Thursday, November 03, 2016

escaping frrom the aires

When we travelled through France and Spain, in September 2016 and before that in September 2014, we mostly stayed overnight in the van in the splendid "Aires" (France) or "Áreas" (Spain) on the toll roads, where you have 24-hour facilities at your disposal.

For obvious reasons you can't drive out of the services, except by going back onto the motorway; but we soon found out that you can usually escape on foot or bike for an excursion into the local countryside.

Discovering a country through its motorway services is I am sure an approach that's ripe for mockery. But if you don't mind missing out on must-see cultural monuments, there's something rather thrilling about being deposited, like visitors from Mars, into the midst of working countrysides. Sunflowers, evergreen oaks, grapevines, citrus and olive trees can be expected. This post is about some of the other things we found.

Aire de Sommesous

Aire de Sommesous, Champagne, not far south of Reims. A large meadow full of Musk Mallows. From there you can pass through a mysterious hornbeam wood before heading back into the services. I can't remember if this meadow was strictly outside the boundary of the Aire, maybe not, but it does remind me to say that Aires do sometimes have significant nature walks within the boundary fence. (A notable example being Aire du Frontonnais, just to the west of Toulouse.)

Aire Beaune-Tailly: Looking at the iron-age farm

Aire Beaune-Tailly, Bourgogne. The escape-hatch, easy to miss (it's behind the petrol station), takes you straight into an archaeological site: a Roman graveyard. Carry on through the trees and you'll emerge into an abandoned historical theme-park; containing, among other things, this collapsing reconstruction of a large iron-age farm.

Aire Beaune-Tailly: the escape hatch

The Rhône

Aire de Porte-lès-Valence, Rhône-Alpes. We got the bikes out, but we didn't have to go far. The mighty Rhône is a few hundred meters away. I had a swim.

(If anyone knows why "lès" has got a grave accent on it, I wish they´d tell me!)

Áreas Pina de Ebro, on the AP-2, is an island of consumerism and jollity in the depopulated steppe region of southern Aragon. Despite the name, it's miles from the infant river Ebro and is as stony and arid a spot as you could wish for.

Gum trees at Torre La Sal, Cabanes

Área de Servicio La Ribera, Province of Castellón. We usually make our escapes via the gate into the staff car-park, but in this case the gate was locked, and we had to do a careful perimeter walk before finding the spot where a fallen branch had broken the fence. A bike ride of a mile or two, initially round an olive orchard, gets you to the pleasant salt-marshy coast. Pass by some forbidding blocks of apartments and you arrive at the pretty fishing village of Torre La Sal (great beach, and popular beach cafe); regarded as part of Cabanes, though the town of Cabanes is actually 12km inland, a common arrangement in Spain. The ancient Torre La Sal itself is in a grove of dramatic parched-looking eucalyptus trees. If we'd carried on a bit further down the coast we could have got  to the resort of Oropesa del Mar (Costa del Azahar).

South of Valencia, the "Motorway of the Mediterranean" (the AP-7 ; also part of the E15) gets into some serious contours. We took a stroll out of Área La Safor, Province of Valencia, near Gandia (still considered to be the Costa del Azahar, but now at its southern end), strolled through the lemon-orchards and eventually tricked ourselves into ascending half way up the local mountain.

Playa del Torres, La Vila Joiosa

Área La Marina, Alicante Province, is wonderfully situated between the mountains and the sea. It's a shortish bike-ride to the coast and to this beautiful beach, Playa del Torres, at the northern end of Villajoyosa / La Vila Joyosa . (Yes, it has a cafe.) (Almost as near, you could also bike it to Finestrat at the southern end of Benidorm.)

We suddenly had left
   through the clanging gate
cycling down through the orange-groves
   dusty with summer. You're always faster;
the hospital and the casino
   and then with a shimmy off the road
   the not-new but still-unused
through a sketched urbanization
through cypress and thorny nature
   direct to the azure
      and eucalypt fringe of the
         the gravel of the white beach.
From the hill
         by the sea
and the honey-toned tree
   we withdrew
and eating warm fruit, I lost you
until at the van
        you bedecked the windscreen
               with pomegranates.

Pomegranates, near La Vila Joiosa
The "Benidorm mountain", from Área La Marina

Both times on our return journey we stopped at Aire de Fenioux, Poitou-Charente. The escape takes you up a lane between sweet-chestnut trees with lots of chestnuts, and then you descend past a vineyard into the seemingly-deserted picture-postcard hamlet of Fenioux, which has an impressive medieval church and also this Lanterne des Morts (you can climb up the narrow steps inside and get a view out of the slits at the top). 

The notice says:

Bievenue à Fenioux

Sa Lanterne des morts

Appelé aussi fanal, charnier des Morts, faramide,Croix de Lauzanne, ce monument s’élève sur l’emplacement d’un ancient cimetière. Construit au XIIe s., il se dressait au milieu des sépultures pour "honorer les morts et pour signaler aux regards le champ de repos". Il était de tradition d’allumer un fanal au sommet de la lantern quand il y avait un mort dans la paroisse, mais aussi lors des fêtes liturgiques.

L’édifice est constitué d’une première rotonde de onze colonnes, surmontèe dúne seconde de treize colonnettes éclairées par autant d’ájours qui laissaient filtrer la lumière du fanal.  A sa base, au Sud, une porte permet à un homme d’accéder d’ un escalier à vis de 38 marches et de dix mètres de haut, faiblement éclairé par des "jours de souffrance". On y montait pour manoeuvrer la lampe du fanal.

A ses côtés, les restes d'un caveau voûté vraisembablement contemporain de cet édifice, et dont l’usage nous demeure inconnu.

Ossuaire ou chapelle exigue et mystérieuse  ?...

Lanterne des Morts, Fenioux

Grapes, at Fenioux

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