Exploring Lagrasse with kids
The joys of unplanned travel
One of the special things about travelling in this way – with no plan, no destinations – is the excitement of stumbling across somewhere really special. Previously when we went on holiday I would have thoroughly researched the area, and noted down all the places and markets to visit. Now travelling in the Baby Bus, with no set plan of where we’re headed or where we’re spending the night, we are open to discovering places along the way.
I love that we have no expectations when we turn up somewhere, other than the slight hope that it’s a nice enough place to spend a night. Turning up in Lagrasse, France, was one of those special spots that we discovered through a series of ordinary events.
A series of ordinary events
First, we spent longer in Mirepoix for lunch than we’d anticipated, so we didn’t have enough time to reach the France Passion farm we’d picked out near Beziers. Second, we were struggling to find a decent looking aire along our route, so we tried one just off the road. We ended up on a rough track wondering where we were headed, but did indeed come to an aire de camping-car in the middle of nowhere. As desperate as we and the girls were to stop and get out, it just didn’t have the right feel.
The motorhome aire at Lagrasse
So finally we headed for the aire at Lagrasse. From the map it looked like it was up in the hills, just a regular looking French village like many we’d driven through. As we drove in it instantly had a warm feel to it, and it proudly proclaimed it was part of “les plus beaux villages de France”. It was only when we headed out in the evening that we really discovered what a magical place this was.
The aire cost €8 a night (at the time of writing) and we parked between young olive trees. There are about a dozen spots for motorhomes, each spot divided by two small olive trees. They don’t provide a lot of shade, but enough to pop a picnic rug down outside the van.
There’s a machine to pay for your ticket and the aire can be found not far from the entrance to the abbey. It was peaceful at night with only a couple of donkeys munching in the field next to us. It’s also a pretty flat site, which if you’ve travelled in a motorhome or van you’ll know is a big plus. The star gazing here at night, as you’ll read shortly, was stunning.
Lagrasse at night with kids
Lagrasse is a medieval village with tiny narrow streets and truly ancient looking buildings. The window shutters are painted all different colours, and there are small charming shops many selling local crafts. We got quite lost wandering the small streets in search of a 12th century bridge. When we finally popped out along the river, we were greeted with a beautiful pink sunset and people swimming in the river.
After joining the queue at a tiny cafe front selling ice cream and sorbets, we wandered down to the river and got our feet wet. It was so refreshing after the sweltering heat of the day (mid 30s), we were just disappointed we didn’t have our swimming costumes. On the walk back to the Baby Bus at dusk we spotted lizards basking on the walls of houses, and heard the happy chattering coming from open shutters.
That evening we showered naked in the dark beneath the most exquisite sky full of stars. We listened to the donkeys in the field next to us munching away in the cool dark, and decided we wanted to stay here longer.
Breakfast in Lagrasse
After a truly sweltering nights “sleep” in the Baby Bus, we were eager to get out come the morning. So we headed into the village and had breakfast at La Petite Masion.
We are still getting used to what to expect from French dishes (€4.50 for two pieces of toasted baguette…but then they refilled the basket when we’d finished that), but the breakfast was lovely. I had this delicious plate of ham and pate, various cheeses, and eggs.
Swimming in the river at Lagrasse
Next we headed straight to the river, along with a throng of others all with a towel under one arm. We sat in the shade on the pebbles and all of us were straight in swimming. It was perfectly refreshing to escape the heat and cool our bodies down.
There are various spots along the river beneath the imposing walls of the abbey, but we stayed at the first bit as there was shade and a nice slope into the river for our littlest (who’s still crawling) to go in and out of the water.
It is shallow enough to walk all the way across and up and down this stretch of river – about adult chest height. Our nearly five year old daughter found the river came up to her chin. It was blissful just floating in the river, feeling so cool after getting so hot, and listening to the breeze in the trees.
Exploring the narrow medieval streets of Lagrasse
After a drink overlooking the river while the littlest slept, we enjoyed a quiet wander, exploring the narrow streets. It is the perfect place to explore with children as there are so many curiosities to discover if you just slow down.
We sat on a bench beneath the shade of a large plane tree, and ate our lunch that we got from the boulangerie. The pharmacie sign stated it was 38 degrees!
On finding out that we were welcome to stay more than one night at the aire, we stayed another night. Not because we had anything else we wanted to explore or see, but just to continue doing more of the same: pottering, river swimming, and eating good sorbet.
Our Top Tips for Visiting Lagrasse
Lagrasse Places to Visit
We visited in August 2018.
- Breakfast out: We had breakfast at the La Petite Maison, Salon du Thé et Restauration on the main street.
- Boulangerie: There’s a boulangerie on the main street which sold a nice range of pastries and savoury tarts. Unlike many French businesses, it seems to stay open all day, even over lunch.
- Ice cream: Le Recantou down near the river (follow the throngs of people with towels in summer!). Delicious ice creams and sorbets, also drinks. Nice tables to sit over-looking the river. This place seemed very popular.
- River swimming: Wild swimming in the river at Lagrasse (L’Orbieu) was a highlight of our visit. The river is shallow enough to walk all the way across and up and down (it came up to our 5 year olds chin). The river bed is smooth pebbles and rocks. There is a small pebbly beach by the low bridge crossing to the abbey, or there are spots further along. In the morning the pebble beach was in shade, but mostly in the sun after lunch. No dogs are allowed in the river at this section.
- Saturday market: We also visited the market held in the old market place. There were lots of producers and delicious food, all in a beautiful setting. Definitely worth a visit if you’re there on a Saturday.
Check out all our other posts on France here.
Lagrasse Camping-Car Aire
We visited in August 2018.
- Address: Avenue des Condomines, 11220 Lagrasse, France.
- Directions: We came down into Lagrasse, from this direction you head towards the abbey and the camping-car aire is on your right before the bridge.
- Cost: €8 a night, pay at the machine. We paid by contactless card. A ticket officer did come around checking tickets, he told us it was ok to stay more than one night, we just needed to buy another ticket for the 24 hours.
- Facilities: As noted below, the site seems to have been greatly reduced in size, so the facilities are a bit hidden. There is free water, but it was in the corner of the car parking. We had irate drivers who couldn’t get past to get out of the car park, because the only place to park up while you fill up your water is blocks the road through the car park.
- Site: A field with small olive trees creating individual parking spots. In August the ground was hard, dry and dusty. The two nights we stayed we found it quiet and peaceful.
- Other: From what we could discern, if you just want to visit Lagrasse for a few hours in a motorhome/campervan, it still cost €8. Our Camper Contact 2018 guide said there were 40 spaces here, but when we went in August 2018 it seems to have been greatly reduced in size to make more room for car parking.