24 November 2013

Sud-Ouest France: Culture, Vins et Campagne

Bonjour! Comment ça va? France is a country that's ripe for the picking and that's just the vineyards! I've been to France a few times, but its always to the country's Southwest to the Charente-Maritime region that's close to the city of Bordeaux. During my last visit I saw three places, getting to grips with the countryside, wine and culture during my French holiday.

Getting to France is really quick and inexpensive from England, my flight from Birmingham to Bordeaux took only one hour and twenty minutes, that's a nippy little flight! Bordeaux's located on the banks of 'La Garonne' river that's distantly connected to the famous 'Dordogne' river. I spent the day in Bordeaux where I was amazed by vast amount of historic buildings such as the 'Place de la Bourse' a point of interest that I was hoping to see. I really liked what I saw in Bordeaux, it was lovely! Bordeaux is beautiful, this city surprised me for it had many different personalities that I didn't expect to see, all good I promise! I've been to many cities in many different European countries but I found that 'Je ne sais pas' feeling because Bordeaux was just darling with its cutesy French sophistication. I loved 'Rue Sainte-Catherine' for I learnt that its the longest pedistrianised street in France! It all made perfect sense to me. 

For many Bordeaux is simply a gateway city, its airport is modest but nothing to shout about so I was very happy to be seeing more than just the airport, because who wants that? I don't! I've not been to Paris but can only imagine that Bordeaux could be classed a little sister for I imagine Paris is just a huge version of this endearing French city. From the quaint side streets to the grand squares, I loved the 'Place de la Comédie' for this regal setting is a great place to people watch as the holidaying Parisians can be spotted a mile off! Like many other provincial French city's Bordeaux is speeding ahead with its developments of high-speed rail but I reached Bordeaux by a local SNCF train from Montendre to Bordeaux St. Jean Station, a station that has a whole personality of its own. Never say never but I saw all the best bits during my time in the city of the river 'Garonne'. My day in Bordeaux consisted of a lot of walking but it was all worth it! Croyez-moi, Bordeaux est beau! Oui!

I never realised one small French town held so many famous brands of Cognac! I made my way to the medieval town of Cognac to find the 'Maison du Hennessy' translated into English to the House of Hennessy. There are many fashion houses in cities like Paris, New York and London but Cognac is home to Courvoisier, Remy Martin and Martell as they all have their 'Maisons' of Brandy. I had to try a small measure of the good stuff! It's not just the Cognac spirit that brings people to that charming town, there are many winding street corners that amazed me. Captured to the right is the 'Maison du Hennessy' that sits on the 'Charente' river, I'm sure every town within this region has its own river? Forget Couture its all about Brandy!

The town of Cognac is part of the Poitou Charentes region within Southwest of France, its part of the many towns that inhibit a fairy tale look. Cognac's small market square resembled a classy version of a British open air market, it just looked a little bit more French. Back to the Brandy vibe, I found a lovely cafe that faced a regal looking hotel for at that time it was undergoing renovation work for the up-coming summer season. I ordered a small measure of Remy Martin Cognac, I won't lie it was a lovely drop! It would of been a a sin to of missed out even if Brandy isn't my chosen tipple. If you're looking for a vintage bottle of Brandy, go on a liquor shopping spree? Where's my girl? Get back here Courvoisier! If I have a daughter that would be her name! Save some Brandy for me!

During my French holiday I spent most of my time in the hamlet of Chatenet, a serene and peaceful part of the Charente Maritime commune that's mostly made up of countryside and vineyards. Getting away from it all was great, now we're in November I would love some sun! Christmas is on the way so I can't complain! I spent one afternoon away from everything to walk down the country lanes that are relatively quiet, with the odd tractor or passing car for its only form of traffic. I loved the pure and organic feeling of the fields and the vineyards that make up most of this area. Holidaying in Chatenet has to be planned with meticulous precision for there is no public transport for miles and hotels are sparsely located in this region, choose a Gîte, which is a holiday cottage that are managed and some owners offer transfers from the nearby Bordeaux airport. Chatenet takes the stress away from all! 

Above is one of the many vineyards that produce one of France's most famous exports of Wine. Red and white Wine is produced from the grape in this region amongst other grape based beverages that are used within the local community. There's obviously Wine that is the most recognisable product, but there's 'Pineau des Charantes' which is fortified wine and Brandy that's famously known as Cognac, along with the nearby town that's been previously mentioned. Chatenet's best kept secret is 'Eau de Vie' meaning 'Water of Life' its the strongest grape based beverage which acts as a cooking spirit but can also be savoured as a liquor to drink with caution due to its 90% volume. I live in the centre of Birmingham's city centre so when I had my French holiday I loved the serenity that Chatenet offered me, a welcome change from the hubbub of city life to the quite and laid back pace of French country life. 'The Good Life' is what we all look for, I got a taste for one week! 

South-West France .... CultureWines and Countryside

Joseph Harrison 

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