5th April 2017. Aubeterre-Sur-Dronne, France.

We had another change of plan today, we’re no longer going to take a route to the Millau Viaduct, instead we’re heading up towards Orleans.

Darren found a little village called Aubeterre-Sur-Dronne, two hours further up country, en route we were going to visit Rions as we’d originally planned but before we started our journey we had to  do the job we hate most….. go shopping.

We’re always rather intrigued to see what other people have on the dashboard of their motorhomes, we’ve got nothing except dust!  As we drove into the Intermarché car park we noticed a large motorhome whose dashboard (which is 2 metres wide and about 600 mm deep) immediately caught our eye, it was completely smothered in small religious statuettes.  There must have been at least 60 of them.  On the outside of their van they had numerous large religious paintings.  We gather their faith was strong!

We did a quick shop at Intermarché, the great thing we discovered there is that all their plastic bags on the vegetable section are biodegradable, why don’t the supermarkets in the UK do the same?

I was also very pleased to see a customer walk past us wearing a black beret.  I haven’t seen one of those since I used to have to wear a navy blue one to school!  We all hated that part of our school uniform and they were often snatched off our heads by the horrible girls in the school who would then throw them into a hedge or on to a branch of a tree whilst gleefully spouting the words “berries are for bushes!”  If a teacher or prefect caught you without your beret on your head on your way home from school you’d get a detention!  We were rather disappointed to note that although the man was wearing a beret he wasn’t conforming to stereotype and had omitted to carry a string of onions around his neck or wear a hooped t-shirt!  I hope he at least cycled to the Intermarché on his bike.

We got bored very quickly doing the shopping, as always, so we tootled off to Rions.

When we got there a French motorhomer beckoned us to the far end of the car park and pointed out the electric hook-up that was provided as well.  What a wonderful town.

To one side of the car park were the remains of the fortification of the town with an archway into the town.  To the other side was a very fancy building, the Mairie (Town Hall) and a large gate in the wall, the Lhyan Tower which was the main entrance into the town.

The town was very pretty with little winding streets, it seemed like a very friendly place, all the people we saw said “Bonjour” and smiled at us.  Apparently Rions is said to be one of the oldest towns in Aquitaine and was once joined by marriage to England when Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henry II of England in 1152.  Three of her sons ruled England.

We had hoped to find a cafe but timing is not our strong point and once again everything was closed.

There was even a grotto underneath the tower which was originally called the Fountain of Ladies, where Charles VII stopped for refreshment after the Battle of Castillon before carrying on along the path of the Great Wines at the foot of the cave.

Rions is full of history, it was such a shame that we were only able to explore the town for a couple of hours before we had to carry on with our journey.

The journey to our next stop was again through beautiful countryside covered in vineyards.  In this neck of the woods some of the vines were a bit further advanced and the two shoots that we’d seen on vines earlier in the day were now travelling out along the lowest wire.

We’re enjoying exploring this part of France it feels like there’s a surprise around every corner.

The landscape changed a lot during the journey, it has been beautiful.

We arrived at Aubeterre-sur-Dronne mid afternoon and parked at an aire which the town had provided, just across the river from the town.  We could see the town was set up high on a hill but that was all we knew about it.  It was a beautiful sunny day so we crossed the river and set about finding an information board.

The information was well set out and it had also been translated into English, which was very useful.  It mentioned a church up in the town called the Monolithic church of Saint Jean so we set off to find that and once again France delivered a HUGE surprise!

I know all churches are different but I’ve NEVER seen one like this.  It was an ENORMOUS man-made cave with only the entrance door visible from the outside where it was placed in the side of the cliff.  It was a sight to behold.  It was built in the 12th century  and it’s amazing to think that the human beings who hollowed out the rock to such a great height did it all manually.

What made it even more exciting was that visitors were allowed to climb the stone steps which snaked up inside the rock and walk along the gallery that had been cut high up near the ceiling.  It looked like a curtain was beginning to form on one of the walls in the gallery.  Arched ‘windows’ had been cut out of the walls at intervals so we could see right across the ground floor and look down on the 20 metre high nave.  It was an incredible sight.  We had an audio tour included in the price of the ticket and once we’d looked round inside the church it directed us back to the entrance where there was a narrow staircase descending down into the rock floor.  A crypt had been hewn out of the rock there, apparently that had only been found by accident in the 1950’s when a lorry had knocked a wall down while it was reversing. I imagine his horror at knocking down the wall must have soon turned to great joy at his superb discovery.

We were very lucky to have seen the church because our motorhome neighbours who’d arrived at the aire 10 minutes after us got to the gates of the church and were turned away because it had closed.  As we exited the church we saw a small group of about six people milling around outside taking photos and they were speaking English, we haven’t heard that for a while.

Our day just got better and better, as we left that fantastic church and wandered aimlessly up the road we caught sight of a shop selling homemade ice cream.  It looked like the shop was closed but when the assistant re-appeared I was pleased to be able to ask him in halting French whether the shop was open.  He had just started putting the ice cream away and he seemed very  surprised but pleased that we wanted to buy some.  It was very nice ice cream.

We carried on walking up the hill and came to a large and very pretty tree lined square.  However, that’s when things started to become quite surreal.  We passed a shop where the shopkeeper was chatting to someone and it suddenly dawned on us that they were speaking English.  As we walked past a bar at the end of the square ALL the people sitting outside were speaking English and as we carried on walking round the pretty little streets we noticed a number of UK registered cars!  It was a VERY strange feeling, we haven’t heard that many people speaking English since we left the UK last year.

We popped into the bar on our route round and sat outside in the last of the sunshine.  I went in to order the wine and made a complete idiot of myself (not for the first time and I’m sure it won’t be the last!  Well she is her mother’s daughter!)  I’d rehearsed what I was going to say in French and asked for two glasses of red wine, however I completely blew it right at the end when I said “Por favor”  Aaaaargh!  The bar maid and I both burst out laughing and she said “Non español!”  Why does my brain keep doing that to me, each time we move to another country I end up dropping in a word from the wrong language right at the end of a sentence!  Anyway it gave us both a laugh and I did return to Darren with two glasses of red wine so there was a positive outcome from the whole charade.

On my return to the table Darren’s first words to me were, “Where are the aceitunas?”  The cheeky monkey, whenever we bought a drink in Spain we were given a little snack with it, quite often this was a bowl of aceitunas (olives).  In fact when we met Lynne and Jane in Benicàssim they taught me to say “Tiene aceitunas, por favor” (Do you have olives, please).  Jane made me go in and ask a waiter while we were in Benidorm, to my huge embarrassment, so I would remember the sentence.

When we’d finished our drinks and finished eaves dropping on the other British couples sitting in the bar we took a different route back to the van.

We had a lovely quiet evening, it’s a great aire and Aubeterre-sur-Dronne is a great town to visit.

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