Oh we do like to be beside the seaside

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July 2nd 2012
Published: July 2nd 2012
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Monday 25 June – Happy Birthday Viv, my older (by 2 days) longest known friend!

Well we left you in Cahors where we’d had a couple of nights at very acceptable campsite. It took us a while to get going...packing up outdoor furniture/awning, filling/emptying water, showers, then finally just checking emails while we can. Absolutely thrilled to get one from Tom in Kyrgyzstan, with an attached photo of him holding up a sign saying Happy Brithday....he’s a good chap.

So - today we’ve made a bit more progress towards the coast, about 100k’s. Our route wasn’t shown as scenic on the map but nevertheless, was very pretty – rural with numerous hamlets and villages to drive through. We stopped for a looky-see at Villefrance-du-Perigord, where, being a Monday (closing day) was extremely quiet.......basically a main street flanked by two secondary streets – all very charming but no signs of life. We had intended to find somewhere for a pre-lunch aperitif but the only place open only offered coffee...at lunchtime???!

Onwards on a similarly charming route, often single track we drove through Orliac and shortly after stopped for lunch/break/read in a Pique-nique spot. Then on to Siorac-en-Perigord, which may have been worth having a look round but after a quick Carrefour stop to refuel (both with diesel and a wine box) we’d had enough for the day. We therefore headed for our nearest Aires site which we’d actually stayed at before in 2009, at Tremolat. This meant passing through another 2009 favourite, Limeui....happy memories of this lovely place on the Dordogne.

We arrived at our Aires in Tremolat, to find 4 other vans parked up (2 Brits, 1 Dutch, 1 French). We’ve nodded to our neighbours but there’s been no signs of any camaraderie (although one of us would be up for it!). Having settled in and opened all the windows wide – it’s very hot and still, we chilled for a while then took a fabulous walk on a glorious evening around this sleepy yet lived in village....a very posh hotel and a couple of bars/restaurants with a few customers and charming streets and houses.

Shortly after returning to the van, our Brit neighbours, who set out for a walk as we came back...also returned. The first thing they did (which a lot of these motorhomers do – mostly the French) was put on the telle. Being parked next door and it being so totally quiet here.....we have heard Emerdale start and finish and now, as I type we’ve just heard the familiar cornet player introducing Coronation Street! ..........have you words? Come all the way to a most beautiful area of France – and watch Coronation Street!. Well we’re all different.

That’ll do for today. A quiet night in. P.S. Eastenders has just started!

Tuesday 26 June - Since we didn’t wake ‘til after 9am (10 hours sleep), breakfast and a bit of route planning – we set out late. We knew it was going to be a hot one....and it was – but for our back-roads drive north, pootling slowly along to Perigueux (again through varied countryside – rural, woods, attractive stone villages etc)......it was perfect.

But the bliss took a severe nose dive when on reaching Perigueux we had to seek out a supermarket (E. Leclerc)as our supplies were severely depleted. So from the 90+ (32 on the pharmacy sign) degrees in the carpark , we were plunged (wearing our skimpiest/coolest clothes)into the air-conditioned vast shopping complex. Being a Leclerc, Baz kept popping up round each aisle, raising his glasses and whispering...’It is I, Leclerc’.....only funny if you’re an Ello Ello fan!

Shopping was eventually done – with anything from the cold cabinets being grabbed on the run as it was so bloomin’ cold.....then back out into the hot, hot heat to pour the gins, roll the fags, then unpack.

Perigueux may have had parts that we should have explored but we were all shopped out and just wanted to move on and look for somewhere to stop for lunch. When you want to see an Aires du Pique-nique, there’s never one around and we drove quite a way ‘til we eventually saw a shady spot at Chateau-l’Eveque....by this time it was 3.30pm! After a short pause to digest, we carried on for another 30 miles or so to Brantome. On arrival we saw signs to a large parking area on the edge of town, which included motorhomes.....we parked up amongst maybe 70 other vans (mostly French) alongside the river Dronne.

The charm of this appealing town is that a large monastery & abbey built beneath cliffs (whose caves monks originally settled in, in the year 800 odd) is on one bank of the river, which surrounds the ancient town completely, making it an island accessible via bridges. Off with the cycles for an extensive look around with a much needed stop for refreshments. We finally cycled back to our van to have lovely cold showers and chill out. B enjoyed his Monday Daily Telegraph (always a good find on a Tuesday, as apparently it has good sports write-ups). He did however take the opportunity to leave page 11 open, where the headline is: ‘Health warning to women over their expanding waistlines’ ..............bloody nerve.

Wednesday 27 June – The birthday girl was given coffee in bed and a wonderfully amusing Birthday card, make even funnier by what was written inside!....A good start.

Today didn’t really turn out as we’d hoped, as we spent most of it driving and it’s been SO, SO HOT. We set off for Nontron which turned out to be Non-descript. We had a wander around the mildly interesting place with moderately good views – had a coffee in the square and drove on. Same story at our next stop in Marthon – what a quiet place. – this time our wander around ended in the only place open, a little cafe near to the river....and now white wines.

Before moving on we had lunch in the van -thankfully parked in the shade. Route discussion resulted in deciding to go west to Congac, before heading north again. So we headed firstly towards Angoueme, which being a big place with no special appeal, we skirted the south side of. We then tried with some difficulty to reach then follow the river Charente towards Cognac. We drove through Nersac, St Simeux and Bassac. The vineyards in this area all growing the grapes for Cognac.....also amongst the delightful scenery, poppies and other lovely wildflowers are dotted along the roadside (and occasionally whole red fields) and acres and acres of sunflowers....still green – they will look absolutely stunning once they come out.

Anyway, by this time it was after 5pm – so by the time we reached the town of Jarnac we decided to stop at the Aires site on the edge of town by the river. Yes it was there but absolutely no shade and it was well over 100 degrees. Since within a few feet there was also a campsite with glorious shade and a shower block, we decided to go for it.

A quick settle-in then off to the river for a most refreshing swim...fabby. We relaxed and read in the shade for a while and have now returned to the van to get ready to go out for a Birthday Dinner. The temperature as I write this at 7.45pm is 91 degrees out and 90.6 in.....more next session. (By the way Jarnac is the birthplace of Francois Mitterand).

Well we showered and smartened ourselves up a bit (not much, but a bit....clean tops and mascara for her) – though why we bothered with showers is a mystery as we were just as hot and sweaty as before. We walked over the bridge into the reasonably pleasant town, admiring the Courvoisier building by the river, with hundreds of barrels of brandy visible through a vast glazed frontage. Things looked pretty quiet with the only couple of restaurants we saw having no outdoor seating. A bit more exploring and we came across a so-so looking bar/restaurant (no cloths and candles here!) with a reasonable amount of customers. We ordered our steaks (with unimaginative chips and lettuce) and a bottle of red. As we began to tuck-in, it became clear that 90%!o(MISSING)f the other patrons were bloody English. Furthermore, it seemed to be Brit-Quiz night and in loud voices – one dickhead louder than the others – they deliberated over Abba’s first hit or what the capital of Kenya is..........all this in the persistent heat.

However, we had a very pleasurable walk back, cutting down by the river and water-mills and across a lock gate back to the van. Temp still in the 90’s in and out................we slept separately, with doors & windows (with mosquito nets) wide open.

Thursday 28 June – Thankfully a bit cooler by morning, with a hint of overcast sky. We took the main road straight to Cognac where we parked easily and explored on foot. The town has two main areas - one down by the river, where the old Cognac houses are located – namely Henessy (Remy Martin was further out) and the other up the cobbled hill to shops, restaurants and a church. Some of it is charmingly pedestrianised other bits are an attractive vibrant busy town. We started with a walk into a beautiful park where the Hotel de Ville is located, then a bit later, we stopped for early drinkies and later for a superb chicken/ratatouille Galette (a Brittany –type pancake). Just to say, if you didn’t know Cognac is made from the grapes grown in this region (unique climatic conditions, proximity of the sea etc), it is then double distilled and aged in oak barrels from a particular region. Cognac is known as the eau-de-vie....the water of life!

From there our mission was to head for a beach. So we by-passed Saintes, which could have been an interesting place to investigate – it had a Roman amphitheatre, through Marennes and over the 3km long viaduct/bridge to the island of Oleron (famous for oysters – which we hate!) to an Aires site by a harbour and beach at St Trojan-les-Bains (Lez Baynes again!). It has been overcast most of the afternoon but as I write, the sun is out and the thermometer says 70 out and 76 in.....how sensible. We’ve spent the afternoon chilling and reading but either before or after supper, we’ll take a rekey of the area.......

......well as it turned out, whilst B’s fabby ratatouille style veg/pots was almost cooked......the accompanying pork chops were still in the freezer! Nothing for it but to eat out again. There were a selection of little harbour-side restaurants to choose from – we made our choice and enjoyed curried moule & frites for him and sardines & salad for her..........very nice but expensive. Back to the van for a much cooler, more comfortable night.

Friday 29 June – The day dawned overcast and a mere 76 degrees (about 24C) – a perfect morning for exploration on the bikes. This island is bikers heaven....bespoke cycle paths, often through woodland and completely flat....no effort at all to go quite long distances. Also , for some reason, Hollyhocks are abundant on these islands – both planted in gardens and wild by the wayside. Having procured a cycling map of the island from the on-site tourist office, we started by cycling into the village – a small market going on and a visit to the public WC for him (She doesn’t do public loos). On been ready to move on, it was discovered our map was lost....and we’d actually had to pay 50 cents for it! So we back-tracked and found it on the floor on the WC...wet! But one was assured it was only wet with water! So to allow the map time to dry, we returned to a little bar for one coffee and one glass of wine.....well it was 12.15pm.

With dry map, we took an extremely pleasant cycle path south to the Plage de Gasteau, came back via a different route and enjoyed our usual bread/meats/cheese lunch in the van. By the time one of us had had a snooze (the one who’d had the wine) the sun was out and the clouds had disappeared, leaving a perfect blue sky but still only mid 70’s. At about 3pm, we set out along more charming cycle routes northwards to the tiny Port des Salines....a pretty place with walks through the salt marshes. From there we cycled into Le Grand Village, then down a one-way track to La Grande Plage....... a wonderful expanse of sandy beach, with small surf (but no hostelry). Back into La Grande Plage village for refreshments (7pm by this time) and finally back home. In all we probably cycled about 15kms today – but all so easy.

Now relaxing in the evening sunshine – pork chops defrosted and supper soon.

Saturday 30 June – In no hurry we moved on, taking the coastal road to the most northern part of this charming island. It’s such a laid back little place and perfect for the hot temperatures we’ve been having. However, whilst it’s refreshing to have cooler temps, the sunshine & clouds are not warm enough for the beaches we strived to reach. However, the little whitewashed villages, with blue shutters and hollyhocks are very enjoyable.

We stopped half way at La Cotiniere for a walk around the vibrant fishing harbour with loads of fish markets and a couple of rather tacky streets with tourist-tat shops. Liquid midday refreshment before continuing to an Aires site on the edge of St Denis-de-Oleron. It seems to be a large disused campsite, but exclusively for motorhomes – a barrier needing 8 Euros entrance but lots of space, good shade, free electricity and a loo/shower block. There are probably 100 vans here (but well spaced) – 99.9%!F(MISSING)rench.

Usual lunch and siesta, then at about 4.30pm we set out on the bikes, cycled in and around St Denis....a very large marina and a number of eateries....then a cross-country cycle route out to the lighthouse at Chassiron – maybe a 10km round trip. The black & white striped lighthouse is set in beautifully planted gardens and on the shore are the remains of a peculiar ancient method of fishing....low walls built at low tide, which allow sea water and fish to come in but trap the fish on the way out.

Finally a gentle cycle back into St Denis, an expensive glass of white by the harbour and back home. We have a scallop/wine/pasta dish to look forward to.

Sunday 1 July – Good sleep, lazy breakfast and although we heard the horn honking from the Boulangerie van, we were all croissanted out. It was a coolish morning, perfect for cycling, which we did after a few chores - washing up last nights’ supper things and having showers in the dubious looking shower-block. Actually, whilst being very basic, they were clean and surprisingly had warm water.....which one operated by pulling a large lavatory chain, meaning you had to soap/shampoo one-handed to maintain the flow.

Setting out about 11.30 we headed along a path next to the long, pretty, sandy and deserted beach, to the next village of Bree-les-Bains, intending to find somewhere for Sunday lunch. It’s a charming little place but for once was too underdeveloped! An indoor hotel dining-room or an empty village bar.....so we cycled back to St Dennis harbour-front for a very nice 13.50E Menu de Jour.......fish soup/croutons starters for both, steak for him, salmon/potato bake for her and crepes (apricot jam – chocolate)......all washed down with a demi-picheur of rose.

By this time the sun was well and truly out – so a cycle back to the van to grab the beach gear and a glorious afternoon lazing on the beach. ‘til about 7.30pm. Back to Hymie and a quiet night in, apart from the Popeye-the-sailor-man jingle from a roaming ice-cream van in this extremely quiet, rural spot......too early for us, haven’t had supper yet. (Now Monday evening in a bar by the harbour with free wi-fi – so time to blog...’til next time)

Since Cahors: Villefrance-du-Perigord; Orliac; Siorac-en-Perigord; Limeui; Tremolat; Pezuls; Ste Alvere; Lacropte; Atur; Perigueux; Chateau-l’Eveque; Brantome; Nontron; Marthon; south of Angoueme; Nersac; St Simeux; Bassac; Jarnac;Cognac; Saintes; Marennes; (Isle D’Oleron)-St Trojan-les-Bains; Port des Salines; Le Grand Village; La Cotiniere; St Denis-de-Oleron; Chassiron; Bree-les-Bains;

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