The beds on the boat were really quite comfortable, but neither of us slept very well and at 5.45 (UK time) they played a tune on the tannoy to wake us up. By the time we were up and ready they were already asking us to go to the car deck, so no breakfast on board. But going through passport control in France was easy and quick and we were soon on the road, stopping in about 20 minutes in the little town of Saint Domineuc for breakfast in the rather unimaginatively-named N137 bar. (Can you imagine an “M25 Bistro”, or “Chez A371”? Although there is a “Route 303 Diner” on the A303 on the way to Exeter….)
Our little motorway box on the windscreen does its thing and lets us through various peages with a beep while we snootily ignore the queues of French motorists sneering at the stupid English not realising that the Telepeage queue is only for people with a special box…….then we smile as we sail through onto the next part of motorway ahead of them.
We stopped at Niort to buy picnic supplies and realised were very close to the lovely Venise Verte, several hectares of canals and greenery also known as the Marais Poitevin where we went a few years ago to stay but it rained every day (duh, that’s why it’s green….), so we headed for Coulon on one of the canals, and just a short distance from the centre we found a beautiful SUNNY picnic spot.
What a very pretty place this area is – I could take pictures of all those shades of green forever. Just as well we had to move on after lunch, I might have lost myself in all those green dreams.
We set off for Les Billaux, our destination for the night, and arrived just before 5pm, despite the best efforts of French holidaymakers trying to confound our purpose by leaving work early to head south for the holiday weekend – it’s 14 juillet on Tuesday so tout le monde will be taking a 4 day holiday.
We had to stop at one point to take photos of the omnipresent sunflower fields – they are everywhere in France at this time of year, but I always think of them as belonging to the area around Poitiers. Who couldn’t feel refreshed and move on with a spring in their step having seen a huge field of yellow smiles?
Les Billaux, tonight’s destination, is a small town slightly to the north east of Bordeaux, almost a satellite of Libourne, and our hotel is Le Bon Duc which is a slightly unpromising-looking modern building on what looks worryingly like a main road. We deposit our bags and ask Madame if she knows of any wine producers locally; before we have a chance to say anything she is ringing someone at Chateau Roquebrune which she says is nearby and we will absolutely love their wine…… alarm bells ring and we backtrack saying we aren’t ready to make any appointments yet, and she looks disappointed and hangs up. Phew, we weren’t bulldozed into buying something we didn’t really want. She vaguely says there is a Cave in Les Billaux “opposite the Mairie”, and we should go up to the roundabout and turn right. Once in the car I do exactly that and am ridiculed for not noticing that first right at the first roundabout takes us into the car park of an insalubrious looking furniture warehouse. Well it’s not my fault if other people misuse words.
We realise that we are in the Lalande Pomerol area – Julia explains that Pomerol is expensive but Lalande Pomerol is less so. However as we drive through les Billaux seeking the non-existent Cave all the Domaines look very flash and way out of our league. Disappointed, we set off back to the hotel then notice a sign to Domaine Roquebrune and since it’s on our way anyway, we follow it and end up meeting the most delightful man, M. Florent Guinjard, who insisted on showing us the vines opposite the chais before he took us inside and enthusiastically told us the story of his domaine.
He has a passion for his profession – he seems to view it as more of a calling really – and one of the stories he told us with excitement was of how he had discovered some Merlot vines on a tiny part of his land that were resistant to Phylloxera and how he and his oenological advisor have propagated them. Eventually he gave us 2011, 2012 and finally 2010 Lalande Pomerol to taste; it was all excellent, but the 2012 and 2010 are particularly good. Bingo – first wine of the holiday! We squeeze the boxes (yes, plural) into the car between the mattress topper that’s heading for the house in Spain and the bag of essential goodies that I had acquired earlier today (salted caramel spread from Niort, a salad spinner because of course the ones that you get in Spain and the UK are no good, etc….).
Supper at le Bon Duc was more interesting than we had thought it would be – a delicious
Salade Fermière then moules frites but with homemade frites that still had the skin on, and then moelleux au chocolat cooked in a teacup. It was a good meal, well worth travelling for.
The temperature remained high, over 30 degrees – we were the only crazy people who chose to eat outside tonight, all the locals (and there were many) had tucked themselves into the air conditioned restaurant! However it was good to have the air conditioning overnight.