Round And Round


Day 12 – Tuesday 26th June

Another day with an itinerary planned. Since we are in the Cognac region we felt it would be rude to ignore such a significant subject. So our task for the day was to visit the significant towns of the region, Cognac, Jarnac, Segonzac, Chateauneuf sur Charente & Rouillac.

So off we set, sun shining, for Cognac.

Cognac
Cognac

However, our entry to the town was a little hectic. Noisy roads and difficulty finding a route to the historic  areas had soured our moods a bit so we decided not to stay.

You know what it is like when you don’t like the feel of a place. Can’t put your finger on quite what it is but you know you can’t stay. Perhaps if we had entered on a quieter road we would have stayed.

I know that we are doing Cognac a huge disservice and have probably missed  a huge amount, which is why it has not been struck of our list of places to visit. Just not on this trip. So we headed out to the next place itemised on our personal itinerary,  Jarnac.

Coat of Arms - Jarnac
Jarnac

The feel and pace of Jarnac is entirely different and we rapidly found a place to park, free, on the Quai Orangerie, near the Hine buildings. As it happens we were also very close to the Courvoisier buildings too.

Courvoisier, Jarnac, Charente, France
Courvoisier, Jarnac, Charente, France

Jarnac is equally proud to be the birthplace of François Mitterrand, one of France’s more recent presidents.

We walked alongside the river, past the boats moored with myriads of fish darting around just below the surface.  We crossed the road towards the Courvoisier building before crossing the bridge and heading further along the river to a park.

Quai Orangerie
Quai Orangerie, Jarnac, Charente, France
Jarnac, Charente, France
Jarnac, Charente, France

Given the days temperature it was nice to get under the shade of the trees. A group of  school children were enjoying some team sports while  on the grass, while over in river shallows a group of lads were lobbing a ball around. They were joined by a lady and her dog who was soon lunging after the ball. A little further down on a small island two lads were fishing although I don’t think they really expected to catch anything with all the thrashing around in the water.

Alongside the park there are weirs and channels set up for kayak slalom racing.

Jarnac, Charente, France
Slalom, Jarnac, Charente, France

The park itself is on an island and the paths around its perimeter give one a direct view into to some lovely gardens some of which have their own moorings or pergolas and barbecues.

Charente @ Jarnac, France
Charente @ Jarnac, France

After a delightful time in the park we headed back into Jarnac to get ourselves a drink. We sat and people watched  while we had a couple of beers and nibbles at L’Alambic, Place Du Chateau. It was quite entertaining as opposite the bar there is a small car park with a Tabac  off to one side. The comings and goings, the double and sometimes treble parking was exposing the dark side of some of the drivers who were dashing into the Tabac, we presumed, to get their lottery tickets.

After, we meandered through the streets window shopping, and made our way back to the car, passing the church and numerous architectural features some of which I have attached below…..

Clock Tower, Jarnac, France
Clock Tower, Jarnac, France
Church Door, Jarnac, France
Church Door, Jarnac, France
Jarnac, France
An artefact of the church of St Pierre, Jarnac, France

Once back at the car we rested in the shade and topped up with water. This was one of the hottest days of our holiday so far. Given the time, nearly 17:00, we had to replan our itinerary. Obviously we were not going to be able to visit and tour all the places on our list. So we decided to move on to Segonzac with a view to seeing what we could and maybe getting a meal.

Segonzac was only a short drive away and we were soon parked up a short way from the town square.

Coat of Arms for Segonzac, Charente, France
Segonzac, Charente, France

We would have been parked closer but a stupid woman, stopped her car directly in front of me in the entrance to the car park. Got out of her car and crossed the street. Leaving her car blocking the entrance to the car park.

The Hotel de Ville was very prettily decked out with many flower baskets.

Hotel de Ville, Segonzac, Charente, France
Hotel de Ville, Segonzac, Charente, France

The church was huge but nice and cool inside giving us some respite from the heat and the brightness of the sun.

Church of Saint Pierre, Segonzac, Charente, France
Church of Saint Pierre, Segonzac, Charente, France. Spire is made of stones in the form of pine cones.

We were beginning to realise that we were still too early for a meal in a restaurant and nothing else being available we decided to head on to Chateauneuf-sur-Charente.

Coat of Arms, Châteauneuf-les-Charentes
Châteauneuf-les-Charentes

Only a short journey and we were soon parked up and walking the streets hunting down a place to eat.

Chateauneuf-sur-Charente
Chateauneuf-sur-Charente
Hotel de Ville, Chateauneuf-sur-Charente
Hotel de Ville, Chateauneuf-sur-Charente
Stream, Chateauneuf-sur-Charente
Stream, Chateauneuf-sur-Charente

Unfortunately the only places open were doing fast food. The evening menu still an hour or two off. So, we headed back to the car having decided to aim back to the gite going via Rouillac which was on our original list of places to visit. I had also spotted a couple of signs indicating the existence of restaurants on the road out of town.

So we followed the signs and visited the restaurants…..you guessed it. Closed.

On to Rouillac and a quick motor round the streets which showed no sign of open eateries.  We were getting  concerned about the time. If we just headed home to the gite it would be too late to think about cooking. At our age late eating can play havoc with the digestive system and I wasn’t prepared to go without a proper meal. Snacks are OK but not really fulfilling.

Then I had a brilliant idea. Why don’t we use the SatNav to identify restaurants in the area. Sure enough it started to identify the ones that we had already visited and determined that they were closed. So we decided to hedge our bets a bit.

On previous visits to France and during our journey down to Barbezieres we had seen instances of a food chain “Buffalo Grill”. Usually near to other eateries such as Macdonald’s and close to retail parks. We thought they would probably serve food all day and almost be guaranteed to be open

So we asked TomTom to find us the nearest Buffalo Grill. It did what it was asked and we duly plumbed in the route and set off to the restaurant which was located in Chateaubernard just two miles from Cognac.

We had in fact passed through Chateaubernard on our way to Jarnac after we had jettisoned Cognac earlier in the day. Well what the hey.

We sat outside on the deck and had a nice meal courtesy of Buffalo Grill. I had a burger, medium rare, and my wife had a Rump Steak also medium rare.  Very well presented and filling.

So we had circled Cognac and what seemed like most of the towns in the Cognac region. We had a great day even though it looked like France was determined to starve us out.

The gite was finally illuminated in our headlights around 22:30 after a lonely drive through the French countryside. I nearly squashed the lettuce, gifted by Didier, left by our front door some time earlier in the day. Of course I had to wash that straight away since we didn’t know what creepy crawlies had decided it was their birthday. We added it to the two other lettuces we had in the fridge, also courtesy of Didier.

So a cup of tea while we gentle ceased circling and thence to bed.

Mooching


Day 11 – Monday 25th June

Decided today would be an unstructured day. Just drive out into the countryside and see what we can see.

Our initial direction took us to the next village, where there is a small chateau, and on to Chives (pronounced sheeve). Here there is an unusual church with what looks like a garage attached.

Church @ Chives
Church @ Chives, Charente, France

From Chives we headed deeper into the countryside where we came across a shady stream. Photo opportunity methinks. Soon I am laid on the ground, all professional and artistic, even got the external flash attached. Turns out that the batteries have enough oomph to drive the flash display but not enough for the flash itself. So I made do with what I had and plugged away.

Then we thought, “Why don’t go walk round Aigre ?”. We have passed through the town several times just to visit the nearest supermarket. It was time we paid a visit.

Hotel de Ville, Aigre, France
Hotel de Ville, Aigre, France

It turns out there is not a lot there but Aigre provides all the basics. Post Office, bank, pharmacies, a Spar, tabac and a couple of restaurants. We plan to give at least one of them a test in the next few days.

Didiers Tours


Day 8 – Friday 22nd June

Decided to stay around the gite today so not much to report. We were loafing. Well we were both reading and my wife was catching the rays.

It was not a wasted day though. Enter Guided Tours by Didier. Initially this was an offer he made following a conversation we had about birds in general and owls in particular. The conversation had moved on to a particular bird that is a migratory visitor to the region. Didier’s bird guide had a name but no picture so we couldn’t tell if this species had an English name. Didier suggested he take me out to see if we could spot them out by the fields. Apparently they prefer to run, rather than fly, and are quite often seen on the roads.

We didn’t spot the elusive bird but did discuss many other things.

Charente View
Charente View

Didier explained how his family used to dairy farm but had moved on to grapes and other crops. Didier’s father had felt tied to the farm when they had cattle as they require 24/7 care. They then switched to grapes but discovered that they required a different kind of attention but were nonetheless demanding. Other crops are now the order of the day. In this area, in addition to the ubiquitous grape there are fields of various cereals, sunflower, maize, pea’s and Colza, used for its cooking oil although Didier claimed it is also used to run the tractors.

As Didier drove us around the maze of roads criss-crossing the patchwork of fields I wondered how the farmers kept track of which field were theirs. This potential confusion has been further exacerbated by the undocumented “swapping” of land to allow for a form of crop consolidation. The details of these swaps, he tells me, are held in each persons head.

At one crossroads I pointed out a large earthen, obviously man-made, structure. He informed me that it is a water reservoir. The water is stored during the winter and used during the summer to water the crops. This takes the burden off the local streams and rivers and also off the local water table. The local farmers were further encouraged by a government subsidy. A sensible and green action you might think.

However, something about this scheme has enraged the green activists who have obtained legal injunctions. So no more reservoirs will be built for now.

Go figure !!

Many vineyards have been cleared and the land now used for these other crops. There are also tracts of land that have been cleared and just left.

Again, Go Figure !!

Ruffec, Nanteuil-en-Vallee & Verteuil-sur-Charente


Day 9 – Saturday 23rd June

Today we had a plan or perhaps I should say we had an itinerary.

The first stop was Ruffec, a small but busy town. One thing we are learning is that if you arrive near lunchtime things rapidly quieten down. All the shops close, the streets empty and rapidly take on the appearance of a ghost town. All that is missing is the ubiquitous tumbleweed and the mysterious stranger.

Wash House, Ruffec, Charente, France
Wash House, Ruffec, Charente, France

Ruffec has narrow streets to explore with quite a variety of architectural styles. Ranging from ornate frontages with fancy balconies to the older buildings with exposed wooden beams. The 12c western frontage of the church is of interest as is the more but nonetheless very striking stain glass window at the eastern end of the church. Close to the church is a rectangular pool through which a river runs. Walking east along the stream brings you to a wooden structure with a tiled roof and many hanging baskets. Very picturesque but I’m not sure if it has any other purpose. Some of the leaflets we have acquired at the Tourist Information Offices have photos of similar structures and identify them as wash houses. Although they don’t clarify if the washing is of people or clothes. Further east there is a building, possibly a mill, with a waterwheel and the stream splits. One leg continuing east, one heading north.

On the leg heading north is a very pretty house and garden. The stream runs the full length of the back of the house and the garden while the road borders the other side, taking ground level to the second floor. The garden is at road level with a wall overlooking the stream. Running the full length of the back of the house is an iron balcony along which patrols a black dog. He was silent until I spoke to him. Trust me to break the peace and quiet.

From Ruffec we headed over to Nanteuil-en-Vallee, a pretty village with usual dominating church. This one built on the site of the Benedictine Abbey of Notre Dame.

Here on parkland, adjacent to the small car park, a family fete was in full swing with bouncy castle and barbecue. One thing we have noticed is how prevalent are village social events. I know we have them in England but here even the smallest hamlet seems to be doing something. Maybe it is another facet of the “co-op” farming methods which are spilling over into social life. Keeping people involved.

Another feature of Nanteuil-en-Vallee is the arboretum which features formal flower gardens, shady pathways and water gardens. This little oasis is worth the visit and entry is free.

Nanteuil-en-Valee
Nanteuil-en-Valee

There are small trickling brooks, shallow ponds and a river which encourage all manner of wildlife. Dragonflies and Damselflies of vivid hues, lizards darting among the leaves and even some sort of water rat that stopped to clean his whiskers at the waters edge.

While in a flower garden our attention was drawn by the loud calling of what we were convinced was a water bird. But when we reached the pond there were no birds to be seen. Instead the huge sound we heard had been created by a frog that immediately dove under water as we stepped onto the wooden walkway over his domain. We could see him and another below the surface and, although we waited for some time, he never resurfaced, Seems his lung capacity was greater than my patience.

After completing our perambulations we headed back to the car and so onto the next item on our itinerary.

Verteuil-sur-Charente is dominated by two buildings. The chateau and church of St Medard. Both of these impressive buildings have prominent positions looking down over the Charente.

Chateau, Verteuil-sur-Charente, France
Chateau, Verteuil-sur-Charente, France

Alongside the main bridge the river is diverted through a mill race, the old mill effectively built on an island. The mill is now a very pleasant restaurant and tea room with tables outside overlooking water on two sides. Inside the mill is still functioning, creating a comforting rumble as a backdrop. Unfortunately they were closed to new customers so we were too late to partake of their wares. Ces La Vie.

From here we headed home to Barbezieres for a welcome dinner and a well earned rest.