Gypsy Ways Update 6 – France and Spain

Gypsy Ways Update 6 finds us moving north west out of Italy into France and then south west from there into Spain.

We passed quickly through the Italian and French Riveras. Although the scenery is beautiful, driving on the motorways in the area can be pretty intense. As I usually describe it, it’s “bridge tunnel bridge tunnel bridge tunnel bridge tunnel…” as the mostly two-lane road cuts through the mountains and valleys along the Mediterranean coast. Below is the best photo I could find that encapsulates the E80 Motorway experience…IMG_0080

 [image by Tim Twelves via Flickr]

Just west of Nice, we cut up into the hills and stayed overnight in the lovely village of Le Rouret before heading further west through the rugged canyons and beautiful scenery of the Parc Naturel du Verdon.gypsy ways update 6 parc naturel du verdon canyonsOur next destination was the area around Douville so that we could see a stage of the Tour de France. The penultimate day of the 2014 Tour was an individual time trial that started in Bergerac and ended in Périgueux. The individual time trials are, in our opinion, the best days to watch the Tour as the riders go past one at a time, rather than in one or two big groups. This video gives you a taste of what the experience is like:

The publicity caravan that precedes the race itself is hilarious! Here’s a few of the vehicles from a previous year (bear in mind these are not parade floats – these things fly by at about 25 miles an hour, flinging samples out at the crowds):gypsy ways update 6 tour de france publicity caravan vittel 2014

gypsy ways update 6 tour de france publicity caravan st michel chickengypsy ways update 6 tour de france publicity caravan xtraThis last one for Xtra laundry detergent is outrageous. I’m not sure if you can see them, but this “float” features scantily clad young men pole dancing (and yes, they are wearing safety harnesses). The publicity caravan is a lot of fun!

One of my favorite finds of the summer was very near our hotel. There is a nice little campground with a lake, this is one of the signs around the lake:gypsy ways update 6 french sign translation failThe English part of the sign really means to say “Swimming in the lake is prohibited,” so one can only assume this is just a spectacular web-based translation fail.

After the Tour, we were lucky enough to spend a few nights at one of our favorite hotels, the charming and relaxing Cuq en Terrasses near Toulouse. There one of my work-in-progress needlepoint projects was able to meet its inspiration (click here to read more about the project).Compass Tile WIP #3

From there we went over the Pyrenees mountains into Spain. Just before the tunnel that forms part of the France/Spain border, traffic was stopped by a flock of Basque sheep.gypsy ways update 6 basque sheep on the road through the pyreneesThe drive through the Pyrenees and into Jaca, Spain is full of gorgeous mountain scenery. Jaca itself is a lovely small town with a well-preserved star-shaped fortress that has a dry moat frequently visited by deer.
ciudadela 1

 [Ciudadela by Angel via Flickr]

From Jaca we moved on to the beautiful Rioja area of Spain, famous for its wines. Other than the city of Logroño, the area is mostly small towns surrounded by thousands of acres of wine grapes. A good spot to survey the area is the hilltop town of Laguardia. On a fall day, the colors run everywhere from dark brown and purple to gold and light green. The grapes go on seemingly forever.gypsy ways update 6 rioja spain in the fall

A few other highlights in the area include the town of Cenicero (which translates to “ashtray”), where, during the grape harvest, you will never see so many tractors loaded with grapes going back and forth through the middle of town. Navarette is a town along the pilgrimage Way of St. James, and the gilt baroque altarpiece of it’s church is impressive.

One of Rioja’s most striking features is quite modern. The Hotel Marqués de Riscal was designed by Frank Gehry. Some might argue its stylized grapevine shape is out of place in the ancient village of El Ciego, but I disagree. Regardless, its curves, colors, and textures are intriguing and vary from every viewpoint.gypsy ways update 6 hotel marques de riscal el ciego spainNext update will have more interesting places in Spain!

(Here’s a link to the previous Update 5, and the next Update 7.)