We decided not to use a map and a pin as a means to find somewhere to live. Knowing our luck we’d have ended up in the North Sea or on the top of the Eiffel Tower. After engaging our brain cells we opted for the Loire region. Plenty of wine and some pretty impressive chateaus to visit too.
Our first foray into French properties found us staying at an Auberge in Chateau La Valliere. It didn’t look much from the outside and inside wasn’t much better either but it was somewhere to lay our heads. We booked to have a meal there on our first evening with a view to eating out the rest of the time.
As it happened, the food was so good we ate there every evening. The young female chef was extremely talented and produced superb wholesome food at unbelievably reasonable prices. One dessert she did we have done our best to copy and still eat today …. small filo parcels full of cinnamon spiced apple with a caramel sauce and ice cream.
Bright and early the next day we collected the agent we had been dealing with and drove to our first appointment. Out in the countryside and a short distance from any neighbours was the collection of three properties. Two small houses and a third with a barn attached. We had it in mind to run a gite business so this we thought would suit.
We were greeted as we got out of the car by an elderly lady who we reckoned must be in her eighties at least. She may have been of mature years but she certainly had a sparkle in her eyes and a lively step. She took us to the first house where two young ladies were living. Unlike as would have happened in the UK, they hadn’t bothered trying to tidy up at all. One had to look through the piles of clothes, magazines and crockery to get an idea of the place. This didn’t seem to worry our twinkly eyed hostess who just carried on smiling. The second property was similar to the first but with no occupants and needing quite a bit of restoration - a roof for instance and a wall here and there.
From there we went to the larger property. We entered through the kitchen. It was unlike any kitchen we have ever had to work in and would need, as far as we could see, a total refit. From there we went into the salon where we surprised to see a minstrel gallery at one end. Our hostess told us that the bedrooms led off from the gallery and she took us up to see them. Regular sized bedrooms and nothing special of note. From there she led us back downstairs to a door under the minstrel gallery. She stopped by the door, smiled and announced her ‘piece de resistance’. She pushed the door open for us to go in.
What a sight befell us …… a bar complete with tables and chairs arranged around a dance floor, ladies and gentlemen’s toilets and swaying gently from the ceiling above the dance floor – a glitter ball. We seemed to have walked into a nightclub hidden away deep in the French countryside. From outside there was no way that you would have guessed it was there.
It wasn’t until we were leaving that the centime dropped …… it was a bordello. The minstrel gallery was for young ladies to parade themselves and the hostess who showed us around ….. the Madam herself. All this confirmed by another agent some time later.
You couldn’t make it up if you tried …… the very first property we were shown was a brothel hidden inside a barn attached to a house. It could only happen to us..
After another day of exploring seemingly deserted villages we concluded that the Charente, beautiful though it is, was not the region for us. We decided to use the rest of our time there as a holiday.
We spent a day in Cognac and found the town was buzzing with activity in preparation of its annual music festival. We knew nothing of this but certainly enjoyed the pre festival delights. Amongst many floral displays to music being built, a saxophonist made of flowers on a roundabout was a real eye catcher…… his saxophone, hair and bowler hat were made all of flowers. Stages were being built all over the place and we did have to duck and dive occasionally but thoroughly enjoyed the jazz, blues and soul music that seemed to come from everywhere. This year the festival runs from the 5th of July until the 9th and the Cranberries (for those in the know) are one of the headline acts. Click on the picture below if you would like more information on the acts taking part.
Not being spirit lovers we didn’t bother with any of the readily available tours where one can enjoy a tipple or two after which the town is named but instead enjoyed a cool beer by the river.
Angouleme was another town to stick in the mind. Fantastic views, great cafes and a lovely place to just sit and people watch. Something we did quite a bit of as there was no need to hunt out immobiliers. If you are a Bugatti fan, it’s a place to be in September when they have their annual race round the ramparts. Click on the picture if you would like more information.
One of funniest moments in the Charente was when we came to leave from Poitiers Airport. As we had to return our hire car we thought we set off early to allow for mishaps, drop the car off and have something to eat at the airport. A simple plan but, as we all know, the best made plans of mice and men are apt to go pear shaped.
We didn’t get lost on the way to the airport as many of you are no doubt guessing, nor did we break down. We got to the airport in good time only to find it shut! How can an international airport be shut? We checked our tickets and we were meant to be flying that day. We looked through the windows and could see where we needed to drop our car keys. We could also see the stairs to the restaurant but even though we tried many doors – could not find a way in. The place was deserted.
Not having anything better to do we sat on some outside steps to think things through. Others began to arrive and discover the same problem. Glad we weren’t the only ones flummoxed at the situation. It became quite an entertainment to watch and guess peoples nationality as they approached the terminal. Many did not seem to notice the ever growing crowd outside the doors. The game soon lost its appeal as it became apparent that most travellers were British. Only the British would knock on an airport terminal door. Only a Brit would call ‘Hello – anyone there?’ through a letterbox of an empty French Airport terminal. Only a Brit would queue by a locked door of a seemingly empty building. We stayed sitting on the steps. Our thought being if the place ever opened the plane wouldn’t go without us. After quite some while of just waiting to see what would happen, word went round from a traveller used to the airport, that they would be opening soon as there was a flight due.
As check in time approached it was all action. Speeding cars and screeching brakes as everyone needed to get an airport moving seemingly arrived at the same time. There was an air of tension and confusion for a few moments and then, it was like it had been open all the time. The only thing there wasn’t time to do was have something to eat. Typical, no food when we arrived and no time for any as we left. Charente was definitely not the place for us but where to look now?
Originally from London, I moved with Inmate 1, to France in 2007. Home is now on the outskirts of the Medieval village of Plazac in the Perigord Noir region of the Dordogne.