Postcard from Bordeaux

Easyjet has been selling tickets at ridiculously low prices, tempting me to book a few days away in Bordeaux, where we spent a couple of glorious days last summer. Leaving Wednesday morning and arriving at midday enabled us to spend some time that afternoon in Bordeaux. Sadly the weather was most inclement but being British means we never go anywhere without a raincoat and brolly.  Even so, we were glad to pop into one of the city’s major hotels for a late lunch and sanctuary from the rain.

Thursday we drove to Saint Emilion which we’d not had time to visit last summer. The clouds were still emptying their contents on us below and the sky looked positively menacing. However, the inclement conditions couldn’t hide Saint Emilion’s many charms. A small, well-preserved, medieval, honey-hued town, famous for its prestigious red wine, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

saint emilion map, tourism map st emilion france

Located on a limestone plateau, the medieval city has lots of small winding, steep streets called « Tertres », cobbled squares and ramparts. Unsurprisingly the streets are lined with restaurants and shops selling Saint Emilion wines and other local gastronomic specialties.

Saint Emilion was built around a cave dug by a monk of the same name. The cave still retains the Saint’s furniture carved into the rock. Along with a source of water, which Emilion would have used as a baptismal font and which still flows today.

Undergrounds tour and visit in Saint Emilion, France

The town’s flagship building is its monolithic church, the largest underground church in Europe which was dug into one single block of stone at the end of 11th century by the Benedictines.

Monolithic Church Saint Emilion France

Nearby, the Holy Trinity Chapel, built in 3th century, is also a designated historical monument. Inside, the building is decorated with particularly well-preserved frescoes and medieval paintings. Reshaped at different times, the chapel shows and represents the evolution of Gothic construction techniques.

Trinity Chapel Saint Emilion France

There’s also the imposing Collegiate church, largely Gothic, which was built in the early 12th century. It has some splendid murals from different periods and a remarkable organ. It’s also the town’s parish church.

Collegiate church saint emilion

Surrounded by those famous Bordeaux vineyards, Saint Emilion possesses all the ideal conditions for wine production. The omnipresent limestone offers exceptional soil for Saint Emilion’s vines plus its terroirs offer a great geological diversity and a microclimate perfectly adapted to viticulture.

Wineries close to Saint Emilion, vineyard saint emilion, visit saint emilion, map saint emilion wineries, map saint emilion vineyard

After a potter around the town, we nipped into one of its many delightful restaurants for a restorative, warming cup of coffee and discussed Brexit with the bemused owner. I imagine he’s had many such discussions with the large number of British living and holidaying in the area. Thereafter we headed to our lunch date at another restaurant, a scant 50 metres away.

My beloved much approved of my choice and we opted to place ourselves in the capable hands of the Head Chef who, knowing my dietary constraints, blew us away. Frankly, none of our plates needed to the services of a dishwasher, they’d been licked (not literally) clean. This was a chef who much merited his two Michelin stars, along with a capable and delightful front of house staff. We were most reluctant to leave and, as it’s attached to a hotel, it could feature on future visits.

The plan for Friday was to return to the restaurant Lalique which, since our visit last year, has recently garnered a Michelin star. Yesterday’s chef was a Breton, this one hails from Strasbourg, both areas with strong culinary traditions reflected in their stunning menus.

Unfortunately as Friday morning dawned my beloved said he felt unwell, too unwell to go out! Though not too unwell he couldn’t eat breakfast. I reluctantly cancelled lunch, left him with several bottles of mineral water and caught the tram into a very sunny Bordeaux to better explore its splendours.

Aside from wandering around the shops, I visited the Musée Beaux Arts and Musee des Arts Decoratifs both of which were relatively quiet. Neither was particularly large, the first one was just behind the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall), with two small wings arranged around a lovely garden. While the second was built around a courtyard containing a restaurant which was the perfect spot for lunch.

I arrived back at our hotel late afternoon to discover my beloved was much recovered and looking forward to dinner! We ate at a small Italian restaurant recommended by the hotel which was extremely good. Saturday morning we rose ridiculously early to catch our flight back home. Trip over all too soon, but we’ll be back.

12 days of Christmas: day 9

This photo of part of the Monument aux Girondins, in Place des Quinconces, was taken during our summer vacation when we spent a few days  – not nearly enough – getting to know Bordeaux. The monument was erected between 1894 and 1902, in memory of the Girondin victims of the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution.

The monument has a large pedestal framed with two water basins, decorated with bronze horses and troops, and surmounted by a large column with a statue on top to represent the spirit of liberty.  It’s located slap bang in the middle of the Place des Quinconces, one of Europe’s largest city squares (approx. 12.6 ha).

It was a very hot day when I took the photo and I confess I’d have loved to dangle my feet in the fountain’s cooling waters. But I resisted temptation. Another visit to Bordeaux is definitely in the offing.

Holiday photos: day 32

I can’t remember where but at some point in the holiday my beloved said we were enjoying a Tour du Vin. For once, he was right. Pretty much everywhere we went, rows and rows of vines were omnipresent. As I wrap up our holiday, three days late, I’m focusing in on the highlights of our four plus week’s holiday. As an aside, don’t you find the first few weeks of a long holiday pass quite slowly, while the second half just whizzes past? A bit like life!

In no particular order, although it may be chronological, here’s our highlights:-

1. Chateau anyone?

Our second overnight stop was at the Chateau de Beauvois in the utterly charming village of Saint-Etienne-de-Chigny. We had received an apologetic email from the hotel before we arrived saying that we wouldn’t be able to eat in the restaurant because of a function. Said function was someone’s 18th birthday celebrations. The hotel upgraded us to a larger room as far as possible from the function which frankly provided us with an evening’s entertainment in an idyllic spot. The hotel threw in a cold supper with champagne and generally couldn’t do enough for us. The only fly in the ointment was our inability to access the internet but we surmised with all those youngsters constantly taking selfies and sending them to those who hadn’t been invited that there was no bandwidth left!

We’d previously enjoyed a short stay in the Loire and visited some of its glorious chateaux and plan to return to discover more. This hotel would make the perfect base.

2. La Baule but not as we remembered it!

My beloved and I had both holidayed in La Baule as teenagers and were interested to see its transformation. About the only thing either of us remembered was the lovely, wide sandy beach. Our base for the first few stages of this year’s Tour de France was Chateau des Tourelles in Pornichet in the bay of La Baule. The hotel was right on the beach and had an amazing thalassotherapy spa and a great restaurant. We had a sizeable room with a sea view and were reluctant to tear ourselves away to go and watch the Tour. It proved to be the perfect place to recharge our batteries and one we’d happily revisit.

3. Ooops!

We drove to Bordeaux and our delightful, highly rated B&B to discover no one was home! Booking.com kindly offered to cover any additional costs we might incur as a consequence, but we didn’t. Bordeaux exceeded our expectations and we’re planning a longer visit in either spring or autumn. However, the highlight of our trip was a happy coincidence. While walking round Bordeaux, I noticed an advert for a hotel and restaurant on a soon to be opened Lalique shop. When we got back to the hotel, I looked it up on the internet and made a booking for lunch the following day.

The hotel and restaurant Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey is slap bang in the middle of Sauternes’ vineyards. It had only opened three weeks ago and showcases Lalique’s huge range of products. The overall effect is magnificent. Lunch was sublime and I much enjoyed chatting afterwards to the chef Jerome Schilling who kindly adapted the day’s set luncheon to meet my exacting dietary requirements. We allowed the very knowledgable sommelier to choose the wines for each of our courses. We were reluctant to leave behind such perfection………next time.

4. I’ll have a glass of….

Our penultimate stop was in Rioja, a place we’ve visited from time to time with both the Tour of the Basque country and the Vuelta a Espana. This time we stayed in the delightful old town of Laguardia in a small, family run hotel, with an excellent restaurant and cellar. I may have mentioned that neither of us is particularly knowledgeable about wine, we just know what we like. We tasted a number of Riojan wines, red and white, and liked them all! Naturally, we bought some to bring back with us. I think a tour of this area would be lovely and it has gone onto our (ever-growing) bucket list.

5. Donostia

We first visited San Sebastian in 2010 and fell in love. Consequently, ever since, we’ve visited it at least once a year. This time though we rented an apartment in town for two weeks, close to the beach, so that we could visit all of our favourite haunts – too numerous to mention – and find some new ones. While my beloved popped back to London for a few days, I also enjoyed the San Sebastian Jazz Festival.

Most of our visits to the town have revolved around a bike race, usually La Clasica, held on the Saturday after the Tour de France has finished. We had friends riding in the race who both did their bit to animate the racing. This year’s trip had an added poignancy, we already know  that we won’t be able to visit next year because of other commitments. But we will be back!

 

 

Holiday photos: day 11

Our brief stay in Bordeaux had flown by but we’d greatly enjoyed ourselves and decided to prolong our trip by heading to Bayonne via Sauternes. Well, we’d visited claret country and a quick look around the white burgundy vineyards seemed only fair. While walking around Bordeaux the previous day we’d noted that Lalique had opened a hotel and restaurant only three weeks ago near to Sauternes. We checked it out and booked a table for lunch.

While the chateaux of Medoc were either side of the D2, those in Graves and Sauternes were sprinkled among the extensive forests which from time to time gave way to acres of manicured vines. The villages were pretty but rather more bucolic. As we drove around the early clouds lifted, the sun came out to play and the mercury rose.

As anticipated, the hotel showcased Lalique’s full product range and really had the “WOW” factor. We sat in a sunny extension to the chateau overlooking the ripening grapes and enjoyed the theatre of a lovely light luncheon concocted to perfectly meet my exacting dietary requirements, with matching wines. It was sublime! Reluctantly we took our leave to head for our next stop in Bayonne.

Holiday photos: day 10

Another gorgeously sunny day and we decided to venture into the centre of Bordeaux. Creamy stone buildings with wrought iron balconies, wide boulevards, pedestrianised Old Town, cool breeze from the Gironde – I was in seventh heaven. My beloved kept a close eye on me as I wandered around admiring (and photographing) the spectacular architecture oblivious to the crowds around me.

We walked anti-clockwise around Bordeaux’s historic centre starting at Place Gambetta before passing through Porte Dijeaux into the Old Town with all its splendours. We were particularly taken with the Monument aux Girondins (pictured above) a truly magnificent fountain, and the Place de la Bourse, where we lunched, which rather recalls Versailles.

It was too hot to visit any of the museums or the Cite du Vin which, of course, means a revisit probably in either spring or autumn. I found a delightful hotel in the centre of Bordeaux where we’d like to stay. Plus, we’d barely scratched the surface of the city with our meanderings.

 

Holiday photos: day 9

I’m not very knowledgable about wine. I know what I like and what I don’t like. When my beloved suggested we tour the chateaux on the left bank of the Gironde, you might be thinking we were going to indulge in a degustation of all the Grand Crues. I, on the other hand, was thinking property porn!

I totally understand why the Bordeaux area is UNESCO protected. It’s charming, just like a fairy tale. Vineyards as far as the eye can see, all beautifully maintained; creamy stone, turreted, medium-sized chateau with impressive stone entrances and extravagent wrought iron gates; dnall flocks of swallows swooping; enchanting, sleepy villages with names that are familiar from the more expensive bottles on restaurants’ wine lists. It was heavenly.

My beloved spotted a lovely restaurant in Saint Julian – 40+years of intensive training finally paying dividends – where we ate a divine and  ery reasonably priced menu. Plus, the chef owner indulged me by explaining in detail how he prepared and cooked each of our courses. Despite its inauspicous start, our stay in Bordeaux was going with a swing.

 

 

Holiday photos: day 8

Our trip to Bordeaux did not get off to an auspicious start as we were delayed by traffic jams caused by roadworks and accidents. I had booked a small, charming, B&B that had excellent ratings on booking.com for the next five nights. I had some slight concern as I’d been unable to contact them to reserve either a parking spot or advise them of our late arrival.

Our plan had been to arrive well before the start of the France v Belgium game and then head out to see Lenny Kravitz who was in town. Well, the best laid plans and all that saw us arrive at the B&B at half-time, after listening to the match commentary on the radio, only to find no one was home. We again tried to contact them to no avail and finally found another small hotel nearby for the night.

We watched the last 15 minutes of the game and then the hotel owner broke out the bubbles – how nice! I sent a few pithy emails of complaint to booking.com and we decided not to book another hotel until we’d slept on it. After an exceedingly good night’s sleep we decided to stay on at the small hotel for a couple of days. I hope Lenny wasn’t too disappointed that we were “no shows.”

Postscript: Chapeau to booking.com: profuse apologies plus offer to reimburse us for any additional costs.

Holiday!

We’re off on vacation tomorrow – hurrah. Over the following two days we’re driving to the start of the Tour de France in the Vendee by way of Maçon and Saint-Etienne-de Chigny. We’ve stayed in the former a number of times already and have a favourite restaurant which we’ll be patronising once again. The latter is relatively new territory for us though it’s in the Loire Valley, not far from Tours and Chateau de Villandry an area we visited back in 2016.

We drive in short stages so that my beloved doesn’t drive more than about 4 hours each day. Our initial destination will be yet another trip down memory lane as we’re staying in La Baule, a place my beloved and I last visited in our teens. It will have changed out of all recognition but I have vivid recollections of our holiday.

I was just sixteen on what was to be my last family holiday with my parents and sisters. I’d really only agreed to go with them because I was still recovering from a bout in hospital. Unusually, my parents didn’t book anywhere to stay in La Baule before leaving to drive down there assuming, as it was July rather than August, we’d be fine.

The ferry trip followed a similar pattern. My father and I enjoyed lunch on board while my mother and two sisters stayed up top to stave off seasickness. They had more company than us. We stopped overnight on the way to La Baule, arriving at our destination the following day at lunchtime. We ate at a lovely Brasserie and then my father did the rounds of the hotels, and tourist office. No room at the inn, anywhere!

Sheree to the rescue. Armed with my better-than-average school girl French, I managed to find us a two-week rental in a lovely 3-bedroomed apartment just a stone’s throw from the seafront. The only fly in the ointment was that said rental didn’t start until the following day. We all spent an uncomfortable night in the car before heading for heavenly coffee and croissants at the same Brasserie.

Of course, my mother was none too pleased to be staying in a flat because it wasn’t really a holiday for her. Just same old, same old but in a different location. My father ensured we ate out most of the time and, if we ate in, we enjoyed the produce from the local traiteur. Needless to say my father never ever went anywhere again without making a booking beforehand.

I have fond memories of the place, its wonderful restaurants and beach and me having to order everything for everyone in French. I have no idea what my beloved’s vacation was like but he too seems to have enjoyed his family holiday there.

My beloved rather enjoys Thalassotherapy treatments, particularly since he broke his leg last year. Although we’ll be watching the first four stages of the Tour de France, I’m sure we’ll find time to visit the hotel spa. Thereafter, the Tour heads north and we head south. Our next stop is Bordeaux, a town we’ve previously merely passed through. This time we’ll be spending five days in town but I’m sure we’ll also find time to head to the coast at Arcachon.

Then we’re driving to my beloved Basque country. Most years we have at least one, if not two trips there but, the last couple of years, I’ve had to settle for a single trip. We’ll firstly spend five nights in Saint Jean de Luz, an old favourite of ours, where we’ll be staying at another hotel with Thalassotherapy facilities which is right on the beach.

Our trip ends with a two-week rental in an apartment in San Sebastian which overlooks Concha beach and has a much prized car parking spot. In between, we’ll be enjoying two days in Rioja where we’ll be sampling and purchasing a few bottles to bring back with us.

No holiday is complete without my beloved flying off somewhere for a business meeting/exhibition. This holiday is no exception. He’ll be spending four days of our first week in San Sebastian back in London at a Dental meeting! But I’ll hardly notice he’s not there as I’ll be on familiar territory  – I know San Sebastian like the back of my hand – and able to do exactly what I want, when I want. Now, let’s get packing.

 

Wasteful

As a manager, you always want your team to give of their best. After all, a manager is only as good as the people who work for him or her. Management is not an art, nor is it rocket science. It’s grounded in common sense. In my experience, if someone isn’t performing to the level you expect, you need to sit down with them and try to get to the bottom of the matter. Don’t assume, it’s all down to the individual either, it’s far more likely to be your fault. You cannot expect anyone to work well if they do not know or understand what it is you expect of them. This is true of whomever or whatever you’re managing. Clearly, some managers are better than others in unlocking and developing an individual’s potential.

My chouchou of the French beautiful game is one Yoann Gourcuff who was the subject of several pages of conjecture in L’Equipe this week which may have contributed to him being unfairly whistled at by the French crowd when he was substituted in 86th minute in yesterday’s friendly against Brazil.

My take on the issue is that he feels crushed by the overwhelming burden of expectation. The French public regard Gourcuff as Zizou’s natural successor. Those are mighty boots for anyone to fill, let alone someone who, let’s not forget, is only 24. True he plays in a similar position, behind the strikers, and displays the same kind of creativity and technique as Zidane.
 
He’s the son of Lorient’s manager and until his teen years played tennis to a competitively high standard too but, having been beaten by one Raphael Nadal, he chose to concentrate on his football. After a successful debut in the professional game at Rennes, he moved to  AC Milan in 2006. It was not a good move. He couldn’t get a game. 
 
He returned to France in 2008, initially on loan, to Bordeaux where he flourished under Laurent Blanc leading Les Girondins to the League and League Cup titles as well as being named the French League’s Player of the Year after scoring 12 goals and claiming 11 assists. He continued to play well and was shortlisted for the Ballon d’Or award in 2009.
 
After the departure of Blanc, Gourcuff signed for Olympique Lyonnais in 2010 where he has failed to build on that early promise. Promise that is evident when he plays for France under Blanc. He played well yesterday evening, as did Karim Benzema who scored the only goal of the match. He’s another player who can’t get  a game at his club: Real Madrid.
 
For whatever reason, neither of these players are playing to their full potential at club level. I don’t know why this is and no doubt many columns have been written speculating on the various reasons. It just strikes me as a great shame that their respective managers can’t or won’t make best use of these talented players.
   

It’s all too much

My abiding memory of this Vuelta (yes, I know it’s not yet finished) will be Igor Anton’s bloodied, brave, little soldier face, waving good bye to us all, with his left hand, from the passenger seat of his DS’s car, as he’s driven away from what might have been his first Grand Tour win. Having hit a pot-hole at high speed, he broke his right elbow, took out a team mate (Egoi Martinez – dislocated shoulder), shredded the red leader’s jersey and large parts of his own skin. He was mightily handily placed and who knows what might have been, but you need luck to win a Grand Tour.

This past week end was a veritable cycling fest with GPs in Quebec (Voeckler) and Montreal (Gesink), Paris-Brussels (Ventoso), GP des Fourmies (Feillu), the end of the Tour de l’Avenir (Quintana) and the start of the Tour of Great Britain. A trip to Italy over the week end meant that I’ve seen very little of any of this cycling, but a girl can have too much of a good thing.

OGCN continue to defy the odds with a home  win against a lacklustre Bordeaux; not the team they were last season with Blanc at the helm and Gourcuff up front. AVFC meanwhile continued to confound by conceeding a goal in the final minute of their away game at Stoke to lose 2-1. Their best player tellingly was the goalkeeper, Brad Friedel.

What of my own training I hear you ask. Well, mindful of my forthcoming trip to Australia, my cycling coach has introduced running and gym work into the weekly mix along with some interval sprint training on the bike. We rode together last week and he had me sprinting in the drops, not something I’ve ever done before. Initially, I felt as if I’d lost control of the handlebars but soon got the hang of it. It certainly gives you a more dynamic position on the bike and, looking at the stats afterwards, I did ride faster.

Friday was my first “running” session. I use the term guardedly as I’m not sure the speed at which I travel qualifies as running. I had surprisingly sore shins the following day which have fortunately now abated and which didn’t recur after my run on Tuesday.

I rode with my beloved on both Saturday and Sunday. The weather is still glorious, although a little fresh first thing, and you’re starting to need to put on a light jacket when descending from the higher hills, like Col de Vence. It’s slowly cooling down but the wild life it still active, particularly the mosquitos and horseflies, whose desire to taste me is undiminished.

The run up to my departure for Melbourne is typically hectic. I’m juggling way too many things at the moment (huge “to do” list) and am praying I  manage to get them all done before I leave, otherwise I’ll still be dealing with them in Melbourne.