France July 2020

On July 1st Michael went to a Jarnac blokes group of about 12 members called BBC2 Jarnac. They are from England, Scotland, and include two Aussies. Michael was invited to attend and it was held in the local bar. Apparently this meeting can go well into the night but Michael surprised everyone, including Sue, by returning home at a respectable hour to cook a BBQ!

We certainly started July off with a bang! With our friends Willie and Marcia we caught the 11:30 bus to Cognac at a cost of 2 euro and taking 20 minutes. The locals are horrified that the cost recently doubled, but we think it’s a bargain to travel the 36km from Cognac to Angouleme and all stops in between for just 2 euro. We then walked just a few steps from the bus stop to the cognac house of Meukow (pronounced mew-koff), for a lunch followed by a private tour and a tasting. Most people would recognise this cognac brand, characterized by the panther. This branding was introduced in 1993 by Michel Coste and the panther symbolizes the power, elegance and suppleness they regard as the intrinsic qualities of Meukow cognac.

We started our wonderful lunch with an aperitif of pineau over ice while we contemplated the gorgeous surroundings and the daily menu, while consuming olives and warm mussels with chorizo in a sort of tempura. Very delicious.

Our first course was a ‘gizzard salad’, which doesn’t translate well, but was thin slices of large ripe tomatoes topped with some salad greens and then some offal of chicken, grilled to perfection. It also included crisp baguette slices topped with just-melted fresh goat cheese and a small swish of balsamic glaze. The mix of flavours was fabulous.

The main course was chicken tarragon. The chicken was slow-cooked for 6 hours at 62 degrees and was wrapped around a chicken liver, all being liberally sprinkled with tarragon. It was very rich, but also very delicious. We paired it with a bottle of local merlot. This was a truly memorable meal.

Dessert was a churro with a ‘strawberry ketchup’ (a coulis) and fresh berries, accompanied by a cognac.

On the way out of the restaurant Michael introduced himself to the President of the company, Philippe Coste, interrupting his lunch. Philippe very generously took us to the bar and did an impromptu cognac tasting. We tried a fantastic cognac expresso – a coffee flavoured cognac liquer, and a gin made from fermenting peaches that was really elegant. Michael and Willie tried a VS and an XO and compared them. They also had a try of one of the special vintage cognacs from 1978 that they both said was absolutely exceptional. Willie writes a blog called “A taste of Cognac”, so it was he who organized the day. It’s a great blog to follow if you like cognac and the cognac region.

We then did a great tour of the cellars. The Cellar master at Meukow is a woman and there was a video of her doing the blending. She must have the most amazing nose! We saw the ancient demijohns that are still used today, huge glass bottles covered in jute. The oldest bottle they still use is from 1893!! Whose going to drink that?! We also saw the blending laboratory.

After Jarnac, we headed back to Ile de Re and the little village of Ars en Re. We have been here three times now and enjoy the wonderful daily market and the bicycle paths through the saltpans, vineyards, oyster racks and potato fields. We also love how small the village is – you can cycle or walk everywhere and find all the things you need.

We couldn’t believe how busy the village was! The bicycle paths and camping grounds were packed with holidaymakers. Ile de Re is often called ‘the millionaires’ island’ as property is very expensive, as are all the prices of restaurants and accommodation. In fact, the campground at 39 Euro a night is one of the most expensive we stay in all year. The holidaymakers are less families with young children and more often the thirty-something DINKS (double-income-no-kids) and older couples, so people with more disposable income who haven’t been hit as hard with covid-19.

We did a few lovely bike rides, first to the north to the furthest village of Pont du Re where we wandered around the village before feasting on moules. Next we rode south towards Saint Martin, to an oyster bar on the beach for lunch. The smell of that salty brine as we rode was wonderful, as was watching all the bird life.

We left Ars en Re early on a Sunday morning and drove 624km to La Palme on the Meditteranean. It’s an area 32 km south of Narbonne toward Perpignan and the Spanish border. Its so lovely and warm here, with the temperature hovering around 30 degrees everyday and with plenty of sunshine. The area is famous for kitesurfing and windsurfing, so it’s very windy! The ‘breeze’ keeps us cool at night but means we need to take our awning down every night and when we leave the site.

The campsite was very rustic and natural, nestled under the Mediterranean pines. We were very protected from the wind but listened to it sighing through the overhead pine trees.

The campsite is located on a lake next to the Meditteranean rather than on the beach itself and has an outdoor heated pool next to the lake. Michael has yet to take the plunge but Sue goes for a swim everyday.

The bicycle paths here don’t live up to the hype, being more ways to ride rather than a dedicated bike path. There’s absolutely no signage and they’re often small roads shared with cars or they suddenly drop out and you find yourself riding on a highway. One day Sue and Michael rode to the nearby village of Leucate to go to the shopping centre and have lunch. It was quite an adventure that included narrow shared roads, dirt paths and a highway. We wont be doing that again!

We have still been missing Grubie badly, talking about her often and sometimes getting a little teary. Michael has lost his supermodel, so hasn’t been taking many photos this month.

The campsite is taking the Covid threat very seriously, which is what we had been looking for. There are fewer people here so the pitches around us are empty. They have physical distance markers everywhere, soap and hand sanitizer all over the place and the sanitaries get disinfected every few hours. The pool has an attendant to limit numbers and ensure social distancing. We feel very safe but it’s a little boring. We’re not meeting anyone because everyone is keeping to their family groups, even the kids!

On August 1st France is introducing mandatory mask wearing everywhere inside, except your own home. There has been a small increase in new cases since lockdown was eased and they want to limit the damage caused by the holiday season. We will see how it goes but we’re hoping to be able to do some serious ‘touristing’ in September once the holiday rush is over. We want to explore the Dordogne area.

On a couple of days we rode into the village of La Palme, which is very quiet and pretty. They have a few restaurants and we tried two. The first, Le Comptoir des Tontons, was a bistrot where we had wonderful seafood, really well prepared and with fabulous accompanying vegetables. The second was the more upscale “L’Echo des Saisons’ and we went for dinner. Set in a restored mill, it had fabulously elegant décor that included a sculpture on every table. The menu made choosing difficult but we both had a perfectly cooked very tender piece of veal accompanied by a yummy barley and celeriac risotto and a beetroot hummus. Seriously delicious! Accompanied by a lovely local rose that had just a hint of the salt of its terroir.

We picked the time just right and left to ride home before the rain got too heavy.

We ended up only staying in La Palme for 2 weeks, not the six we had anticipated. The villages were a little too small, the beach too far away and the bicycle paths too scary for our tastes. Instead, we moved 124km north to Servignan, on the coast near Beziers. We had been here before, but chose a different campsite this time. It was directly on the Med with a private beach, a beautiful stretch of white sand. Our pitch was only 100m from the ocean, but the campsite is so enormous the Reception is more than a km away! It has 5 pools, bars, two restaurants, shops etc. Of course, it’s very expensive but worth it - and it’s absolutely packed!

Our first outing was a bicycle ride to Valros-Plage. We needed to take a water taxi to cross the river (1 Euro each) but it was a nice ride. The village is incredibly touristy, although it did have lots of restaurants and a good boucherie, boulangerie, a tabac and a supermarket so after the first time just looking around and having a seafood lunch, we only did quick trips there for shopping.

Our next outing was a ride to the Canal de Midi, which we had visited when we were here three years ago. There is a lovely bike ride along the canal in the shade of all the old oaks planted along both sides. One day we just rode as far as the little restaurant on the banks of the canal, where we had a lovely lunch of fish brochettes (Michael) and lamb chops (Sue). It was way too hot to play boules on the courts as we had before, so this time we left earlier to return home for a swim.

 

Another day we rode the same route to the little village of Villeneueve-les Beziers, visiting the market and looking at the lovely street art.

 

We plan on staying here for a few weeks more, cycling and enjoying the sunshine, the beach and the pools.