Sunday, 28 February 2010

July 2007 -Holiday With Friends -Part 16

18 July 2007
I phoned Nigel in the UK at 05h30 our time with his wake up call and he said he has been awake for ages! We find this is always a problem when you know you have to get up early. He sent me an sms from the station to say that stage 1 of his trip was completed and then from Basingstoke to say stage 2 was fini. All went well and Nigel met up with Christelle and Patrick at Southampton Airport. I drove through to Limoges in good time and this time I did not miss the turn off to the airport! Christelle, Patrick and Nigel arrived on time at 12h30. C & P were stopped by customs and immigration on their way through, I suspect South African Passports had something to do with it but Nigel successfully talked to the guy and they were soon off the hook. We took a leisurely drive back home through the villages and we stopped for a picnic at Lac de Mas Chaban. We saw an Aesculapian snake crossing the road, quite big about 1.5 metres long, not far from the house. Octavie, David, Florence and the kids came around for a drink at 18h30 and after dinner we finally got to bed around 10h30. Christelle, Patrick and Nigel were all very tired after a long day and suddenly having to speak and think in French was a strain for Nigel after months in the UK.

19 July 2007
We left home at 09h00 and went to Gèant supermarket, bought a few snacks and some red wine. We then went on to Angouleme and walked around the covered market, we then went to see St Pierre Cathedral. We got some maps and info from the tourist office and then had lunch at the Le Chat Noir. We then decided that there were some more pamphlets that we wanted from the tourist office. Patrick said he knew the way so we followed him there via a very long route! We then made our way to the Decathlon cycle shop to see if we could buy some Tour de France cycle shirts but there was nothing available. We did buy 4 camping seats for us to sit on while watching the time trial on 28 July.

Afterwards we went to see Chateau de l’Oisellerie but it was a bit of a loss as it was all closed up so we decided to go and see the caves at Le Queroy. Christelle was not very happy going into some of the caves so we met up with her later. The place was rather run down but had good basic content. We came home driving through the villages of Montbron, l’Arbre and Mazerolles.

20 July 2007
08h35 Rainy and cool; jersey weather. The men arrived half an hour late to put in the new shutters; it took far longer than we expected and we were all hanging around waiting to go to lunch in La Rochefoucauld (LR). It appeared to be quite a complicated installation in the end but eventually all was done to a good standard and at 13h00 we set off under clearer skies - painting was postponed until another day. Chez Steph opposite the chateau in LR was very busy with chateau visitors who could not be bothered to walk any further, but our usual haunt at the sports café, further on in the high street, had spare tables in the sun. Four omelettes, some frites, salad and wine and we were all set for a visit to the local wine estate. Saint Sornin had been advertising an all-day “English” presentation for some months, but we arrived to find that not only is it “difficult” to organise a tour of the winery, but the attendant could speak only limited English and the place was flooded with mostly French and Belgians. A hasty wine tasting resulted in the purchase of a few bottles and we’re off back to the chateau in LR, for a long overdue visit.
We had passed by many times but never ventured in. Family members started restoring it in 1980 and much had been done to a decayed edifice, but a massive amount is still to be done. There was a lot to see and the French lady guide went to some trouble to see that our small English group was fully informed, by providing an alternative English commentary. By 18h00 we were on the way home, stopping at Leclerc to replenish vital foodstocks with rabbit pate and cider. The evening was spent enjoying warm sun from now almost cloudless skies (and a spot of vin rouge), while waiting for the stuffed baked (large) courgette to cook.

21 July 2007
We left the house at 09h00 to go to Chasseneuil market. Christelle bought a couple of duck pattern table mats as presents and Nigel bought some cushions for our garden/dining room chairs, he did a bit of French haggling and saved €2! We then went to the lake called Etang de Gazon at Cherves Chatelars for an early bread and cheese lunch, while watching the pole fishermen catch not very much. Afterwards we visited the martyr village at Oradour sur Glane, near Limoges, where 642 civilians (including 193 children) were massacred, and the town burnt down, in the afternoon of 10 June 1944 by the Waffen SS as a reprisal for the killing of 2 German SS troops by the local resistance.
 An exhibition gives visitors some background to World War 2 events before releasing them to wander around the old village, which has been kept almost unchanged in its ruined state since the events of that day. This was a deeply disturbing experience and the French presentation (with English and German translations) rightly takes an extremely condemnatory view of what was an unimaginably barbaric act, while exhorting visitors to remember the victims.

On the way home we stopped to see Michael and Kate, who were renovating their house at near Vitrac.

Back home, Nigel and Patrick painted the new shutters on the lounge windows with primer, Christelle cleaned the house and I cut the grass – a very busy evening followed by dinner.

22 July 2007
We were on the road by 09h00, driving to Cognac on the N141 via La Rochefoucauld and Angouleme, arriving at 10h15. The English language tour at Hennessy was only at 12h15 which delayed our timing for the remainder of the day. We were taken for a trip up the river and then a tour of the warehouse with explanations from planting of the grapes to drinking the cognac. We then went back to the main building for tasting. On an empty stomach this may not have been such a brilliant idea but we weaved our way up through Cognac old town afterwards for an omelette and chips. Leaving Cognac later than planned, we followed the Charente upstream. First to Bassac to see the 10th century Abbey (now with a lift next to the stairs!) and then onto St Simon to see the Maison de Gabariers and local sights associated with barge building on the Charente in the 1800s. From here we made a loop around Chateauneuf sur Charente; the original town was burnt in 1081 and later rebuilt as a fortress. From the 17th century on, the barrels of wine and pineau were sent down to La Rochelle from Cognac in gabariers, the flat bottomed barges. We then made a quick stop at St Simieux, famous for its eels.

It was then back home again and Patrick and Nigel finished the primer on the shutters.

23 July 2007
A wet start with rain from 05h00. After picking up provisions at Lidl and fuel in Chasseneuil, we headed for Aixe sur Vienne to the Maison de la Porcelaine, the rain getting heavier as time passed. We arrived at 11h30 and managed to find parking nearby. The shop extends over three floors and stocks every kind of porcelain from €2 up to €5000 for a gold leaf trimmed dinner service. It was well worth the visit. Next on the agenda was a picnic site, but the 14 degree temperature, driving rain and strong wind dictated an indoor solution! Thus we entered Confolens, sleepy on a Monday closing day, but we found a café where the plat du jour of pintade rotie (guinea fowl) was very acceptable. There were lots of smokers at the bar but the smoke seemed to stay clear of us! The weather miraculously improved for an hour, which we spent looking at the C15-C16 medieval quarter, an old water mill and the view from a nearby hill. We decided that this needed revisiting on a non-closing day. The weather closed in again as we drove on to Chassenon, the site of a Gallo-Roman bathing and exercise complex, but by our arrival the rain had temporarily stopped.
 The site was discovered in 1958 and by 1975 serious work had been done; including the exposure of the buildings buried under 1.5 metres of soil and the installation of a protective roof. The construction was remarkably complete, was well preserved and showed the building and engineering skills of the Romans. The tour presentation for foreigners via English audiotape commentary worked well and was very informative. This was a very valuable site, on which the French are still working, and deserves to be better known. The rain recommenced as we left, but by the end of our 40 minutes journey home, the sun was out and the roads steaming. All in all a good day, despite the bad weather. We just had time on our arrival to adjust the height of the driveway gates with washers purchased earlier at the hardware. They appeared to be dropping and were becoming quite difficult to open and close.

24 July 2007
We left a tad late at 09h30 after some ironing, but it took only an hour to get to Aubeterre due to some fancy navigation on the back roads. Aubeterre is named one of the most beautiful villages in France and they don’t exaggerate!! The location on a cliff is very impressive. There were also many artistic, pottery and small touristy shops, and the ubiquitous English car registration leaving the impression of a significant expat community. But one must have extreme fitness to climb the steep streets – not for retirement! After viewing various sights including l’eglise Saint Jacques, with a front built in 1490, we had meandered by 12h00 to the famous underground church carved out of solid rock 1500 years ago. It really is a WOW! Predictably, they closed for lunch at 12h30 so we did not have long, but by then we had seen enough.
We then headed towards Chalais and stopped for fresh bread and cheese lunch in the village square at Rouffiac. Chalais proved to be unexceptional, so we set off home via more picturesque by-ways, over the rolling hills and through forest areas, sunflower and maize fields. We stopped at Chasseneuil to visit the Resistance museum and the hillside memorial above the town. The rain came down quite hard while we were at the memorial but we managed to dodge most of the showers, so another good day.

25 July 2007
We were off at 09h00 for the long awaited velo-rail trip! The weather was cool and cloudy, but a 20 minute drive and some food shopping at Champion brought us to the old station at Roumazieres-Loubert (R-L). A quick safety briefing in French by the manager and we sped off, Patrick and Nigel doing the pedalling, with other groups following at intervals behind. Gentle inclines and declines brought us 7.5 km through leafy woodland to Manot in about 30 minutes, over a viaduct and 4 road crossings where we had to dismount, push the machine over and remount on the other side. Being the first at Manot, we were able to have hot chocolate (to warm up) and a rest while the other teams arrived.

After half an hour we started the return trip with Christelle and myself on the pedals. Such was the speed we generated that we soon caught the wagon in front of us, so we then swapped with them and continued again with Patrick and Nigel providing power. Back at R-L in 25 minutes, at 12h00, thought turned to lunch, so we headed for the Cote de Boeuf by Lac Lavaud at La Guerlie. A great spot in the now sunny and warming weather and the chosen menu of superbly cooked and presented grilled duck with vegetables and a choice of sweets for €11 was enjoyed by all. Thence to Brian & Erica where their Gites were fully booked for a welcome swim. We were home at 18h30 for a simple supper. It was a warm and sunny evening with great hopes for tomorrow.

26 July 2007
We had an early start at 07h00 on the Dordogne tour, so by 08h15 we were in Brantome, catching some rays and drinking coffee at a local café.
A circular walk across the Dronne, past the Abbey, back across the Dronne by the next bridge (built in 1536!!) and through the town back to the car gave a flavour of this pretty town. By 10h45 we were on the way to Perigueux, but we were delayed by closed roads and deviations around Nontron. Nonetheless, we arrived in Perigueux centre about 11h30 and a walk around the old quarter stimulated appetites for lunch, taken at one of the many cafes near the St Front Cathedral, which is being renovated. (We saw it later in a more distant view from the south west – it really is a most imposing structure).
End of lunch signalled a departure for Les Ezyies – the world famous centre for prehistoric man in this part of France, where we arrived at 14h30.

It was very hot and quite crowded in the gorge and this made for difficult walking and climbing, but an impression of the area was provided. We left for home at 15h45 and after some involuntary detours; we arrived there about 18h00. A packed schedule!!!!

27 July 2007
It was Rouillac market today; this takes place on 27th of each month and is a regional affair, with stalls taking up the whole town centre. The usual heavy traffic and enormous crowds were swelled by hundreds of local and foreign camper vans taking up roadside positions for the next day’s 55 km Tour de France time trial. The cloudy and misty weather cleared by 10h30. We drove a section of the D939 time trial route to establish where we might park off route and set up a viewing position for the morrow. We went on to briefly look at the Abbey at St Amand de Boixe near the N10, and thence to a tasty bruschetta lunch at Chez Steph in sunny La Rochefoucald, next to the chateau. After a bit of grocery and wine shopping at Leclerc and Lidl, we proceeded home for a restful afternoon, punctuated by some odd job work and starting the evening’s paella meal. This was followed by crème brulè that Christelle discovered in the supermarket, delicious.

28 July 2007
The big Tour de France day started with a 06h00 departure. Having seen the camper vans parking up at the roadside the day before, we decided to get to St Genis by 07h00. As it turned out, that was very early, as we were almost the first car in the car park!! But then it was only a 100m walk to our chosen corner, opposite a France TV camera which turned up much later. Many of the first spectators were only there for the freebie handouts (we got a few) from the caravane which came through at 11h00, but they disappeared by 13h00, at which point the riders arrived.

The weather was cloudy with a few sunny intervals and very light and short showers, not the

  advertised menu! Each rider was preceded by a police motorcycle, or a car in the case of the major riders. We were impressed to see at first hand the sheer speed of the riders; at our viewpoint they were some 30 km into a 55 km time trial, all completed in 70 minutes!!

Rider intervals were set at 2 minutes, which extended to 3 minutes for the last 30 or so seeded riders. Barloworld riders were vigorously cheered by our yellow South African shirt-wearing team. All too soon, the yellow jersey was through at 17h05 and the local crowd – we estimated 20 thousand - slowly filtered back to their transport. Traffic was very slow to clear and we were forced to divert to back roads to get home in a sensible time.

29 July 2007
Home maintenance day! Patrick & Nigel went to buy bread and dump some bottles. After lunch, the car was spotlessly cleaned by Patrick; the garden was dug over, the grass cut, clothes packed and house cleaned by Christelle. The weather was much the same as yesterday – cloudy with gusty winds and short light showers; some sun, but not much.

30 July 2007
We were away on schedule soon after 07h00, with everything packed for the return trip to the UK via Dijon–500 km away-and thence to Reims.

Navigation went well until just before Dijon, when we suddenly found ourselves heading eastwards on the A36 towards Germany. Taking a round-about route to get back on track, we found a great village restaurant in Saint Nicholas les Citeaux, where we had a very good and reasonable plat du jour 4 course lunch and wine including sausages/ chicken main course for €10 each. No menu, but Nigel managed the translation adequately and we all emerged well fed!

Shortly after lunch, we were cruising slowly through the prime Burgundy vineyards near Nuits St Georges and Gevrey Chambertain before entering Dijon. It was very memorable countryside!

Gina, (Patrick’s Garmin GPS), put on a faultless performance of the technology to guide us to the hotel from the outer Dijon suburbs, and once settled into our rooms on the pedestrianised and very wide Cours de General de Gaulle, we took a 10 minute stroll to the tourist office and then on to a tour of Dijon, following the ‘Owl route’. We were all impressed with this presentation (which comprised a series of arrows and Owl icons set in the pavement) to take the visitor on a circular tour of the town centre and its major points of interest, supplemented by a booklet providing the details and pictures. Great tourist service – we wondered if this was done as well elsewhere?

Dijon is an ancient but well preserved town dating back 800 years. The intricate stone carvings on the public buildings are breathtaking. We had a light supper in a sunny square opposite the Town Hall before walking back to the hotel.

31 July 2007
We had a Hotel breakfast and a quick walk around a few parts of Dijon we had missed last night and we were soon on the road - 300 km to Reims. An all toll road trip saw us there in 3 hours. Our basic but comfortable Arcantis hotel, this time in the suburbs, was harder to find, but the GPS once again proved invaluable.

Our main destination was Notre Dame Cathedral, founded nearly 1000 years ago and site of the coronation of many French kings up to the C16. A stunning world heritage site.

Next door is the Palace de Tau, another WH site, which houses all the sculptures from the Cathedral.
 Another cathedral – Saint Remi – which dates back to the 5th century, is also a World heritage site. Surely most worthy of a longer future visit. Further exploration revealed a whole pedestrianised eating area, where we enjoyed some English-influenced French cooking.
The town centre is largely cobbled and has few road markings; not a location for the tourist driver or the faint hearted! However, after some false starts, the GPS soon had us out of the maze and back at the hotel.

01 August 2007
Our hotel was situated right on the A26, the route north to Boulogne, 240 km away by toll road. This was smoothly negotiated and we found time for an early lunch of tasty ham and cheese crepes in Boulogne city, before we topped up with fuel and queued for the ferry. Speed Ferries (who later went into administration and cost us money!)once again provided a good service and by 13h30 local time we were disembarking in Dover.

  Exit from the Western Docks proved very slow, but after this delay and an accident on the M4 necessitating a detour, we were back home in Oxford at 16h30.


  1. What fantastic places and an interesting trip all round. These areas and buildings have so much history attached to them.

  2. Hi Joan, Yes the history in France is just amazing, we live right in the middle of where the resistance was. I just wish my French was better as we have several real oldies living near us who must have incredible stories to tell.


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