Port Vendres is one of the few Aires where the local police still collect the small nightly fee each morning.
We notice the reviews on the Apps warn of thieving, so we’re a little more alert to the surroundings. As usual in these hot parts, the slightest gust of wind blows swathes of dust our way, it’s an annoying downside of van travel.
A Beach at last
Finally, we ignore the distractions on the Aire and head to the nearby beach for a swim. It’s only a few minutes walk, leading along the road to a couple of pebble beaches.
The route isn’t exactly scenic, simply due to buildings which are empty and prone to vandals. They were the same on our last visit, several years ago.
The road is narrow and chaotic, with cars trying to pass and people walking between. Eventually, as thunder clouds gather in the distance, we choose a spot and plunge into the sea.
The beaches aren’t the best, but the water is clear and refreshing. We’re slightly cautious of leaving our belongings, it’s the sort of place where we feel we need to watch our things.
Port Vendres Town
After arriving back at the campervan and as the storm fails to materialise, we choose to walk into the town. It’s about a 10 minute walk to the centre of Port Vendres, although it’s not the most scenic route. Port Vendres is actually a fishing port, so there’s plenty of seafood to choose from.
There’s a u-shape harbour where restaurants line the pavements and a prom section allows for a stroll beside the water. Overall, it’s not a bad little place, although it doesn’t have the finesse of many French Mediterranean resorts. I’d describe it as worthy of a visit but nothing to get too excited about.
The big draw here is the convenience for the Spanish border and it having the last Aire before Spain. Tonight, it’s a good opportunity for a walk and passing the time before moving on tomorrow.
A Sleepless Night
Meanwhile, back in the campervan, whilst we’re ready for sleep, our neighbours are only just getting going! Yes, this is one of those sleepless nights where we wish we were somewhere else.
Not only are the adults here loud, but the children even more so and parental responsibility seems a big zero. As children scream and run around the Aire, others are doing wheelies on bikes into the early hours. There’s talking, music, dogs barking and drama, but no sleep.
Oh joys, the Aire wasn’t like this on our last visit in Winter. As this trip goes on we realise we’re getting too old and grumpy for Summer holiday travels!
The Coast Road to Spain
After lying awake most of the night, we decide to make a sharp, early exit as dawn arrives. The only bonus to this is the Gendarmerie are still in the land of nod, so there’s no knock on the door for the overnight fee. By the way, I think this is about 7 Euro, but don’t quote me on it.
Now, in the bright morning air, we’re winding our way along the clifftop Mediterranean route towards the border with Spain.
This route is scenic and there’s a few places to pull in for a look at the views and a coffee. We choose a small lay-by on a cliff beside a couple still sleeping in their car – now a normal sight in the land of vanlife. Perhaps there should now be a “carlife” instead.
I think we may wake them, because the guy stirs and slowly raises his pants out of the rear door before wondering off down the cliff path for a pee. They soon drive off, leaving us with our cornflakes, coffee and that view for company.
Onwards towards the border we pass the vanlife masses, all parking in every orafice of space. There’s not a free patch of earth or so it seems in the parking areas we pass, we don’t know if we like it or not.
These truly are the last wild camping spots along the coast, probably in all of the French coast, let along before the border!
Finally, as the road winds uphill, winding round the mountain as we go, the first glimpse of the past come into view. Yes, remember the old border crossings across Europe? Well, here’s the France/Spain one, looking practically third World in today’s modern era.
At last, the sign for Spain is upon us – that’s it we’re here, in another country and ready for some brand new regions to add to our vanlife travels.
For now, we have a little map reading and concentration to do. So we’ll bid you farewell, but we’ll see you very soon as we head to inland Catalonia for some very historic towns and an unusual Volcano encounter.