8 Days in South West France

EVERY HOLIDAY HAS ITS STORY 

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We had quite a challenge recently, when friends came to visit us for just over a week from Florida. It was the first time they had been away from the USA and so this was one of those ‘trips of a lifetime’. The big question was, what to do, and where to take them during their 8 days here? They knew they wanted to experience real French life, but they also wanted to make sense of its long history, and see as much as they could about the country.

Had we had a completely free schedule with nothing else to do, we might have crammed a vast amount more into our days, but of course normal life also continued in tandem – Roddy was away on business so I was holding the fort at home by myself; this meant we had to include school-runs, homework, tennis and general ferrying of children to and fro into the routine. Our sightseeing therefore had its boundaries set to coincide with the school timetable.

Of course our friends wanted to visit a château;  luckily the nearby Château de la Roche Courbon is a perfect destination for visitors, come rain or shine.

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The original château was built around 1475 by Jehan de Latour, on a site which has been inhabited since prehistoric times.

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In the 17th century, the Courbon family transformed the original building into a more comfortable residence. More alterations were made in the 18th century, but it was eventually sold in 1817 and then abandoned. The ruin was purchased in 1920 by Paul Chénereau, who restored the château and its gardens, and it is still owned and inhabited by his descendants; now of course it is open to the public but it still retains the feel of an enormous private home with stupendous gardens.

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The less than perfect weather when we visited did have its advantages; we were the only people there and we lost ourselves in its perfectly manicured grounds.

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We also had to consider differing ages when deciding what to do, for our group included Millie’s best friend from across the pond; thinking of things that would amuse 16 year-olds as well as adults led us along  a track that took us to a site inhabited by man 50,000 years ago, and it certainly fitted the bill as we giggled and slipped on the muddy path towards the caves.

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The Caves of  Bouil Bleu bear witness to human life from the Middle Palaeolithic period. It was Neanderthal Man who lived here in family groups, and they spent their time hunting, fishing and gathering food. The river that runs along the foot of the caves was a watering hole for mammoths, reindeer and cave-bears.

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Another huge consideration during the week was the weather. This is normally an everyday topic reserved for the English, for what do we talk about when there is a lull in the conversation, or during an awkward silence, or simply to break the ice? The weather of course. But it had been so out of kilter and abnormal for this time of year that that French had taken it to heart as their favourite subject too, and for a while it was all anyone could discuss, “the weather”! When we left home to visit the Roman Amphitheatre in Saintes it was fine, but as we drove inland towards the city heavy dark skies approached and when the rain started, it hardly ceased whilst we gazed at an arena occupied a thousand years ago by gladiators and wild animals.

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Actually, it wasn’t too bad. Certainly nowhere near as bad as most of the country to the north of us. Of course we had rain; we had some torrential downpours and more than our fair share of grey skies,and during the week we gazed upwards at the heavens so many times our necks became quite stiff. But finally we saw a chink in the heavy clouds; a crack started to appear on day four and as the time wore on it got bigger and bigger until eventually the sky became completely blue.

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Finally our friends believed us, that the sun does shine here, and we hadn’t just made it all up. They even accused me good-naturedly of photoshopping images onto the blog and adding blue skies in the place of grey! However the sun really does shine in the Charente Maritime and when we wandered the impossibly pretty streets of Mornac sur Seudre  on Wednesday afternoon when the children were off school, everything started to look like summer again.

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We took them down tiny narrow lanes

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and stopped for crêpes at our favourite Crêperie for afternoon goûter

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At home we ate outside teasing their tastebuds with a selection of local patisserie

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and we went to the beach so they could see the Atlantic from the other side! How many times have they sat on the beach in Florida gazing out to the east towards Europe and here they were staring in the other direction, across the same ocean and the same water but looking westwards instead, towards the USA; the same blue sky but they said the sand was much softer here and the water very much colder!

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Millie took over the reins for one day and became the tour guide and photographer in Rochefort as I spent some much needed time working at home. It was market-day, always a great experience for any foreigner.

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After lunch in the Place Colbert in the centre of town she took them to the Corderie Royal, built by Louis XIV during the 1600’s so that one continuous length of rope could be made for his ships – the building stands right on the Charente river, so the warships could come directly alongside the quay to load their kilometres of rope.

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and they spent ages strolling around the traditional French botanic gardens.

We had lunch in La Rochelle and then walked the ancient streets where we stopped and shopped in Zara; Millie was keen to show her best friend European fashion.

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On their last Sunday we took them to the races. Two euros a bet for a win adds to the excitement, and of course we backed “Sir Bentley”; how couldn’t we?  But alas the horse ran rather like his namesake, and perhaps not as fit as he could have been, he slowed rapidly after an initial burst that promised so much!

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We didn’t get to any of the Atlantic Islands, nor Royan, and neither did we go further south. We didn’t explore the vast marais or visit Marennes, there is so much more we have to do next time, for I am sure there will be a next time.

Endless sun would have been a bonus, the summer icing on a seasonal cake, but really it didn’t matter; quality time with great friends whom one has not seen for so long is fabulous,  no matter what the weather throws at you.

74 thoughts on “8 Days in South West France

    • Hi Anita, there are so many different places, we fall in love with one and then another, because they are all so unique and yet they all retain that certain Frenchness that we all love so much; Provence because what’s not to love about POrovence, The Dordogne for its beautiful green valleys and hills and rivers, I could go on and on! I guess we just have to explore it all! Susan x

    • Hi Rachel, I agree, so funny that we even passed each other in La Rochelle, even if I didn’t hear you! So next time you come hopefully you will be crying out for sun cream instead of an umbrella and I can give you lots of other places to visit!!! Susan x

    • It was a pleasure to have shepherd’s pie with you and Stewart Friday evening. Of course sharing a glass of wine (maybe two) was also enjoyable. Hope your stay and trip home were equally enjoyable.

  • My favourite part of France. I am sure your visitors will be talking about this trip for years. The Château de la Roche Courbon looks so pretty. Adding to my list for when I next visit this beautiful part of the world

    • Thanks Katy, there are so many places to visit here, lots to do and so much history, glad to have inspired your next trip a little! Enjoy the remainder of the weekend, Susan x

  • Thank you Susan and family for the very enjoyable and relaxing week. Both DJ and I loved everything about your little corner of the world and your hospitality was so very much appreciated. Next time we will be flying from the U.K. into LaRochelle. The train and bus rides…..are now comical looking back on but during, not so much.
    Missing the yogurt and baguettes!
    Hugs to all and enormous thank you for everything! xxx

    • Ah well, I wasn’t going to mention the train strikes! It was so much fun being a tourist too for a week! And at least you got to experience first hand French tennis tournaments!!! Susan xxx

    • Lucky, lucky you having lovely friends to be able to stay with in such a glorious part of France – there is so much more here to do and see than most visitors to the area realise at first glance – but it sounds as if you had a pretty good free guide thrown in too so really managed to make the most of your time here. Glad you enjoyed it.

      • Penny, you are so right, there is so much to show people here and we only just made a small dent in the list of things we could have done. Time did not allow for anything further as normal life got in the way as I said. Another time!!!

  • You certainly gave your guests a wonderful taste of France. Unfortunately we can’t order the weather. Choosing the best of the must see sights sometimes depends so much on the weather. Now when we have visitors , we lend them our car send them off with a good map marked with loads of places to stop and see then as the host it gives you time for a bit of a breather, and do all the necessary everyday jobs. We find it works. I know you have children to fetch from school, but maybe a friend could help out.
    Hope you daughter had a successful result in her match.

    • Hi Barbara, Friends did indeed offer to collect them little ones from school, in fact they did go home with someone else one day when we were running late! Many friends, used to driving over here and with some knowledge of France do go off on their own as you suggested. The weather was not helpful, but we made the most of it and the sun shone when it really counted! Susan x

  • Not sure what happened to my first comment.

    This looks like a great week of adventures! I think it is wonderful to have friends show you their town and surrounding areas, because of course the locals know all of the best places!

    Love all of the photos.

  • It looks like you gave your guests plenty to remember, in spite of the rain. You covered the prehistoric, the Romans, the Medieval & Renaissance and the modern, along with the beach. What else could any tourist hope for? For me, the pastries might have been enough!
    I forgot that you had lived in Florida before France. In my new novel, Paris Runaway, the family lives in St. Petersburg, Florida and the 17-year-old daughter runs away to Paris, following a French exchange student home.

    • Hi Paulita, there is so much history here, almost too much for a foreigner to take in all in one week and I think sometimes it is almost impossible to comprehend the sheer age of everything here if you have not grown up with it. We also tried to add in lots of fun things, like the beach, a tennis tournament, shopping and coffees out to lighten all the history a little! Susan x

  • Wonderful venues to visit – your friends had a great time, I’m sure with all the historic and beautiful places you’ve taken them. Beautiful!

    • Thanks Kathy, there is so much to see and do here, we still haven’t done it all in two years! One of the great things about having friends to stay is we get to see places that we might otherwise overlook. I am sure we still have much to discover ourselves. Susan x

  • We are so very much looking forward to seeing some of this…..not too long now.
    It seems the weather everywhere has been bizarre. Our weather has been for me perfect. We are having South of France weather.

    Ali x

    • I wish we were having South of France weather, although family in the Languedoc tell me the weather has been less than perfect this summer too, not a usual year at all. It has now settled into a warm sunny routine and I hope it now lasts for the summer. Not long till we see you. Susan x

  • Another perfect post, great narrative and beautiful photos, I felt as if I was there with you. hope you have having a nice Sunday

  • I have just stumbled upon your blog and have spent all morning reading through old and new posts, what a great diary you are posting. I can quite see why this is so popular, how have I not seen you before? A new dedicated follower, Becky

    • Hi Becky, welcome to the blog and so happy to have you following along, glad you found me! It’s great fun writing about our adventures here in the Charente Maritime and sharing them with everyone. Thank you for taking the time to comment, always very much appreciated. Susan X

  • Oh Susan – how fortunate to be your guest!! Thanks for taking us all around via your blog today!!
    What a Sunday morning treat!! I definitely would have wagered on Sir Bentley as well!
    Thanks Again – Have a wonderful day!

    • Hi Jamie, well we had to back Sir Bentley didn’t we, even though he had such long odds we knew he wasn’t going to win before he even cantered down to the starting stalls!!! At least he was a lovely looking horse! So happy to have you along as an armchair tourist! Susan x

  • This looks very different to the parts of France I used to know as a young man, yet it the countryside seems so familiar too – flat, salty with reeds and bits of water. We shall definitely have to visit, Susan. Thanks for the insights !

    • Hi Phil, it’s a beautiful part of France that we did not know very well before either, but it certainly draws you in and the people are so friendly. Do come visit. Susan x

  • How lucky you were to have these amazing places all to yourself! Who cares if the skies are gray? Love seeing your part of France and learning more about the region. I’m sure your friends will long remember this great trip across the pond. The images are still drifting through my mind . . . Hope you are enjoying the weekend. Pat at Bringing French Country Home

    • Hi Pat, just what we said, we didn’t need blue skies to have a fantastic time, that was just an added bonus at the end and at least it came out for them to walk along the beach and see it from the other side! Have had a wonderful weekend, only sorry it always goes by so fast! Hope you are too, Susan x

  • What a lovely holiday and probably an excuse for you relax too! I’m sure anyone would die for that sort of trip.

    • Thanks Helen, a great excuse to just be a tourist, the only downside was I then had to stay up really late at night to catch up on all the things I should have been doing, but it was so worthwhile. I love showing people our little area of France. Susan x

  • The dream vacation! Horse racing, now that’s something I haven’t been to in a while, hope you all had a wonderful time!

  • Have visited Rochefort several times on holiday over the years—certainly a beautiful and interesting town! Tell your daughter that her photos are wonderful. Great post as always

    • Thanks so much, Rochefort is not well known which is why I think it surprises people who visit, they find they really like it, it has such a great atmosphere. I will pass your message on to Millie, thank you. Susan x

  • What a great effort you made to entertain your friends, Susan. The weather lost by some margin to your resourcefulness!

    • Hi Simon, thank you, it was such great fun being able to show them around and to give them their first taste of Europe, besides they had had to endure train strikes and delays so we did need to assure them that things work in France too! Susan x

  • In 1985 I spent two weeks at a French language school near the town of Saujon in the Charente-Maritime. Called La Ferme, it was a wonderful place, and I always thought I would return. Life gets busy, though, and I never made it back, though I have been in other parts of France a number of times since. I think Saujon is near Royan, but I really should dig out a map and look it up! That was a long time ago, and I think the owners have been retired for a while. The place had been the farm of the co-owner Mireille’s grandparents. Lovely place and so enjoyable/

    • Hi Bettye, I know Saujon quite well, in fact I was there Yesterday morning, the entire morning, our youngest was playing in a tennis tournament there! It is near Royan and about 15 minutes from where we live. A very pretty town on the river. So did you use your French? What brought you to France to a language school? I love hearing people’s stories so if you have the time, I would love to hear more. I have looked up language schools in Saujon but cannot find anything, so I assume as you say it closed down. There is a La Ferme, but it is camping! Have a wonderful week, Susan x

  • Howdy from Gillette, Wyoming, USA 🙂
    I am new to your blog and LOVE it! I am hoping you could answer a question. When I see your photos of the lovely OLD & ANCIENT structures I wonder about the black substance on them. I am guessing that it is from mold and not air pollution? Isn’t mold is harmful to buildings? Where we live in the west,( http://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/campbell-county-wyoming ) it is very dry, (in fact there is a grass fire burning nearby today) so we don’t see mold like that. I am wondering if it ever has to be cleaned off?
    Sincerely, M J

    • Hi MJ, welcome to the blog, so happy to have you following along. The black is not mould it is Lichen, a type of moss, it is quite harmless. the only time we clean lichen or moss off is when it is on the roof, not because it does any harm but because it does hold water and therefore can damage roof tiles in the long run. This lichen has likely been here for centuries and no doubt will be for centuries more! I am looking forward to having a read on the link you sent me, I have never been to Wyoming. Thank you for taking the time to comment, always very much appreciated. Susan x

  • Hi Susan. A lovely post as always and despite the weather, it was a great tour around some interesting places! Your friends will have loved it. It’s also good (not meant in a bad way!) to see that the weather is not behaving even in the Charente Maritime! I so want to get out into the garden but it’s windy, raining and cool. All the beautiful roses and peonies are drooping and have brown edges after being battered by the heavy rain. Still, when the blue sky returns, it makes it even more joyous! Have a lovely week and perhaps a bit of rest after your hectic schedule!

    • Hi Marian, the weather has certainly not behaved here this Spring! A chilly April and May and strange June. Now it is cooperating a little more and I am hoping we have got into a summer routine, a week of fabulous weather in fact ever since our friends left – typical! Our roses looked soggy and sad too but it’s amazing how quickly everything perks up, 7 days of sun and everything is back to normal, the green lawn has now even started to have the audacity to look brown and parched, why so quickly!!! Another busy week ahead, but I like it like this! Hope you have a great week, Susan x

  • Sounds like you had a fabulous time with your guests! And thank you for leading me to your blog…I would love to visit France one day! Perhaps as a family of nine or maybe just the two of us or even by myself with friend. Each kind of trip would have it’s own flavor 😊

    • Hi Laila, it would indeed be full of different flavours! I can only imagine you walking through the airport as a family of 9, I know the looks we get as a family of 7, Eveyrone thinking “Please don’t let me be near them on the plane”!!! Only the children have traveled so much they are probably quieter than most of the adults on the plane! Susan x

      • Yes, indeed…I know those looks! 😜 and generally speaking the children have travelled quite well, just as you have experienced. Quite often people will come and comment after the long trans-atlantic flight that the kids were quite quiet. And then they admit that before the flight they were secretly hoping we would be seated elsewhere 😊 I have some of the most interesting and kind people on those long flights. We share just few hours together but I remember them forever.

        • Oh I know this feeling. I have met so many friendly helpful people. Ours don’t watch much TV at home, they never have and never in the daytime, ever. So when they get on a long long flight and they are allowed to watch the little to screen as much as they want, that’s it, they are set, peace for a full nine hours!!! That’s my secret to flying with children, it becomes such a treat for them!!!

    • Can’t beat French Patisserie! Always a treat for foreign guests, and they always say the same, “that they are not nearly as sweet as they look” that’s the best thing about French patisserie they are not overly sweet. Susan x

  • I long to be your new best friend! I so much enjoy reading about life in France and “seeing” the French countryside through your eyes. I’ve visisted Paris twice and have a love affair with the city and the Eiffel Tower, but I long to visit and experience “outside of the city”. I sort of doubt that I’ll ever get to do that, but, a girl can dream and keep reading about it here. Thanks so much….your narrative is so relaxing and calming,, makes me think that I’m almost there…. Thanks so much from SW Missouri….

    • Hi Becky, let’s be virtual best friends! Dreams are good, I think we should all dream a little, who knows perhaps one day it will come true and perhaps it won’t but there is still no hard in day dreaming. I am sure I was always told off at school because my head was somewhere in the clouds! So glad you are enjoying the blog, this is why I love sharing it all so much, it’s a great lifestyle and there is so much to see and do here. In the meantime have a great week in SW Missouri! Susan x

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