August in the south west of France with old friends and new…what could be better than that. I met my friends Mardi and Neil just over 10 years ago when we were on the same tour to Cuba and we have been on many a trip to France and elsewhere since. This year, in between sight-seeing, they were completing the purchase of a house which meant I also got to see how the legal system in France works!
Week one was spent in St Colombe en Bruilhois, a tiny hamlet in the Lot et Garonne department. The gite we had rented was spacious and had the added bonus of a garden with many chairs for much relaxing, drinking rosé, reading and snoozing! As usual we also wanted to find out about the products of the region and looked for the best in educational activities: the tasty La maison de la noisette (hazelnuts), the fabulous Musée du Pruneau (prunes) and the eclectic Musée du Miel (honey). There was also a second (dreadful) museum of honey but it was just a bloke in his shop, talking in incomprehensibly accented French so we snuck out fairly rapidly.
Several days were spent around Nérac, a market town which sits on the River Baïse. This is where the newly acquired maison de Madame Michels and Monsieur Phillips is situated. We spent a jolly evening with Mardi’s local friends Kate and Tamsin at the night market and generally wandered around the old town admiring the buildings. However our timing also coincided with the world barrel racing championship. I use the phrase”World” in the loosest sense, as in it is only local French people taking part. We did consider entering as “L’equipe du Commonwealth” as we could have represented Australia, Canada and the UK, but on seeing the barrels decided against it.
We did take to the river but instead of barrels we opted for the more sedate river cruise! The Baïse has been navigated since the 13th century. The canal was built by Haussman (he of the posh shopping street in Paris) in 1850. The arrival of the trains started the decline of the river as a working waterway but it is a beautiful spot nonetheless.
Having spent a busy week (all those things you do on holiday: sightseeing, cooking, buying houses…) we then packed up to move on to Bergerac. On the way we stopped at Latour-Marliac. This turned out to be one of the loveliest places we visited. The first European non -white lilies they developed there were exhibited at the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris and were seen by Claude Monet. Subsequently Monet bought lilies from Latour-Marliac to build his water gardens at Giverny. It is truly a “Jardin Remarquable”.
So on to Bergerac and week 2!