We departed La Rioja and headed for the town of Roncal at the base of the Pyrénées for our last Spanish noche before starting our return trek across France, hopefully avoiding the nasty péage (toll) roads. The drive was stunning as we wound our way through deep canyons of dangerous looking cliff faces to one side, and the fast flowing, gorgeously blue water of the Rio Eska on the other. Intermittent glimpses of the river got the fly fishing juices flowing so several pit stops ensued to have a up close & personal inspection as there mos def had to be fish in that water.
But as it has happened countless times before, looks can be exceptionally & sadly deceptive. Chatting with our Spanish hotel owner revealed that, yes, the Rio Eska used to be chocka with fish but a factory was built upstream many years ago and now all the fish are gone. The way of the world these days…folks who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
We set off early the next morning up the N137 through the beautiful Roncal Valley. Our Spanish is pretty good but one critically absent word that was repeatedly flashing on a road side sign was ‘Cadenas’ – chains, as in snow chains. Our wee Nissan Micra (aka Mickie) ponderously crawled up the steep switchback road as the snow to either side grew deeper…and deeper. Lucked out a bit to fall in behind a snowplow but we still kept climbing & the drifts grew ever deeper, the fog thicker and the wind wailed. At the summit & the border, the snowplow pulled over to turn around and we were left with the agonising decision: continue & descend on steep, twisting & possibly icy roads or turn back & take a 5-6 hour detour. A 4×4 Spanish policía pulled up behind us so a chat ensued (the words ‘loco’ and ‘estúpido’ may have been uttered by the policía) and they kindly offered to check out the French side (apparently the French do not salt or grit their roads). And luck be with us – the French side actually was way better weather – shining sun, no snow falling, no ice, moderate winds – yippppeeeee! Into France we go…
We booked ourselves into the ever so sweet B&B Chateau Lamarque (Sainte-Croix-du-Mont) just outside of Bordeaux. The Chateau sits atop a the crest of a hill with views up & down the valley & of the Chateau’s own vineyards (picked up a bottle of red).
One of our usual to do’s when bumping around a country is to track down any local markets. We again lucked out in that the Machecoul Market just happened to be on the one Wednesday we were camped out @ the fabulous La Mozardière in Legé, France. So with immense expectations we toddled off the short distance to Machecoul and we were not in the least bit disappointed – wow, ces Français font de bons marchés!!!