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We have long been lovers of France, having spent many holidays staying in gites (cottages) when the children were young. Since we hadn't been there for a long time, we decided we'd spend a couple of weeks touring part of the country, this time leaving the girls to fend for themselves at home while we were away. We had four specific 'wants' to incorporate into the trip - visits to Giverny and Versailles, a lunch stop to see our old French friend Raymond, whose gite was the first one in which we stayed, and a few nights staying with our English friends who are now living in France. Our holiday was booked through VFB, with whom we had had some of our gite holidays and incorporated stays of either 1 or 2 days in hotels, along with 3 stays staying with our friends, Jane & Tom.

8th July 2001

We left home on a very quiet Sunday with little traffic, arriving early at the Channel Tunnel where we found the absence of queues rather strange. It meant we were able to catch an earlier crossing and were in France before the time we had expected to leave England. landel.jpg (25172 bytes)Unfortunately the weather in France was diabolical and we drove though torrential rain for some time before it cleared and it looked something more like holiday weather. We arrived at our destination, the Chateau du Landel, about 40 km east of Rouen just before 4pm. What a lovely place, it's a member of the Relais du Silence group and is in a very peaceful location right out in the countryside. Our room was unusual - unfortunately a typical French bed with a footboard - always a bit short for Martyn but I guess it's all part of the charm. It was a large room with lots of old furniture and a polished floor, a lethal combination whenlandel2.jpg (23196 bytes) combined with the scatter rugs. The bathroom was very modern, however, although we were to discover that there is no such thing as a shower curtain or door in a quality French hotel. We explored the chateau and grounds and were most impressed with everything. The public rooms were lovely and it seemed strange to be able to use them as we are more used to seeing them roped off from the public. The gardens were very pretty and there is also a tennis court and open-air swimming pool but it was a bit too cold. Our package included half board and we were delighted with the food on both evenings.

9th July

field.jpg (29179 bytes)The weather was reasonable but not hot so we decided to go for a walk and were given some info by the proprietor. we drove to Bézancourt, the nearest village, and then set off  on a 9km walk, hoping the limited information on the leaflet would be sufficient. None of the footpaths were marked but we managed, due to Martyn's excellent sense of direction. It was a lovely walk and took about 2½ hours, after which time we were desperate for a drink, having been totally ill-prepared. It was with great delight that we found the bar open on our return to the village. That was probably the best beer of the holiday! After quenching our thirst we went off to the nearest town, Gournay en Braye and walked around there. Being Monday, most of the shops were shut but we were drawn to the church by some beautiful singing. Unwittingly, we had gatecrashed someone's funeral! 

10th Julygiv3.jpg (36529 bytes)

giv1.jpg (34795 bytes)We left the hotel and headed towards Giverny, the home of impressionist artist Claude Monet. We were fortunate that the rain held off until after our visit. What a beautiful place, although full of tourists. First we visited his house, which houses a large number of Japanese paintings that had belonged to Monet. Not surprisingly, the Monet paintings in his studio were copies and not the originals! The gardens are lovely, very cottagey in style and informal although well organised. But the real highlight was the giv2.jpg (30299 bytes)lily pond, inspiration for many of his paintings. It was much bigger than I had expected and incredibly beautiful. We really didn't want to leave but finally tore ourselves away to visit an art museum just up the road. It's dedicated to American artists living in France between 1865 and 1915 and is housed in a spacious, modern building. Interesting, but it wasn't Monet! After that we drove to our next destination, a Campanile hotel just west of Paris, chosen so that we could visit Versailles the following day. It rained heavily so we didn't linger en route.

Campanile hotels are OK in terms of comfort (and you get a shower curtain!) and convenience but are cramped and in pretty lousy locations. This one was on an industrial estate comprising mainly of car sales garages so not very inspiring. As it was quite early, we decided to walk into the town, not realising how far it would be. After passing a garage for just about every make of car you could think of, we found a road to the town centre of Chambourcy but it was ages before we found the town. I'd heard of it so thought there might be something there - afterwards I realised it was the yoghurt that I had recognised, not the town! But we did find a pretty square and a bar so it was worthwhile. There didn't seem to be any interesting restaurants so we ate at the Campanile Grill that evening - it was rather better than I'd expected.

11th Julyvers2.jpg (29484 bytes)

vers1.jpg (22470 bytes)Awoke to sunshine and were on our way before 9am, soon arriving at the Palace of Versailles. We found an entrance without a queue (guidebooks can be very useful!) and visited the King's, Queen's and Dauphin's apartments, helped along by very interesting audio guides. Most memorable were the King's bedchamber and the Hall of Mirrors, in which the Treaty of Versailles was signed. After that tour we visited the State apartments but much of it was horrendously crowded and all we could do was shuffle long from room to room. We hated it but you can't get out once in! It was a great relief to escape and we enjoyed walking round the spectacular gardens. There are so many different parts and it was a relief not to be surrounded by hordes of vers3.jpg (13498 bytes)overs4.jpg (25483 bytes)ther people. We walked down to the end of the park and visited both the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon, worth the visit, although we were flagging after 4½ hours on our feet! We decided to cheat and take the little 'train' back to the palace, which was an excellent decision as it's all uphill going back! There was a commentary so it was also interesting. We hadn't managed to see everything, so may well return one day.

landes.jpg (19768 bytes)Our next hotel was the Relais des Landes, another Relais du Silence, at Ouchamps, several miles south of Blois. This was probably our favourite hotel although we didn't stay long enough to get the full benefit of the facilities. The room was very spacious and comfortable and there was a large bathroom. Outside was a pool  and loungers. It was a warm afternoon but we arrived rather late so decided to wait until the next day - but it rained all day :-( The food was wonderful, the best of the holiday. Admittedly it was the most expensive at 235FF for our menu but excellent value when compared to similar restaurants at home.

12th July

raymond.jpg (13778 bytes)Today we were visiting Raymond, our 80 year old French friend who lives in a hamlet off the main Poitiers-Loudun road. We first met him 17 years ago when we took our first gite holiday with 8 mth old Joanna and have kept in touch ever since, visiting a couple of times. We were Raymond's first gite visitors so I guess it was a special relationship. The journey was 90 miles from Ouchamps but we had thought the drive would be pleasant, through some familiar territory. Unfortunately the weather was dreadful and we couldn't see, let alone appreciate, the scenery for most of the time! The temperature hovered around 12°C but did reach the heady heights of 18° by the end of the day. It was lovely to see him, looking much the same and just as small! His English is non-existent and Martyn's French in minimal so it's always quite difficult and this time even more so because after finding he had sold the gite 3 years earlier, we weren't quite sure what to talk about!clos.jpg (20031 bytes) However, we managed and spent an enjoyable lunch hour at a nearby restaurant. I was amazed at the amount of food such a small person managed to tuck away! After leaving Raymond, we had time to visit the Chateau du Clos Lucé, the home of Leonardo da Vinci during the last four years of his life. It's a fascinating place and after touring his rooms we visited the exhibition of his inventions. Models have been made from his drawings and made it very easy to see just how advanced was his thinking. 

13th July

bourges.jpg (18932 bytes)We reluctantly left the Relais de Landes, moving into unfamiliar territory for us en route to the Auvergne. Our journey was about 120 miles so we broke it in Bourges at midday, visiting a 13th century church and the imposing cathedral which sported the most beautiful stained glass windows I have ever seen, the colours stunning. To escape the rain we went shopping, although as it was lunchtime there was little open. Then we continued on to the Chateau d'Ygrande at Y'grande, not far from Moulins. This is another lovely hotel in an isolated area, with lovely views across the hills. We found we were up on the top floor - reached by 50 stairs! There was a new outdoor pool, a gym and aygrande.jpg (25063 bytes) sauna. Unfortunately, we didn't get to use any of them. Dinner was good was there was something lacking that had been present in the other restaurants but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. We slept badly that night, despite the wonderful cotton sheets. The wind was horrendous, the rain was beating down on the velux window and the shutters kept banging so that in the end, Martyn had to hang out of the window and jam them open with a hotel directory! 

14th July

bla2.jpg (29178 bytes)bla1.jpg (5815 bytes)Today was Bastille Day so many places were closed. We visited the nearest town of Bourbon l'Archambould to look at the old fortress and were fortunate to have it opened especially for us to visit. Usually there are guides dressed in period costume showing tourists around but it was far nicer to have the place to ourselves. There used to be 15 towers but only 3 now remain, and all have been put to good use. Each room has been decorated to shobla4.jpg (21822 bytes)w what life was like in bla3.jpg (18603 bytes)those days, so there was a guardroom, bedroom, weapons room, alchemist den, scribes room and so on. We were given a guide book explaining everything and had great fun exploring. the views across the town were quite spectacular - it's a very old place. We spent about 90 minutes there, and then left, after watching a group of men preparing the firework display for the evening's celebrations. Our next stop was the Tronçais Forest, where we hoped to take a walk. The hotel's proprietors were extremely friendly and helpful and had lent us a map for the day. We decided to walk around the lake so parked up and set off. I decided not to take my video camera as it looked like rain, so put it in my bag which I left in the boot. Our walk was nice - even when it poured with rain, as we had quite a bit of shelter as it was very wooded, but we got soaked when we came back out of the woods. We had some hot chocolate at the café and then went back to the hotel where they took pity on our bedraggled state and gave us pots of tea. On collecting my bag from the car, I realised that my video camera was not there. We searched high and low but couldn't find it so had to go back to the car park in the hope it had fallen from my bag when I left the car and put it in the boot. But it was nowhere to be seen. We asked at the café and restaurant but no luck. There had been so few people around but it seems that someone must have seen it and taken it. We went to the nearest gendarmerie, not expecting anyone to be there on Bastille Day, but a gendarme opened up for us. I explained what had happened but he didn't want to do anything unless I said it was stolen, which I wasn't sure about. However, eventually I persuaded him to take some details in case someone did find it. The worst thing was knowing that my film of Giverny & Versailles was in the camera, along with film of our last couple of days out in England before the holiday. We didn't go out to the fireworks in the evening as it was still raining and in any case, I felt rather depressed. 

15th July

We had a long journey ahead down to Jane & Tom in the Dordogne. We'd hoped to see more of the Auvergne but it wasn't worth the detour due to worries about the weather. In the event, we had one of our best days for sunshine. This time we had a break in Périgeux where we found a bar showing the British Grand Prix so that was a bonus whilst drinking a cold beer. The town was full of floral banners - some sort of festival apparently. We arrived chez Jane & Tom at around 4pm. It was great to see them again - I'd seen Jane for a few days 3 years ago but otherwise we hadn't all been together since they left England 4 or 5 years earlier. There were lots of dogs to meet too - Jane  breeds Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and had 2 large puppies and 4 tiny ones as well as the 5 adult dogs. Not to be outdone, Tom has geese and chickens! After some hours spent eating, drinking and generally 'catching up', we went to bed at 1.30pm, rather later than our usual 9 or 10 earlier on during the trip.

16th July

stem.jpg (21160 bytes)At last, the sun we'd been missing! It was a beautiful day so we decided to go to St Emilion which wasn't far away. Before leaving we checked out the improvements Jane & Tom had made on their home. When they bought it there were no mod cons at all so it's been quite an achievement to make it habitable. The latest addition has been the kitchen, created in an old wine vat! Not my idea of fun but I guess it's OK when you have retired and have plenty of time to do these things. St Emilion was pretty as ever, and even the crowds of visitors couldn't detract from its charm. We had a look in the Maison du Vin before taking the 'train' around the vineyards, which was an unusual way of seeing things. After, we had drinks and explored a few of the shops before going back home. That evening we went to a wonderful restaurant in Montpon and had a fantastic meal.

17th July

The sunshine was a fluke and it rained virtually all day. We shopped at the local winery and the baker's and in the afternoon braved the rain to go for a walk. However, it was too heavy and we had to seek shelter in a leisure complex where we played table games. We cake.jpg (20904 bytes) managed a brief walk and then stopped at a pottery where we bought a few dishes - and got wet again! Jane had entered the garden into a competition and the judges were due soon so we went back home. they duly arrived - all 7 of them, each requiring the ritual hand-shaking before starting! We played Scrabble with a few glasses of Crémant de Bordeaux to oil our brains and then had dinner. The highlight was the gorgeous gateaux that the baker had made especially for us. Delicious :-) 

18th July

After breakfasting on new-laid eggs from Tom's hens, we said our goodbyescsb.jpg (18562 bytes) and left, this time bound northwards, stopping in Angoulême on the way. Unusually, despite arriving at lunchtime, most shops were open so we spent some time doing a bit of shopping before continuing on to Celles-sur-Belles, where we were spending one night. Our hotel this time was a Logis - the Hostellerie de l'Abbaye - the Abbey in question being right next to the hotel. We had time to visit the Abbey before dinner and were very impressed by it. It's a very simple building but I like that. We dodged the showers and walked around the town but there was little else to see. The dinner was very nice although there was a mix-up about the menu which delayed things a while. There weren't enough small tables so we shared ours with another family - it was good to swap notes. Didn't sleep too well - as I feared, the Abbey bells were a bit of a distraction and I certainly heard them every hour from 2am. 

19th July 

Our next destination was to be Alençon, with a stop in Saumur on the way. On our visit 17 years earlier, we had taken a tour of the Gratien & Meyer caves and had been impressed by their wines, so had vowed to return one day when we could buy a bit more wine! We found the place and asked about a tour. We had quite a wait so did some wine tasting and managed to buy some of all the wines we tried. We bought Crémant de Loire, some sparkling Rosé, and some of the excellent sparkling red which is called Cardinale, along with some Saumur & Saumur Champigny. This called for some reorganisation of the luggage in the boot! The timing was perfect for us to then go on the tour, which had changed since our previous visit and now incorporates a museum showing how the wine was made in the 19th century. It was excellent.

We continued our drive on to Alençon where we were staying at another Campanile and after checking in drove the short distance into town for a bit more shopping. We also wanted to check out a restaurant that we had visited 17 years earlier - we had one of our best ever meals there. We found it but it looked so much bigger than we had remembered, which was strange. But we were too early for dinner so had that back at the hotel - it was OK but not up to the standard of the last one.

20th July

mon.jpg (25936 bytes)The holiday nearly over, we drove to our last hotel, in Montreuil, not far from the Tunnel, another place we had visited some years earlier. We stayed at Les Hauts de Montreuil, which had rooms across a courtyard from the restaurant. The rooms were a bit cramped though but we did have a real shower in a cubicle this time! We went for a walk but there wasn't that much to do so we returned to the hotel for a drink but they said the bar was closed. the mini-bar prices were silly so we took our books and settled down in a bar along the road for a few beers and a read. It was the best weather since St Emilion so very pleasant. We had an excellent meal that evening - we were almost glad the holiday had come to an end - there's a limit to how much great eating and drinking you can manage!

21st July

This hotel had the best breakfast - a huge array, but the breakfast room was packed which wasn't very nice. We were still full form the previous night, in any case! We set off after our final packing of the car, planning a brief visit to the Cité de l'Europe shopping centre just a mile or two from the tunnel. Due to time limitations, we restricted ourselves to buying wine in Tesco, a store in which you can buy wine from other countries as well as French. I was delighted to find some of our favourite Australian wines from an Australian vineyard that we had visited, and also some from a smaller one just up the road from where my sister was living when we'd visited her. That left little time for shopping in Carrefour so we just whizzed round and bought a few bits of food. We caught an earlier crossing and left behind the French rain to be greeted by sunshine in England.

It had been a lovely holiday, marred slightly by the rain as we'd hoped to do a lot more walking to counteract those delicious dinners! Our daughters had enjoyed their stint at looking after themselves and there had been no wild parties! It was good to see France again and no doubt we'll return again soon. It's a much easier country to tour than England, with so little traffic and good roads. The villages and towns are almost always very picturesque and I was struck by how much medieval architecture remains.


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