This month has been a bit like a sequel, as we revisted places we had been before. The weather has been amazing and it’s been relaxing to be in familiar places, where we know where we’re going and what to expect. And the chance to meet up with old friends is as treasured as the making of new ones.
We have been deep in French family holiday territory. The prices doubled and school holidays meant there were kids everywhere. We managed to find a camping ground in Les Mathes, 37 kms from Royan on the Atlantic coast. The campground has a lovely pool but doesn’t have a playground or kids club or ‘animations’ in the evening so it’s only 35 Euro a night and perfect for us, as we’re not paying to keep other people’s children occupied.
This campsite was the most convivial of any we had stayed at, probably because it’s so small, but also because of the friendliness of the owners, Annie and Regis. When we first arrived at our site our neighbor Jasper helped us with locating the power, water etc and gave us a quick run down on good places in the area. He then invited us to aperitifs to meet his wife Pauline. At that event Michael presented him with an Australian flag for his collection, so now Australia has an Embassy in Atlantic France!
We joined in the evening boules competitions and performed respectably, not getting knocked out until the third round. Michael also went to the bar after dinner each night and made some new friends. Jean Claude and Christine were from near Calais and they invited us at noon for champagne and ‘aperitifs dinatoire’ which is a little like tapas – enough for lunch. We also had evening aperitifs at Graham and Stephanie’s (UK) new bungalow.
The campsite has a family of hedgehogs. The little ones are so cute! Unfortunately they live under the bungalow right near us and they are driving Grubie mad! She’s sure she could catch one if only we’d let her off the lead.
There are miles of cycle paths and many little villages to visit. We also met lots of interesting people from France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany and the UK. It was fun watching the World Cup soccer with people from all over Europe.
One day we rode our bikes to a little fishing village called La Ponte de Greve. The village was located opposite the entrance to the Gironde and was very tidal. There was a canal and people sailed their boats 2 or 3 km up the canal to park them outside their fishing shack. We watched them take the oysters and moules off the rods and baskets and then clean the equipment ready for the next use. We can’t quite wrap our heads around how many millions of tonnes of seafood gets harvested from this area. We stopped at a little restaurant on the edge of the canal and Sue had a fabulous skate (stingray) with black butter and capers and Michael had Moules.
Our neighbours in the campsite, Jasper and Pauline (UK but live and work in Angouleme) and their friend Diddi (Belgium) invited us to go with them to the other side of Royan to go ‘bargain shopping’ and then out to lunch at their favourite Asian restaurant. It was a funny shopping trip. The store was a jumble sale of bargains with stuff everywhere and no order to it at all. Nail polish next to biscuits next to garden hoses! But everything was a third of the price compared to the hypermarkets that we think are still cheap. We bought a great new water hose and some dog treats and other random stuff. Then we went to the most unlikely place for lunch - a buffet Asian restaurant. But it was great and so hygienic. Sue had sushi and then an own-designed but restaurant-cooked wok meal followed by fruit for dessert. Michael tried the sushi and teriyaki. We would also have liked to try the steamboats, but that would just have been piggy.
The nearest food shops and markets are in La Palmyer which is a tourist town and incredibly busy - what will it be like in August?!! We’ve also driven and ridden to the larger and less touristy Les Tremblade to their wonderful markets and to have both our bikes serviced, which was long overdue. Sue went shopping and bought what they call a ‘magic dress’ – one size fits all.
We returned to Jarnac for Bastille Day celebrations and to go to Angouleme to get our ‘real’ residency permits that last until March 2019. We now have an actual Carte de Sejour visitor class that looks a bit like a bankcard or identity card. On the way to Jarnac we had the door of the camping car repaired, so we were ticking things off our list. The bank account still isn’t quite finished but surely it must be close after five months!
Tom and Marnie Raggatt joined us in Jarnac again, so it was a bit like Party Jarnac revisited! But they really loved it there so decided to catch us again before they go home to Australia.
We had a 24 hour dinner party at the Maison de L’Ecluse with Thomas Hardy as host. Day 1 started at 6pm with aperitifs, oysters and then moules. We had to break to view the Bastille Day fireworks and they were stunning! The display started with 20 candlelit kayaks floating down the river with music gradually swelling until the first explosive BOOM! of light and sound. The show lasted about 30 minutes and there were many thousands of people lined up on the bridge and along the banks of the Charente. We decided we were all too full to carry on eating and to meet next day for lunch to have the main course.
We re-convened about 1pm the next day to continue our meal. After a charcoal BBQ and salad we had to leave to watch the France/Croatia final of the World Cup in the town square. No hope of getting a table outside in the square, it had been packed since before the pre-game apparently. Michael and Tom Raggatt were suitably attired and decorated as supporters of France. As you can imagine the excitement level was really high and when the goals were scored the place went off! Once France had won we were amused by all the cars doing laps of the town, waving flags and tooting horns and it lasted for at least an hour.
We reconvened at Thomas Hardy’s house for part three of the dinner party, the dessert of Strawberries marinated in the local Pineau followed by cheese and cognac for those who could. What an amazing dinner party filled with fabulous food and entertainment!
In between the courses and entertainment were naps, swims in the Charente and visits to the pool. Unfortunately we were too busy to fit in a game of boules!
We had been told about another very good local restaurant in Chateauneuf-sur-Charente, about 11km away. It’s not the standard of La Ribudiere (the Michelin starred restaurant we visited with the Raggatts last month) and doesn’t have a Michelin star but was reputed to be very good. Its called ‘Graines et Garonne’ and it was as good as promised! The décor was lovely from the fishpond and terrace to the dining room. Exposed timber beams, terracotta tiled floor, old black & white photos on the walls, different wooden tables for every setting and comfortable chairs.
We had the market menu. It offered two choices for starters and mains and one for dessert. There was no amuse bouche but we were served a mustard mayonnaise with breadsticks. We had a magnificent Asian-inspired starter with prawns, mushrooms, vegetables, walnuts and a fantastic wasabi crème that really set the whole thing off.
For mains we had melt in your mouth pork with pesto mashed potatoes, mushrooms and haricot vert. Others had cod with avocado salsa.
Dessert was strawberry ‘soup’ with a floating lemon cake, which was a really delicious juxtaposition of flavours.
The wine list was very reasonably priced and well constructed. As well as aperitifs we had a Provence rose and a half-bottle of Bordeaux Chateaux Grand Maison.
The total bill was just 70 Euro per couple. What amazing value for cuisine of this caliber!
Once we left Jarnac we returned to Les Mathes. Our neighbor at the campsite, Jasper who Michael christened ‘The Mayor” fixed our TV which no-one had been able to get to work before. Now we can watch Netflix. The tricky part will be finding the time to watch, but maybe in winter we’ll need it. Jasper has had an interesting career path, being a sailor and a policeman in a former life and now working in a school. While we were there Grubie had a grass-seed scare and Jasper and Pauline kindly made an appointment at the vets and drove us there. The vet couldn’t tell if it was a seed but gave her an anti-inflammatory and antibiotic injection and a series of antibiotic tablets. Unfortunately while we went out for dinner that night Grubie ate all ten days worth of tablets out of their silver blister pack and then threw them all up!
We had a very social time while we were at Les Mathes the second time, meeting lots of people and socializing for aperitifs and after dinner drinks every day.
We met a lovely French couple from Brittany who took us on a very scenic drive through little back roads and small villages to a restaurant in a little fishing village near Chaillevette further up the estuary. Similar tidal canal and little fishing shacks but it was also an ‘authentic’ village not catering to tourism and with only two restaurants. We had a lovely seafood platter –oysters, prawns, bulots etc. Isabelle and Sebastian had excellent English so it was a great chance to learn more about the French politics and their way of life.
And then it was a long three-day 1500km drive to Alvor in the Algarve in Portugal to meet up with Sue’s sister Lindy and her husband JB before they headed home to Australia.