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Trip Report THE VERY BEST OF FRANCE

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In April this year I made my 10th trip to France and my 8th trip to the Perigord/Limousin/Charante region and it won't be my last trip either. Below is a shortish report of some places of note and things that I think are important i.e. accommodation.

You can see France in two ways - you can take a tour and be shown what other people think you should see OR you can immerse yourself in the French culture and stay at an English speaking establishment where the owners will help you decide on the best of things to see and do in France for yourself.

We have stayed in many gites in France before but none have come close to the facilities & comfort that Penny & John have put into their gites and into their Bed and Breakfast business at La Betoulle, St Claud, Charante France http://www.manoir-la-betoulle.com/. I must also say that I have stayed twice in the B&B section as well which has the same standard of accommodation but this year we decided to take things easy and stay in one of the gites (holiday cottage on site) at La Betoulle.

La Betoulle is a special place. I have run and owned a B&B since 1999 but Penny and John have set their bar so high that I could never compete. The property has many acres in which one can roam, a large swimming pool, Tennis court and huge outdoor chess set. It is built and furnished more like a stately home than a B&B and Penny is a fantastic cook.

The weather was not very nice for our week but we were more than comfortable in the gite & could not have enjoyed ourselves more. The cottage is of course self contained with a large lounge/dining room, two bedrooms - the main is huge with sitting area and deck surrounding most of the cottage and accessable from the main bedroom and lounge, Kitchen with dishwasher stove and large fridge and everything you could possibly need in equipment. Finally a lovely bathroom and a laundry off the second bedroom which incidently has a washbasin.

There are books everywhere, tour guides and tour information and even information on local French Garage Sales and markets which are a real treat to go to. The Gite has Sat TV, DVD and CD and radio and it is nothing short of a home away from home

Penny’s welcome basket with the home made strawberry jam, macarons & honey from their bees was an absolute treat & we were very grateful for the lovely contents of this basket which included a yummy bottle of French wine.

Thanks too to Penny & John for their suggestions of places to see & enjoy. A particular unexpected delight was a trip to the ‘Valley of the Monkeys’ ( Valley of the Singes) I love animals & I think this zoo has to be one of the best ever. It’s a ‘walk through the animals territory’ no cages except for their sleeping quarters which they can get in and out of. I had an extra special treat in being able to sit on a bench with a lemur sitting right beside me, upside down, legs in the air and sunning itself – Wow! what a memory! Little Tamarins were playing peek-a-boo with us from the roof of one of their huts. I most certainly will head back to this zoo next time I am in France.

There are many beautiful places around this area, namely Angouleme with its old ramparts and beautiful river - take a boat ride on that.

There are also places like Oradour-Sur-Glane which stands as it was left in June 1944 when the Nazis killed all the village people and bombed the village to bits. It is a memorial to those people and there is the cemetary there as well. You can walk the village streets and see the rusted cars still left where they were bombed. A grim reminder of a grim past. I can take up to three hours to see everything there.

Many thanks for your hospitality Penny and John & may you still be at La Betoulle the next time I am back in France.

Following our week in La Betoulle went travelled to Monbazillac which is just south of Bergerac in the Perigord region of France and which is a big wine growing area. In previous years we had stayed with Martin and Charmaine Lascelles in the B&B section of their most fantastic 16th Century barn conversion but this time we decided to stay in their gite which is attached to the property.

I don't know whether I should mention this or not but Martin is related to the Royal Family in England which means that the home is dotted with all sorts of interesting objects from Royals personages past and pictures and objects reflect this connection throughout the house. This was the family home and has its own vineyard. Martin's mother was an actress and there are biographies everywhere of people she knew and acted with, photos of herself and memorabilia of her time on the stage. So in fact the house itself is a wonderful drawcard and a beautiful conversion. Having said all that do NOT expect butlers or footmen or any pomp and ceremony because the owners are just ordinary people who have an interesting family history, a beautiful home a welcoming B&B and Martin's main interest in life is his Music Production Company - apart from his family that is.

Monbazillac is only 10 minutes from Bergerac Airport which has flights into it from the UK and other areas of Europe - very convenient.

At present there are some health problems for the owners but I do know that the B&B is going to remain open this summer anyway. My email address is elfin4@bigpond.com and if you want to book at this place email me and I will give you the phone number.

From Montbazillac you can get to St Emilion to the West which is a magnificent Roman village in the oldest wine growing area, south are the villages of Issignac ( some 1200 years old and one of the loveliest villages in France ) Emyet, a bastide village. To the North is Bergerac with its old part of the city which is certainly worth a visit. East of course is the valley of the Dordogne and the Vezere Rivers steeped in history of the 100 year war between France and England and where the pre-historic caves are to be found. Sarlat is the most wonderful town in that area but do not try and go there on a Saturday as the Market is on and thousands of people flock to that town for the market. I have stayed in Sarlat on previous visits but with two markets per week you will be woken up at 4 AM with stall holders setting up - if that is not a problem then book yourself in at La Pivoine, Gite, in the middle of the old part of two and soak up the atmosphere of this fantastic place. There is a Tourism Office in Sarlat which has English speakers who can help with accommodation for you. I personally have stayed in La Pivoine and it too is an exceptional place to stay.

If you don't believe me about the Perigord region and the Dordogne Valley google the writer Henry Miller and see what he said about it. If you have not been there you have not been anywhere I think.

These areas of France are sublime, the food, the wine, the villages, the countryside and the people is everything anyone could want and more. ENJOY!
















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