What we ate and what we saw.
I studied French and always loved France – I spent as much time as possible there before and during university but France somehow dropped off the radar and over the past years, we’ve spent the majority of holidays in Spain and Italy.
This year, having realised we’d neglected this wonderful country, we decided to go to France for our Summer holiday, hoping to rediscover its land, culture and food (of course).
We spent four nights in Bordeaux staying in a two bed airbnb in the Chartrons district of the city. It’s the heart of the historic part and easy to get around on foot from here. The apartment was owned by a couple and not some large apartment company, which is always nice as you get more feel for the city and people. Get in touch if you’d like the details.
We spent our days walking around the city visiting art galleries, parks, and many of the sights. The CAPOC museum of contemporary art stood out, particularly its cool roof top restaurant (lunch definitely recommended) and Bristol’s very own Richard Long stone sculpture.
For a small city, there is an incredible amount of restaurants ( many with Michelin stars). The ones we ate at were generally good but pretty pricey (Lou Lou, Petit Bec et). We did eat in the touristy areas as well as places where there were locals and prices were similar. Most of the French restaurants featured duck, steak, veal (they do like their meat) and fish on the menu and all were pretty good. There are plenty of places to hang out for an aperitif, from little squares, the Darwin eco system which is super hipster on the other side of the river to roof top bars, like Mama Bordeaux which we absolutely loved. They do food here, but we just had drinks. They also have rooms which look pretty cool. The Chartrons market square is a great place to drink, eat and people watch of an evening as is Place de Quinconces.
Bordeaux is of course famous for its wine and there are so many opportunities to sample at shops, wine bars etc. We went to La Cite du Vin which is a short tram ride or 20 min walk from Chartrons. This industrial area of the city is obviously being developed with blocks of flats going up everywhere. The Cite du vin is in a super modern silver decanter shaped building and if you’re a wine lover, you’ll be able to spend hours learning about terroir, history, taste, smell etc in this interactive museum. I’m not that dedicated to wine but learnt a lot and was impressed by the extremely imaginative ways they got the information across. You can then access the roof top views of the city with a glass of your choice of wine from an amazing international selection. Simon would easily have spent a great deal longer here and had to be persuaded to leave 🙂
Opposite here is Les Halles de Bacalan, a large warehouse with many small food and drink stalls. We sat and had langoustine and a chilled glass of rose which were very reasonably priced and absolutely delicious. There is also cheese, charcuterie, crepes, boulangeries ( Bordeaux is home to vanilla scented castle shaped caneles), bars etc, so you can spend quite some time here sampling all the regional specialities.
The beginning of August sees “Liberte” a cultural exhibition that takes over old, forgotten buildings. We stumbled across Le Temple des Chartrons whose interior had been transformed into an eerie, rubble filled space with the theme of light and time. With images reminiscent of the burning Notre Dame it was both fascinating and haunting. If you’re in Bordeaux at this time of year, it’s worth looking up https://rue89bordeaux.com/2019/08/liberte-coup-de-projecteur-ephemere-patrimoine-bordelais/
We then left the city and spent a week staying at Peyres near Espiens in Gascony, a 90 minute drive inland. A stunning house with pale blue shutters and views of the vine covered hills into the distance. At night we saw shooting starts and all was brilliantly clear thanks to the minimal light pollution. Not to everyone’s taste, Peyres is a very much lived in home. Peter the owner spends Spring every year here and leaves it exactly as he would like to find it. All is clean and comfortable, but what we loved was the original art work and antique furniture. There are shelves of books you can read and the pantry full of condiments, oils etc, so you don’t have to bring your own. All they ask is that you replace what you use. An excellent house for entertaining, Peyres has a large kitchen with a chandelier lit by candles, enormous oak table as well as plenty of outside space to eat and take in the views. Its incredible peaceful and completely dark in the bedrooms at night, which meant we all had lots of sleep! If you’re into five star, modern accommodation and multiple ensuites, you won’t like it, as the upstairs three bedrooms share a bathroom, but our families weren’t bothered about such things and preferred the huge amounts of character the house offered, along with the beautiful views and peace and quiet.
Once again, travelling with our very own private chef (Simon aka Papa), we were able to buy seasonal, regional produce in the markets and eat incredible meals each evening overlooking the vine covered hills. In the afternoons, after a morning outing, it was so good to dip into the pool (hoping not to be jumped on by one of the boys), surrounded by lavender buzzing with bees and miniature bee hummingbirds. Bliss. Our very own cocktail waiters and mixologists, Tom and Hemali arrived with a tray each afternoon of drinks and nibbles. Most enjoyable.
A ten minute drive away gets you to Nerac, a lovely medieval market town. We had lunch one day at Cafe du Concert by the river, which has a simple menu of salads or steak/ saucisson / duck and frites. We all got very excited about the puddings which were a fabulous range of ice cream sundaes. I had the Armagnac one as it is, afterall, the land of Armagnac. The owner is extremely friendly and welcoming and organises concerts (one the following Saturday, starring Johnny Halliday’s guitarists who is from Nerac, nonetheless). Lou Bin, the town’s specialist wine shop, holds frequent tastings and has a great range of local wines and spirits. We went here a lot as certain members of our group became partial to the sparkling wine and charming owner 🙂
We loved the restaurant by the Henry IV museum, L’Escadron Volant and had lunch here the first day – a stunning steak frites and a pretty good Thai duck dish followed by breakfast on our last day – waffles and crepes.
You can go to a market or two) every day of the week in this region. On the Sunday we went to Mezin market, a small village with a picturesque church and square. We tried snails for the first time (and last for me, I’m afraid) and stocked up on cheeses, vegetables, meat, bread and of course a sliver of nougat).
Night markets are buzzing in the Summer months – we went to the market in the main square of Sos. There must have been a few hundred people all sitting on long tables. The locals come with their own cutlery and crockery and set up for dinner, choosing from al the stalls around the edges of the square. From duck, steak, veal (they like their meat), to grilled vegetables, artisan breads, cheese plates, langoustine, Moules frites, tomatoes, onion tarts, rose wine, beer, ice cream – you can sit and feast to your heart’s content. The atmosphere is really friendly and lively and it’s lovely to see this little village come alive.
My favourite town was Lectoure. One end of the high street leads to the church and a viewing platform of the valley below, the other end takes you to an old school or hospital building which is now home to the most fascinating antiques market. It is full of the most unusual, eccentricities Eat at Cafe des Sports, an unassuming restaurant on the high street, which has delicious food, great service and excellent atmosphere. The shops are worth visiting here too with a food hall, lots of clothes and shoe shops and small galleries. Lectoure and the region is home to the most delicious of melons, which are found in all the surrounding markets.
We had to visit Condom, of course – an attractive town with large church and 4 musketeers sculptures – cue obligatory photos.
Our French visit was a fabulous reminder of the superb quality and range of French produce from cheese, sprities, wines, fruit, vegetable, bread to all the delicious sweet things (nougat, ice cream, chocolate). For a super peaceful, relaxing holiday, a hit of city sights and a big dose of gastronomy, I’d urge anyone to visit. We certainly will again soon.