Nobody is EVER gonna convince me that there’s a better way to experience a new country than travelling by car. And to prove it, I’m just gonna show you……
OK, well, John might beg to differ. Notice the white-knuckles on the steering wheel. But a little blizzard didn’t stop us! We (John) forged on through the Pyrenees until he finally brought us out from under the snow, and into a steady drizzle of rain for 7 days.
Now, before you go thinking what an awful trip it was, let me set you straight. This trip had everything you could ever want in a vacation — great adventures, wonderful people, some incredible food (and some “real” food) and history so deep we can’t even begin to imagine. And about 5 hours of sunshine. Oh, and then there’s the bread. And the croissants. And the CHEESE! Oh. My. God. This may not look like a designer cheese plate, but it was packed with flavor (and ideas for when I get home and get to make cheese again).
Our primary mission was to visit the birthplace of Al’s great-grandfather, Félix Prieur. The adventure of finding Great Granddad’s passport, and thus the name of the village where he was born, is a whole other story. Anyway, we found it. l’Isle de Noé is incredibly beautiful. No wonder Al is such a fan of history (and the Three Musketeers)!
One of the many highlights of the trip was a stay in a restored “Laird’s Manor” in a teensy village near Bougon. The owners, Cathy and Andy, both Brits, were really wonderful, and we had a great time. I have to confess, though, that I was gob-smacked (you learn a lot of new language when you’re with Brits) when they told us that they don’t do French food — it’s too boring. This is the part where you hear tires screeching and a needle screeching across a vinyl record. Yes, I’m that old. French food? Boring? With the lunch we had the day before — incredible roast Duck Confit with the best french fries EVER, fried in duck fat, it was anything but boring.
Then the next day we went to an authentic local French restaurant for lunch. After translation of the very fancy-sounding menu, this is what my lunch looked like. I still giggle every time I look at this photo. Not making this up… yes, that’s an unseasoned hamburger patty and mashed potatoes. I only wish I had taken a picture of the French menu and the she-she title that went with it.
We got to visit a French supermarket (you know, foodies do that sort of thing… ) and I could not believe how much cheese there was. Literally two long cooler rows — with the cheese divided into labeled sections like a wine store. Then there was also the gourmet cheese counter, and the prepared cheese appetizers. It felt like half the supermarket was cheese! Oh, and the other half was sausage and cured meat. And just in case you think I’m makin’ this up… that’s ALL cheese (and not even all of it!)
With cheese, of course you need great wine. This is where I allow myself a little whine – or “whinge,” if you’re British. Turns out that we arrived in Bordeaux during a holiday, and all the wineries were closed. Except one. We asked our Air BnB hosts if they could recommend a smaller local winery and they called in a favor. So we got to go wine tasting after all. YAY! The Mom who showed us around (the “kids” were on a business trip to China) wasn’t too sure about these English people — but she soon warmed up to us as John and Sally visited with her in French. Beyond that we had to settle for drinking local wine in the comfort of our Air BnB (damn!) and seeing the gorgeous (very wet) vineyards through the car windows. Poor us…
Then on the last day we had Cooking Class in Bordeaux. Great fun. Almost no English, but then again when someone shows you how to peel a mushroom — yes, peel a mushroom — all you need to do is watch and learn. The instructor’s name? Why, Francois, of course!
A HUGE thanks to our friends John and Sally for toting us all over southern France, and providing friendly translations to make our trip extra special!