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Vins du Bordeaux and Les Pietons de Perigold (Bordeaux Reds and Walking the Perigold)

FRANCE | Monday, 1 June 2009 | Views [556]


From the middle of the Perigold Valley in the Dordogne we write to you. Believe you me, after the last week we do feel very much like the foie gras ducks and geese you can see in this area. Lucky that we spend every second day of the next week walking at least 15 km. Paul wants to know how the French maintain any sense of reality in terms of their diet.

We started to Bordeaux last Monday on another TGV where Paul wondered yet again at French technology. This was only to be encountered at the end of the trip in Bordeaux where we hired a car and attempted to get out of the city area in the pouring rain. Four people managed the road sign system and one motorway enroute to Paris where we found the exit to the small medieval town of Blaye (pronounced 'Bligh' as in Captain Bligh in French). Here we had booked four nights accommodation at Villa St Simon, which 3 of us envisioned would be a small chateau in the vineyards. It was actually in the port of Blaye and proved how deceptive website photographs can be. However, it was a pleasant surprise as the small villa of 7 rooms was run by an eccentric South African who had an obsession with Bordeaux wines. Our host Les, who discovered that he had overbooked us on our arrival, subsequently put Paul and me in the promised chateau in the vineyards (but only for one night). When we returned and requested that we were happy to spend the rest of our stay there he insisted that we return to his villa for the rest of the time. You can work out why he wanted us with him and not with the happy hosts of the chateau (it is a bit like a teacher, which Les formally was in South Africa, losing control of their class).

Les' accommodation came with its own wine cellar and 3 levels of rooms with various antiquities from the local area; including the other patrons of the villa. However, his knowledge and hospitality were superb and he took us to many small vineyards for tastings and taught at least 2 of us more about Bordeaux wines. Over the four days we visited a few other medieval villages surrounding Blaye including Bourg and St. Emillion. Bordeaux has approximately 80 wine regions and each can have up to10 chateaux represented. There are approximately 8000 wineries in the region. We learnt that each winery varies in soil, aspect, rainfall, vine height, picking period, how the grapes are picked, how they are crushed, how long they are fermented, what they are fermented in, what barrels they are produced in, for how long and THAT IN THE WHOLE PROCESS NO PRESERVATIVES, PESTICIDES OR IRRIGATION IS USED. Bordeaux wine producers are very insistent about this. We also caught a car ferry across from Blaye to the Medoc Peninsular to view some of the best producing wine producing Chateaux in the world. Paul was excited to visit the Port of Paulliac where not only is good wine produced but also the Airbus 380 parts are shipped in from around Europe into the port and then carried by road to Toulouse.

We also had a pleasant surprise on our visit to the Medoc. After travelling through vineyards that are often at least 7 km wide and 25 km long, one passes through wooded forests to reach the Atlantic ocean beaches at Carcan. (about an hour and a half north of Bordeaux). You would think that you were standing on the beach on the South East Coast of Australia. The water temperature is similar to a Melbourne summer and there were people surfing and swimming. It is before the peak summer season and the area was preparing for the summer tourists. The area was a cross between Rosebud (as we could see the camping crowds there in Summer) and Port Douglas (with the restaurants).

Before concluding my appraisal of Bordeaux I must thank my good friend Virginia, who spent 6 months living in Bordeaux for her advice on the city and its beautiful buildings. We were only there for a couple of hours and we did not give the city and her sights justice. However, Paul did enjoy catching the brand new tram system from the station into the centre of town.

Before catching a train from Bordeaux to Sarlat on yet another French holiday weekend; there are approximately 5 in May, we took a tour of Bordeaux after successfully farewelling Les and a tribe of Canadians that were staying in our rather cramped accommodation in Blaye. If my father is reading this he would understand that driving over 160 km on autobahns in 2 days from Frankfurt to France must be in the psyche of any Australian male over 55. The Australian Canadian we met had just done that and brought his two teenage children and wife in tow. So no matter where you live in the world there is still that enjoyment of driving fast on European roads that I remember from my childhood with my father.

My husband, however, enjoys train travel and we sat on a very crowded train for 3 hours travelling east from Bordeaux. It was interesting to watch the variety of people obviously travelling home for the long weekend from little old ladies in their Sunday best, to national service men with their backpacks, business men with briefcases and even people travelling with 2 children and those with their dogs. Nowhere but France are dogs of all shapes and sizes accepted into the best restaurants, on trains, buses, trams and even Galleries Layfette restaurant. Dogs are revered by their owners and looked after like they are their own children. Dogs travel on their own seat in 1st class cars on trains, may have their own bed transported with them and even are petted, fed and given water by everyone travelling in the same train carriage. I think if I came back to the world again, I would come back as a French dog.

We arrived in Sarlat to commence our walking tour on Friday. Our accommodation has been 4 star with wonderful 3 – 5 course meals. Which is very appropriate to walk off the next day. Our first hotel, above the medieval town of Sarlat was like staying in a pension in Switzerland; another memory I have from travelling with my parents. The staff were accommodating, views fantastic and meals generous. Now the weather has warmed up we have started swimming in the hotel pools each day. Our first day of walking was a bit of a shock as it was not the 'stroll' we were anticipating. However, the countryside is beautiful and it looks like some of those fairy-tale castles you get in Austria and Germany. We have learnt that the French do tend to stretch the estimated distances between towns and sometimes their cartography skills need a lot to be desired.

Sarlat, like many of the towns on our walk, is a medieval town, with narrow lane ways between tall houses with slate roofs. Now we are in another medieval town, there are quite a few in a 20 km radius, even though it appears they are kilometres away when you are walking, called Beynac, It also has a medieval castle on the cliff above it. Today, on our rest day, we decided to visit the gardens of Marqueyssac which we thought were 500m down the road from our accommodation. We discovered 4 km later that the gardens were infact on a hillside opposite where we were staying. They were well worth the walk and were beautifully sculptured with a chateau that was built in the 17th century. We will see many of these along our walk over the next 4 days.

So until next time when we will be a little more footsore but satisfied and full of foie gras, steak, duck, cheese, crème brulee, ile flotant (ice cream floaters, with lots of chatilly cream), crème caramel and we will be more of the wine connoisseurs that most French seem to be, yet we may have drunk a little more at dinner. I will finish with stating that my French has improved, after four years of study, and 2 weeks in France to the point where I can have a conversation in a local bar and enquire which beer is the best for 'mon marie (my husband) and son amie (his friend) and organise to have it served to them as they lie under an umbrella by the hotel pool. I must away to bed to prepare for my 22 km walk tomorrow.

Kathryn & Paul

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