Le tour de Vendée

Our final day had nothing specific planned other than getting to a Chambre d’Hote 40 minutes outside St Malo.

We started with a visit to the market in Lucon at 8am. It was early for us but not the French it seems. It was surprisingly busy.

It’s a shame we’re not here longer and self catering, the fish, meat and vegetables all looked amazing.

Having said that, we’ve not seen roti de cheval before

Luçon was transformed this morning – cars and people everywhere and a fantastic haberdashery stall. It would be nice to know if it’s every Saturday or just because it’s a holiday weekend.

We said goodbye to Madame and headed out to Fontenay le Comte, a medieval town 20 minutes inland. Compared to Luçon, it’s huge with a very long and straight main road and of course, as it’s France, a river and more market stalls.

We parked by a cycle shop owned by a Tour de France rider and John was in like a shot. He met a couple of English cyclists who’d cycled in from Vouvant. They were very impressed Kim had cycled the bridge on a Brompton – that was the highlight of her day. John was more impressed with how good electric bikes are getting.

Fontenay was very lively but we only had to walk a couple of streets back and it became calm and quiet.

We took a detour back to Vouvant to see if there was more going on than we first thought. It was so busy, we couldn’t park and may head back this way on our next trip to France!

Next it was onto the pretty town of Mervent with its fabulous views over the river Vendée, but unfortunately not much else going on.

Although their idea of a Triathlon was rather appealing

It was a long drive up to Dol de Bretagne for our last stop. We are in a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere with a hostess that doesn’t speak a word of English, unless you count ‘Expedia?’

We didn’t book through Expedia but we have the room key so there’s no getting rid of us tonight!

Despite the language barrier it was made very clear that we must remove our shoes before entering. We think we’ve arranged breakfast for 8am tomorrow but only time will tell how well that discussion went and if we are permitted to wear our shoes.

We’re staying 3km outside Dol de Bretagne and ventured out to explore. The town has some exceptional medieval houses and feels like a film set. It’s a shame about all the cars lining the high street.

Apparently there are fireworks tonight for the annual Bastille day celebrations, they don’t start until 11pm so there will be no chance of us seeing them.

Some entertainment has been arranged for our 9 hour ferry journey home. Can England beat New Zealand in the cricket, or should we compare notes with fellow cyclists while watching the Tour de France, then again it could be the Wimbledon final or the British Grand Prix at Silverstone?

à bientôt

Geraint Thomas isn’t the only British cyclist in France!

John was determined to cycle the Ile de Re, across the bridge from La Rochelle, so that’s what we did…..despite grey, drizzly weather.

Not thrilled at the prospect, Kim worked out that a shuttle bus could get her back across the bridge if she was truly pathetic.

We set off, with John in the lead as you’d expect, Kim huffing and puffing behind, counting every lamppost she successfully cycled past. In case you’re interested, there are 65 lampposts from the start of the bridge until it levels out and 45 going downhill. Anyway, she made it without stopping and was rather proud of herself.

The villages of the Ile de Re are connected by a series of well marked cycle paths. Because of the weather, we didn’t go far, only from Rivedoux Plage to La Flotte, but we managed a few photo opportunities

Bromptons turned native with addition of a baguette.

Our route back took us past the ruined Abbeye Notre Dame de Re dite des Chateliers.

Then the bridge came back into sight. We hadn’t cycled far, only about 15 miles, so Kim didn’t even look at the shuttle bus, she was off.

There may only be 45 lampposts going back but it’s a lot steeper and, at one point, Kim thought her head would explode. She made it without a single foot touching the ground and almost caught a couple of cyclists ahead of her!

We decided Ruffec needed a revisit to view a property we’d dismissed as a money pit. It had character and potential so a viewing was arranged for tomorrow……..more about that later.

Back at Luçon, Kim visited the Jardins Dumaine, laid out in the late 18th century behind the Hotel de Ville. It’s not that large but a real oasis and well maintained, the gravel is raked daily and there was not a weed to be seen.

Next a tour around the main sights where we discovered that Luçon was a harbour town in the early 20th century and left stranded when the sea receded. It has a history of liquor making and still holds a popular market twice a week.

The evening was spent poring over house details, Ruffec was a three hour detour on our way home so it needed to be worthwhile.

We discovered the house only had windows at the front, no central heating, a dark dismal hallway and bathrooms which, despite so called ‘renovation’, are out of the 1970s. Viewing was cancelled!

House hunting in Ruffec

We have strict criteria for property searches in France. It must be a house in a town, no mote than 4 hours from Ouistreham or St Malo, no further than an hour from the coast, with bakeries, cafes and restaurants within walking distance. A garage or off road parking are a must too. How hard could it be?

Hours of internet searching had identified Ruffec, in the Charente, as a possibility for us. A question about the area on a Facebook group had offered up an opportunity for a viewing.

The approach to the house was gorgeous, along Le Lien river, past a little cinema and over a bridge by a mill. It was picture perfect (but we forgot to take one!).

The house was rather lovely

But…. Ruffec is over two hours to the coast and 4 hours 7 minutes to Ouistreham, something has gone seriously wrong with Google searches. In the spirt of scientific research we decided, instead of visiting Oradour-sur-Glane, we would house hunt in Ruffec.

We headed for the only Estate Agent open at lunch time and came away with details of 5 properties. A drive by dismisses three but 2 warranted leaving the car to investigate.

The first was a gorgeous townhouse on an unusual plot. It was empty to we trampled through overgrown grass to investigate. Ten years ago, we’d have taken it on but it’s not for us.

The next had us driving by several times before John dropped Kim off to walk past. After 15 minutes of suspicious behaviour we decided the garden was too big and we ought to move on before gendarmes were called.

It’s been an interesting and surprisingly challenging day. Kim loves being 30 minutes from the coast but a Ruffec has a lot to offer with swimming and water sports 5 minutes up the road on the Charente river.

We consoled ourselves with dinner at …….. The restaurant had been recommended by our hostess and it was delicious.

We were the last customers and you could tell we’d outstayed our welcome when lights were turned off at 9:45!

La Rochelle? Meh!

We have two days to update and have been busy. This will go on a bit, probably best to get yourselves a cuppa before settling down.

To start with, our breakfast is served in very elegant surroundings. We take great care not to drop crumbs or drip coffee on pristine tablecloths or mats.

Yesterday was spent in St Jean D’Angely, almost 2 hours from our base in Luçon. Most of our journey was spent stuck behind tractors or big, agricultural lorries. The fields full of glorious sunflowers helped to overcome the frustration.

Our first house viewing was in the small village of Landes, just outside St Jean, where the Old Post Office is for sale. We loved the outside space, the house was ok but the village was too quiet and sleepy for us.

Nest stop was St Jean where we viewed three very different properties.

A recently restored townhouse, 5 minutes walk from the centre of town was dismissed through lack of parking.

The second townhouse had huge potential…….to be a bottomless money pit. Kim had to be restrained from making an offer based on the Kiwi, Apricot and Fig in the back garden. John wasn’t even tempted by the 70m2 garage.

Then the agent offered to show us an apartment she owns right in the historic centre of town. Hmm, this one had too many pitfalls to mention here but we’ll happily bore you with the story on our return.

On to today. We’re only 30 minutes from the coast at La Faute Sur Mer and, in 30 degrees, we decided to cycle from there to Tranche Sur Mer.

The Bromptons truly enjoyed their day out.

John is keen to cycle from La Rochelle across to Ile de Re before we leave (Kim hopes you’ve noted that John is keen) and we took the opportunity to find out where we needed to park.

We managed to find ourselves in the centre of La Rochelle, parked and had a wander. Now, you may remember that we did Venice in a couple of hours, La Rochelle was lucky to get an hour and most of that was spent in a coffee shop where we were given a gizmo to tell us when our food was ready. We were enthralled- it had been a long hot day and we were slightly delirious.

We ventured out. It was still hot and there was lots of pushing and shoving.

We’re sure it has a lot to offer, just not for us.

Our final stop was in the car park by the bridge to,the Ile de Re before heading back to peace and quiet in Luçon. Kim would like to point out that it looks steeper in real life!

A short break in France

We’re touring in France and not doing the blog….. other than it appears to be ingrained in us. We miss our old apartment in Normandy (it was always for too grand to be a flat) and John fancies finding somewhere with some winter sun. Our destinations of choice are the Vendée and Charente Maritime, neither of which we know much about other than they’ll be warmer than Bagnoles-de-l’Orne and nearer the coast.

The overnight sailing from Portsmouth to St Malo was a first and we rather enjoyed the leisurely crossing. Brittany Ferries’ plinky plonky alarm music didn’t wake us until almost 7am with a lovely view of St Malo

We’re staying in Luçon for the next five nights and chose to explore a couple of possible winter locations on our way. First was Vouvant, a very pretty town in the Vendée.

It was rather twee and quiet but obviously popular with the artist community as every shop and house was some type of gallery. However half the customers in the bar were English and a large expat community isn’t what we’re after.

Next was Fontenay Le Comte which looked far busier. We only managed to drive round and it merits a revisit. John’s quite taken with it, Kim’s not so sure as it’s quite a large town.

We found our ‘hotel’ in Lucon and it appears we’re sharing a rather lovely family home quite unlike anywhere we’ve stayed before. Much as we hate to name check, thank you Booking.com!

We’re off to St Jean D’Angely tomorrow, 1.5 hours away. Our hostess says the town is ‘special’. We’re not quite sure what that means.