Moving on, we headed towards St Emilion and planned to stop at Cognac on the way south. We decided to stop on an Aire: a free, or very low cost, parking spot specifically for motorhomes or campervans, and found one just north of Cognac, in a little town called Matha. The Aire was just off the main road near to a pond and an old chateau gatehouse, with enough space for 5 vans, really peaceful and leafy. There were already three motorhomes parked up, by around 7pm, there were the full quota of 5 of us, so it obviously pays to find your stopping point early in the afternoon!
The following day we drove into Cognac and had a wander around the town, very quiet and peaceful considering it was a Saturday morning. The town sits on the river Charente, the information posts dotted around the city’s guided walk tell you that the town was originally known for trading salt (around the 12th
century), this led to wine and, then later, brandy. There is a huge focus in the town on the main cognac houses: Hennessey, Remy Martin, Martell and so on, with tasting opportunities and guided tours on how
it is distilled, shops selling not only the firewater but also expensive crystal decanters to show it off in!
Next stop was St Emilion, we booked in to one of the ‘Yelloh!’ campsites (there’s a chain of these across France) just about 2km from the town. The site was fantastic, professionally run and friendly, nice and clean, with a well-stocked shop and fresh bread and croissants each morning! It was also the first establishment we’ve found that doesn’t shut for two to two and a half hours at lunchtime, which means the team are on hand to help all through the day! We had some really good weather so managed to do a cycle ride every day (except wine tasting day). Each direction took us through vineyards and past chateau’s proudly displaying roadside signs displaying their produce status. Most of the chateau’s offer tours and tastings but we decided to spend a day in the town of St Emilion to taste and buy some wine.
The campsite thoughtfully run a ‘shuttle bus’ in to town and back, twice a day, that this vehicle is actually a clapped out 8 seater Renault, with an exhaust that’s hanging on for
dear life, is of no issue at all: it does the job! For our wine tasting day, we took the bus in to town and planned to walk back as it was a beautiful day. There’s examples of medieval housing to be seen in the town, century old churches, some public wash houses that date from the 1800’s and some sections of old 12th
century ramparts. So much of the town has been fantastically preserved; there are very steep, cobbled streets in the very centre which are strictly pedestrian only, although most of the old establishments that line these streets are now wine shops. All the proprietors (or staff) in the wine shops were ready to chat and answer questions, what’s more, they didn’t push their more expensive bottles on us (perhaps they’d taken one look at us and rightly guessed our budget?! Good at their job then…) we did refuse all offers of tasting any wine though, until we’d had our lunch!
When it came to tasting, we were offered 5 reds to try, 2 dry whites and a sweet one, the prices ranged from 11 to 32 Euros, they included St Emilion wines from 2005
and 2007 that had gained a ‘Grand Cru’ status, and a Pomerol. They were all yummy (hic!!) but as we are on a limited budget we had to choose! Steve wanted to buy a special bottle to bring back home and keep for a few years but we were advised that wine doesn’t like long, bumpy journeys in the heat, so he decided to buy a bottle to drink instead of keep, much more sensible!
We headed in to Bordeaux for the day, on the train, and had a walk around the town, the river front is quite grand but overall I didn’t feel that the city had much to offer, we hadn’t realised that the trains back to St Emilion were every two hours so, having missed one, we spent two hours at the station! We were serenaded in the waiting area by a pianist (really!!) whilst we drank a couple of beers, as it’s cheaper to buy in France than coffee. So it wasn’t all bad…
We said goodbye to St Emilion today (Friday 10th
), after a fantastic week, and we’re currently sitting in Petit Van on a peaceful Aire in an area called St Paul Les Dax, there are 6 other motorhomes parked around us, all with their satellite dishes spinning on their roof, looking for a signal so that their owners can sit in amongst pine trees and dappled evening sunshine… and watch TV!!
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