Thursday 16 May 2019 – La Rochelle
The French city of La Rochelle is a seaport located on the Bay of Biscay, a part of the Atlantic Ocean. Included in the entry fee to the motorhome Park and Ride is a return bus ticket into the city centre, so we caught the bus from outside the motorhome Park and Ride (five minutes, two stops). We walked through the town along the old harbour which opens into a strait that has been protected over centuries: the Pertuis d’Antioche.
We then walked through La Grosse Horloge (the Great Clock or the Town Clock) which was originally one of the main doors of the medieval surrounding walls and was used to separate the harbour from the town. The tower had no clock until 1478. The Town Clock marks the beginning of the pedestrian zone.
We strolled through the old town with its half-timbered medieval houses and Renaissance architecture, including passageways covered by 17th-century arches towards the Place du Marché for lunch.
Here in the heart of the town is the market district filled with delicious local products: vegetables and fruits, fish and seafood. After walking through the many and varied stalls we had lunch at a small café on the edge of the area. The food is so fresh and plentiful.
On our way to le Vieux Port (Old Harbour) we passed La Rochelle Cathedral which was opened in 1784 but has never been finished. Inside it is quite dark but there are beautiful stained-glass windows and paintings.
Next, we walked to the harbour which is now lined with seafood restaurants and bars.
Enclosing the harbour are two medieval towers (Saint Nicolas built in the 1300s and La Chaine 1382) and The Lantern Tower. All three massive towers served as lighthouses, fortified defences, living quarters, and even political prisons. The Lantern Tower (72 metres high) was used to disarm the boats upstream of the port and was a lighthouse.
The Chain Tower was named after its function of supporting a chain between the two towers to prevent access to the harbour of enemy ships. The chain is still at the foot of the tower today.
We wanted to climb the towers and view the seaport and see the graffiti left by prisoners over the centuries but, unfortunately, they were closed between 1 pm and 3 pm. Instead we walked to the Aquarium La Rochelle.
To access the rooms of the Aquarium you enter an area and descend in what appears to be a very old ‘submarine’ to the ocean floor. As you are descending, through a port hole you see water rising and then you wait until the doors open and here you step into a tunnel of fluro jellyfish waving their tentacles in time to music. It was a bit daunting as it has a very eerie atmosphere and you are surrounded by a glass tunnel through which you have to pass to begin the experience.
The Aquarium consists of walkways over 2 floors of bubbling seawater tanks containing around 10,000 aquatic species. We decided to pay for audio guides which complimented the information boards. There are different rooms which display the local species from the particular area (species of the Charente-Maritime coasts and the intertidal zone; displays of fish, invertebrates and coral of Mediterranean Sea; fauna living off the coasts of Africa; jellyfish from tropical and temperate waters; recreated mangrove from the Caribbean area; different species of fish, invertebrates and corals living in the Great Barrier Reef and in the Hawaiian and Red Sea archipelagos; piranha, moray eels, green turtles and a tropical greenhouse where you can admire varied fauna and flora. It is an absolutely amazing experience.
We were so totally immersed in the exhibits that it took us three hours to complete the tour, but we could have stayed a lot longer. We walked back to the motorhome Park and Ride which was a pleasant 30-minute stroll.
Friday 17 May 2019 – La Rochelle – Blanquefort (Bordeaux)
- Les Jardins de Mirabel
Today was a driving day getting closer to our destination, Spain!
We stayed the night at one of our favourite stops in Blanquefort on the outskirts of Bordeaux at les Jardins de Mirabel, a beautiful vineyard which has camping for 4 camping-cars (full house tonight). We also purchased a supply of their very tasty wines (again).
Saturday 18 May 2019 – Blanquefort – Pamplona (Spain)
Today was another driving day to reach our destination, Spain. We pulled into a motorhome parking area on the outskirts of Pamplona where there were lots of motorhomes parked.
Sunday 19 May 2019– Pamplona – Zaragoza
- Route of ‘the Running of the Bulls’
- The Bullring
- Pamplona’s Old Quarter
- Museo de Navarra
- Portal de Francia – gate
- City Walls
The city of Pamplona is located within the region of Navarra in northern Spain and has become synonymous with the San Fermin Festival, or “The Running of the Bulls”, one of the country’s most well-known events. It is held annually from July 6th to 14th in honour of Pamplona’s patron saint and is attended by hundreds of thousands of visitors each year – some run, while others stand on the balconies and join in the festivities.
We drove, parked close to the Old Town and walked into the town along the route of “The Running of the Bulls”. Along this 850-metre-long route there are signs explaining the history of the festival. The route winds its way through the cobble stone streets contained within the city walls. It features steep slopes, double right-angle bends, narrow, shady streets, and a tunnel at the end, leading into the bullring.
The bullring built in 1922 is the second biggest bullring in Spain and the third largest in the world. It holds 19,720 spectators with a small roof section at the top. We toured the bullring with an audio guide. At the beginning we watched a video of the San Fermin Festival and then entered the outer section of the bullring through the same entrance as the runners and the bulls enter during the festival.
We saw where the bulls are corralled, the arena and stands and visited rooms which explained an afternoon in the bullring, the history of the bullfight, the chapel and lastly the arena. It was a good tour which enabled us to gain an understanding of behind the scenes of what actually happens the days of the “Running of the Bulls” and the preparation that takes place with the placement of barriers prior to the bulls being released, followed by the bullfights at night without actually witnessing it firsthand.
Walking Pamplona’s Old Quarter is very picturesque with the majority of it built in medieval times and characterized by long narrow streets and tall mismatched buildings. There are Pintxo bars each with their own speciality scattered throughout and being Sunday were quite full of locals.
Just up from Plaza del Castillo (the city square) and next to the Tourist Office is Pamplona’s City Hall.
Museo de Navarra, a history and art museum was our next stop. It is housed in the former hospital of Our Lady of Mercy and traces the history of the region from prehistoric times to present day. It houses an array of historic and artistic objects as well as the portrait of the Marquis of San Adrián painted by Goya.
We returned via the City Walls past Portal de Francia, an impressive entrance into the Old Quarter which is the only remain gate and past Cathedral de Pamplona, with its impressive neoclassical facade which dates back to the 14th and 15th centuries and was one of Spain’s most important cathedrals where many kings were crowned. However, as it was Sunday, the cathedral was closed.
We then continued along the remaining walls and down the free funicular to the street below the Old Quarter. As it was Sunday many of the sights are closed between 2 pm and 5 pm.
We headed to Zaragoza in the afternoon to a motorhome parking site just outside the city.