A long gap between posts indicates nothing more sinister than me having better things to do. This blog is going to have more than a touch of “what we did on our holidays” about it. I fear it will only foment jealousy and resentment.
We are back in Herne Hill and nearly halfway through our fortnight of self-isolation, having spent six very enjoyable weeks in France. The return journey on Sunday turned out to be much easier than usual.
The Caen-Portsmouth ferry was less than 20% full: surely not profitable? And now Brittany Ferries has suspended sailings from Saint-Malo. There just isn’t the demand.
We were off the boat within 15 minutes of docking and, mobile phones at the ready, joined the remarkably short queue at Border Control. Being good citizens we had completed our travel forms, as required by UK Government. After examining our passports the customs officer said, “Have you completed your forms and are they on your phones?” “Yes,” I replied. “That’s OK, I don’t need to see them.” This despite the fact that every form bears a unique QR code that would, presumably, impart some useful information to someone – if scanned.
So off we drove, making it home in record time
Being able to spend over a month in France allowed us to do many more things than usual. For example, we took a few days to visit Médoc (you know, where the wine comes from). The Atlantic coast here is much the same as it is at Oléron (further north) or Arcachon (further south). Carcans-Plage and Lacanau are less busy than either. Surfing hereabouts is a big deal, with a lot of young people in evidence – social distancing, mon pied. If you can avoid being mown down by a surfer, the water is very pleasant and surprisingly warm.
A few miles inland is Lac d’Hourtin-Carcans, the largest lake in France (who knew?) It’s surrounded by forests of pine and evergreen oak, with campsites and sailing schools. We stayed near the holiday village of Maubuisson on a campsite that was practically empty, apart from a few German and Dutch families – the French having departed before the end of August. In contrast to the ocean, the lake is, of course, (normally) completely calm. Ideal for young children, if a bit like taking a bath. The site also had a swimming pool, but there didn’t seem much point in using it when the lake lay less than 200 metres away.
There is a network of cycling and walking routes around the lake which allows you to forget about the car and get some exercise. Nearby is the beautiful Etang de Cousseau nature reserve.
There is little to suggest that you are just a short drive from the world’s most celebrated vineyards
One surprising thing about the Médoc (and the Bordeaux area in general), is that its climate is not especially good for growing grapes. It lies between the ocean and the wide Gironde estuary, so mould and rot are a constant worry for growers. Summers are unpredictable: they may be very hot and dry, as this year, or warm and damp. It’s all about the well-drained soil or, to be more accurate, gravel, which encourages the vines to drill deep down in search of water. Not that I know much about it.
Villages with famous names such as Margaux often have little worth seeing, unless you are seriously into wine. Some of the châteaux are magnificent, whereas others are certainly not. Almost any building may call itself a château as long as wine is produced!
The famous names mostly lie alongside or near to the D2 road, a particularly dangerous, winding route along which people, many of whom have been wine tasting, drive too fast for my comfort. The pick of these villages, for those keen to stretch their legs and have a good meal, is the small port of Pauillac. I can recommend Le Saint-Martin restaurant.
Not that I got to eat very much. After a beautiful lime-marinated gravlax, a sumptuous rump steak was set before me. I began to tuck in and a piece of meat got lodged in my oesophagus. I don’t want to make too much of it but it was a very unpleasant experience which lasted for several hours. In the end I was saved by a Google post that advised me to drink a can of Coca-Cola.
Two sips later I had belched my way back to health
Therefore my advice is to keep a tin of Coke in your medicine cabinet. You see, it is of some use after all! Anyway that crisis curtailed the planned wine-tasting.
A few days later we were back
This time to the un-snobby Cave Cooperative in Listrac-Médoc, to make a serious purchase – very friendly and accommodating they were. We shall see how good 2015 Château Vieux Moulin turns out to be.
Back at the campsite there was time for another nature walk, along part of the canal that connects Lac d’Hourtin-Carcan to Lac Lacanau immediately south. On a beautiful day we saw many butterflies and heard many birds in the marshes. Eventually we were rewarded with an excellent sighting of a hen harrier flying close to the ground. Scroll through the images…
After a stop-off near Périgueux to visit friends and a week in La Bréchoire to do some washing and pack up, there was a final flourish on the Ile de Ré, where we stayed for three nights on another campsite near the pretty village of Sainte-Marie.
More swimming, cycling and eating, then it was off to Caen to join the ferry.
So just the one holiday this year, but we really can’t complain. And despite the exponential rise of infection in France, so far neither of us is showing any symptoms of Covid-19. Les doigts croisés.