June 2018

We began June by returning to Jarnac to have the repairs on our camping car done. It had taken over eight weeks for the part to arrive and only one day to repair! Turns out that insurance and warranty work is the slowest and it seems all our work is in one of these categories. We are spending a fortune driving back to France to have work done for free. C’est la vie! We stayed briefly again at Fouras on the Atlantic coast while the work was being done.

After all the times we have returned to Jarnac we now feel a strong affiliation with the town and have made some friends. We again used our friend Fred’s bar/restaurant, La Comedie as our go-to place. He and Michael share a fondness for Cognac.

It wouldn’t be Jarnac in summer without a late and long lunch under the willows at Thomas Hardy’s beautiful lock-keeper’s cottage, the Maison de L’Ecluse. The traditional menu is poisson soup; oysters natural and tsarina; magret de canard with red wine gravy and potatoes; cheese and then strawberries marinated in pineau (the aperitif made with the cognac juice). Champagne to start then white, rose and red and a cognac for those who are still thirsty or still standing! It was a lovely way to spend a Monday, when everything in Jarnac is closed and it feels like a ghost town.

This visit we were joined for a week by our friends from Adelaide, Tom and Marnie Raggatt. They booked a tree-house chalet in the Ile de Madame campground where we were staying. They soon got into the swing of being ‘trailer trash’ and learned to relax. It was wonderful to see them again and especially to see Jarnac and the Cognac region through fresh eyes. It really is a very beautiful part of the world – and so green!  

We had wanted for some time to go to the Michelin-starred restaurant in the nearby village of Bourg Charente. We had visited the village before and perused the menu but had never had the chance to go. The La Ribaudiere restaurant is in the most fabulous setting on the banks of the Charente River, with lawns and ducks and decks and willows and canal boats floating by. The interior décor was modern & trendy, but so comfortable! The tables were huge and every chair was cushioned and reclined. There were lounging chairs scattered throughout. Very chic!

The food and service were wonderful, as you would expect for a Michelin-starred restaurant. We had the “market menu” or specials board. Started with an amuse bouche of four different hors d’oeuvres  followed by Sue’s favourite, a crab bisque with a quenelle of shredded crabmeat. We washed this down with a Billiecarte Salmon champagne. Then some had deconstructed pork ravioli with asparagus sauce and others a seafood salad that was too pretty to eat. Of course, all the dishes had many more ingredients and were lovingly explained but this is the short version!

Mains were a cut of chicken accompanied by an egg in an egg-cup full of potato a quail egg and some truffle. Others had a poached trout. We decided not to have the bottle of vintage Medoc red at over 500 euros (!) so the sommelier suggested a 2012 Bordeaux cabernet that was smooth, fruity and earthy. An inspired choice and Michael and Tom had lots of fun discussing the wine menu and debating the choices. Dessert was a lemon confection that included a brioche and a custard with a fancy name, or the cheese board that was so extensive it was difficult to make a choice!

The presentation of everything was quirky and the attention to detail amazing. Can you believe that the market menu was basically five courses of sublime food for only 49 Euros? To top it off the Raggatts were thrilled to buy a local Jarnac truffle that they then made into the most magnificent truffle pasta the following evening.

Tom and Marnie had a Jaguar as their hire car at that point and it was a really comfortable ride, so we took in the local area. One day we drove to Saint Simeaux to a quirky little bar/restaurant on the river where we had been before with Thomas. Grubie likes the little donkey that lives there. On another day we went to hunt for the ruined abbey and the prehistoric stones near St Brice.

The camping car was fixed, we had our last hurrahs and we were off for a month before we needed to return for Part B of the residency permit renewal in July.

The plan was to visit Haro in the Rioja wine region, San Sebastian and then Arcachon not far from Bordeaux followed by another trip to the Medoc and then returning to Jarnac for Bastille Day.

The great thing about being in a motorhome at any time of the year other than July and August, is that you can be flexible and change your mind depending on weather, how much you like a place, festivals or even just your own energy levels.

We were tired of driving so decided to go to San Sebastian in northern Spain first, it being another 2.5 hours if we were to continue to Haro. We could visit there later when we headed back to Portugal. The weather was going to fine up so all should be good.

Our GPS had a melt-down in San Sebastian and kept sending us weird ways and around in circles. We eventually ignored it and just followed the signs up a very steep and winding road to our campground on Monte Igeldo. It was only 6km from the old town but it was 6km of narrow and exceptionally winding road with drop-offs to the sea. Beautiful views! Whenever we think we’re on a tiny narrow road we come across a bus or a semi that think nothing of it. It must be just us.

The campground was lovely but it was so high up it was a little like living in a cloud, often misty and sometimes we could look down on the clouds! We never realized how warm it actually was until we caught the bus down to the town. The bus came every 30 mins and Grubie was allowed to go too, so everyone was happy.

We spent a lovely week in San Sebastian enjoying all the pinxtos and the stunning scenery, as well as the sunshine and their glorious beaches. Summer has finally come to the Atlantic Coast!

The old town, port and all the gorgeous architecture was just a feast, to say nothing of the fantastic food. We decided not to go to one of the Michelin-starred restaurants as the pinxtos were so good and we had already been to the Michelin-starred in Bourg-Charente. But we did stumble across a fabulous restaurant anyway. It came up somehow on trip advisor as the best pinxtos in San Sebastian and when we found it the front was thronged with tourists. I was reading the menu posted outside and said to Michael that they had escargot in the restaurant (his favourite), did he want to check it out? So we bypassed the tourists and went to the back where it was very up-market and full of Spanish people, a good sign. It was fabulous, with wonderful decor, service and menu. Michael had his escargot and I had ox-tail. It was an unexpected and very delicious experience. Grubie was left at home that day so that was why we could go inside. Spain likes dogs to stay in the exterior part, not to be inside the restaurant proper.

That was also the day we went to the museums. Michael went to the Maratime Museum and was amazed at the number of barrels of whale oil shipped out of here in past times, much of it to Canada. They loaded as many as 1000 barrels on each boat. Sue headed off to the Museo San Telmo that used art and artifacts to explain Basque culture and history. It was fascinating.

 

From San Sebastian we travelled to Arcachon, which is about an hour from the centre of Bordeaux. The weather has been fantastic! The day starts quite cloudy and cool until perhaps 9 or 10am then it becomes sunny and warm, then really heats up from 2-7pm (at least in European terms) and it doesn’t get dark until 10:30pm. We spent eight days here sleeping in, having a leisurely breakfast and doing some chores and then heading off on our bikes for a bit of touristing, market shopping and lunch. By late afternoon we’re back home for a nap and a swim/sunbake at the pool. How could life get any better?

Arcachon is located on a huge ocean  ‘basin’ and is the home of the Dune de Pilat, the largest sand dune in Europe and one that is still growing. We cycled a 20+km round trip to go to the dune and got such a shock when we got there. Thousands of people! There was a 198-step staircase for those who didn’t want to struggle up the dune, which is more than 110m high and over 2.7km long. The view from the top was spectacular in all directions, not just the coastline but also looking down on the forest. The people-watching was entertaining as well, with older ladies wearing shoes and stockings (to climb a dune!) and the obligatory Asian princesses with truckloads of makeup taking selfies.

The Arcachon town has lots of cycle paths and we took full advantage, riding through an equestrian park to eventually end at the marina. On another day we rode through the very wealthy Plya sur Mer with its gorgeous mansions and to the village of Le Moulleau, which Michael called ‘Le Millionaires’. Everything is beautifully maintained, very scenic and also very expensive. No trashy tacky tourism here!

Next we’re off to a little town not far from Royan for a few days of doing not very much. We’re practicing for our ‘summer holiday’ in the Algarve.