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Late Doors

France, Languedoc and Charente Maritime

Bon Jour Mes Amis

*Kisses Reg on both cheeks*

Just Back after a terrific Coast to coast jaunt from the Atlantic to the Med. We’ve packed plenty in that I’ll tell you about if in fact anyone gives a chuff.

We had four base camps. A few day trips from there, made friends. Pissed a couple off, drank wine, beer and eaten like gentry. Walked and walked. Used the brilliant public transport all the time and generally immersed ourselves in all things French particularly the Languedoc and Charente Maritime regions.

I’ve been coming to France fairly regularly since my first trip to Paris in Spring 83 split 50-50 i’d say between cycling trips and more leisurely trips with MrsD (not always the same one i have to report but let’s hope there are no more)

The French are a much maligned bunch aren’t they? Mainly down to the blokes i’d say. It’s easy  to misinterpret their Gallic swagger, instinct for style and presentation and appreciation of the finest detail as a bit poncey. You know what they say though?. Un Hommes savoir faire, coiffured ambience appreciator is another blokes fussy arrogant nancy boy.

I think they are fine once you know what makes them tick. One of those ticking things is the women. Surely the most beautiful women on Earth and I’m havng no debate about that, right?

It seems that evey one of them have that “I’m a women therefore by default i am attractive” way about them without also having that “fit but know it” attitude. They seem to also appreciate a little appreciative smile without interpreting it as anything other. Hell, some of them actually smile back without thinking you are a potential rapist.

Then of course there is the wonderful tucker. To be honest they make a bit too much ceremony over it for my liking but there is no denying that their seriousness about it produces amazing meals. I've eaten things  i wouldn’t look twice at over here. Raw Duck, Almond Croissants, Tripe fritters, snails and even carrots.

I've eaten enough oysters that if the myth is true would see me displacing Russell Brand, John Terry and my mate Long Tom in the all England jolly Jousting team but sadly the myth is just that, another cock n bull story.

Another thing about them is their egalitarian and libertarian attitude to life. We saw gangs of crusty types. Not bothering anyone completely take over public spaces who would have been rounded up and moved on in an instance here but no one battered an eyelid and every one just carried on as normal with no fear, threats or trouble at all. We saw numerous demonstrations when public transport was disrupted. Peoples plans altered but there was no animosity at all. In fact most people showed support  for whatever they were marching for despite having their travel disrupted.

They are very proud of being French too and I've always found them to be completely at odds with their reputation. Very friendly and accommodating especially if you try to speak the lingo. Five years of grammar school French have come in useful many times over the years. By the end of the fortnight i was actually having long chats in French

Prices have shot up as well. A pint ranging from four quid to eight quid averaging about six. Only buying wine from the shops is cheap these days with a quality bottle costing as little as two quid. You can economise with the happy hours, formula meal deals and generally looking around and following the crowds of students but going out is very expensive in the cities. Cheaper as you'd expect in the country and something more like normal

So four stop offs, the first La Rochelle on Jet2 from Leeds. I’ll do four separate reports because they were four separate and different kinds of places. I've taken 370 pictures so i should be able to pick a few good ones out as well. We’ve certainly seen some visually stunning sites
Carp

sounds like a decent hol then innit.
bearing

Can't wait LD, I love holidaying in France.

The French are a great bunch of folks, never had any problem with them.

Went to the Charante - Maritime region around 10 years ago, lovely part of France. Stayed in a little village just south of Saintes
Jones the Steamed

I may sound like Karl Pilkington but I don't see the point in eating snails.

They're a bastard to pick out of the shells with them little prongs you get and take forever to chew, they also taste of fuck all, nothing.

Pointless food for posers if you ask me.
bearing

Jones the Steamed wrote:
I may sound like Karl Pilkington but I don't see the point in eating snails.

They're a bastard to pick out of the shells with them little prongs you get and take forever to chew, they also taste of fuck all, nothing.

Pointless food for posers if you ask me.


I too was not impressed with the snails.
Late Doors

Had em twice now, paid for the first lot just to try them. I thought they were ok. Earthy almost mucky tasting but a not unpleasant squid like texture. They do drown it all with lashings of garlic though. This lot were free as part of a tapas type thing. Just the same as previous. Wouldn’t  have them over here or pay for them again but they’re ok.

The tripe fritters were brilliant though as was this andouilette tarte I had which is essentially tripe on a pastry. Not unlike the stuff you get in Pork Pies actually. Washed down with a pint of Leffe, very nice indeed
Dock

Great write up LD as usual. I read it while having my morning cuppa and a Mars Bar. Cheers!
bearing

Where's these fecking travelogues?
Late Doors

Two bulls, one young one older walking down a field and saw a field full of cows. Come on said the younger one lets run down to that field and shag a few cows. No the older one said, lets walk down and shag them all. Something for you to ponder younsunnyjimjackladmifella.

La Rochelle


So First stop La Rochelle half way down the French West Coast on the Atlantic Coast of the Poitou-Charentes region of France. It’s name alone has always conjured up archetypal French elegance for me and I was eagerly anticipating the fine Sea Food they have that Butts assures me twitches when you add the lemon juice. Its unspoilt nature apparently is down to the foresight of a 1970’s mayor who steadfastly resisted the trend of the time to develop and regenerate and effectively stole the place off the developers

We got there late afternoon. Checked into our adequate hotel and decided to set out for the rest of the day but not before the obligatory clothes change MrsD embarks on when she thinks the weather is going to get colder than Sahara desert temps in the evening. While she was gone I read a placard on the hotel. It was an old church that had kept the original façade and was apparently a hiding place for the local leader of the Resistance. I was amusing myself imagining some stripe shirted tommy gun carrying beret clad Frenchman with a name like Shokola Moose scurrying around the café saying things like hello hello in amusing French dialect English whilst escaping the attentions of amorous young French women in Au Pair clothes when I read the last sentence. Caught by the Gestapo in Jan 1944. Sent to camp in Feb 1944. Died there in April 1944 and suddenly I felt a little stupid and ashamed of myself.


So we started with a jaunt around the harbour guarded by the three towers on sentry getting more and more majestic in the lowering sun and crisp saline air. Their seemed to be a commotion of some kind at the bottom end and indeed there was quite a stir there as some French TV Festival was ongoing with local TV Celebrities in the VIP area which was surrounded with fawning fans. The rest of the designated café was littered with media types and I swear I saw English lads there looking bored and so far above proceedings the air sea rescue helicopter was flying under them.

We decided to take a wander on the waterfront around the opposite side to get a view of the towers which involved tracing back our steps  as there is no way to traverse the port other than around the perimeter. Although there are two prongs to the port/harbour the area can be categorises in North, South and West terms. The more popular West side is the trendiest place lined with bars cafes and restaurants with most of the old town behind it. The East side is mainly restaurants but at this time of year it gets very little sun untill late on so there wasn’t much activity there whilst the North side at the head of the port held a busy road and a string of low key bars and shops and was very much a more local hangout. That was the road leading to our hotel so we enjoyed more than the odd pint on the small roadside terraces there enjoying the more relaxed vibe and views across the port to the busier areas with the moored yachts reflecting in the still blue evening water.



The town itself was pleasant enough. A nice main shopping street with an old covered arched pedestrian side way was the main artery but there were a few narrow side streets to wander around before hitting the canal on a much wider boulevard. Despite the unassuming charms of the town it’s really the waterside that gives La Rochelle its ample unadulterated and unspoilt harbour town appeal. The bars and cafes were very busy especially in the evening when certain places that get the setting sun are the places to be seen in and packed with sun glasses wrapped around well coiffured tanned countenances sipping coffees and cocktails.



Just around the corner of this trendier West Side was the short waterfront area leading to the entrance of the port with the two prominent towers on either side. It was here that my favourite bar was, although it did get a little cold once the sun dropped down behind us. It was called Café Leffe and not surprisingly was the best and cheapest place to sup a pint of Belgium’s finest.



There was a potters wheel in front of it where a potterer made intricate vessels out of clay to much singing by young girls of that song they do in that film with oojah and whatshername

All in all a mega cool neat place for a chilled night out. Lovely calm atmosphere about the place despite the throngs and the perfect setting for a few aperitifs before the evening meal.

Obviously Sea Food was the order of the day in most restaurants with Oysters available everywhere, roughly half dozen for about 8euros on average though that varied on size and location. There was one particular street renowned for its great restaurants ((Rue St jean ded perot) but could we get a table that Saturday night? Could we fck. Then we saw an Indian Place looked at each other, laughed as we both recognised the Saturday Curry Pangs and took a table outside, Now before you food Nazis mock me let me tell you I had the finest fish curry I've ever had.  A beautiful fresh juicy chunk of Salmon and a piquant gingery slightly acidic sauce that complimented it brilliantly.  Also had one of them big sea food platters on the Monday night even though it’s thought you shouldn’t get it on Monday nights on account of it not been fresh. I’ve always been a bit dubious about this advice. It wasn’t one of those tiered cake stand type platters but a big oval plate of Crab, huge prawns in the shell, whelk type things, cockles, smaller prawns and Oysters washed down with a fruity little house white. Although it didn’t quite twitch it was very satisfactory and in a lovely internationally renowned restaurant called Chez Fred with Routard recommendations all over it. It was on a fairly bohemian and funky street as well obviously La Rochelles alternative quarter.

We had another fine meal on that foody street that was rammed on the first night in a restaurant we had recommended to us by someone in the hotel cafe Aunis). It was there I had that tripe flan I mentioned earlier and skate with capers Delicious and again full on a Sunday night. Tuesday night was fish free night in a Persian Restaurant when we had pangings for vegetables so loaded up on aubergines and spinach.

Had a couple of long but leisurely treks as well looking resplendant if i say so myself in shorts and barefeet clad sandals) up and down the shoreline in both directions which we enjoyed. Going North there is a beach and a smart urban area with a couple of nice parks but not much in the way of bars and café. The path we took looked quite new and was well used by walkers, dog walker and cyclists alike but they all seemed to be getting along with no congestion, finger gestures or track suit clad scroats shouting hilarious advice to the cyclists or dogs that look like they’ve been sired by  Danny De Vito and Anne Widdecome.

The other way in the South Direction went past a huge harbour packed with Yachts along the more rugged coast line towards a smart urban area.

So not only is La Rochelle ace in its own right it’s also a base to set off on other day Trips. The first was the elegant and currently fashionable Ill De Re. Apparently it’s THE place to go now for the cool British Elite and I can see why. Not easily accessible from Britain but has all the understated but classy elements you associate with Continental summer breaks in the sun all wrapped up in an unspoilt protective net of old school charm that refuses to compromise. There is now a huge bridge from the main land to this 30 km long island that we crossed on the service bus from La Rochelle terminus to the island capital St Martin on a 50 minute ride through narrow country lanes festooned with Trumpton like shops, garages, farms and small but exotic gardens. Well scrubbed up British Hooray Henriettas were cycling along the beautifully preserved original city walls. Bric Brac shops and boutiques peppered the streets leading down from the prominent church to the serene harbour lined by restaurants.


It was lunch, time for some Moules Et Frites


We were also planning a day out in Cognac and Saintes but the Train was cancelled due to some industrial action involving selfish commie agitators protesting that they it is not quite right to have their life long accrued pensions whittled down to nothing. So we took a train to Rochefort for the day on a completely impromptu visit simply because the next train went there. It was quite an interesting town actually. On the face of it a bog standard work a day French Town unremarkable except for a wonderful market and it was a major French Navy Base in the Days us and them were at each others throats with two ship building bays brilliantly preserved from the 17th century. It also had a magnificent long flat building by the river in landscaped surroundings, currently naval barracks but it used to make the entire supply of Rope for the whole of France.



So there you Go. La Rochelle. We took a train on the Wednesday then South to Bordeaux
bearing

Late Doors wrote:
Two bulls, one young one older walking down a field and saw a field full of cows. Come on said the younger one lets run down to that field and shag a few cows. No the older one said, lets walk down and shag them all. Something for you to ponder younsunnyjimjackladmifella.



I bet he got there and through them in less than eight days though LD.  
bearing

Took me right back LD, ta.

Looking forward to Bordeaux, enjoyed my visit there.
Pond Life

Report - ace, Leffe - yum!

No end to this mans talents.
bearing

Pond Life wrote:
Report - ace, Leffe - yum!

No end to this mans talents.


It ends at forum administration.
Butts

Sounds and looks great LD. The only place I've been to which has rivalled it for unbelievable seafood is Marseilles.
Late Doors

I’ve dabbled with Leffe before but it is just so bleeding strong. BUT put into its right context its sublime. That context of course being not necking it like a twat all night in Wakey or the like.

had only the briefest of stops in Marseilles. Its on the list.

Bordeaux was fantastic, absolutely loved it and would live their tommorow if someone said i had to. Very young town though, everyone seemed either under thirty or over 60. Report errr shortly  
Late Doors

Right, Bordeaux

So we caught the train from La Rochelle to Bordeaux on the Wednesday for both our first visits to this famous city. I've travelled through it twice previously on the train and knew one day id find out just what is across the sprawling muddy river in amongst the distant towers and bridges you can see on the way to the station which is quite a walk out of town. In fact it’s quite a seedy walk along sex shop lined streets but in the mid day sun which had strengthened significantly the further south we went it was perfectly safe and not at all intimidating. MrsD though still clutched her backpack with slight trepidation.

Bordeaux has had a strong British connection for centuries dating back to the 12th century when our king Henry 2nd married one of the regions posh birds and started a three hundred year affinity for the place including the popularising of the regions wines calling them a generic claret

We’d booked BnB from a trip advisor recommended private home that had turned itself into a retirement project by Francoise and Danielle. The facade of the place was not exactly inviting. A big Mucky door directly onto the pavement of an unkempt street just down from a very dodgy looking bar called Chez Milton George. We rang the buzzer and Francoise let us in. The transformation was amazing. The door closed behind us and instead of walking into the grim corridor we were expecting we found ourselves in an open air tranquil oasis of calm greenery. Up some steps onto a raised decking area and into the second floor of a smart immaculate house through a pair of sliding doors. It was a different world and you could not believe that on two sides of the place were busy bussling city roads.

Francoise was a huge French bloke with blonde hair and had the look of an older more robust Boris Johnson about him. He got the beers out straight away and the three of us swigged a couple back on the decked patio area in the hot sun. He could hardly speak English but we managed a decent conversion using my limited French about Rugby, Football, Wine, French Politics, Restaurants in town and the massive student population in Bordeaux. He was what I would imagine the original essence of Bon Viveur is.

He and his Mrs cooked a different breakfast each morning for the guests who shared a table. Now this is something I'm not normally fond of but we had good company in the form of a French couple from Orleans and a nice couple from Macclesfield. I tried to explain to the French couple and our hosts all about Ian Curtis and the Mac lads in the best French I could muster, I think they understood.

We were on the South West end of Town a short walk to the place de Victoire, a big Student hangout. It was obviously some kind of freshers occasion as loads of them were about in decorated white overcoats tying themselves together with gaffer tape and more than a little immersed in drink. So on we went under a fantastic clock


through narrow bohemian streets lined with North African Tea and café hangouts and dark forbidding looking bars until we arrived at the focal point of the town St Andres church. By this time the sun was lowering and the absolutory fantastic architecture of the town really came to life including the grandest fountain I've ever see, magnificent.






Unsurprisingly the tucker was not as sea food dedicated as La Rochelle and the ale a little cheaper, especially in the happy hour places where the students went. Wine believe it or not per bottle was just as expensive in the restaurants as at home though the pichers of house wine were cheap enough and more than palatable. There were plenty of cheaper fast food type places around as well but we stuck to the good places. Bordeaux being a bigger city was full of hidden little gems of squares that had their own character and packed with bars and cafes all very well populated throughout the week. The place was abounding with cool bars all with their own character, a lot of them were order and pay at the bar which eliminates all that waiting and hanging around for the waiter to take your money that gets on my tits sometimes.


The first night we ate at a place called Chez Jean on Francois recommendation and it was pretty dam good. The second night we took a chance and ordered something in the place we were enjoying a few drinks in. It was disappointing. The third night we took another chance simply by observing the places that were packed with locals and dropped the jackpot. A fantastic place with fantastic food, so good I’ve forgotten what it was called and what we had to eat other than a raw Duck starter.  We got the last two seats in the house, hell I even had a dessert.

Visually I think the towns pride and joy is the massive place de La Bourse on the main road alongside the river, totally devoid of bars and café’s it has a statesman like grandeur and is a splendid sight night and day with the brand new trams running in front of it and a concourse that emits water spray that the kids as always find irresistible to play in.



So, apart from just wandering around the entire city centre we had a fab day out on Friday and did something I have wanted to do for about 15 years as a kind of must do before I leave this mortal coil thing. That is sit down at an outside table in the afternoon sun somewhere in the Bordeaux wine region and enjoy a bottle of claret with  a medium rare steak and what better place to do that than the very pretty St Emillion, a 50 minute train ride away. It didn’t have to be a posh restaurant, the finest vintage or prime steak just the everyday sort of thing that people must do over there like we have a few pints and a curry. It was all I ever hoped it would be, magnificent, that is all.





St Emilion is a lovely village in it’s own right as well, obviously a  show piece for the region, not short of a bob or two and lots of tourists it still manages to retain a rustic elegance.

So after three splendid nights in Bordeaux we caught the train for the long journey south East to Carcassonne on Saturday afternoon, where they play proper Rugby.
sheeps

You do have an eye for taking a picture LD.

As good as the reports, what camera do you use?
Late Doors

Ta, nowt too fancy, a pocket sized Canon Ixus 200 IS, had it about a year now. It's got a good range from 28mm wide angle to a 5* optical zoom with some nice manual setting options. Perfect for travelling and im well happy with it.
Pond Life

If ever you're going to Paris, check this blog out...

http://peter-pho2.blogspot.com/
Late Doors

Cheers PL. looks interesting. Paris is fantastic, try to get a break there at least every other year and i'd go more if i had the time
Butts

Great that, looking forward to your reports of Carcasonne and, hopefully, your opinion on Laungedoc cuisine and especially the gorgeous cassoulet.
Late Doors

Jeeez cassoulet. Ive never been as full in my life, there must have been ten thousand calories in just one portion    I'll get round to the Carcasonne trip soon
Butts

Ingredients

1 tin of haricot blanc/coco beans (or the equivalent quantity of dried beans, which have been soaked and boiled with herbs, garlic and onion until soft. I use the dried version because of the taste they get from cooking in the flavoured water, but this is a lot more hassle than opening a tin!).
• Either a cast iron casserole pot (e.g. 'Le Creuset'), or a frying pan and a glass or ceramic casserole pot. The advantage of the cast iron option is that you can do all the cooking in the one pot.
• 2 Toulouse or other coarse sausages.
• 2 strips of pork belly, 0.5-1cm thick.
• 2 duck legs, cooked (Ideally 'confitted' - cooked in duck fat for a couple of hours - but fried or roasted is fine).
• 1 onion, finely chopped.
• 2 cloves of garlic, crushed.
• A good dollop of tomato purée or 3 fresh tomatoes, chopped.
• Olive oil, butter and/or a little duck fat.
• A pint of water or, preferably, chicken stock.


What to do:

The key to my easy cassoulet is not lots of stages and processes, but to cook it for long enough for the liquid and fat to emulsify completely, and a crispy crust has formed.

• In either the cast iron pot or a frying pan, heat a couple of glugs of olive oil with a nugget of butter and/or a nugget of duck fat.
• Fry the sausages and pork (and duck if you haven't already cooked it and if you want extra duck fat).
• Take the meat out, and gently fry the onions until they are soft.
• Stir in the tomatoes or purée and the garlic. You could add a glug of white wine at this point. (If you are using a frying pan, now put it's contents into the casserole dish.)
• Put the meat in the pot, pour in all the beans, top up with the water or stock, to just cover the other ingredients.
• Lid on, cook the stew in a medium oven for at least 1 hour. Stir it occasionally and top up with water or stock to keep it moist. When the cassoulet is cooked, it should not have any see-through liquid coming out of it, but everything should be coated in creamy goodness. Generously season according to your taste, and put back in a hot oven, uncovered, for 10 - 20 minutes, until a crispy crust has formed.
• Serve with a green salad and a crisp white wine or strong red. And crusty french bread, if you can handle more food.

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