I am married to the world’s greatest map-reader (I freely admit this and am under no duress). After picking up our rental car from Gare du Nord, we quickly made our escape from Paris and headed 5 hours south to the countryside without incident or argument.
Our base for the next week was a small (adopt, very, very small) village called Allemans, which is in the Dordogne region of France. Many other similar villages surround it, notably Aubeterre-sur-Dronne, which has recently been voted one of France’s prettiest villages (although we did see many villages boasting a very similar award). We rented a gite (cottage) on a property owned by an English family who, along with their 2 young children, relocated here 5 years ago. We felt that a week away from sights and busy cities would do us all the world of good. It’s been busy, so some much needed “down time” was required. The break would also allow us time to reflect and regroup. It would also be great to enjoy some home cooked meals – it’s been a while and restaurant food is getting a tad tiresome.
We were there in shoulder season (really only missing high season by a few weeks) and so were surprised how cold it was for early September. Apparently the week previous had been a scorcher (of course!) and so the locals too were feeling the sudden change of temperature. Unfortunately this didn’t bode so well for spending time by the pool – we only swam twice (Trina not at all). Luckily we also had a massive yard to play in so the boys got in lots of football practice and enjoyed trying their hand at boules. We also had use of some bikes so we managed to get in a few rides through the countryside exploring as we went. It was also a good opportunity for Trina to pull out her running shoes that had been buried deep within her backpack.
We were surprised and somewhat disappointed by how “sleepy” the local villages were. In particular, Aubeterre, which always had visitors but there been not very much open for them to go for. One particular creperie (which we had tried to visit on several occasions before we realized it’s short opening times) was only open from 12pm to 3pm – who would have thought it would be that difficult trying to find a crepe in France! We can appreciate that siesta is an important part of any Europeans life but surely you need to be open more than 3 hours a day to make a living? We would have thought that a decent food option here would keep the visitors in town longer who in turn would spend their Euros at the art/gift shops (which were also mostly closed) and then everyone’s happy?
When we initially decided on a week in a French village we had visions of a daily trip to the local market, stopping for coffee and croissants before picking our supplies for the day. Unfortunately some plans don’t always pan out the way you want them to. We tried the markets for the first few days however once you have seen one market you have seen them all, and to be fair the fruit and veg that was on offer was expensive and no better quality than what we found at the supermarket. We found it was easier to just shop there (just not quite as romantic).
We did a couple of day trips to nearby(ish) towns. St. Emilion had been recommended and it certainly is stunning. Nestled amongst the vineyards, this world heritage listed site is a mecca for wine-lovers and foodies. We spent the day exploring the alleyways and enjoyed sampling some of the local product. It was a pretty enjoyable day although we did comment that if any town was existing on the tourist dollar then this is it – visitors were there by the busload and spending big.
Brantome was our second venture away from the cottage and it was a worthwhile trip. The drive along the Dronne river was great, highlighted by rock faces overhanging the road. The town itself was very pretty (and less touristy). The weather turned against us while we were exploring so our stay was cut short but we managed to get a feel for the place and liked it very much.
We didn’t achieve a great deal here in Allemans (which was the plan). As mentioned, it was really a chance to slow down and take stock of the journey so far and spend some time with Dominic and Callum on their schoolwork, which we have been a bit slack on. The short city breaks have been quite hard on the boys. With these we are trying to fit as much in as possible in a short timeframe and that makes for some busy days in the heat. We need to slow down and in hindsight perhaps we should have done less but stayed longer? The boys are also in need of some interaction with other kids. I’m not sure there is much we can do about this, is really just one of the factors of the trip that we probably didn’t consider or plan for that well.
Anyway, that’s enough soul-searching for one day. Barcelona is beckoning!