11th July - Bizarre clouds

The year seems to be going particularly quickly, especially the summer.  I have been busy working and without realising it the vines have grown above my head, the grapes are maturing and the maize is whispering in the wind again.  We are already into peak summer season and the place is alive and full with guests.  It is great to see and hear and particularly lovely to have those gentle conversations that pass for an occupation here.

We visited the beautiful beach cove of Saint Palais Sur Mer today and whilst not packed it was busy.  I have taken up the pass time of guess the family's nationality.  Usually I am wrong but it is interesting how just a certain stance, a way of wearing clothing of a facial expression can immediately give away somebody's country of origin.

An unusual thing happened whilst I was laying on the beach.  There was a warm breeze blowing across the cove - moving the clouds quickly across the sky.  Then I realised that the thinner clouds were actually moving in the opposite direction and being sucked in by the larger clouds.  Any interesting and bizarre visual sight for a non meteorological person!

We are looking forward to seeing old and new guests soon.

18th June - kayaking locally

The weather here is unbelievable - in the 30's most days for the last few weeks now.  The pool is almost as warm as a bath and the grass is beginning to dry under our feet.  Outings now centre around being close to water.

It always takes a while to find your way around when you are in a new area and we are no exception.  We are still finding little gems right under our noses.  Last summer we took to travelling to the Charente at Cognac to kayak but a guest asked this week if we would take him to the kayaking at Pons - just 15 minutes away.  We had, to be honest, always avoided it.  It's brash street signs were off putting and the narrow water way looked poor; but who are we to turn down a guest.  So off we headed......and we were surprised when we got there.  We took out 2 kayaks for 4 of us, at a cost of Euros 30 for 2 hours.  The water ways were a lot less narrow than they had seemed from the road and it was like a labyrinth of passages.   The water was less clear than the Charente, I believe clean as there were lots of fishermen around, but thick with vegetation - so not recommended for swimming.  That aside, we really enjoyed it.  In fact, we decided we even preferred it to the Charente for kayaking.  It's winding passageways made it more interesting and the kids had great fun banking each other!  A great little spot for taking the youngster too and afterwards there is a restaurant....but I haven't tried it yet, however, I am sure it will be lovely as it seemed quite popular.

May 27th - America comes to Lorignac

Since our arrival we have not met or had to stay any guests from America.  I have always thought it a shame - but considered perhaps they were heading for the better known region of Provence.

Last week we received our first booking from the USA, a lady and her son off to run a marathon in the Medocs.  We are thrilled.  We are even more thrilled because the marathon is a 90 minute drive away but she has chosen to stay with us.

Not only that - we have new neighbours.  A blended American/French family.........husband, wife and four girls.  Yes four.  They are delightful, friendly and full of fun.........and the husband is a pastry chef.  Wow, life just got even better.

24th April - don't wear your jeans to the beach!

We spent the afternoon at our local beach - and thinking it was only 20 degrees, I decided not to look like the silly Brit in summer wear and go for a nice jeans and t-shirt casual look.  When we arrived it was far hotter than 20 degrees and everybody was in their swimwear and summer dresses.  So I looked like the silly Brit anyway!  One lady asked me why I was in trousers and the only reply I could come up with in my dodgy Fronglais was that it was only spring and I don't change into shorts until summer.  What can I say!

The sea was awash with activity today.  Citric yellow, acid green and sky blue sails bounced along the water.  Children sped along on catamarans and in between all that there were kayaks, jet skis and paddle boarders.

Along the waters edge were fishermen and children playing bat and ball.  Adults were play fighting and dropping each other into the water.  My children were burying each other in the sand.

There was an interesting mix of nationalities - I certainly picked out English, French, Dutch, Spanish and German.  All enjoying life.

9th April - A Charity Walk

One great way to make friends here is by making great use of your children - as you would in the UK.  We have become friends with a particularly lovely family in just this way.  They recently invited us on a charity walk with them in one of their local villages followed by Boudin (like Black Pudding) or Chipolata and Chips. 

Never one to miss out on an invitation, we put on our trainers this morning bright and early and set off.  I was expecting a quick walk, a bite to eat and back home by perhaps 1pm.  Of course that didn't happen because the French like to enjoy the whole experience. 

We leisurely had a chat with a few locals upon arrival and let the children play at the park beforegetting out numbers.  We set off - meandering along - chatting, catching up and laughing along the way.  The walk was seriously breath taking.  Golden fields of rape seed dotted between vines which rolled away from us; with beautiful farmhouses and small chateaus nestled here and there.  Half way round we were treated to refreshments and another chat.  Upon completing the walk we were ready to eat.  Very ready - but again we had to wait some time - which it was a pleasure to do.  A small aperitif to start.......we sat down at a bench and were soon joined by locals with their tables and chairs - wine, sangria and nibbles.  Overall, lunch lasted 2 hours.  There was, after all, nothing to rush for......it was 25 degrees, the children were all playing and it was Sunday! 

I think we are off for a charity bike ride in May and I can't wait.

27th March - Summer Season Starts

With April just around the corner, bookings for the season ahead are starting to come in.  We are looking forward to welcoming our first guests in a couple of weeks time.  We have even been booked for the use of the swimming pool by one hardy family - in April. 

Walking the dogs today, I really noticed how brighter the colours have become.  The fields look vibrant and lush, the sky is as blue as can be and the sun his high in the sky now.  The vines are all ready and bursting with large buds - just waiting to explode into foliage in the next few days.

 

 

 

10th March - Spring!

Spring has hit with a bang!  A fabulous 19 degrees today, sunny with a gentle breeze.  Tomorrow they are promising 21 degrees and the forecast is looking good.

The bees are out, the birds have returned and the grass needs cutting.  What a great opportunity to get out and enjoy the sun.

 

1st March - Spring is on its way

I must confess that the weather has been rather temperamental over February.  Just yesterday, we had rain, wind sun and hail - although it doesn't feel particularly cold,  The really good news though, is that I noticed on the weather forecast that the UV index has changed from low to moderate.  The days are already feeling longer and the daffodils are dancing in the garden. 

Whilst early to do so, I have been cleaning the pool in anticipation of agood, long summer.  It is a great excuse to get out on those sunnier days.  I am spending time spring cleaning and painting La Petite Grange too, ready for the Spring season; when I can get a minute away from our cheeky and energetic little puppies who will be experiencing their first spring.  A lovely walk through the vines is always welcome though.

16th January 2017 - La Petite Grange wins an award!

I received great news in the post today.  La Petite Grange has received a Booking.com Guest Review Reward 2016 for consistently receiving glowing reviews.  We averaged 9 out of 10.

I am thrilled and would like to thank everybody that sent in a review.

 

12th January - Save hundreds of pounds when booking holidays

I have noticed, even in just the (almost) 2 years that we have been here, a change in the way some holiday websites behave.

I hope you don't mind me giving you some advice.

If you spot a gite that you like and want to book - see if you can find it on one or two other sites.  You could be very surprised at the price difference.  This is usually not down to the owners but to the new payment methods of the holiday websites.  More often than not - when you pay through the actual company rather than direct to the gite owner you are charged for the privilege.  I understand for many this seems worth it - as there have been a number of scandals over recent years with non existent holiday homes; but the price you are paying could be as much as £150-200 per week more.  This is significant I am sure you agree. 

Happy holiday home shopping to all

4th January - An amazing second Christmas

I have just been looking out the window at the white crispy view and reflecting on our second Christmas in Charente Maritime.

Christmas Day was spent with friends having a traditional French Christmas lunch.  We were so thrilled to be invited and didn't consider that leaving our puppies at home over lunch would be a problem.  We hadn't appreciated a French Christmas lunch lasts for 5 to 6 hours.  Beautiful appetisers of asparagus and mascarpone topped with caviar and smoked salmon with pink grapefruit, followed by smoked salmon and fois gras with pumpkin and gingerbread.  By this time we had already been away from home for 3 hours - thankfully the family quickly realised my dilemma and kindly invited the puppies over (which they had forgotten to tell us before so I didn't feel like I was totally ruining their day!).  The main was Guinea Fowl, followed by the usual French cheeseboard course and to complete ice cream in Italian meringue and strawberry yule log.  A six hour banquet.  I must confess to having an extremely tired brain after speaking French all day - but what an absolutely superb day it was.

New Year was spent with friends who flew over from England.  A great move as it meant car travel was out of the question as we didn't all fit in.  This forced us to stay local and walk and cycle and eat and be merry.  I couldn't wish for a better time.

Now my thoughts are turning to the summer - which I am really excited about.  There are lots of repeat bookings and we are really looking forward to seeing our guests back.

29th October - Saint Emilion

We had a few hours to kill in Bordeaux yesterday whilst waiting for a train arrival, so instead of going into the city centre we decided to visit Saint Emilion - famous as one of the Bordeaux wine towns.  I am sure if you are a red wine drinker you will have seen the bottles in the supermarket.

Just 20 minutes outside of Bordeaux the area has a sense of elegance and beauty with beautiful villages dotted within fields of vines.  Saint Emilion itself is relatively small and if you are not interested in wine - I certainly wouldn't recommend it; but for those who have a keen or even passing interest this is a great place to spend a few hours.  The walking is great on the thighs - very hilly - so if you are having lunch at least you can feel that you are burning off some calories afterwards.  There are so many wine shops - in fact that is pretty much all that there is not surprisingly, however, the village is really charming.

15th October - A grand day out!

Sunday was a hot sunny day and there was no time to waste, we were off to discover somewhere new.

Dogs and children loaded up, we set off towards the wild coast to visit some of the smaller villages we had not had chance to visit.  La Temblade was interesting with a large fishing port and I suspect a great place to eat shellfish.  All the vililages, to be honest, were unique and beautiful - how could they not be in this wild paradise.

We had planned to eat at La Palmyra, on the seafront, before returning home, but rather bizarrely all the seafrontrestaurants were closed.  I still haven't gotten to grips with when places will and won't be open in the winter.  There doesn't appear to be any logic - but I am sure there is.  It was a unanimous decision to venture to another favourite haunt - Saint Palais sur Mer - however, just before we arrived there we saw some buildings and parasols and decided to investigate.  We were not disappointed.  A string of restaurants, on a cliff, overlooking the Atlantic ocean.  The place was vibrant - buzzing even; so how could we resist.  A couple of hours eating delicious mussels, pasta and ice cream in the warm autumn sun in Charente Maritime.

25th August - Port Vitrezay

Just 20 minutes from here we have found a beautiful little port called Port Vitrezay.  It is a hidden gem, with kayaking, a tour boat, horse riding/carting and fish tackle hiring.  So you can spend the day in a fishing hut over the estuary and eat at the restaurant too.

A short walk along a quiet lane takes you to Port Conac - which doesn't have any shops or facilities but is beautifully picturesque with it's fishing huts straying into the waters.  A great place for a walk, some photography or perhaps some painting.

15th August - another dream summer

The summer has been marvellous so far.  Long days of hot sunshine, leading to long evenings of swimming, badminton and rounders.  The grass is scorched brown - so much so that I have only had to cut it twice all summer; and the sunflowers are billowing in the gentle breeze.  The gites have been full of the noise of children playing and laughing and the smells of the BBQ's have been gentling wafting. 

We have two new puppies who are enjoying their days playing, eating and escaping and their evenings laid like babies in our arms! 

Bookings are already looking great for 2017 and I am so happy to see families returning to spend their holidays with us again this year and next.

18th July - It's a scorcher so why not swim at night!

Well the summer may have been slow to start but wow what a time we are having now.  It has been 38 degrees today, so we paced ourselves and went down to the beach later on in the day.  We visited Saint George de Didonne today.  Whilst sometimes the water can be a little brown - because it is a mixture from the estuary and Atlantic (still very swimmable but less attractive), today it favoured the Atlantic and was blue with 2 foot high waves for the children to enjoy.  I really love its sweeping golden beaches that are flawless - not a pebble, not a stone.

Last week we had a group of friends stay in La Petite Grange and they asked me to put the swimming pool lights on for them.  To be honest, it is something I haven't really bothered with.  I was worried about the lights attracting mosquitos.  What a fool I have been!  My goodness the pool is beyond beautiful at night.  Its aqua blue making a pin point in the darkness.  It has created a whole new world for us - night swimming.  Now as I write at 10.47pm the pool is full of children laughing and splashing. 

The long, hot, lazy days of summer.........

16th July - Kayaking & canoeing

Yesterday, we took at trip to Cognac and went kayaking and canoeing on the Charente River.  It is, I have read, the most beautiful river in France.  Whether or not that is true I don't know, as I haven't visited many; and I guess a lot of it is down to personal preference - but I can tell you it is a gorgeous river.

We took a 2 hour trip which meant we didn't need to be driven along the river to find our way back.  With map on board, we navigated ourselves around the river and channels.  To be honest, we probably needed 4 or 5 hours to complete the whole round trip that was suggested - but I think perhaps that is a reflection of our kayaking skills.  Also, my son was in a canoe and managed to sink himself; which was absolutely hilarious - especially when his crocs started floating off.

The river also appeared to accommodate small boats, pedalows and sightseeing trips.  So, if kayaking isn't your thing then there are other options.  I have to confess that after an hour (possibly less) my stomach muscles were begging for mercy.  Today, however, I feel quite chuffed they had a little workout!!

We used a company called Cognac Canoe Club - who were friendly, jolly and very reasonably priced compared to local competitors.  They are situated on the right side of the river on the bank just next to the bridge that takes you over into the centre.  It is very easy to find and parking is free.  I might suggest pre booking though.  They are helpful if your French isn't up to telephone calls.

6th July - Fun for Kids of all Ages (including grown ups).....

We recently did our first summer day trip to Ile D'Oleron.  Not terribly like its sister island Ile de Re; it takes a much more natural, laid back approach to life.  Long sweeping beaches, a port and a chateau (from what I have seen so far).  There is also an abundance of places to delight in oysters, mussels and other seafood.

Coming back to the children.........the island sports great waves.  Ideal for body boarding and surfing.  The first beach we came to seemed to be more of a surfing beach for adults, with waves probably around 10 ft high.  Not as wild as the coast savage, but probably ample size for the average surfer.  Go along the coast a short drive and you find places that are more compact and appropriate for kids and adults alike.  There are kids body boarding and playing on large rubber rings on the waves as well as surfing.  You can book a surfing lesson whilst you are there too.  Be aware that there do not appear to always be life guards on duty.

If surfing is not your thing, we have found three places where there are "treetop adventures" or parcour adventures as they are called here.  One is at St George de Didonne called Parcour Adventures - it is compact so those parents not participating can easily keep an eye on the children.  There are different levels of challenge and fantastic sea views.  The second is their sister company at La Palmyra, which is 5 minutes from the tourist information office.  Whilst we haven't been on this one, it looks equally as good but without the sea views.  The last one, and my children's favourite, is at Royan and is called Coolongalook Park Adventure.  Each element is more hidden within the trees.  A word of warning though - perhaps wear long trousers as I got a few mosquito bites whilst there.  If you want to take a picnic there is a small area with tables and seats at the start but no refreshments are available on site. You can expect to pay around Euros 15 per child.

30th June - Port Maubert

Summer has been slow and steady to appear this year, giving us tasters here and then and then vanishing again.  I am hopeful to say that the weather seems settled and in the mid 20's daily.  I actually made it into the pool for the first time last week - when it hit 33 degrees - and the water was warm and soothing after a hot day replacing lamps on the back of our house.

Port Maubert is a port (as the name suggests!) about 5 minutes drive from us.  I have to confess I have often driven that way by accident and thought how pretty it was but nothing more.  More recently, however, its charm has captured me.  It started when we discovered it was a great place to swim the dogs; providing the fishermen aren't there.  We then started walking the dogs to dry them off after their swim.  There is actually a 10km walk if you are in the mood for some exercise but we prefer a 30 minute stroll through the reeds to the edge of the estuary.  After reaching a view point with an estuary map - the pathway snakes along hiding what is around the next corner.  When you do finally reach the estuary it is at first, we thought, a little unnerving as the great expanse of water is at the same height as the land.  Then it is intriguing because it makes a noise akin to a boiling pan.  Definitely worth a gentle stroll one day or evening.  Once you have alighted yourselves of a few pounds, there are two places to eat.  One is a lovely restaurant with a great menu of the day.  They are helpful too - if you don't like what is on the day menu they are likely to offer you an alternative like a steak.  The other place is an understated "tent" with plastic table and chairs outside - where I am assured you can get great mussels and if the kids are keen - burgers.  I will certainly be trying it now it has been recommended to me - and a more beautiful setting it is hard to find.

19th June - Fete's in Charente Maritime

There was a local village fete on today.  I have to confess we saw it advertised but didn't really think too much of it.  However, whilst out cycling with my son at lunchtime one of our neighbours stopped us and asked us if we were going.  mmmmmm........perhaps we should go and make some effort - how else are we going to integrate into the community - I thought.

We arrived to a car park with literally hundreds of cars.  It was quite unbelievable.  This tiny little village was holding a real spectacle.  There was a central ring that had teams from each of the local villages doing what I can only describe as something close to Its A Knockout to some really upbeat and contemporary music.  Each village also had its own stall with a game to play for children and adults alike or local photos to buy.  Sometimes they were, I have to be honest, a little cringe worthy such as Connect4 was one option, but most were more traditional and fun.  There were eateries galore ranging from traditional fayre to sausage and chips.  Artisan stalls surrounded the central ring selling jewellery, local honey, local oysters and more and a brocante (boot sale) spread down the road for a good 15 minutes walk.  Those that were staying for the evening were to enjoy local music and paella with fireworks to finish.  I suspect some cordial fun will be had.

Perhaps it might be nice to pop into one of these fetes if you see one signed whilst on holiday here.  They can be quite a surprise.