Finding time to chill on a roadtrip is essential. Lège-Cap-Ferret provided just the right spot.
Guest: Paul McVeigh
Other Loulabelles links:
So this blog post is the second part of a two episode chat, as there was just too much to fit into one episode! My husband Paul and I took an epic road trip around western France. Firstly we traveled from Paris to the Loire and then down to the Pays Basque which can be explored in episode 79.
In this Loulabelle’s FrancoFiles episode we chatted about the second half of our road trip from Bayonne in the Basque region of south-west France up to the Dordogne, then across to Lège-Cap-Ferret which is on the coast past Bordeaux, then our final days in Paris before our return to Australia.
I love a slow holiday where we stay in the one place for a month and just relax and immerse ourselves in a local scene, but I find Australians especially try to pack as much into a visit to anywhere in Europe including France as it is quite expensive for us to get over there and it takes a long time! We are quite a long way away in Oz so we want to make the most of it! But if I had the time to stop in one spot for longer and meander around a particular place for an extensive period, that would be my preference I think. Malheureusement we didn’t have the luxury of months to meander so we road tripped and I must say, it was still amazing despite moving on every few days.
Plus Beaux Villages de France
We left the Basque and drove a number of hours, stopping at one of my favourite towns where I have spent some time previously and I really wanted to share it with Paul. Monpazier is registered as a Plus Beaux Village de France and has easily earned that honour as it is so picturesque. I love the quaint ruelles or little walkways, the petites rues, the wonderful big square which hosts a village market. It has lovely shops with artisans’ crafts, but it is not too big or overrun. It still has the feeling of a quaint village.
Unfortunately, we were there on a day when the mercury was nudging 40 so we were too heat affected to walk for too long. Fortunately there were a couple of shops, a wonderful brocante and a hat shop which gave us a little respite from the heat.
Rosemary Vine who has appeared on the LFF podcast back in episode 9 has a house there called Dordogne Country House which can be rented and I highly recommend, so we will go back at some stage when it is not so hot and stay at Rosemary’s!
We continued on our way north to our accommodation in the Dordogne – Perigord Noir region. Le Chèvrefeuille is run by English couple Ian and Sara and has bed & breakfast rooms as well as self catering facilities. There’s a fabulous pool and a petanque court plus chickens and rabbits for the kiddies!
If travelling through France in the high summer, staying somewhere with a pool can be a godsend after a hot day of sight-seeing, to be able to come back and cool off in the pool before dinner. Given the days were so long and still warm into the evening we’d sometimes be in there after dinner too! This is really important to help recharge, as sightseeing sounds like slow, gradual, meandering but it actually takes a bit out of you, especially in the summer.
There are some of the most famous tourist sites of the Dordogne not far from Le Chèvrefeuille, such as Sarlat, which is often referred to as the best preserved medieval village in France and also La Roque-Gageac and the beautiful Domme which are both honoured as members of the Plus Beaux Villages de France. The tiny village of Meyrals is walking distance from Le Chèvrefeuille and was so sweet. The people we chatted to at the local restaurant and boulangerie were so accommodating and friendly. Very used to non-French speakers having so many English living in that area.
During our time in this region we also visited the Jardins de Marqueyssac. The gardens are actually listed as an Historical Monument. They surround a château from the early 19th Century and have over 6km of pathways with petit train to help navigate some of them, and over 150 000 hand-pruned hedge plants made into all sorts of amazing shapes. In this hilly part of France the château and the jardins sit on a rocky spur and have incredible panoramic views of the valley below with further châteaux. The view has actually been awarded 3 stars in the Michelin Vert Guide, the guides which rate not only restaurants and food, but places for tourists including the gardens of France.
The Jardins de Marqueyssac are the most visited gardens in the South-West of France. We sat there in the café which is under a shady pergola with a water mist shooting out over us every couple of minutes and ate with peacocks strutting around us! They were just trying to find a place to keep cool as well.
Whilst we stayed at Le Chèvrefeuille Paul enjoyed a cooking day in their award-winning cookery school. Chef Ian takes the best local, seasonal produce and creates stunning, traditional Perigordian cuisine.
Take a break… from your spouse!
When travelling for so long with one person it can sometimes be nice to have some space and do something different from each other, so whilst Paul furthered honing his cooking skills, I did a mini road trip on my own and took a drive down south to the beautiful château of one of my previous LFF podcast guests, Julia Fulford Kirby who has the gorgeous Château Mas de Pradie in the Aveyron region. I spent a most beautiful afternoon with Julia who I first became aware of when she was on the tv juggernaut Escape to the Chateau DIY! From the moment I stepped out of my car I felt her maison telling its story. Its rich history unfolded with every little glimpse around each corner. Julia showed me all around, and we explored each room discussing how she and her sisters had completed the renovations. It became quite clear to me how enormous the task was that she’s completed and continues to work on. I was left quite moved by my visit there, almost a bit overwhelmed by the special-ness of her place.
I know now that there are some listeners of the LFF podcast who have booked to stay with Julia so I’m looking forward to hearing their thoughts after their visits! Julia’s château is also on the list of places on the Château Bee website for wedding locations in France.
Chilling on the coast
After 3 or 4 days soaking up the Dordogne experience, we were on the road again and this time headed to Bordeaux.
Both Paul and commented on how much corn was growing, not just in this region but throughout western France. Corn and sunflowers and closer to Bordeaux, pine plantations as well!
We didn’t go into Bordeaux but actually around and past it to stay with my beautiful friend, jazz singer Wendy Lee Taylor who has been on the LFF podcast back in episode 3. We stayed near Lège-Cap-Ferret which is an hour or so past Bordeaux on the coast.
Wendy took us through the little villages nearby which have a wonderful laconic laid-back feel. No wonder people go down there from Paris to unwind and recharge! The local wharf in the next village of Arès, had a spectacular view from the restaurants, calming right there on the wharf. Very rustic and chilled. They served the most amazing seafood, some which I’d never had before, such as a type of little pipi that was different to what we get in Australia and petit sea snails that were really sweet and juicy but teeny tiny!
It was here that I saw vending machines for oysters! I wish we had those in Australia!
Don’t skip breakfast & BYO lunch!
After a wonderful stay with Wendy we sadly departed Lège-Cap-Ferret. We headed to the Bordeaux train station, dropped the car off and went to wait for our train to Paris. It’s dog eat dog getting on the train there in Bordeaux! Squillions of people in the heat, waiting on the one platform for multiple trains. Only about 10 mins before the train arrives do the announcements tell you which platform you’ll be departing from, and then you have to check with the platform porters that you have a valid ticket and which area of the platform to stand on for the train car on your ticket.
I have described the luggage situation previously on French trains, but a little tip for this train when it’s the peak period of summer with lots of both tourists and locals travelling, take your own food with you on the train! There was no food at all left as the train had already travelled from another station before Bordeaux and those passengers had eaten out the supply before it got to us!
Our last night in Paris
We decided to splash out on a night in a hotel with the quintessentially French view of le Tour Eiffel for our last night in Paris. Staying at the Hotel Duquesne Eiffel in a room on the top floor which had a view of Les Invalides (Napoleon’s Tomb) to our right, all the way around to the army barracks with the Eiffel Tower right in the middle in front of us.
Now I quite like staying in parts of Paris like the locals do, which ordinarily for most people is without a view of the Eiffel Tower, but I must admit, as a special treat this was exceptional! We opened the doors to the balcony when we got to the room and there she was, smack bang in our face. Just glorious. There was even a view from the toilet! Different times of day gave us a different view and even different sky backgrounds gave the tower a different “mood”. At night she just sparkles. A magical experience.
I always love to catch up with friends if they’re in France at the same time as us and on our last night in Paris we had a special treat. Paul’s brother John lives on the other side of Australia from us but just happened to be in Paris with his partner Trudi. Paul’s long time friend AJ who lives in Sweden with his wife Malin was on school holidays in Paris with their kids. After not being together in person for an extraordinarily long time, we were able to catch up face to face in Paris.
We went for dinner in the Saint Germain area at one of our fave restaurants Vagenande. We’ve had such memorable meals there in the past and I’ve been there with girlfriends in years gone by too. It has such beautiful Belle Epoque décor, but the best thing that night was the company.
Paul made an entree for me to have when I returned from my mini-road-trip, as part of his one day cooking class with Chef Ian at Le Chèvrefeuille. A stunning roasted tomato and chèvre tart with a drizzle of a beautiful dressing over it. A wonderful dish for the heat of summer. Refreshing and flavourful.
When driving around on this road trip Paul and I had the radio set to one station. It played a combination of songs in both French and English. We were so surprised to hear that in the English language songs there were a huge amount of Australian artists and songs we never thought we’d hear outside of Australia. During our time away, the Australian tv show Neighbours finished up it’s last episode after decades on air back home. We’re not huge fans of the show even though it is a significant memory in its infancy during our younger years. Interestingly one Australian song on high rotation whilst we drove around was Torn by Natalie Imbruglia who had her start in teh entertainment industry in the Neighbours soap.
Given that this is the music the French locals are listening to, even though it is Australian, it is the choice for our music share for this blog post.