The world is a book, those who do not travel read only one page
For a long time, Heather and I had wanted to a tour of one of the wine regions in France. This Bank Holiday we carped the diem so to speak, and decided to get ourselves over to the Loire. We booked a few additional days off so that we weren't one of the 30 million on the road at the same time and a trip to Halfords made sure that we wouldn't be running afoul of any of the French road rules; this required:
- A magnetic GB badge
- A complete set of replacement light bulbs
- A warning triangle should we break down
- Adjusters so that our headlights wouldn't dazzle the locals
- Reflective day-glow jackets so that if we break down, we put them on and won't get knocked over. Quite frankly I will be sitting in the car waiting for the AA if that happens.
Following an early mark from work, we jumped in to the car and drove the hour and a half to Dover where we grabbed a cross-Channel ferry. Unfortunately after landing in Calais we still had an hour's drive, and I didn't know what the Gendarmerie think of drunk drivers so I limited myself to a solitary lager. We also tried to get some Euros but at an exchange rate of 1:1, only a £20 was changed.
The actual sea leg was pretty uneventful; I wouldn't say quiet as the boat was pretty full - or at least the bar area we were was. Fortunately, as we had been one of the first to board the boat, we were able to get off pretty quickly and on to French soil.
You should return to Newark
This was pretty much my first self-drive trip in France. I have driven left hand drive cars on the continent before and really don't find it a challenge but this was going to be my first time in a right hand drive car. Jumping straight in with a drive to the Loire (5 to 6 hours) may have been pushing it, so Heather had booked us into a small hotel in a town called Burck. After checking-in, we wandered around to check out the town. Our guess that at the height of the summer (in good weather) it is a popular family destination. Towards the end of the season and not so crash hot weather, it was like a run-down British holiday town.
We decided to cut our losses and go grab a bite to eat. There were a few options available and eventually settled on a quiet place. I can't actually remember what I had but I do recall that Heather had a "seafood medley" that contained something that looked suspiciously liked snails. No matter how many times she offered and how nice she said they were, I was not going to be trying them. It must be an English thing or something but I have been brought up to think that snails were garden pests and not a delicacy.
After dinner we decided to have a few drinks to celebrate our first day (or part day) on French soil. Even though it was only around 21:30, the entire town seemed to be closing down. The only options available were our hotel bar and a strip club. I thought that we should experience as much of the town of possible, but Heather would not budge from the hotel bar. After a few beers and a disturbing experience with one of those God-awful fruit beers, we called it at night. At least we wouldn't have problems waking up due to a late night.
Vinum bonum laetificat cor hominis
The following day was the drive to Saumur in the Loire. The roads were an absolute pleasure to drive on and the Jag just ate the miles. Fortunately the sat nag flashes warning whenever a speed camera is in range so I don't think I got stung - time will tell though.
We arrived at our hotel (l'Hotel St Pierre) and in contrast to our previous place, it was a lovely place with a very friendly owner. After sorting ourselves out we wandered around the town of Saumur, exploring the side streets, small shops, brasseries and bars. One of the most noticeable things were the large numbers of other English tourists in the town; fortunately these were not the kind of tourists that made me embarrassed to be English - there were also lots of British licensed cars, so now doubt we weren't the only ones with the idea of doing a Loire wine tour. The town of Saumur had cottoned on to this and had a "magasin du vin" which contained just about every wine in the region. We wandered in there and sampled their wares, taking photos of the ones that most appealed so that we knew which wineries to visit.
Having got comfortable on the roads, we decided to visit a few of the many Chateaux that were scattered around the Loire. It was at this point we also started to load up the car with one or two cases of wine. Although we were both tasting, I unfortunately had to spit but Heather had no restrictions. We continued the tasting/purchasing into the next day and by the time we were finished, the boot was loaded down 17 cases of wine. As we were loading the last of the cases in to the car, a bus load of tourists were able to get a good look at the volume we had bought and there were a number of approving looks.
Finally, we had to leave Saumur and head back to London. Unfortunately, we had to do it all in one day with no stop overs - 6 hours of motorway driving was kind of tedious. Heather nodded off a couple of times, and I could have done with a snooze myself - it was boring. Probably wouldn't have been a too good an idea though. We arrived at Le Shuttle terminal a couple of hours early hoping to get an earlier train; the terminal was overflowing so that scrubbed that idea. We managed to get home at 18:30 though to cap a successful and enjoyable weekend.