After a night of absolutely torrential rain we left Amboise, and headed out of the Loire châteaux and river country towards the South of France.
Perched high up in our van we have a wonderful position to view the countryside as we drive along. This is perfect for us as we prefer to take the “scenic route” every time rather than the faster toll roads.
There was plenty of beautiful scenery on this leg of the trip but the constant rain over the previous week (and probably during the weeks before that) had created extensive flooding. Large ponds had developed in the fields by the side of the road and every small stream and river had burst its banks.
Along the way we went through a number of charming villages and once again, as during our previous visit in 2019, we were struck by how deserted most of them were. You could have shot a 12-pound cannon ball up the main street of each of them and no one would have stirred. It seems very sad that so many of these lovely French villages are in such dire circumstances.
We arrived at our stop for the night in the very romantic location of the supermarket car park at Ainay-Le-Château in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region of central France.
The reason for our stop here was the large commercial washing machine in the supermarket car park which allowed us to catch up with our laundry without having to visit a normal laundrette. It was also a good opportunity to restock our pantry and fridge.
We were surprised to find that there was no Château at Ainay-Le-Château! However, there were some remains of 15th Century fortifications including the Clock Gate below.
We had been driving about an hour and a half, the following day, when we caught a lovely view of the snow-covered alps glimmering on the horizon. As far as I was concerned that was as close to snow as I wanted to be!
We had no snow chains, no snow tyres (although the ones we had recently bought were described as “all weather tyres”) and no spade. Apparently these are the minimum (legal) requirements for winter motoring in the Alps!
I had said before we started our trip to France “No Snow!” but less than two hours after that distant glimpse we started to see a covering of snow on the fields we drove past.
Not very long after that were in the middle of a snow storm!
The visibility was quite poor and the road started get rather slippery – just as we started to wind our way upwards on a series of alarming hair pin bends!
This was a bit of a worry to say the least but with great care and carefully ever upwards we managed to stay on the road it was great to see families sledging down snowy hills and having fun making snowmen.
We climbed higher and higher and it got snowier and snowier! Eventually we arrived at the small medieval village of Murol at an elevation of well over 1,000 metres!
As we drove up towards the village we caught site of a mighty looking 12th century fortress perched on a basalt outcrop. It looked very forbidding but apparently in non-Covid times it is a charming castle to visit.
Driving gingerly we arrived at the supposed location of our site for the night but it was nowhere to be found! We drove further along the snowy road but no camp site was evident so we retraced our steps. We then drove round the small town, still with no luck.
Eventually we gave up. We would have to stay the night in the car park! We counted our blessings that we didn’t need to plug in to get power due to our new and excellent lithium battery. We also had enough water so all was well.
The only concern we had as we settled down to a glass of wine was whether we would be snowbound the following day!
During the night it did indeed snow but the fall wasn’t too severe and the roads weren’t too bad – fortunately a snowplough had cleared some of our route.
As we worked our way downwards the snow disappeared and we breathed a sigh of relief!
It wasn’t long however, before we were driving past fields of white again but as we approached our destination – the historic settlement of Sainte-Eulalie de Cernon – it disappeared once again although it was freezing cold!
Despite the chilly temperature we decided to explore the historic centre which is famous for the Commandery of Saint Eulalia – a medieval “hospital” established by the Order of the Knights Templar.
This was built in the 12th Century to provide hospitality to travellers and pilgrims.
The village is really tiny and was absolutely deserted that evening.
Unfortunately nothing was open but it was still very interesting to walk around the ancient lanes and alleyways and imagine how things might have been in the time of the Knights Templar.