Is there anything nicer than going away with friends? The people that you love to spend your free time with in a sun-drenched location with lots of wine and food, what could be better? So when my best friend suggested that a group of us head out to France for some birthday celebrations we jumped at the chance to take a break from London.
We booked our flights with Ryanair from Stanstead to Bordeaux, which were reasonably priced. We bought group train tickets from Tottenham Hale to Stanstead, something worth doing to save a few pounds. We used a favourite car hire company of ours to book a car, Economy Car Rentals. We use them every time we need a car abroad and they are much cheaper than some alternatives.
So the day arrived, five of us gathered at the station and hopped on the train to the airport. We swept through security, stopped for a swift drink and breakfast – is there any other time you can have Eggs Royale and a cider at 9am!? - before heading through to our gate. The flight was a very quick hour and 45 minutes, before we landed, picked up the car, set the satnav and headed on our way to our home for four days.
We searched extensively looking for somewhere to stay that was cheap, slept 5, had a pool and wasn’t miles from my best friend’s house for the party on Saturday. We kept coming up short, especially as we had left it quite late to book. In the end we abandoned the idea of a pool and stumbled across a rural home near Pellegrue, which we found on HomeAway. The property looked beautiful and just what we were after, it slept 8, looked clean and was only 12 minutes from the party house.
As we drove over the hill surrounded by vineyards on both sides and saw the stand alone home with no neighbours for miles, we knew that we had struck gold with our choice. We swept into the drive and tumbled out of the car in our eagerness to get inside and see the property in full. It was just perfect, with large bedrooms complete with walk in wardrobes and en-suites. Three living rooms to choose from and a large kitchen complete with aga and giant fireplace. Half of the veranda was covered with a terrace boasting grapes and beans, and looked out over fields as far as the eye could see. I’m going to say it now, if you are ever in the area you should definitely stay here. For the money we paid we couldn’t believe our luck at finding such a lovely place to stay.
At the recommendation of the owners we headed out in the evening to Duras to grab some street food and watch some music. We arrived and grabbed a spot on a big trestle table, taking shifts to go and find dinner and drink. The market was bustling and selling everything from Oysters to plates of Jambon and potatoes. You were also able to buy bottles of wine to take back to the table, all very reasonably priced. I found a women selling cider by the bottle so bought two and stopped off to get some Moules et Frites whilst everyone else opted for the Jambon plates and a vegetarian pizza. I ate my mussels with my fingers and drank in the atmosphere but it soon became apparent that about three quarters of the crowd were actually British and it took the magic out of it somewhat. The music still hadn’t started by 9pm so we decided to head back to the house, especially as the Designated Driver was getting a bit thirsty. I think if you are looking for some lovely street food this is well worth a visit but be prepared to hear limited French if you are going for a traditional French atmosphere.
We woke bright and earlier, driving out to pick up some croissants from the Intermarche in Pellegrue to set us up for the day ahead. Is there anything nicer than sitting on a terrace with the sun climbing in the sky whilst you drink orange juice and smother croissants in butter?
We had booked a day out on the canoes with Canoe et Kayaks. Perhaps with a little over ambition we had decided to attempt the longest route, even though half of us had never really canoed before. We drove the 15 minutes to the pick up point and once we were provided with buoyancy aides we clamboured aboard the minibus that would drop us at the Dordogne river, 15km from our car. We slathered on the suncream before climbing on-board our canoes and setting off. It took a little while to find our rhythm and to be honest I’m still not 100% sure we ever really managed to look graceful but we muddled through. We stopped every so often to rest and locked our canoes together with our oars, floating in the current. When we had completed 8km we pulled over on a river bank and sat in a field eating baguettes and cheese, all washed down with a beer. The company provided tubs to keep our things dry which strapped on to the canoes and were invaluable as there was a fair bit of splashing going on.
We slogged the last bit of the river, singing ‘Just around the Riverbend’ to keep spirits up, although by the time we had the final bridge in sight we could barely lift our arms. We crawled out of the boat all dignity lost, and celebrated our achievement. After spending nearly 3 hours on a massive stretch of water all we wanted to do was find somewhere to cool off and have a swim. We headed to Blasimon Lake (Domaine Départemental de Sports et de Loisirs, Blasimon, 33540, France) to have a dip. The lake wasn’t particularly large but was quite deep at one end and had a nice sandy beach to sit on. We stayed for a few hours before heading back to Maison Neuve to watch the sunset and have a BBQ.
In the morning we had a little lie-in before eating our croissants and heading out to Saint-Emilion, a historical town about 40 minutes from the house. It was pleasant drive through vineyards and sunflower fields with the sun shining overhead. We followed parking signs and found lots of space and no need to pay, bonus!
We headed up the hill to the tourist center to pick up a map and gazed out over the rooftops to get our bearings. It was quite a sight with the sun hitting the buildings and making them look warm and inviting. Spotting a square with lots of tables we headed back down to to grab a spot of lunch. We were a little bit embarrassed by our ordering, omelettes, galettes and the entire supply of the restaurant's chips but it was all very good and washed down with beer and wine whilst looking upon the Mololithic Church which was hewn into the rock and towered above us.
After we had eaten we walked round to the Kings Keep and paid €2 to climb to the top and see the view from the other side. We took some tourist snaps before descending again and rushing back to the car as we had realised the time and we had a party to get to!
We drove round and spent a lovely evening playing Boules and Beer Pong in teams. We had a tasty spread of gooey cheese, fresh bread, cold meats and quiche followed by fruit tarts and eclairs. There was one of the pinkest sunsets I have ever seen which we watched go down behind the vineyard and once full of food we finished the evening with a quiz and birthday cake to celebrate, I'm not sure there's a nicer way to spend an evening.
Our final day came round far too quickly and we packed our bags and bundled into the car with baguettes and Boursin to keep us going on our journey back to Bordeaux. We stopped at another sunflower field to eat our small picnic before continuing on our way.
Once in Bordeaux we found several car parks all reasonably priced and had a stroll through a food market, grabbing an ice cream on the way to follow a beer on the promenade. The sky was the most perfect shade of blue with not a cloud in the sky.
We splashed around in the Miroir d'eau, (Water Mirror) the world's largest reflecting pool and snapped some pictures of Place de la Bourse, which was an incredibly striking building, built from 1730 to 1775. Unfortunately we had no time to walk any of the streets as we needed to rush to the airport but I am planning on returning and having a good explore now I've seen how beautiful the city is.
Just a word of warning if you plan on flying Easyjet or Ryanair to Bordeaux- the bit of the airport dedicated to those flights is incredibly small with nothing more than duty free, a corner shop and a cafe. Not ideal for any delayed flights! Luckily our flight was on time and we boarded with no problems although it was a bit of a bumpy landing...
We had such a gorgeous mini break in France, it's not somewhere I have ever really stayed for any length of time but I think that may have too change in the future. What's not to love about a country that is known for cheese and wine!?