Take me home, country roads – the journey part 3
“I’m guessing you could both do with a G&T?” – on hearing these magical words we breathed a collective sigh of relief.
After the bizarre Rouen-alarm call and brekkie we had travelled down through rural France – marvelling at the views from the window as we went (well, as driver I was, of course, looking at the road the whole time, honest).
There’s really nothing quite like the experience of driving through a country – especially one as extraordinary as France – seeing the countryside and topology change, from mile-after-mile of rolling farmland to rich green forests and deep gorges, with spectacular medieval towns rising up on the horizon. It really is a delight.
Into the groove…
I was getting into a groove with the whole driving-on-the-other-side-of-the-road thing as we travelled too, as evidenced by a gradual decline in the frequency of beeps from the locals.
As we drove South we both talked about the growing excitement and sense of possibilities our trip was opening up for us. As the countryside changed again we turned off the motorways towards increasingly quieter, smaller roads, taking us deep into the Dordogne, the sense of space and tranquillity washing over us both – suddenly feeling able to take deep breaths and just … be.
Our zen bubble was almost burst however, as we again had the whole “where is the gas station?” panic – our increasingly annoying Sat Nav still not helping us and offering suggestions for petrol stations a mere 400 miles away, until we happened upon a lonely petrol pump perched on a hill in the middle of nowhere. One of the funny things about travelling is that you encounter those odd moments when something as seemingly standard as a gas station can flummox you or leave you bemused. Like the time I was driving across California and found the automated pumps required a zip code before you could pump the gas.
“But I don’t have a zip code, I live in England!” - queue eye-roll from the long-suffering attendant.
Meanwhile, back in deepest Dordogne, this little gem was all alone, just a pump, no attendant, no nothing. Happily though, it did not require a Zip code, just a credit card. It seemed, somehow, quite charming, a as it was in such a lovely spot looking out over the rolling green valley – at least we had a good view while filling up.
And so, onwards to Cherval …
Two go mad in Dordogne
I’m sure many of you will have wiled (whiled? To H or not to H? - don’t get us started on this one) away a few hours watching one of those ‘escape to the new life/in the sun’ shows – fantasising about an alternative life in some gorgeous corner of the world. We were no exception. During many particularly dark, miserable days and nights we had enjoyed a bit of escapism, with the exploits of Jo and Alice with their rural B&B and restaurant a particular delight.
And yet, here we were: we had escaped! and now we were en route to our own new life – so what better way to start than with a visit to La Lunaire?
Jo and Alice have created a wonderful, eclectic experience in a truly gorgeous location – with the aforementioned rolling fields, traditional French villages and the wonderful joy of fresh air and space.
With dinner about to begin just as we arrived, we soon we found ourselves ensconced, G&T in hand, in the cosy dining room, excited, if a little dazed and confused.
Jo and Alice are delightful hosts and the food sublime. Alice sorted us out with a great selection of wines to complement each course, while delighting us with tales of high jinks and deportment classes in the north of England.
Of course, as professional foodies and comms/digital experts we should have been furiously photographing and documenting every course for this blog, dear reader, but we were, quite simply enjoying it all far too much – soz!
Put it this way – it was all fabulous. All of the ingredients are locally-sourced and seasonal, from a delicate fresh goat’s cheese with beetroot, to the delicious pork served three ways as ‘3 Little Pigs’ – including melt-in-your-mouth fillet, black pudding and wrapped in wonderful Savoy cabbage.
Jo also smokes local cheeses on site in the renovated dovecot, filling the early morning air with the most delicious scents. The smoked parmesan was particularly intense and we scooped up a pack for our onward journey.
Our dinner companions were a very entertaining Irish couple and, what we could suspected were a couple of retired spies. The wine flowed, along with the conversation and hilarity – our little dining room became the naughty corner, as increasingly bawdy tales were shared – surely the sign of a great night.
We must have seemed like a couple of aliens arriving at La Lunaire – still with our escaped convict crazed expressions (I imagine the spies took note), grinning like Cheshire cats and heading off to a new life with our (now slightly wobbly) charabanc, filled with our worldly-possessions.
But a couple of days at La Lunaire was just exactly what we needed, gentle exploration of the area – including stumbling into a wedding procession (accidentally photo-bombing them at one point) and lounging by the pool with the aforementioned G&Ts.
Another unexpected joy was that Jo, upon discovering our sideline in gluten free bread mixes, began to experiment over the weekend, producing delightful baguettes and rolls to complement our food.
Dark shadows, old ghosts
After a stunning Sunday lunch we bid a fond farewell to our gracious hosts (and lovely Irish partners-in-crime, Frank and Val), and set off on the road once more, this time to Carcassonne, a storm chasing us as we went.
The mood changed as we drove through driving rain and dark, unfamiliar roads, stress levels rising again and those feelings of tension and trauma, which we’d escaped in La Lunaire.
As the night grew later and darker and the rain beat down heavier, we saw the imposing shapes of Carcassonne looming up on the horizon, a somewhat malevolent impression, not, it has to be said, helping our mood. We wound our way through ever narrower streets as we approached the walled city, desperate to stop and put our heads down for the night. After what seemed like an eternity, we finally we reached our hotel and straight to sleep, with dark clouds all around.
We both woke hoping that the bright morning would disperse the dark clouds we’d felt pressing in last night, both on the road and as we tried to sleep. Walking up into the walled city, I couldn’t help but feel the echoes of the past all around. From the grand gate and moat areas, to the narrow, cobbled streets, now filled with tourists and souvenir shops, the ghosts of the past seemed to be just around the corner. Perhaps it was the previous night’s storm or our own ghosts creeping in, but whatever it was, it meant we grabbed quick breakfast and got on the road again as quickly as possible, hoping the new day would brighten our mood.
Long road trips can be a wonderful way to just BE – something we both desperately want more of. They are also a great opportunity for those big, long, expansive conversations, where big ideas are given life.
As we drew nearer to the border, the landscape transforming again as we climbed through the mountains and we gasped at our first glimpse of snow on the peaks of the Pyrenees – wonderful!
Next delight - the sight of a huge EU flag and a sign greeting us with one word: España – our new home!
The buildings were changing as well as the landscape now, soft-grey stone gîtes transforming into sandy-coloured flat roofed fincas, while the temperature rose too. Windows open, shorts on, sunscreen at the ready – so exciting!
Tortosa, we hardly knew ya…
So, you know when you’ve looking online for somewhere to stay and there are endless bland, scruffy and/or depressing hotels that may or may not be either populared by sad and lonely travelling business-people or serial killers? Then there are the ones that look different and intriguing and are a bit hard to figure out – could be great or could be awful?
Well, sometimes it’s worth taking the risk on those weird ones, other times … hmm. What can we say?
Tortosa was one of those hmm moments: the hotel looked stunning online – ancient building beautifully restored – could be great, but… not unlike the Marie Celeste (and the vague sense of unease, could the serial killer have upgraded from the usual bland ‘executive’ hotel to this place?)
About a mile out of town, with no restaurant and, it seemed, no other guests nor staff, relaxing was not a word that sprang to mind.
We needed food and to stretch our legs after a long day of driving, the (slightly weird) guy at the hotel pointed us to a local restaurant and off we went. The whole
evening was surreal – from the dive restaurant we’d been recommended by ‘weirdy guy’ at the hotel, to discovering that there was, after all, a large ancient town of Tortosa, but that we seemed to be on completely the wrong side of it, to trying to walk back to the Marie Celeste hotel, we seemed to be always not quite in the right place. Despite what appeared to be a walkway by the canal straight to the hotel, it was, simply impenetrable – private roads and increasing darkness, mixed with an uneasy feeling. Eventually, defeated, we called a cab, waited in a church square, watching with sadness the youngster sat next to us who was waiting to be picked up by passing cars.
After a slightly freaked out night in the hotel, breakfast was an equally desolate experience – plates and cups left out, but not a hint of any actual, you know, human beings. Was that the faint strains of Hotel California I could hear in the background?
Time to get out of Dodge and, after a comedy incident with a dual carriageway and accidental mountain road, we pushed on South – tonight’s destination: our new home.
With every mile our excitement grew, ticking off milestones, Pensicola, Castellon and then, Valencia – we were really close now!
Arriving in Denia was a beautiful moment – the sun shining and our excitement so high as we saw the spectacular Montgo mountain on the horizon, the sea shimmering – we had made it!
We met with our charming new landlord and, formalities dealt with, found ourselves in our new home. Wine beckoned!
Dinner by the port and the most wonderful walk home along the beach with a glorious sunset told us we had made the right choice.
We were home…