Wednesday, 4 March 2015

and enjoys the fruit of the vine

Bergerac. Not the 1980s Jersey based crime drama featuring Jim B. tootling about in his wine coloured Triumph roadster solving crimes committed by his father in law; the wine producing region of the Dordogne, south-east and inland of the better known Bordeaux. Possibly most associated with this chap, son of Abel de Cyrano, Lord of Bergerac in the 17th Century, full name Hercule-Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac. He seems to have lived an exciting life,  fighting in battles and duels and was also a writer,  though he's probably more famous for his fictionalised self in the works of Edmond Rostand.

Apparently he did have a big nose

Bergerac's old town

Once upon a time Bergerac produced two of the most popular human vices, tobacco and wine. The  tobacco industry remains only in the Musee du Tabac but wine still grows in the fields.  A generic "Bergerac" red wine used to be sold here in Britain, though the region has 13 Appellations d'origine controlees, but I hadn't seen even that for years and then on our drive south we stopped of for a coffee at Weston Park spotted this on sale.


We stayed at the lovely Chateau les Merles which was surrounded by its own vineyards,  so it would have been churlish not to have raised a glass or two.....

the chateau

 wine to be

One of the better known wines of the region is Monbazillac. Now this is a sweet wine and so presented me with a bit of a dilemma. I've given up puddings and chocolates, I do this every year during Lent (and often manage to end up in France surrounded by patisserie), so was I allowed any? I decided the answer was "yes", it was ok if I drank it as an aperitif so removing any pudding connotations, then I managed to convince MrS to start his meal the same way. A good outcome all round I thought.

 Chateau de Montbazillac is open to visitors and Dogstarke was allowed in, but I had to carry her. I didn't mind that at all, she's not that heavy and she's warm which the chateau even on a brilliantly sunny day most definitely was not; I could even see the appeal of long skirts and petticoats. Afterwards we warmed up with a scrumptious (wine free, we were driving) lunch at La Tour des Vents, just down the road Dogstarke  was welcomed there too. 

Chateau de Montbazillac

After a hard days sightseeing and wine buying what could be nicer than a good soak in the bath? Well how about a bath in wine? Not really, that would be a waste but being a great believer in the health giving properties of red wine, I'd stocked up on some grape based toiletries and this scrub was excellent.  

The problem is now I'm hankering after a visit to the actual Caudalie spa near Bordeaux. I'd like to visit Bordeaux too. and then there's the wine....MrS would be keen and I'm  sure GlamourPuss and The Prof. could be persuaded to join us again.  All the best ingredients, good company, good food and wine, sightseeing, a spa.
 And a chauffeur perhaps?  

Sunday, 1 March 2015

and makes a little list

I haven't done a list for ages, so here's six things I learned on my holidays.

1) I live somewhere which is very beautiful, even in the rain. This is good as it rains. Often and luxuriantly.  Bergerac and the countryside around needed sun to show them at their best.


2) Don't believe all you read/hear about France being a country of intellectuals and serious "talking head" TV. They have their own version of "Come Dine With Me",  "Un diner presque parfait" Scores given for Ambience, Decoration and of course Cuisine. And also "Le Choix" think "Take Me Out" but  with more participants and in a resort, but I didn't really like that and it was on at dinner time. There are also award shows.

not sure which was best; Sean's look of total bewilderment (I don't think he speaks French) 
or Marion's frock

3) There doesn't seem to be the same camaraderie between dog owners in France as here. Most French dogs had their leads tightened and were pulled well away from Dogstarke. And she is no ravening beast.

Interestingly when we were in Ile de Re a couple of years ago we had lots of interaction with fellow dog owners. But we were there slightly ahead of the season and the tourists were  mostly Dutch or German.

this cute dog did want to make friends

4)  It's might be not so common now in Paris, but out in the country people still do have two hour lunch breaks. Museums and shops closed and folk headed home or to the restaurant. Service stations were full of families and single travellers sitting down to a proper lunch. MrS and I were questioned on where our hot dishes were when we paid for our salads and coffees. On non travel days we eschewed the salads and joined them, there's no fun wandering around looking at closed shop windows in the cold. In fact our best meal of the holiday was at lunchtime, at La Tour des Vents, Montbazillac, No wine as MrS was driving (I was providing moral support and he reciprocated by turning down pud., given up by me for Lent). Though he did wolf down all the chocs and canelles that  came with coffee. And Dogstarke was welcomed too!

madeleines and cannelles similar to those described

5)  Those mountains on the Volvic label really do exist! I got quite excited when I spotted them but couldn't take a photo. I didn't think it was such a good idea as I was driving.

Here's a view from the service station instead.

6) Calais gets a bad press. In guide books they say it's just a transit town and has nothing to offer. I don't agree. We arrived late and managed to have a good dinner. OK the first place we tried (both recommended by the nice young concierge at the Mercure hotel) was a bit grumpy and turned us away (kitchen closed)

probably worth a try despite the grumps

but we had fun at the other La Vieux Fourneau, which was full of French families enjoying themselves on a Friday night.

                                                            taken the next morning 

Saturday morning there was a good market in the square which unfortunately we had to forgo. Devoted though he is to cheese and tempting as it was MrS decided it would probably have lost its appeal after 500 miles in the car.
And then who could dislike a place which sold these?

And wonders what makes somewhere sing

I'm just back from the latest trip and thinking about the places we stayed and ate; which of them were great, which just ok and just what is it that makes the big  difference?  I've decided it all comes down to service and the general feeling of the place. Some places you just simply feel welcome and happy, others, well they just believe too much in their own myth.

To explain......
I'm plagued by the fear of being "found out" that I'm not a proper fully functioning grown up, that I'm just my job, parenting, adulthood generally.  I mean sometimes I judge myself on my poor dog raising skills. Its most extreme manifestation is in a dream where I'm quivering at the edge of the 10 metre board, about to represent Great Britain with my extremely limited dive repertoire. In dreamland this consists of something called "an apron dive". No,  I have no idea either and luckily I usually wake up before I find out.

I know this isn't a unique feeling, It's not just norms like me,  I've read interviews of many successful people who've said the same thing. Is it this fear which keeps people and places on their toes?

We visited three places which I  think may have lost that feeling. None were awful, in fact we would probably still return. But. They've all been lauded in my favourite papers, received awards from Michelin and other guides; they look the right way and serve the right things and they just, ever so slightly, make you feel like they are doing you the favour by sharing their wares, or no longer make the extra effort of the up and coming place.

You know the feeling, you've been allowed to hang out with the cool kids, just this once.

We did return  somewhere that has been consistently good. We've stayed a number of times, sometimes when travelling under difficult circumstances, and we've always had a good time. Differing room grades vary in size but are all comfortable and well equipped. Food isn't innovative but its always good.  And most important, the staff are always friendly and welcoming.
The Bear's Paw at Warmingham, Cheshire we salute you!

They do a pretty good breakfast too.