While The Summer Girls sadly had to part ways in Milan , my sister Sandy and I managed to squeeze out another couple of days together by flying to Bordeaux to meet our men folk. Whilst we were on our Italian sojourn the boys had planned to discover Bordeaux but sadly my brother-in-law lost his Mum just as they were due to go and at a time he could rightly justify just wanting to stay at home he continued on like a trooper despite his sadness to show my hubby the sights and delights of Bordeaux, which must have been hard at times for him. Wayne loved the markets where a dozen oysters and a glass of chilled white wine was a typical breakfast at 9am, where a generous slab of pâté and a wedge of squishy cheese and a baguette was as cheap as chips and entrecôte frites enjoyed at one of Bordeaux’s most popular restaurants L’Entrecote was a highlight not to be missed. (www.entrecote.fr)
After a bit of a tussle with the car hire company we ended up taking a cab all the way from the airport to our little guesthouse in the countryside overlooking the vines. Run by a lovely Australian couple Justin and Vanessa, we had booked a few days here to relax together at the end of our trip.
L’Autre Vie was a gorgeous calm and relaxed guesthouse situated in the middle of the vines with an azure pool that went down a treat on the unseasonably hot September days we experienced. Generous breakfasts (including Justin’s home made fig jam) an honour system for drinks that involved noting your drinks on a mirror on the wall and a long community table under the trees in the evening with beautiful local produce cooked deliciously and simply and eaten by candlelight under the stars. We enjoyed confit of duck with risotto, a generous cheese plate and a darkly indulgent chocolate cake with sweet local strawberries and mascarpone – yum! The other guests were an interesting mix of people and we chatted long into the night exchanging tales of life in London and of our travels.
It was a chance for us to draw breath and relax after a hectic few weeks and the 35 degree temperatures lent itself to days around the pool with a good book. A cheese and charcuterie board with salad and cold wine went down a treat for lunch before a little exploring of the local village. Once Sandy and John arrived with the car we were able to broaden our horizons and ventured into a local town for its weekly market.
Everything about these little towns is so quaint. The shuttered windows in bleached colours, the oleander trees with their bright pink flowers, the local busker playing his accordion in such an evocatively french way!!The central squares are the gathering place for everyone and even in this small untouristy town the market was a treasure trove of loads of cheeses, cooked mussels, sausages of every shape and flavour and freshly picked vegetables sitting in straw baskets waiting for the local ladies to examine them at great length before either discarding them or agreeing to buy them. So different from us in Australia chucking a whole lot of produce into our supermarket trolleys without even being able to touch or smell anything and 9 times out of 10 finding we have bought yet another batch of tasteless peaches or tomatoes. I hope I will be able to remember for a VERY long time the total deliciousness of a peach eaten in Varenna with its honeyed sweetness and warm downy skin. Absolute perfection.
We had heard about St Emilion- a Unesco listed town about 40 minutes drive from our guesthouse. It is equally famous for its simple hermit monk Emilion and for it’s rather expensive wines. It is an extremely pretty and characterful town perched on a hill with faded terracotta houses and shops clinging to its slopes above the green vines that spread out below in every direction. They are dotted with fairy tale chateaux with turrets and towers, mostly used now as the cellar doors for the various wineries and occasionally still as a family home. The wines from this region are very highly regarded with some bottles fetching as much as $2000 each. We enjoyed a day exploring it’s gorgeous underground wine caves and discovering it’s equally amazing underground church – all carved out of one enormous piece of limestone. If you love wine this town should be on your bucket list. We enjoyed a lunch of foie gras and goats cheese salads all washed down with icy cold wine in a pretty cobbled square alongside the ancient church built in the 8th century. Just fantastic!
We were like kids in a candy shop when we discovered this gorgeous wine store. It was beautifully designed with a massive chandelier as it’s crowning glory. The equally gorgeous French boys that ran it knew their stuff and with their Gallic charm combined with their astute salesmanship we were nearly ordering crates of the stuff to be shipped to Australia!!! Sense prevailed and we left with a poster of the Bordeaux wine houses and a few wine trinkets as souvenirs instead. I swear that boy could have sold ice to eskimos…..
In what had become typical of our holiday, our last night in Bordeaux was almost a disaster! Everyone had been watching the weather as they had started harvesting the local fields and there were grim warnings of the storm that was to pass over the area potentially ruining a whole seasons worth of grapes. We had booked our last dinner in a restaurant called La Poudette, about 30 minutes drive from L’Autre Vie and it was highly recommended both for the food and for the slightly eccentric french lady that ran it who was apparently quite entertaining. It was most famous for it’s gardens and usually guests ate outside appreciating it’s beauty. Tonight however the predicted storm arrived just as we were leaving and we could barely see as we drove there, lightening bolts splitting open the black sky and large trees uprooted and lying across the road. When we finally arrived the proprietors son ran out to greet us with umbrellas dressed only in his pyjamas and a most distressed Madame informed us she had phoned to cancel our reservation to find that we had already set out! The dire warning sent out from the local police and firemen was to stay home and as the electricity was also wavering she was concerned that if we did make it there at all we would end up with bread and cheese as the kitchen would be shut!
Luckily the wobbly French electricity system held on and we were invited to sit down and hope for the best. We were the ONLY table there and once we ordered some wine and dried off we had a wonderful 3 course meal with lots of laughs, indeed a dinner to remember. Their cats wandered in and out and the chef and the son were singing loudly together in the kitchen making us feel as if we had gate crashed their home instead of being in a restaurant! Madame herself took this photo, whipping her shoes off to stand on a chair for the perfect angle!!
All good things come to an end and the next day I had to wave a fond farewell to my sister and we hopped on the fast train to Paris. They are a wonderful way of getting around Europe with none of the faff of the airports with their queues, security and endless waiting around. Our last night in Paris was fab with a walk along the Seine at dusk followed by a great meal at a local bistro with a tad too much wine and aperol as we contemplated our 2 day journey to get home. Nothing can make that any better except we were on a brand new A380 plane and on the inaugural flight for Qatar air on this type of plane to Sydney. The plane was great but the journey was not. Bumpy for many, many hours and once falling a few hundred feet in a second prompting much screaming and wailing in Arabic from our fellow travellers. Needless to say I didn’t get much sleep one way and another. On landing we had to wait while the media took photos of the lovely new plane and during this a passenger had a heart attack and the paramedics had to be called. What on earth could happen next?
Once we finally got inside the terminal the luggage carousel broke down for at least 15 minutes and we ended up finally boarding the train to The Meadow a few hours later than originally anticipated. We were starving and managed to rake together a few coins having spied a vending machine on the platform. Our packet of crisps was duly launched but came to a shuddering halt, swinging tantalisingly at the end of its rail flatly refusing to drop and fated not to enter our mouths. We should have known…..
I cannot tell you how wonderful it was to get home. I have absolutely LOVED seeing everyone and enjoyed some gorgeous scenery and food around Europe but after all our little “hiccups” it was wonderful to wake up to a gorgeous Spring day with the sun shining on my garden which had burst into flower in our absence. The wisteria was in full bloom, the bees were buzzing in the lavender and the sun was shining on our freshly painted house. Our friend Smutzer who had been house sitting for us had done a sterling job, just about anything that could have been tidied, cleaned or rearranged had been. What a legend he is!! We look forward to having him back to stay soon so we can thank him properly. Now I can get stuck into decorating the new part of the house and making things comfy and homely – may the fun begin!!!