Our early morning flight from Heraklion on Crete to Nante Airport in the Loire Valley was uneventful. Just too damn early. On arrival we picked up our rental car from Sixt, our first time there. I was upgraded from a plain Golf to a BMW 118 MSport Twin Turbo Diesel. Wow! Take note Hertz, Avis and Europcar. These folks have great cars and a great attitude. Why the upgrade? Because I looked ‘sporty’.
We drive south for hours heading for the village of Cognac and yes, that’s where all the great cognacs are produced: Remy, Martell, Hennessey, Courvoisier etc. Quite a charming little town on the river Charente. We booked a one-night stop over at Chais Monnet, a rebuilt cognac facility that bears little resemblance to its heritage. More than bit overdone but lovely rooms and great attention to detail. Dinner at the hotel is fine but not spectacular as we avoided the main dining room for the bar. Next morning is market day and very well done it is. We stock up on cheese, baguettes and pate plus a bottle of the very interesting Pineau Des Charentes; a wine/cognac blend that is like a soft port. Nice town.
On the road again we head farther south to Villeneuve Sur Lot and our friends lovely farm outside of town. It may be June but it’s bloody cold at night and in the morning. As we pass the village of Monflanquin we see the restaurant Bassiviere and the smart antique shop that is adjoining. We reserve for dinner and it is lovely, not the food so much but the venue is gorgeous. The next morning we head for the market in Cancon, very small but charming and fantastic strawberries. Lunch is at Monpazier and Restaurant de la Bastide. Gorgeous little village with an interesting story. During the Hundred Years War the village invaded and plundered the nearby town of Villefrance de Perigod. To their surprise, nobody was home. Why? Because that same day the Perigod people invaded and plundered Monpazier! The solution was obvious, they returned each other’s goods. The next day we visit Issegeac, another lovely town well known for its Sunday market and Thursday night market in July and August. Here, outdoor tables are set up so you can dine on what you buy. Smart.
Another day, another market trip. This one at Monpazier and then to the much bigger town of Bergerac for their excellent market. We love village markets as you can see. Lunch in Bergerac is accidental as we are looking everywhere for the famous France rotisserie chickens. We find the chicken trucks in a little square which also houses Chez Annie. This little bar/restaurant provided us 10 fresh oysters, to die for sausages and a glass of crisp white wine for 10 Euros. Loved it and all of France could take a lesson on price/value from them. The next day - another market. This time in the close by village of Monflanquin. Very nice and the pizza place down the hill hit the spot. Dinner that night at Le Moulin De Dausse. Run by a Dutch couple (and there are just the two of them) they put on a good show with multiple dishes for about 20 guests. No idea how they do it but they do it very well.
Finally, we are done with market visits. On our first rainy day we take the rather long drive to St. Emilion and a restaurant we love and know from the year before: L’Envers du Decor. The sommelier at the excellent wine shop across the street had recommended it and it is truly a great place. But, we are late and only one main dish is left from the menu: roast lamb in couscous done in a Moroccan Tangine with hand-cut frites. Simple wonderful. Very pristine and very touristy little town but we still love it and stock up on wines for the next stop.
The next day the sun shines and we are off to David and Alex’s gorgeous Chateau Belet in The Dordogne near the village of Plazac. We stop off for lunch at Vieux Logis in Tremolat. Fantastic food although we are hardly dressed for their very chic dining room.
As usual we get lost in search of Chateau Belet requiring David to come and get us. Unfortunately all the fantastic cheese we bought in a market on Crete was left in the refrigerator at the first villa. Alex hardly needs our lost cheese and we have a great dinner by the pool. The next few days are a treat talking into the night and going touring during the day.
Highlights were the strange castle Maison Forte de Reignac which is built entirely into a cliff face, deep enough the fireplaces are lit even though it’s hot as Hell outside. And the village of Montignac, one of our favourites in France. We relax in a bar by the river where they serve Ellen’s favourite: hand made rum raisin ice cream but with raisins that are steeped in rum. No Haagen Dazs can match it.
After four great days and nights we head off north again to the big birthday party in The Loire Valley. A long enough drive that we stop for the night at L'Hotel de Fontevraud. Located in the abbey town of the same name it is a lovely place in a charming, totally redone village. Our room is one of the smallest I’ve ever seen but the whole village and cathedral and museum are well worth the visit. We do suffer the French a bit as one of the only two restaurants in the village won’t serve us at 9:00pm even though patrons are munching away happily. The chef is done for the day. We do have lunch there the next day and, despite the attitude, it is very good.
The next day we stop at one of The Loire’s most famous castles: Chenonceau. Not the biggest castle in The Loire Valley but some say the prettiest. The place has an incredible history of intrigue. Built in the early 1500’s with owners such as the famous Catherine di Medici, eventually It was given by the King to the Dupin family which saved it from destruction during the French revolution as it was no longer a ‘Crown Land‘. During World War 2 it was a military hospital and then occupied by the Germans. Despite that it became a major transit point for fleeing refugees as Free France was just across the river. The Allies bombed it anyway and it lay in ruin until the Meunier family of chocolate fame fully restored it. Of all the places you might want to visit in The Loire, this is the one you shouldn’t miss.
Finally, we arrive at Chateau de Galoisiere, our friends Bertrand and Jay’s stunning chateau where they are celebrating their 60th and 50th birthdays. As we arrive a day early we are the only guests the first night and dinner on the terrace prepared by Jay is a seafood treat.
In the morning we help the boys prepare for the upcoming party. In between greeting guests as they begin to arrive, we are in the pool cooling off. That evening Jay prepares alfresco dinner for 20.
Saturday is market day in Angers. You know how we love markets in France. We are late and it is closing but the pate guy sells us all he has left, a few euros s of different pates, for next to nothing as it will spoil if he doesn’t. We return to the chateau with our treasures for a long lunch amidst a hive of activity in 40-degree heat. Jay has created incredible flower displays sourced from their gardens, banners are hung and there is even a red carpet and greeting stage. The theme at the pre dinner cocktail party is akin to a masked ball with intricate outfits and masks hiding the dripping guests. Dinner for 40 around the pool with a band playing is simply fantastic with every dish, from appetiser to main course to desert, chocolate themed.
Dinner is followed by a rowdy disco in their pavilion, which to our dismay, is FRENCH disco music. A sound quite like cats screaming in pain. At about 4:00am all were in the pool.
On Sunday we pack a caravan of cars and drive to the village of Le Thoureil on the Loire. It is antique market day and some amazing stuff is for sale along the banks of the river. Lunch, again for about 20, is at Le Route du Sel overlooking the market. Every dish is fantastic and the Asian contingent does us proud by actually ordering another main course as if there wasn’t enough food already. Well, it was duck confit. Post lunch we congregate by the pool for an impromptu party, then more food and drinking into the night.
Monday, our last day in France - the party has broken up and every one flies off to their home countries. We fly from Nante to Athens staying overnight at the stunning Ergon House and another great dinner in their restaurant. Athens to Singapore the next day arriving at 3:30am. Fortunately Changi Airport is pretty much the best in the world and offers lots of distractions for the early morning arrivals, including Hong Kong Noodles at 5:30am. Home to Penang at 9:30am on the first flight. Amazing trip, good to be home.
France What & Where
Chais Monnet in Cognac is the first five-star hotel of the region. It is located in a converted 19th century cognac distillery.
Bassiviere Restaurant stylish apartments, a barn shop with up-cycled finds and a restaurant with stunning view and local organic produce.
Chez Annie is the perfect spot for lunch after Bergerac market in Place du Marché Couvert.
Le Moulin De Dausse run by a Dutch couple, this restaurant with lovely set menu is located east of Villeneuve Sur Lot.
L’Envers du Decor is the first Historic Wine Bar in Saint Emilion. It was opened in February 1987 and passed on to the Perse family, owner of Château Pavie, in February 2017.
Vieux Logis is Relais & Chateaux boutique hotel located in the sleepy village of Tremolat, in the lower Dordogne. The hotel is built on an ancient priory with lovely gardens, babbling brook and natural pool.
Maison Forte de Reignac is a unique château in Dordogne. It is built into the rock face.
Fontevraud L’Hotel is located in the heart of UNESCO world heritage site, the Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud. The quiet and elegant rooms are in the former priory.
Chenonceau in Loire Valley. A must see chateau!
La Route du Sel located in the village of Le Thoureil (one of the nicest villages of the region), between Angers and Saumur, the restaurant serves fresh, locally sourced produce with breath-taking views of the Loire river.
Ergon House on Mitropoleos street, in the heart of Athens. The four-level building combines restaurant, grocery, deli store and hotel for the modern traveler.