The Hérault and the Corona Virus

I have been reminded that it’s ‘about bloody time you wrote another blog’ or words to that effect.  And yes, it certainly is about time.  Since I last wrote in some respects not much has changed and in other respects the world feels very different.

So let’s be chronological about this.  I mentioned in my last blog that Eric and I would visit Tarbes and we did.  Tarbes isn’t very far away from Pau but its look and situation are quite different.  It’s in a wide river valley so it’s very flat.  It has a nice feel to it and the centre is reasonably busy but not interesting per se.  The people we spoke to were very friendly which was lovely.  The day we visited was overcast and it rained on and off (mostly on than off) so we just walked around a bit in the centre and in a lovely park before going home.  This is the only picture I took….

Mairie, Tarbes

So this last visit concludes our Pyrénées Atlantique adventure, and we will very definitely return.  But for now our path leads us toward the Mediterranean coast. 

After an overnight stop at an Aire on the Canal du Midi (not very nice) we rocked up at a campsite near Béziers which, according to our ACSI campsite book, was open from the 1st March, the day we arrived.  Chosen for its heated toilet blocks which is an absolute necessity when showering, and a rarity in many French campsites especially along the Med coast.  But it was shut.  Very firmly shut.  Unequivocally shut.  What to do?  Most campsites are still closed at this time of year and the few that are open boast shower and toilet blocks open to the elements.  Contrary to popular belief it’s freezing cold at this time of year especially when you’re under a luke warm shower with the wind blowing round your head and ankles.

Casting about, we located a municipal Aire fairly near by that had reasonable reviews.  So that’s where we spent the night of Sunday 1st March.  The following day we decided to try another open campsite that had heated facilities but only average reviews on account of ancient facilities.  It wasn’t great but we managed.  Located just outside Castries which is, in effect, a suburb of Montpelier, its main feature was its proximity to the expanding metropolis.  We didn’t really like it.  But it was somewhere to stay until our house sit began on the 6th March.

So it’s now time to start mentioning the dreaded Corona virus epidemic, something we had been watching for a while as it marched from China toward Europe.  By the time of the beginning of our house sit things were looking more alarming, but we still didn’t feel directly affected by the situation.  Life felt pretty normal.

The couple we house sat for were heading off to the UK to visit family and friends.  So far so good.  But life was going to change, and quite rapidly. 

But before I get too far ahead of myself let me remind you why we are here.  We chose our house sit based on a location near Béziers which is one of the places we thought might have potential for our future home.  Our house sit is in Tressan, in the Hérault department of Southern France, our hosts Carole and Malcolm.  Our responsibilities include looking after two cats thus allowing us to explore the area.  Cats are far less needy than dogs…..

Cat, TressanTiger, Tressan

An estate agent who manages long term rentals is, coincidently, based in the area so we can also start looking for somewhere to stay whilst we apply for French residency.

Tressan has a population of about 650 people.  It doesn’t have a bakery but there is a small café/shop where you can collect your daily bread that you order the day before.  It’s a pretty location, but isolated as you can imagine.  Nearby are other smallish villages with a similarly limited range of facilities.  The nearest bigger places are Clement L’Hérault (pop just over 8500) and Pézanas (pop just over 8000), and Gignac (pop nearly 6000).  Montpellier and Béziers are both around 40kms away.

Here are some pictures of Pézenas…..


Our initial impression of the area is that it is pretty but quite rural.  The towns I mentioned are lively in the summer when filled with second home owners and tourists, but are quiet in the winter months.  We want to live somewhere with a year round population.

We also spent a day in Béziers to get a feel for the place.  It looks run down though there does appear to have been investment to spruce the place up.  Some bits around the Cathedral are quite pretty but sadly we didn’t feel it for Béziers.  As the area and towns we have seen nearby don’t work either, we have come to the conclusion that the Hérault region is not for us as a place to settle.  Pau still has top spot.


But our first priority is to get French residency and for that we need a French address… To that end we have seen and are in the process of renting a one bedroom apartment in a village called Péret, near Tressan.  Our future landlady (English ☺️) has lived in the area for many years and has connections to people who can help and support us whilst we apply for residency.  So whilst the Hérault isn’t for us long term, for now it will work very well.

So to return to what was happening in the world around us.  The Corona virus COVID-19 epidemic turned into a pandemic.  The travel and contact restrictions began.

Carole and Malcolm were worried they would get stuck in the UK, and our house sit near Carcassonne which was due to start immediately after this one, had to cancel as they weren’t allowed to go to Spain.  Like in the UK, people here began to panic buy food and toilet paper.  France went on lockdown, banning all non essential travel and ordering the closure of non essential shops.  Anyone who needed to leave their home has to to carry a form (Attestation) justifying why you are out, with a list of approved reasons e.g. going food shopping etc.

Carole and Malcolm finally managed to fly back on what seemed like one of the last planes out of Luton airport to Béziers.  Eric picked them up at the deserted airport having to complete an Attestation to justify the trip.

We now can’t leave Tressan at all (especially in a motorhome which would definitely be seen as non essential travel) unless we leave to return to the UK which we don’t want to do.  And at the time of writing, this option is no longer available anyway. Carole and Malcolm continue to welcome us in their home for which we are eternally grateful as it can’t be easy for them.  So far France has declared the lockdown will last until the 1st April.  We expect this to be extended.  What we will do then we do not know……

The Pyrénées Atlantique: Béarn

We left the French Basque area last Saturday and headed inland toward the Béarn area of the Pyrénées Atlantique.  We wanted to explore this part of France, in particular the city of Pau as another potential place to live.  Why Pau?  Well no particular reason other than when researching on the internet it gets reasonable reviews, and it doesn’t get super hot in the summer, nor super cold in the winter. That has been our starting point.

We found a campsite open nearby with heated toilets which is a must at this time of year and rare in sites on the Med coast.  Brrrrr.

The campsite is just outside a small town called Oloron Sainte Marie about 20 miles south west of Pau.  We were interested to see what the town had to offer, as it has a train station and is about 30 mins drive from Pau.  But it won’t do, sadly.  The town has focussed on developing the outskirts with shopping chains and supermarkets so the town centre is neglected and rundown with quite a few empty shop fronts.  We haven’t seen so much of this in France so far and it’s sad to see the same things happening here as in the UK.  It is quite cheap to buy a house here though…..

The Cathedral and its immediate environ:

The Gave L’Aspe that runs through the old town and the Pyrénées:

Bare L’Aspe Oloron Sainte MarieOloron Sainte Marie

On Monday we decided to pay Pau a visit and we are so glad we did.  It probably helped that it was a glorious sunny day, but the overall effect was lovely.  Pau is not a big city, has good train connections to Paris with the fastest train taking 4.5 hours. Traffic has been diverted out of the city centre making it quiet, clean and pleasant. It’s known for being the birthplace of Henry IV of France and for the Boulevard de Pyrénées which offers a spectacular view of the Pyrénées mountains.  It has a historical link to Britain from the mid 19th century as a tourist destination of the fabulously wealthy who came here for their health.  It was popular up until the First World War and many of the prominent buildings reflect the grandeur of times past. 


We really liked it and even better, it looks like the house prices are within budget!  So at the moment in terms of where we would like to live, Pau has taken top spot with Bayonne second…

We wanted to explore a bit more of the region so on Tuesday we visited Orthez and Salies-de-Béarn.  Orthez because it has a train station and it’s a reasonable size, Salies-de-Béarn as it is very pretty.

Orthez was a little run down but a bustling market town.  It was Mardi Gras when we were there (Shrove Tuesday) and the market was lively with lots of stalls selling fruit and vegetables, honey (Béarn honey is one of the best apparently), bread, cheese, underwear and clothing.  There were also several stands selling Beignets which are deep fried Chou pastry doughnuts.  Very nice.

Salies-de-Béarn was much prettier and more geared up for tourists with a picturesque centre with more boutique type shops.  It also has lovely examples of traditional Béarn style houses.  The town is known for its saline water and thermal baths.  We had looked at house prices here recently and they are more expensive (naturally I suppose) with a high percentage of holiday gîtes.  It’s 11 miles from Orthez and it’s train station but for us to live in it’s too small and a bit isolated. Anyway we have discovered Pau and neither Orthez or Salies-de-Béarn came even close to knocking Pau off its top spot for a place to live.


We may visit another small city called Tarbes which is east of Pau and the capital of the Haute Pyrénées to see what it’s like.  If we do I’ll write about it in another post.

In terms of staying in France, we have made contact with an estate agent based near Bezier who is English.  They handle out of season lets for people who have their holiday homes in France.  We aim to rent a property for 6 months so we have an address and can apply for Residency.  As it stands now, we cannot apply yet anyway as the French Government want us to apply online and the site is not yet finished but they expect it to be ready in early July.  They are also helpfully extending the deadline for applications until July next year rather than keeping to the 31st December Brexit Transition deadline.  Thank goodness for that!

Pyrénées-Atlantique, Southwest France

It’s been a while hasn’t it?  We’ve been enjoying our exploration of this beautiful part of France over the last few weeks and like what we see.  We’re camping on a site we visited a couple of years back, just outside Saint Jean de Luz.  We’ve explored mostly in the local area and are absorbing some of the local French Basque culture.  Eric has even bought himself a pair handmade corded espadrilles!

Eric’s new espardrilles

Here’s what we’ve seen so far.

Saint Jean de Luz

The town is situated on the south east corner of the Bay of Biscay, only a few kilometres from Spain.  It has a train station with a pretty good connection to Paris and a good bus service to places further along the coast.  All good stuff so far. 

It’s a very lively town, geared for the well healed tourist judging by the number of up market boutiques and shops.  We’re loving the Basque style of houses with their painted wooden beams and shutters.  We had a snoop at some of the many estate agents windows in town just for a bit of a laugh really, it was funny in a way. €250,000 for a studio apartment anyone??  If we could afford it, we would consider living here.  But we can’t, sadly….

St Jean de LuzSt Jean de LuzSt Jean de Luz

Just across the river La Nivelle opposite St Jean is a small village called Ciboure which is also very pretty.  We cycled there one sunny Sunday….


Mont de Marsan

This was our experiment in heading a little further inland and slightly more north. We’re testing whether a smallish town with a population of around 30,000 would suit our needs.  It has a train station, connecting to Paris in around 4 hours.  Our overall impression was it had a reasonably varied shopping centre and a small attractive old town (aren’t they all?).  But it was located in a large flat delta and the general area looked boring.  The flatness accounts for the location of a French Airforce base just outside town.  Not sure how much noise the jets may make.  But anyhow, we ruled it out as a potential place to settle.

Mont de Marsan


We love Bayonne!  It sits between the confluence of the Nives and Ardour rivers and is about 6kms from the Atlantic coast.  The population of the city proper is just over 50,000 but in reality is part of a larger urban sprawl including Anglet (lots of flats and holiday homes) and the glamorous Biarritz.  Bayonne felt to us on the periphery of the touristy coast so benefitted from its proximity but not tainted by it.  The city itself is very pretty with winding streets with tall timbered houses either side.  It felt like a very real place, had all the variety of shops you might need, and a market hall open every day in the morning.  It has a train station with direct services to Paris. The only issue might be whether we could afford a nice place in or near the city.



A couple of days ago, we visited a small town called Cambo-les-Bains around 20kms upstream on the Nive river from Bayonne.  It gets a little hilly here making the area very picturesque. The town centre is small but has everything you might need on a day to day basis. We needed to buy some bread and the local boulangerie has the best bread we’ve yet tasted since we stayed in Cotignac last year. (I’m still making my own bread when we’re not gadding about 😉). 

Cambo  has a train station with around 7 trains a day to Bayonne, as well as a local bus service.  So if we ever wanted a bit more city style action, it would be within easy reach.  Getting back to the UK would also be straight forward.  This could also be a contender.  Sorry I have no pictures 😢


I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Biarritz.  I think I had in my minds eye a coastline of uninspiring flats crowding out the more elegant buildings from its days as a Royal watering hole from the 18th century onwards.  I was very wrong and glad to say so.  Yes the coastline is developed but its not ugly.  At least not the area we visited.  It’s not anywhere we would want to settle but if it’s near enough to visit on a nice sunny day whatever the time of year, then I’d be happy to visit Biarritz.


It’ll be a while before I post anything else.  My lovely Aunt Gerti died last weekend and her funeral is in Salzburg next Tuesday (18th).  I’ll be getting there by train leaving early Monday and returning late on Thursday next week.

I’ll leave you with this pretty picture of primroses that we saw when out for a country walk…..

When I get back from Salzburg, we will stay in Saint Jean for a few more days before heading across southern France to the Mediterranean coast, our first stop will be near Pau. 

Tui, Santiago de Compostela, Foz and Gijón

Given our objective for this trip, it’s not so surprising (I hope) that this post will fleetingly describe our visits to Tui, Santiago de Compostela, Foz and Gijón.


The city of Tui sits on the Miño river inland from A Guarda.  It was on my list of possibilities when looking to settle here in Galicia.  We were not disappointed.  With a population of around 17,000, the town is dominated by its hilltop Castle Cathedral and its status as one of the many stopping points from Portugal on the Pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela (Camiño de Santiago).  Small enough to handle, large enough to have things going on.

The old city with its stone built houses and a partially preserved medieval wall, has lovely winding streets and alleys with shops, cafés and restaurants.

The city is connected to Valença just across the river by an old bridge which we walked across and a modern bridge that handles the much larger traffic.  So we did visit Portugal and have the pictorial evidence to prove it!!


Santiago de Compostela

Well we couldn’t leave Galicia without visiting its capital and its status as the alleged burial place of the Apostle Saint James.  Whether it’s true or not, the claim makes Santiago a centre for Pilgrimage, drawing pilgrims (obviously) and tourists from all over the world.  It was remarkably quiet when we visited which was nice.  After getting some suggestions of what to see from the tourist information place, our first stop was the large indoor/outdoor market.

Santiago de CompostelaSantiago de CompostelaSantiago de Compostela

What I particularly liked was the number of informal stalls of women selling a smattering of vegetables taken (presumably) from their gardens plus a bucket full of eggs….

We stopped for coffee and Tarta de Santiago at this lovely café….

Santiago de CompostelaSantiago de Compostela

The Cathedral and surrounding buildings were amazing from the outside even though there is a lot of restoration work going on.  Inside the Cathedral was a huge disappointment with scaffolding and plastic sheets covering everything leaving only the Altar uncovered.  I know these things need to be done, but…..

Wandering around the old city crammed with religious buildings and winding streets….

A pretty city, glad we visited, don’t feel the need to visit again.


After Santiago we headed north to the coast and stopped for the night at a pretty village called Foz.  For us, the highlight had to be watching a lone bather (playing??) in the surf.  Rather her than me!


The following day we moved on to our next overnight stop – Gijón in Asturias.  We arrived at lunchtime so after a bite to eat we walked into town.  I don’t know much about the city other than it’s the largest in Asturias.  We certainly were overwhelmed by the huge tall blocks of flats in the modern city that we walked through to get back to our campsite, but the old centre had its charm.

From Gijón we travelled to Cóbreces to the site we stopped at on our way over to Galicia, before we head off again on the last leg of our journey to France.  We took a walk to another cove (with my camera phone this time).  The sea crashing into the cliffs was spectacular, we really could feel we were in the middle of nowhere. Especially as a creek running into the sea had an abandoned house and mill overlooking the expanse that is the Bay of Biscay.

So with only one more overnight stop in Spain before we’re in France.  I’ll catch up with you then 😘

A Guarda

A Guarda has a population of just a smidge over 10,000.  The town is dominated by the hill of Santa Tecla at 341 metres high overlooking the Atlantic Ocean to one side and the river Miño on the other.  The view from the top is fantastic, with Portugal just over the river.

Monte Santa Tecla, A GuardaMonte Santa Tecla, A GuardaMonte Santa Tecla, A Guarda

The hill has been a fort as well as a more ancient site of a Celtic settlement from around 100BC.  Nestled in the hill’s less windy side is a series of circular and sometimes oval structures, the remains of this original settlement.  It is estimated that around 3,000 people lived here, it is an amazing site.  There is a museum located on the mountain with excavated pottery, carvings etc but was closed.  Not that surprising since it is January.

Monte Santa Tecla, A GuardaMonte Santa Tecla, A GuardaMonte Santa Tecla, A GuardaMonte Santa Tecla, A GuardaMonte Santa Tecla, A Guarda

The modern town of A Guarda sits on the Atlantic side of the hill and is a pretty bustling town which is surprising given its modest population.  It is always a surprise to us how well serviced small towns are compared to the same in the UK.  It has several bakers, butchers/delicatessens, grocery shops, a couple of supermarkets right in the centre of town. Want a coffee? No problem. Want a restaurant? Again no problem. There are also plenty of clothes shops and at least a couple of places to buy furniture.  We even saw four toy shops.  It is a working town rather than just a holiday resort that dies in the winter months.

A GuardaA GuardaA GuardaA Guarda

A Guarda even has its own ET!

A Guarda

A Guarda also has a fortress (known as ‘the castle’) which was part of the defence systems built in the last stretch of the Miño river during the Independence War between Spain and Portugal in the 17th century.

The Castle of Santa Cruz, A Guarda

Views of the town Harbour…..

A Guarda harbourA Guarda harbourA Guarda harbourA Guarda harbour

The second picture has Monte Santa Tecla as the backdrop.  The last picture is us standing in front of part of a huge mural decorating the harbour wall.  You can just make out the wall in the distance in the first picture.

We enjoyed several walks along the river and ocean.  Especially when the wind was up which was most of the time!

A GuardaA GuardaA GuardaA Guarda

One of the pictures captures water horses in the waves, can you see which one?
In contrast, the calm of the river….

The river Miño

Had the town (and Galicia) been better connected for us to get back to the UK, it would have been a contender for somewhere to settle.  Oh well.

My next post will talk about our visit to Tui, another lovely city just further up the river Muño.

Tomorrow, we are leaving A Guarda and the campsite with access to Wifi.  I’m not sure when I’ll be able to post anything so please bear with.

We will be slowly making our way back along the northern Spanish coast to enter France via Saint Jean de Luz (near Biarritz and Bayonne).  It’ll take us about a week and we plan to visit Santiago de Compostela and Gijon along the way.  So I’ll have lots to talk about when we arrive in France.  Until then…..

Ciao! (as they say here) or Hasta luego.

Southern Galicia: what we’ve learned so far…..

As I’ve mentioned before, this tour is aimed at (maybe) finding somewhere to live here in beautiful Galicia.

With that in mind, here are the criteria we have set ourselves to assess if an area or town could work for us in terms of settling down somewhere.  These are in no particular order and are subject to change as what we think is important now may be blown out of the water by a place that sweeps us off our feet ☺️

1 – Affordability: at the moment we are looking at property both to rent and buy and associated running costs, plus the possibility of one day building our own home (I dream of having an eco house).  We will also take into account day to day costs of food and entertainment. 

2 – Amenities : we want to live either in or very close to a town with amenities, including access to health care.  The town must feel lively and interesting.

3 – Accessibility: we want to be able to access public transport.  We haven’t flown for about 4 years and have no wish to start again, so good rail services are also a must, especially to get back to the UK to visit family and friends.

4 – Warmth : a good warm climate for most of the year.  We don’t want to spend most of our cash trying to keep warm through long cold damp winters.

5 – Good environmental credentials : access to fresh organic and locally produced food.  Local groups that we can get actively involved in (and help with language skills) 😉

6 – Sustainability : we want to live somewhere that isn’t overcrowded and where access to water won’t be an issue.  So no living in a desert!

I think these general points are a good start…. they have already helped us decide that Galicia and most of Spain could be off limits! 

The last time we came to Galicia we wandered here, we took a longer slower route to explore and we weren’t in a rush.  This has caused us to underestimate the size of Spain.  

This time we wanted to get to Galicia quite quickly and we found we couldn’t.  It took us about two days of actual travel time from the Santander ferry to A Guarda, where we are now.  Admittedly we weren’t going fast because of the van, but it did emphasise just how far away we were from Santander and a potential route home via ferry.  And you may remember I didn’t react well to boat travel so….. 

Galicia is quite well serviced by airports but we don’t want to fly so travelling back home by train is the only realistic option. This is where we got unstuck.  Getting anywhere in Galicia by train from Paris (and Eurotunnel to London) is a bit of a marathon.  We really would need to put aside at least a couple of days to travel.  Not great. We think this is a deal breaker for us. 

For an easier rail route home we need to look at northern Spain near Santander, Bilbao, San Sebastián etc but they are expensive places to live and are out of our budget range.  Catalonia is another possibility but also expensive. 

So we are already thinking that a move to South West France could work better for us.  So in the next 2/3 days we will start heading to the French Atlantic coast, taking in some scenic places on the way.  We’ll spend a month checking out a few places we have already identified might work for us before heading across to the Mediterranean coast.  We have arranged for a couple of house sits near Carcassonne and Béziers starting in March.

In the meantime, I will write about some of the lovely places we have visited whilst here.  We’re sad that Galicia won’t work for us as the people we have met are so welcoming and friendly.

 Oh well, such is life, it doesn’t always go to plan.  C’est la vie!

On our way back to Galicia

So well done all (any?) of you still reading our blog!  If you’re wondering what happened to Amsterdam, we gave up as the weather was awful.  A trip for another time.  When we returned to the UK, we were busy catching up with family and friends, interspersed with house sits in Ipswich, Devon, London and Norwich!  In amongst this we had the General Election and the emotional fall out from that. Personally I don’t know where the country will be heading, but we may decide not to take that journey with it.  Our focus now is to revisit Galicia to see if we can make it – and Europe – our home.

So at 08:45am on Saturday the 4th January, we set sail with our motorhome and car, from Portsmouth to Santander with a plan to do a couple of short stops in Cantabria and Asturias before crossing into Galicia.  Our first real stop will be a campsite near the Portuguese border at A Guarda where we can use our van as a base and the car which will give us more flexibility to search the area.

Portsmouth Ferry 4th January 2020

The ferry took 28 hours and luckily the crossing was relatively smooth.  But not smooth enough for me it seemed as I felt decidedly queazy most of the time whereas Eric was bright eyed and bushy tailed the whole time!  Still we made it intact arriving at Santander at 2:15pm on the 5th January.

With Eric driving the van and me following in our car, we made the 40 minute journey to our first camping site in Cóbreces.

The weather was mild and sunny and a very welcome relief.  What we hadn’t realised though, is the following day, 6th January is a big holiday in Spain with everything closed.  Luckily we found out about this just after we arrived at the campsite so were able to get to a supermarket to do a fresh food shop.  If we hadn’t, we would have only had our emergency supply of tinned soup to eat…

Cooking Fabada Asturiana in Cóbreces

A short word about the Spanish holiday – Epiphany.  It is virtually Spain’s second Christmas and where gifts are exchanged just as the three Wise Men brought gifts to the baby Jesus.  The celebration is therefore more commonly called ‘The festival of the Three Royal Magi’.  The nearest sized village Santillana del Mar had a big parade judging by the number of precariously parked cars along the road, and a big firework display which was, thankfully, over by 10pm. 

We must remember this for next year so we can join the celebrations….

Our next stop was an overnight camper stop in a town called Navia.  Basically a designated area in a car park with fresh water and grey water facilities.  We had a couple of hours before it got dark so we wandered around a little.  It seemed a nice enough little town…..

So on our third day, Wednesday, we set off for our longer term stop in A Guarda on the southern Galician border to Portugal.  It was an interesting journey mainly because we hadn’t planned to go to A Guarda quite yet.  We had planned to stop a while near Ferrol and explore a little there.  Unfortunately the wonderful mild sunny weather couldn’t cope with the crossing of the Sierra de Faladoira mountain range near As Pontes, so it left us behind whilst we entered its replacement – thick fog.  Which continued until we arrived at Ferrol to the camping area that was closed because of roadworks – they were digging up the road outside the entrance gate.  So it was at this point we decided to continue our journey to A Guarda.

The journey having already started to go downhill, continued its decline.  We ended up on the toll road which was stop/start through A Coruña down past Pontevedra.  An unexpected expense which thankfully, only cost up £42 in total for both vehicles.  By then we were both rather frazzled but nonetheless made it to our destination in a rather exhausted state.  We’d been on the road for 7 hours, pretty much non stop. The upside was that by the time we reached Pontevedra the fog had cleared and the sun rejoined us on our journey south.

The campsite is in a lovely location next to the river Miño which forms the border to Portugal.  At night we can see the twinkling lights of Vilar de Mouros just opposite us across the river. This is a picture of it, I know it could be anywhere, but it is actually a view of Portugal, really it is!!

Lights of Portugal from Santa Tecla campsite

We are planning to take things easy here as we explore the local area and will post an update soon.