Sunday, October 09, 2005

Under the Aquitaine Sun....

One of the highlights of this last phase of our trip was a chance to visit some close friends in southwestern France, get a little taste of life in small village France, and have a badly needed chance to relax and recharge our batteries.

15 years ago I had a fantastic high school French teacher. Not only was he a great instructor of the language, he was a good friend out of the classroom and became close with the whole family. Some years ago he and his partner retired from their jobs with the Corvallis School District and moved to the Aquitaine, a region in southwest France. They bought a two acre property with a guest house and have since been earning a living giving French lessons to expats, managing properties for absentee owners, and providing a vacation rental.

My folks had visited them a year and a half ago (my Dad's last trip) and had a wonderful time, but this was my first chance to get to see them in their new home, and to introduce them to Brian.

First however, we had to get there. We were meeting Mom at Charles de Gaulle airport and then catching a TGV directly from there down to Bordeaux. There was a little more than 2 hours between her arrival time and the train departure (which leaves from the airport) so we were feeling pretty good about logistics. Just to make things interesting, however, Mom´s flight suffered a series of delays in unloading that left us with 6 minutes to race with her and all our stuff across the airport complex to catch the train. We made it with a minute to spare, however, and had a pleasant ride down.

Ron met us at the St Foy la Grande train station with roses for mom and me, chocolate for Brian, and a thermos of a fruity aperitif to drink in champagne glasses as he drove us back through the countryside to their house. Not a bad life for a couple of weary backpackers. (Note: this will become a theme of the visit)

Their house is a converted 17th Century stone stable. The huge stable doors along the side are now windows that let in the light and open onto great vistas. The property itself is up on a hill and has panoramic views across the surrounding vineyards in constantly changing, beautiful light. After months and months of hassles and a lot of their own hard work (a travel comedy book a la Frances Mayes waiting to be written) they built a beautiful roman-style salt water pool on the terrace. Sometimes when you are out there you just have to pinch yourself. The property also includes a 17th century stone cottage where we stayed (more on that later).

We ate meal after meal of gourmet food until you practically needed to roll us across the driveway. Whether we were at the dining room table or eating out on the porch overlooking the pool, the tables were beautifully laid and made us feel like we were at a resort or fancy restaurant. Again, not such a bad life for a couple of weary backpackers.

We spent the days catching up on each others' lives, playing croquet, eating the aforementioned ridiculously good food, playing cut throat games of Taboo and Hoopla and relaxing by the pool. (All together now: not such a bad life for a couple of weary backpackers.) To try and help earn our keep somewhat, we also spent an afternoon helping Darrell clean one of the properties he was managing (nicknamed the Shabby Chateau). It was a very Cinderella-like moment and an interesting look into how the other half lives sometimes.

By the way, the croquet they play there is not your father's croquet game. Since they enjoy playing so much, Ron and Darrell have invested in professional mallets and wickets . For those of used to the flimsy round wire wickets, this was a brutal reckoning. I recommend trying it sometime; it feels like a different game. Darrell was particularly efficient and ruthless as he stalked us with his poison ball, though he did have suspicious moments of incompetence in the middle to let us catch up and keep it close.

All in all it was a wonderful vacation from our hostel and grocery store/kebab eating trip and a great chance to reconnect with good friends. Thanks again to both of them for hosting us.


PS As loyal readers know, we sometimes use this space to promote terrific places that we have been to, such as the fantastic okonomiyake restaurant in Amsterdam.

This time we want to encourage you to consider the cottage at Les Boissons as a home base for a vacation in Southwestern France. If you were wanting this region, including the caves at Lascoux, the caves at Pech Merle, the vineyards, walled cities, etc, and wanted a peaceful home base, this is hard to beat. (see below for a further description of the region).

The stone cottage itself has 3 bedrooms, two baths, kitchen, dining room, and living room. You have access to the terrace to relax, to the pool and deck furniture, and to the yard for games. Ron and Darrell are incredibly knowledgeable about the area, the local wines, the local cuisine, art, and gourmet cuisine and are just super nice guys in general. If you want more information about renting the cottage, check this site:

Info on the region


Anonymous said...

OK, you guys! So this is how it is ...............I can see that "roughing it" has a whole new meaning for you two! I'm ready to fly there anytime.

Anonymous said...

since we're pimping restaurants... any time you are in Paris, check out Cafe Max.

Max is your maitre'd, waiter, cook, busboy, bartender, sommelier, and well, you get the idea. It's just him running this tiny restaurant. Delicious food for reasonable prices, and Max is charming.

7, Avenue De La Motte-picquet
Paris, France