Bonjour mon amis! The overland adventure begins! (8th June 2010) We cross the channel, from Poole, England to Normandy, France. Two hours later, we are in Cherbourg and our first stop is the D-day beaches at Omaha and Utah for a dose of history. Standing on the hill overlooking the beaches, we can almost picture the assault by the US & UK infantry divisions 70 odd years ago, along the huge expanse of exposed coastline. Today, it is a peaceful, long stretch of golden sands, filled with kite-surfers.
We stumble across our first crêperie van, and not knowing much French, pick wildly from the menu, a delicious coconut filled crepe. From now on, we or should I say I am hooked!
St Michaels Mont
The spectacular abbey of Mont St Michael appears into view, sitting acrest of an outcropped island, its only connection to the mainland is via a narrow causeway. The long history of St Michael is thought to have dated back to 708 when the sanctuary was built following a vision of the Archangel Michael. Once inside the abbey, the true size becomes apparent; at the top a huge church leading onto a beautiful garden over-looking the sea. Following this, we enter hall after hall, and start moving downwards where we enter a large crypt with huge pillars. The abbey is truly inspiring.
Le Petit Bois (near St Malo) – Our first camp site, 30 mins later the tent is up, we are hoping this gets quicker as we become more accustomed!
Wind, rain, then more gale force wind and rain! St Malo is a wash-out, however we did find a nice crepérie. On the way to Chambord we stumble across a beautiful walled town and castle, where we decide to splash out on a meal.
We decided to visit this particular chateaux, as it is the largest enclosed park throughout the world, its size equivalent to central Paris. The location was chosen by Francois 1st to satisfy his passion for hunting. Started in 1519, it gave us an insight into French renaissance architecture.
Although for such a grand structure, not many people actually lived in or used the châteaux for 90% of its existence. For some periods it actually lay derelict; one could say this is a fine example of a grand French white elephant.
Leonardo da vinci-Cloce de Luce-Amboise
We wander around the grand manor house, hoping for some inspiration from the great painter, inventor and scientist. It seems a lot of his time spent here was used sketching and dreaming up new inventions. This was before civilisation had the technical and scientific means to put his ideas into practice. Although very interesting, could he really have dreamt up all these ideas?
Boise – on visiting a few restaurants and cafes, we realise the French like their meat fairly uncooked, an acquired taste for some! However Martin did not complain finishing off my food !
L’ile de Re
We spend a couple of nights on the small island of L’ ile de re, near La Rochelle. We stay at Airotel La Plage, in a self-catering bungalow near the beach, for some rest and relaxation. Martin has a go at fishing, but alas, the fish are staying away today!
Pretty Bordeaux with its wine tasting and neoclassical architecture is one of the highlights of France for us. Half of the city is actually UNESCO listed, making it the largest urban World Heritage site. The city is very peaceful, its pedestrianized boulevards ideal for taking in the sights and architecture.
After visiting Bordeaux city we headed east for St Emilion, noted for being the best wine region within Bordeaux. Walking through the cobbled medieval village, now filled with wine shops and other tourists, we stop at a restaurant in the square and try the French speciality of Foie gras, in the spirit of being in France!
St Emilion wine is classified into 4 classes:
Premiers grands crus classés A, only one or two chateaus may be lucky enough to obtain this classification each year (if any);
Premiers grands crus classés B, which is more common but regarded very highly and not too different from Class A;
Grands crus classes, which the majority of other classified chateaus fall into to; there is also Grands crus, which have not been classified.
We tasted wine at three chateaus:
Chateaux Magdelaine – premier grands crus classes
Beau-Sejour Becot – premier grands crus classes. This chateau had a vast underground complex of tunnels, which before the war, stretched as far as St Emilion town centre. Nowadays, the entrance has been blocked off to prevent people from stealing the extremely expensive wine.
Chateaux Laniote – a small family run chatueau. The eccentric owner explains to us how the banks and wealth funds have bought a large proportion of the chateaus in St Emilon to add to their vast portfolios, bringing in new machinery and professional wine makers. He also explains how a lot of his wine is sold on the futures market; with the world still on the brink of a double dip recession, short to medium term wine prices are not looking good for the wine producers.
With wind, rain and cloud covering France we decide to head south to northern Spain in the hope of catching some sunshine…….
Martin & Nicole