A late start to the day - quelle surprise!
After breakfast cycled in to Chef Boutonne to buy a baguette for lunch and a chance to check out C-B. A grey town we thought, full of bagnoles (old cars) and a fair percentage of Brits.
After lunch took a pleasant walk around the woods overlooking the site and then in to Chef Boutonne.
Visited the grounds of Chateau de Javarzay which is just on the edge of the village. A pretty chateau built in the early 16C - one of the earliest examples of a renaissance chateau in Poitou.
Tomorrow we will head to Melle. We are really killing time, exploring the interior, waiting for Saturday to meet up with Jackie and Peter, who we met last year as they were in the process of buying a farmhouse and gite as a permanent move.
The campsite turns up a mesmorising attraction, at least for Graham. A couple of martin pecheurs (kingfishers) patrol the stream behind us. There he sits, french book in one hand, binocs in the other happily watching kingfishers and the kestrels which hunt the cornfield behind.
Fri 25th Sept.
Another leisurely start ( what else) and arrived in Melle as everything closed for lunch as usual.
Picnicked in the park with a shop bought Croque Monsieur - remembered we didn't really like them as we got to the end of consuming them!
Melle - " the gateway to Poitou" appeared a tad scruffy and the promised gems of churches appeared not in walking distance of the centre - so we left.... After doing a reccy of the campsite which looked dire!
On to Celle-sur-Belle a very pretty village with a royal abbey. The gardens were free to wander which we did but we also paid to visit the inside - those monks knew how to live!
We chatted to an English couple who just happened to be sitting where we parked - they have 2 holiday homes locally - 1 just outside of Surgeres - which their son now manages as a holiday let. We exchanged phone numbers as their son had used a local builder to help build a pool. Already building up contacts!
So back to Chef Boutonne for another nights stay, and the kingfishers, for want of any near alternative, tomorrow we visit Jackie and Peter who now run a gite in Les Eglises d'Argenteuil.
Sat 26th Sept.
Another leisurely start and a drive through the back roads to Aulnay. Shopped at the supermarket on the outskirts in which most voices heard were English! and prepared a picnic lunch. In to the centre to visit the church of Saint-Pierre d'Aulnay - standing in a cemetary - it is a beautiful building remarkable for the sculptures that adorn the portals - apparently classic themes of Romanesque art.
We ate lunch in a medieval themed garden overlooking the church.
Onwards to Les Eglises - where we met Jaquie and Pete at their charentais house overlooking extensive gardens including an orchard. Also a large enclosed pool area.They have a seperate gite which Jaquie manages and Pete currently supplements by working in London Mon - Fri and travels back weekends - in time to mount the ride on mower! They have been here for 1 year - we met them on the campsite in St Jean last year just as they were signing for the purchase. A lovely peaceful spot it's easy to fall under it's spell. The gite is called Rue Vincent (google) if anyone fancies a peaceful week away.
We tear ourselves away and on to Saintes as there is an exhibition of Salon d'Habitat and du jardin tomorrow where we may get some ideas. A minor panic as we thought we couldn't get a tv signal - it's the England v Wales rugby game tonight! - panic over the signal is found!
Sun 27 th Sept
Visited the exhibition - not the house decor design idea place we anticipated but spoke to several pool companies and log burner/pellet burner salespeople to get some idea of what's out there. As anticipated costs were top top end of the budget! Food for thought!
Set off to head for the Ille D'Oleron but decided as we travelled to stop over in Fouras instead - as nearer to Surgeres. We have an appointment with the bank manager Tues pm and also a stop off to chat with Simon who ownes several gites just outside of Surgeres late am Tues- thanks to Ingrid our intrepid agent!
Arrived in sunshine in Fouras - checked in with the municipal site and explored the sea front. Walked the penisula to the port where the ferry to Ille D'Aix departs - about 3 kms. Fouras is the place for oysters and other shellfish in the whole of France- hang on haven't we heard that before! The place was buzzing with people lunching and purchasing shellfish at the various stalls.
Windy but sunny - we decided to plan to visit the Ille D'Aix tomorrow.
Walked by several windsurfers and kite surfers doing their stuff in the sea off the promenade back to the site - they were very impressive picking up what looked to be great speed across the bay.
Mon 28th Sept.
Service wash this am - clean towels, bedding , clothing and undies today - luxury!
Prepared a picnic and then headed off to cycle to the ferry to Ille D'Aix. Passed lots of people on bikes clutching buckets of clams and mussels - the tide was out and amateur and professional shellfish harvesters were out in force!
Windy but sunny the crossing proved easy and uneventful. Arrived on the Island which is 4 kms by 2.5 kms aprox and was basically a fort in Napoleonic times to protect the entry to Rochefort and La Charente river. Now it is a tourist destination and today the ferry was still busy with holidaymakers. It is a car free island other than service vehicles and easily walked or cycled around.
Had a picnic on the windier north side and then practically circumnavigated it! We soaked up the sun at a completetly secluded beach on the east side.
We would definitely return. It is well worth a visit and we guess it will be mobbed in summer! Had a fabulous day trip.
Tomorrow back to Surgeres - again!
Tues 29 th Sept.
Late start again - we have an appointment to call in to see Simon, a Brit who owns a 5 gite farm house complex just outside of Surgères and has kindly offered us a cuppa and chat about life in this part of France.
Although late we decided to detour to Muron where a road sign promised a biscuiterie - rather be a few minutes more late with a gift than arrive late with nothing we thought. The biscuiterie was a small unit making traditional charentais cakes not biscuits as we thought - bought one for Simon and a couple for us as the owner tried to press us to buy a selection of all cakes he made!
Simon appeared a man resigned to submitting to the french system to enjoy the french life,who despite his rather gruff first impression supplied us with lots of useful information and advice. He has lived here for 12 years - his eldest (of 4)child was 10 years old when they arrived and now firmly integrated in to the french way of life. He says he came to France to embrace all things french and so deliberately does not mix with any expats. He is happy for us to contact him once we're in Surgères should we need any further info.
So on in to Surgères and having a couple of hours to spare until our interrogation had lunch in the Cafe de Paris near the Marché and opposite the bank. Had a lovely Plat de Jour - think this will be a regular spot once here. Graham thinks we should frequent several local restaurants regularly once we're holiday residents to get known in the community, and who is Carol to argue - she'll force down the food and wine for the cause!
Just over an hour this time with Geraldine the bank manager to arrange home and contents insurance cover - evidence of this is required by the Notaire BEFORE the final signing for the property.
Then off to the Ille d'Oleron - a larger island with bridge access. Promising some of the best oysters in France - again,and vineyards, forts ,forests, beaches and white painted villages. We pitched up at our selected site and had a pre dinner drink as the sun set. We hope to explore by bike tomorrow.
Table setting chez Rex - we don't like standards to slip!
Weds 30th Sept.
A cloudy start with a sprinkle of rain but by midday the weather appeared to be changing.
So we packed a picnic and cycled off to explore the island.
First port of call Le Chateau d'Oleron and a visit to the Citadel. Another fort built by one of the Roi Louis's - which unfortunately was bombed by the allies in the 2nd World War - it appears work is being done to renovate some of it, but in it's present state other than views across the Charente, it was not a very exciting sight. The tide was out and scores of cockle pickers were out scouring the mud, yuck!
We did wander round an art expo sited there but all a bit too modern and difficult to appreciate with our uncultured eyes!
Then on towards La Grand Plage - after a while battling along the main roads we found the designated cycle paths - much easier and prettier- we picnicked in a forest at a picnic table. Then on to the beach- and what a beach!- not the choppy muddy Charente but the blue Atlantic with dunes and miles of golden sand. We walked along the sea observing the surfers,the sand kites, the wind surfers and .... cockle pickers!
On our return we passed by a pond area with ducks, geese and a beaver rat looking thing, Coypu? - am sure those avid nature watchers reading will put us right! Have to say they gave us a bit of a surprise.
Back at the site sheltered from the wind and in full sun the temp in Rex was 32 degrees C ! Not bad for the last day in Sept!
Tomorrow we will decide to stay a little longer if the weather holds as there are many more places to explore. Or head inland. Life is hard for the retiree van owner!