Saint Gaudens to Castelnau-Durban, France. ~ Living La Vida Lola

Saint Gaudens to Castelnau-Durban, France.

The glow of a  moonlit morning stirs me from my sleep, the crack of silver light outlining the window as I open one eye to check the time. It has been a good night after a long drive in the fog yesterday.  We finally pulled over to the Ibis Hotel (50 euros) on the outskirts of Saint Gaudens at around four o’clock, just in time as my head was starting to ache from a long day of concentration.  It was a shame to leave the Atlantic Coast without exploring more but we will return, it is a land of wide open spaces with something to do for all ages. Definitely a place to return to.

But today is about driving to the Mediterranean and the town of Canet Plage – we are descending to the Pyrenees Orientales and it is going to be a stunning drive. Of course I had a choice, take the motorway or do it my way – if you’re familiar with my writing you’ll know that toll free driving in France on the back roads is my passion. There will be no fast cars and bad tempers today.

After a satisfying continental breakfast (5 euros) we take our overnight bag and head out to Clancy, he has been waiting patiently all night and is ready to take on the undulating beauty of these stunning mountains.

Let me take you on that journey with us, if you are planning on driving in France it is worth visiting this area – it is beautiful and timeless and here I will share some photos to inspire you.

We leave Saint Gaudens and head east on the D117, the autoroute to Carcassone is left behind us as it peels off to the north-east taking the speeding drivers with it. I am happy to be trundling along at 45 mph with Lola and Clancy and immediately and greeted with the peaks of the Pyrenees to the south.

As we roll along the lush green pastures sitting amidst dense forested slopes I find it hard to keep my eyes on the road, it is just beautiful and today we are blessed with the blue skies that so perfectly complement the mountains.  We are not far into the drive when we arrive in the first town I’d like to stop in, I have a stiff neck today so regular breaks are necessary but let’s be honest – stopping in a place such as this, surrounded by glorious views is not the same as a motorway service station, this is pleasure not a chore.

Our first stop is Castlenau-Durban where we pull in to the shady tree lined car park which runs along the banks of a twinkling stream. The water is clear and the occasional ray of sun that sneaks through the leafy umbrella brings a smile to my face – there is little noise aside from the sound of the stream and the gentle breeze stirring the trees around us. Lola happily jumps around on the stepping stones until she hears the excited chatter of children, there is a school opposite and it must be play time.

“Mummy! I want to go to that school!”

Castelnau-Durban, The School

Lola’s dream school at Castelnau-Durban in the Pyrenees

I sigh a happy sigh as in my mind I would also love her to go to this school, perfect surroundings and a simplicity of life I crave.  We leave the riverbank and cross the road to the town square where I see we are not alone, two men are sitting on the roof of the church – I suppose they are fixing the tiles but from down here it appears they are having a coffee and baguette break, their posture is relaxed and they are smiling suggesting that it is not only school which is enjoyable here.

The baguette sighting triggers my senses and I turn to smell the unmistakable scent of fresh bread, we’ve had breakfast but I am a sucker for a boulangerie and it’s interesting to sample the different regional breads (that’s a good excuse isn’t it!)

We follow the trail and are lead to a small shop where we buy some delicious bread to sustain us through the day, the lady serving us has a big warm smile and I can’t help but feel a desire to live here. In winter it would be hard, I’m sure the conditions would be different in harsh snowfall, but I’m sure you can’t take away the atmosphere and the warmth that the people exude, even in freezing conditions.

Castelnau-Durban, Pyrenees

Beautiful windows!

With our fresh bread in hand we wander back across to Clancy where we see that a little gift shop is now open next to the river. It appears to sell nice, artisan products rather than the commercial tack we see on occasion , so we enter and are welcomed with smells and views that make us both smile. As well as the lovely local cheese and preserves there are ceramics, painting and clothes – all made locally. I resist the temptation to buy for myself but Lola gets some new sheepskin boots, they will keep her tootsies lovely and warm!


Finally, I realise that it’s time to get back on the road – the delights of the Pyrenees await us and we have a very desirable target today – to get to the Mediterranean and our overnight stay at Mar Estang, Canet Plage. I am excited about the next leg of the drive, it takes in ancient towns and stunning mountains along the way. Mother Nature is smiling on us today so after the fog bound drive we had yesterday the blue skies that await tease my imagination as I picture the scenery we are about to encounter.

Car park at Castelnau-Durban,

Off to find Clancy in the car park.

We walk back to Clancy who awaits under the tall trees alongside the carpark, Lola walks ahead – keen as always to say hello to her best travel pal.

Until now, the driving in France has been pleasant but I have had a nagging feeling of needing to meet a goal every day but now, as I sit with Lola in the morning sun the emotions are different. Taking frequent breaks and embracing the culture is what it’s all about and despite the pain in my neck I am really enjoying the drive, it’s going to be a good day.

The Route From Saint Gaudens to Castelnau-Durban.

Last night we stayed in the Ibis on the outskirts of Saint Gaudens, here is the map of the first leg of our drive today for your ease of reference. We will pick up on our next post to take you to the Mediterranean from Castelnau-Durban.

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