Day 158-159: Homeward bound

We woke today with very mixed feelings as it was time to start the journey back to the UK and reality! We were both looking forward to seeing friends and family again, but at the same time life on the road was a whole world of fun and we knew that going back to ‘normal’ life would be a bit of a shock to the system. All of that was a twelve hour drive away however, so we set of on our two day mission to Calais.

Over the course of the past 157 days we’ve driven through some awe inspiring scenery, sadly the 7 1/2 hours that made up day one of the journey home don’t fall into this category! Mile upon mile of flat road, interspersed with aging hamlets, a prison and industrial estates followed.

Admittedly we didn’t plan the route back in any great detail, so probably missed lots of nice places, but if you do the same trip and use google maps (no toll road option!) be prepared! Finally arriving at our stop for the night, we made a quick trip to the local Carrefour to pick up a relaxing beer and some nibbles before retiring to the BFG for dinner whilst the rain danced on the roof of the van.

Waking to the final day on the road, we certainly noticed the drop in temperature the further north we headed. With another five hours to go, we set off early in the hope of getting an early ferry. The closer to Calais we got, the more built-up things became, and soon enough we could see the white cliffs of Dover ahead of us – a very strange feeling after such a long time away from home.

Arriving at Calais we only had a short wait before being ushered onto our ferry back to the UK. It had been a very windy drive up, and the wind was still blowing hard, so it looked like we were in for a crossing that would give a roller coaster a run for its money!

Fortunately as we exited the calm of the port, the channel wasn’t as bad as we were expecting and before we knew it, it was time to get back in the BFG and for me to remember how to drive on the right (wrong?!) side of the road whilst also driving on the dark!

It was certainly a bit of a shock to the system as we made our way home trying to avoid rush hour traffic. I’d forgotten how narrow and twisty UK roads can be, and by the time we arrive home, I was shattered!!

So that was it, after 8914 miles and 10 countries, la grande aventure was over. It had been an amazing 159 days of wonderful places, people and experiences. From mountain tops and deep fjords, to vineyards and sandy beaches, Europe has so much to see and we’ve barely scratched the surface! We have a long list of places to head back to, new places to see that we didn’t manage to get to and new friends to visit!

Day 156-157: How not to wash your clothes…

After a few lovely indulgent days in San Sebastian we headed back into France today, so Rob could get a little more surfing in before we headed home. On arriving into Hossegor we headed straight to the beach to check out the surf and were met with some very choppy waves, combined with a strong current! Not wanting to miss out on the opportunity to catch a few more waves Rob decided to head in anyway and began battling with the surf, whilst I took up position on the beach with a good book. The next hour or so was spent playing a game of ‘spot the Robin’ to check he was okay in the surf, reading and every so often moving further up the beach as the tide moved in.

After a few hours the waves and current got the better of Rob and he decided to call it a day, so headed back up to the van to get changed and grab his book. He bumped into Ness and the boys in the car park and stopped for a chat, leaving me on the beach engrossed in my book.

Sadly I got a little too into my book and hadn’t realised quite how much the water was coming up the beach. Before I knew it the water had lept up the beach and unfortunately for me (even though I have been about five metres from the last tidal flow!) I was soon covered in water up to my waist!! After a few minutes of panic – including furiously checking my rucksack to make sure the camera, phones and wallets were okay – I hauled by sorry, soggy arse (and bag and clothes and towel and book!) back to the car park where I was greeted by a rather surprised Rob!

We headed to the aire so I could dry off and by this point I was able to laugh at the irony of having to pick my soggy bookmark out of the sand which read ‘The cure for anything is saltwater – sweat, tears or the sea’. A quiet night of reading (sadly a different book, whilst my other book dried off!) and blog writing followed, before we attempted round two of surfing tomorrow.

A quick detour to grab fuel and we were soon back on the beach again! Rob headed straight down to the water whilst I stayed up in the van blog writing, giving me the opportunity to perv on a few naked surfer’s bums who clearly though the car park was deserted! Ogling complete I headed down to the beach to let Rob know it was time to come in, as we’d been invited over to Ness’ for some food and after a quick change we pulled up at her house. We had another good, if short, catch up with Ness before she had to dash off to work leaving just one thing on Rob’s mind – waves!

We headed back to the beach (making sure I was sat well away from the water!) and Rob was soon enjoying his last opportunity to surf before we began the drive north, however his board clearly has other ideas and after only about 45 minutes his leash decided to break!

With surfing over we headed into town where we had a look in a few surf shops for a new leash, before buying a poster to remind us of our fab time in Hossegor. Then it was back to the van for some route planning, ahead of tomorrow long drive north…

Day 154-155: A foodie’s paradise

After a rather rude awakening this morning (in the form of a freezing cold shower at our Bilbao campsite!) we set off in the direction of San Sebastian. Arriving at the campsite around lunchtime we set up the pitch and were soon waiting at the bus stop ready to see what the city had in store for us.

Our campsite was located just behind Mount Igueldo, so we enjoyed great views of Santa Clara, Mount Urgull and the bay as we entered the city. Jumping off at the same spot as everyone else we had a wander around trying to work out where we were, before making a beeline for tourist information.

Map sorted we began to wondering around the old town, checking out where all the good pintxos places I’d read about could be found. Unfortunately it seemed that quite a few of them were closed, either opening in the evening only or were closed for the week for staff holidays!

Undeterred we carried on exploring and decided to try a busy looking bar near Santa Maria Church. They had a huge range of pintxos, much bigger than we had seen in Bilbao and we were soon tucking into ham wrapped artichoke covered in a light batter, juicy chicken skewers, scallops gratin and what we think were tiny squid like creatures stuffed in a pepper!! It was all pretty tasty and gave us the energy we needed to tackle Mount Urgull!

We went up the right side of Mount Urgull – taking a path located just behind the San Telmo museum – and were soon met with stunning views over the city, from Zurriola to the east to Mount Igeldo to the west. We had a walk around La Mota Castle and after admiring the views we wander back down the left side of the hill and found ourselves by the harbour overlooking La Concha bay.

We’d clearly worked up an appetite and were in need of more fuel so stopped at a cute looking bar (that also happened to be showing the Japanese MotoGP qualifying!!) for more food and drink. If we thought our earlier pintxos was tasty this place raised the bar with a delicious selection of fishy treats. We were soon snaffling tasty fish (mackerel maybe?) pate, baked cod and salted cod croquettes before realising for the sake of our waistlines and wallets we had to move on.

With the light fading we went in search of the bus stop and were soon back in the van, enjoying a relaxing night in preparation for another day of exploring tomorrow!

Another day brought more San Sebastian adventures and today we planned to begin by going up Mount Igueldo. We decided to reach the top in style so joined the queue for the hundred year old funicular and were soon creeping up the hill in a rickety old carriage, praying we would reach our destination!

At the top we stopped to drink in the beautiful surroundings, admiring views over the bay and down into the city, before exploring the comedy attractions that sat at the top of the hill. This has to be the first time we’ve seen a fairground at the top of a (rather steep) hill and we had a wander around whilst I tried to persuade Rob he wanted to go into the house of terror/on the dodgems/win me a prize on the pick a duck stall. No amount of trying was going to persuade him through, so we headed back down the hill via a few twisty turning footpaths.

Arriving back on level ground we strolled along the promenade that runs the length of La Concha bay – past the Miramar Palace (which is said to be inspired by English country homes), a wedding party and the hundreds of sunbathers – before arrived back in the centre of the city.

I’d heard some great things about a restaurant called Ni Neu, which offers michelin-style dining at affordable prices and so we decided to have a wander over and see if a) they had any space and b) they’d left two hoboesque travellers in! It turns out we didn’t need to worry as whilst the restaurant was fairly busy, it had a great relaxed atmosphere with plenty of families, groups of friends, couples (and the odd tourist) enjoying the food, drink and atmosphere!

Checking out the menu there were two options available; a three course set lunch for €29.50 or a six course tasting menu for €42.50. Having spent the last five months watching every penny and keeping a super close eye on the budget, we decided to treat ourselves to mark the end of a fab summer away (and spend some of our hard earned vendange wages) and so signed ourselves up for the six course spectacular!!

I won’t bore you with every last detail from each course, but I what I will say it that it was all super tasty as we tucked into…

  • Ajoarriero cod salad
  • Spider crab gyozas with roasted onion stock
  • Roasted hake, smooth fish jus and aubergine strands
  • Boned roasted lamb with cheese talo
  • French toast caramalised in the pan with Armagnac ice cream
  • Coffee meringue and chocolate biscuit

Having thoroughly indulged ourselves with lunch we felt the need to stretch our legs so wandered east along Zurriola beach, stopping for a bit of people watching and checking out a game of pelota.

We weren’t too sure what was going on ready – it seemed to be a group of men throwing a very small ball around and hitting in back across a pitch with a gloved hand! – however Rob got chatting to one of the other spectators who it turned out was there to support the Dutch national team and it seems this is an ancient sport, popular in the Basque country, The Netherlands, France, Belgium and South America. Apparently we were watching this year’s international championship, before it moves onto Colombia for 2017!

From here we wandered back into the centre for yet more people watching by the bay, before grabbing a drink at one of the bars we’d been to yesterday.

Even though we were feeling pretty full still from all that food at lunch we’d heard about a place selling epic cheesecake and felt we really had to try it out whilst we were in town. Having found La Vina we went in and soon spied the awesome looking cheesecakes lined up on the bar.

We ordered two portions, however on seeing the size of one soon realised this was a case of our eyes being bigger that our stomachs as one portion would have happily fed us both! Still it was worth it as we tucked into the super light and very moist baked cheesecake – it was unlike anything I’d had before, with almost a liquidy centre!

By now we were both feeling very full so went on a final meander through the streets, taking in a beautiful sunset over the bay and catching another wedding party as they left the church. Now all that was left to do was to bimble our way back to the bus stop and make our way home to the van 🙂

Day 153: Bilbao, Spain

Our mission for the day was exploring Bilbao and the adventure started a little sooner that we anticipated, as we had to navigate our way to the metro station, buy tickets and then make sure we were on the right platform! With the help of google maps and some pointing from the Spanish train guard we were soon on the train and heading into the centre.

As is generally our first port of call in a new city we headed straight for tourist information to grab a map and having worked out where everything was that we wanted to see, we headed down towards the old town. We had a mooch around the maze of streets, seeming to pass the same square and church over and over again as we went on the hunt for caffeine to help fuel our day.

We arrived at a large building sat close to the riverbank and on walking in realised this must have been the food market Ness had been telling us about. It turned out this was La Ribera – the largest covered market in Europe – and had a mixture of stalls selling fresh fruit, veg, meat and fish as well as an area with bars selling everything from coffee and croissants to wine and pintxos! We settled on some coffee (and biscuits we’d bought from a shop on route) and munched away whilst doing a bit of people watching.

From the market we headed onto Plaza Neuva for yet more people watching, this time over a glass of wine and a few pintxos at Cafe Bar Bilbao. It was a lovely spot complete with tasty pintxos, hanging legs of ham, decorated tiles and most importantly seemed to be full of locals. Definitely one to go to if you’re in the area.

We headed west towards the Guggenheim, passing bar after bar selling all manner of pintxos, and arrived to marvel at the architecture of Frank Gehry. It really is an amazing structure from whichever angle you look at it and worth the visit to check out the building alone.

In the end this is what we did, as we didn’t fancy the Francis Bacon exhibition and instead decided to go back and check out an interesting looking exhibition called ‘Human Bodies’ we had seen on our way up to the Guggenheim. And so we spent the next hour or so looking at dead bodies – preserved, sliced and displayed in all manner of poses! It was a really interesting exhibition, covering everything from creation to the nervous system, however I couldn’t take it too seriously when I was confronted with preserved and pickled penises!!

Back out into the light we decided more food and drink was needed so headed to another recommendation, Bar Irena. This didn’t have quite the same atmosphere as Cafe Bar Bilbao – perhaps due to the lack of locals – however we enjoyed a delicious range of pintxos including a kind of ‘cured ham tartare’! Stomachs full we had a final mooch around the shops before heading back to our home for the night in Sopelena.

Clearly the train journey was enough for us to begin feeling hungry again, so on spotting a bakery we decided to pop in and pick up a few biscuits to go with a coffee back at the van. On entering the shop we were greeted by a rather enthusiastic owner (who we decided to call Pablo!) who insisted we tried his freshly baked flan, before he went on to explain in a mixture of Spanish, English and mime exactly how he made it! It was a lovely eggy flan, made using his grandma’s recipe and we felt it was rude not to buy another slice (as well as a few more biccies to have with our coffees)!

Back at the van we cosied up for another film night – watching ‘Two Days In Paris’ – before getting some shut eye ahead of moving onto San Sebastian tomorrow morning.

 

Day 150-152: Surf’s up!!

After a slightly restless nights sleep we woke early and headed straight to the beach to check out the surf before having breakfast. With the wave size looking good for my pretty poor surfing abilities, coffee and cereal was swiftly demolished and my board and wetsuit extracted from the top of the van.

Having been up there for five months, it was good to see that the board was still okay, however sadly the same could not be said for my (now at least 15 year old!) wetsuit as it had become waterlogged and very out of shape! Looking like I’d borrowed it from someone twice my size, I headed into the waves for the first time since our honeymoon in Bali over three years ago, leaving Blaise on the beach to enjoy the sunshine!

After a few of hours of trying to remember how it worked and dodging the masses in the water, I decided that it was time to head in for some food and to rest my very tired and out of shape paddling arms! After a quick bite to eat, we went in search of our stop for the night which was just outside the main town. Having parked up and showered we decided that it was time to stretch our legs and see what Hossegor had to offer!

Getting to the town, I was in surf shop heaven!! For those who don’t know, I spent my formative years working in a surf/skate shop in the surf mecca that is Tunbridge Wells, Kent. So aside from the sunshine, beach down the road and masses of people around that actually can and do surf, I felt right at home!

The rest of the afternoon was spent mooching around the shops looking for a new wetsuit for me, eating ice cream (the first for what felt like weeks!!) and checking out the surf comp. Sadly the waves were not big enough for people who actually know what they are doing, so the comp was not running today, but it did give us the chance to have a go on a VR surf machine which was pretty cool!! Walking back as the sun was starting to set, we decided that this was a pretty cool place to be and were looking forward to more fun the next day.

Day two dawned bright and early(ish) and armed with info from a very friendly sales assistant at the Billabong store in town yesterday, our first call was their outlet store to replace the saggy suit with something that actually fits me and does its job! With that task successfully completed, it was time to get in the water again!

Down on the beach we bumped into Ness and her two boys and arranged to have lunch with them as they only live a couple of minutes away. Blaise headed off with Ness to catch up, leaving me to play in the surf and avoid the masses of boards in the water.

After a few hours, I decided that I was both tired and hungry, so headed in to find Ness, Jerome (Ness’ husband) and the twins chatting with Blaise and my cold lunch waiting for me! All too soon it was time for Jerome to get back to work and for Ness and the boys to get on with the rest of their day, so we left them to it and went for another walk into the town, treating ourselves to a couple of nice pastries – well why not!! Feeling a little weary we slowly wandered back to the BFG for another rock ‘n’ roll night of reading and drinking tea 🙂

Today was our last day in Hossegor before we headed back into Spain. We were hoping to watch the surf comp, but the waves still weren’t playing ball for the professionals, so instead we met Ness and Jerome for a quick coffee in the morning and then I went and enjoyed the small Rob sized waves for a couple of hours. With time ticking on we headed back to the aire for a quick shower and then off to our next exciting stop, Bilbao!

Fortunately the drive to Bilbao is a relatively short one, so about three hours later we were at our new home for the next couple of nights. Parking up, we met some fellow travellers (Simon and Gemma with their two children) who were on their way back to the UK to sell the massive motorhome that was no longer needed for their new life in Portugal. It was great to hear other people’s stories about places they’d been to and experiences along the way and we spent a lovely couple of hours chatting and enjoying very drinkable, and surprisingly cheap, red wine!

Day 148-149: …hello Hossegor!!

Having said goodbye to our vendange buddies yesterday, today it was time to say goodbye to Lamalou! After a month of grape picking, it’s time to pack up the van and slowly start to bimble our way home 😦

After a rather frustrating trip to the bank, where they were unable to give us our new bank cards so we could spend our vendange earnings – something to do with needing to verify a few things with head office, as we’re not official residents – we headed to the salon de thé one last time. Coffee drank and pain aux raisins demolished it was onto the market, to join the weekly gathering of GUB’s friends for white wine and oysters. It was lovely to catch up with people, some who we hadn’t seen since early-August, and enjoy a drop or two of wine in the sunshine. With the plan to set off early-doors tomorrow we made our excuses and head home around lunchtime to finish off the last few bits and make sure the blog was up to date!

We also made the most of GUB’s kitchen and enjoyed a slow-cooked lamb tagine whilst we had both space and limitless heat at hand! That’s one of the things we’ve noticed whilst on the road, you start to think about meals a little more creatively to minimise the cooking time! When it’s hot outside you want to spend as little time as possible in a small van over a hob – and there’s always a risk we might run out of gas!! I’m certainly looking forward to a bigger kitchen (and a toaster!!) when we finally make it home…

Up early we left Lamalou by 9 o’clock, with GUB waving us off before he headed down to the vide grenier (a French boot fair, which when translated literally means ’empty attic’) to bag a few bargains. With about six hours of driving ahead of us, we quickly got back into the travelling life with music, snacks and books (obviously not for Rob!!) all close to hand! We headed directly west of Lamalou, skirting Toulouse as we headed towards the coast and it was good to see a part of France we’d still not explored – although having spent about ten weeks in France this summer I’m not sure how!!

We grabbed a quick bite to eat near a lake, where a short walk to stretch our legs ended abruptly when a load of geese further down the path started hissing at us! Back in the van we soon began to see signs for Bayonne, Bourdeaux and Biarritz and before we knew it we’d arrived in Hossegor!

There were a few reasons for our trip to Hossegor – firstly as Rob loves to surf when he gets the opportunity and this was to be the board’s first outing this trip, secondly there was a Quiksilver Pro competition happening here this week and last, but definitely not least, an old friend from London was now living here with her family!! Our first stop was to see Ness and have a catch up after not seeing each other for nearly ten years, however with one of her boys poorly it was a rather quick hello over a cup of coffee (whilst also trying to play with her not so poorly twin) before leaving them to it for the evening.

We parked up the van in a quiet car park near Ness’ house and wandered down to the beach to check out the waves, the surfers and the sunset, before heading down to a beer festival we’d heard was on. I think everyone must have hit it hard the night before, as it was a rather tame crowd and none of the bands had got going yet, so we headed back to the van for food and a sleep after a long day on the road.

Day 147: Goodbye grapes…

Today was to be our last day of the vendange which was both exciting and sad as it meant that our time in Lamalou and with our new work mates was nearly over, but it had also been great to see the process through to the end and to be part of a great French tradition. As we’ve learnt more about the producer that we’ve been working for and their ethos, we’ve also become quite fond of the old fashioned method of picking by hand. By the sound of things, this is sadly on the decline as more producers (and certainly those with larger vineyards) turn to the big picking machines to collect the harvest.

The mornings have been getting gradually colder over the past couple of weeks, but today was our first taste of true autumn weather as the valley was engulfed in heavy cloud that gave it a completely different feel. As we made our way to our meeting point, roads that had by now become very familiar were almost unrecognisable and with the damp in the air, we wondered if we’d actually be picking at all today.

As we started to crest the hill that separates Lamalou and Faugeres, the cloud started to clear and it began to look like we were in for another nice day! Everyone was in good spirits and clearly looking forward to the final morning of picking. The picking itself happened pretty quickly, and before we knew it, the vendange was complete and celebrated by decorating the tractor with leafy vines.

After saying our goodbyes to our new friends – including being given a magnum of our favourite wine by the owners back at the cellier – it was time to start the not so exciting task of getting everything together before we head off again.

After a few hours of sorting, washing and tidying, we were both in need of a leg stretch and change of scene so a plan was hatched to go and see a little village that we could see when we were picking, and then on to a spot that GUB thought we should see. Loaded into the car, we set off on our magical mystery tour of new and interesting places!

After scaling the steep and loose path up to a little castle in the hamlet of Roquesol, we then headed over to a little reservoir near the village of Vailhan where we met bloke who was organising a music event there. This was to be no ordinary show though, as it would feature a pianist floating on the water – it all happens over here you know! From Vailhan it was time to head back to Lamalou via some of pretty sketchy narrow roads (whilst playing the petrol ‘red light’ game!) and then to get ready for dinner at one of the fancier local eateries.

To finish off our time in Lamalou we headed back to another favourite, L’Arbousier. It looked like it may have changed ownership since we were last there and sadly the food was not as good, but the great wine made up for it! We had a fun evening enjoying the slightly over the top surroundings and comedy waiter! If you are ever in Lamalou, it’s worth checking out for a nice drink on the pretty terrace, but maybe give the food a miss for now!

Day 145-146: All creatures great and small (and tasty!!)

After a rather indulgent day yesterday it was back up early and into the fields this morning for our penultimate vendange shift! Some shifts have flown by in a blur of snipping and sorting, but this one was a little more memorable now that sanglier (wild boar) season was ramping up!

Whilst the hunting season began at the end of the summer, today was the first day we saw any sign of them and on driving down to the vineyard we passed a van of hunters in their fluro-orange jackets. Thinking nothing of it we carried on to the field and were merrily picking away until we heard the sound of barking dogs getting nearer and nearer!

Soon an orange vested hunter arrived to see what was going on in the field and speak to our boss. After a short discussion he went on his way – I have no idea what was said, but I’d imagine the hunter wanted to see if our field was free so they could send their dogs through on the hunt for the illusive sanglier! Luckily they changed their path to stay out of our way, however the barking still continued – really quite loudly!! – just over the hedge and I have to say I was a little on edge. Yes the hunters knew we were picking away and could control the dogs, but I had visions of an injured, frightened sanglier running into the vineyard and straight up my row!!

Thankfully we were okay – and having heard no gun shots, I think the sanglier was too – and could go about our picking safe in the knowledge the worst that could happen was a sting from the many wasp-like insects that were swarming around the sweet grapes! A few hours later and another shift was done, so we headed back to GUB’s to de-grape (these end of season bunches are super juicy and super sticky!) and relax.

The remainder of the day – and start of the next – were spent blog writing, planning, shopping and sorting ready to pack up the BFG to head off again. It really is amazing how much you spread when you have access to a whole house rather than a van!!

With everything feeling a little more sorted it was time to get on with prepping dinner. After Tuesday’s indulgences we had settled on a simple veggie stirfry yesterday, however we had promised to show off our hot-smoking skills to GUB before we left and went for the classic smoked duck. Luckily for me this was Rob’s domain so I let him prep, render and finally smoke the duck whilst I set about creating a simple side dish of puy lentils, yogurt, spinach and herbs.

This is now other third or fourth attempt at smoked duck and it certainly lived up to it’s reputation. Soft, pink and juicy it had a wonderful fruity, smoked aroma from the apple wood chippings, that went very well a rather special bottle of wine we had been saving.

This is the big, big brother of our wedding wine, a dangerously drinkable syrah that slipped down far too quickly! I’m really looking forward to trying the new wines we got from our trip to St Chinian, however they have stiff competition to live up too 🙂

Day 144: All you can eat…almost!

Now we knew when we were needed for the final few days of vendanging we made the most of our day off by heading over to St Chinian, an area known for its wine. The main premise for the trip was to check out a wine shop which had been recommended by one of GUB’s friends, however as we’d made the 40 minute or so drive over there it seemed silly not to combine this with some bike riding research and a bite to eat!

Before I go on to talk about the epic lunch or wine tasting, I have to quickly mention the drive down which was really pretty stunning. It took us along winding roads that hugged the banks of the River Orb, past vineyards where the leaves were just starting to change colour in the autumn light and through the charming town of Roquebrun where we saw tractor after tractor waiting to drop off their morning grape harvest. I have to say I felt rather smug that it was them not us that had to tackle the grape harvest this morning, however I’m sure that feeling will wear off when my alarm goes off at 6:30am tomorrow!!

Once in the town centre we did a quick recce to find the tourist information office, bike shop and several places to buy wine, before grabbing a bite to eat. We’d already arranged to head out this evening to meet another of GUB’s friends for dinner so planned to grab a quick bite to eat only, however when GUB and Rob’s salads arrived we realised today might turn into an episode of ‘Man vs Food’!! And that’s not even mentioning my steak and chips!

Mains slowly demolished the nice waitress asked if we fancied dessert, before reeling off a list of tasty sounding options. It seemed rude not to try some, as she was very friendly and we’d driven a way to get here, so we order a combination of chocolate pots and fromage blanc (a sort of rich yogurt/cream-cheese mix) served with spiced apples, caramel sauce and a sprinkling of speculoos biscuit crumble!! A quick coffee to wake us up and cleanse our palates and it was onto the wine shop – via tourist information to grab a few mtb route maps for Rob to check out next time we’re over.

The wine shop was like an aladdin’s cave, with row upon row of reds, whites and roses, and GUB was in his element! Having spent eight years living in the Languedoc region he has quite a good idea of what he does and doesn’t like and with a bit of friendly guidance from the sommelier went about selecting a few (*cough*) bottles to try.

Rob and I are a little newer to this wine tasting malarkey; back home we go on the price, the label and the description whilst in France we generally trust the opinions of our now employer who stock a great range of wines at their cellier and are more than happy to both recommend and let you taste. So while GUB was uming and ahing over this bottle or that, we were abusing the sommelier for knowledge, advice and samples.

Having spent the best part of a month grape picking we know a lot more about different grape varieties and have our favourites which make up our wine of choice – Grenache Noir, Mourvèdre and Syrah – so to begin with we sampled a few drops made up of these varieties and from there the sommelier gave us a few more recommendations. GUB must have been feeling sorry for us, knowing we were soon heading back to the UK to face to the cold, dark winter months and treated us to a selection to help transport us back to a wonderful summer in France. In no particular order we settled on…

We’ll let you know our favourites once we’ve sampled them back home 🙂

With the car feeling a little heavier thanks to our full bellies and bottles of wine we bimbled back to Lamalou ready to psyche ourselves up for yet more food! After a few hours spent reading and relaxing, we made our way down to the restaurant, only to find out at the last minute that our guest couldn’t join us. But with the table booked – and at a restaurant we’ve not eaten at before – we decided to carry on anyway and enjoyed some rather tasty mains before moving onto dessert (well as I mentioned it was a new restaurant for us and we felt we needed to sample both their sweet and savoury options to be able to form a well-rounded opinion!!).

Rob decided on a fresh lemon sorbet to balance out his cheesy pizza, GUB went for an Ardeche inspired chestnut sundae to complement his typically French duck main and I went for the cafe gourmand because, well it allows you to try a taste of a lot of different desserts! All three desserts were lovely and generally just what we wanted, except maybe in my case where even my second dessert stomach failed me and I felt really pretty stuffed.

It seems the combination of me, GUB and Rob is a little deadly for both our waist-lines and livers and I think we’ll all start to feel a lot healthier when Rob and I head back onto the road at the end of the week and GUB can’t be led/lead us astray! Still it was all lovely food and one to add as an option next time we’re in Lamalou…

Day 141-143: Autumn arrives!

So having had to change our plans yesterday – those grapes just don’t wait! – and with a change in the weather bringing a day of on-off showers, today was spent planning our last couple of weeks on la grande aventure, relaxing and drinking lots of coffee as the temperature seems to have dropped below 20 degrees! The time has really flown by and with the ferry now booked, our return to normality seems ever closer 😦

The last leg of the journey will take us west to the food loving towns of Bilbao and San Sebastian in Spain and the surf meccas of Biarritz and Hossegor in France, before heading up the west coast of France to our ferry at Calais. Being very much the end of the tourist season, the options for campsites are a lot lower, but we hope that this also means that we’ll find plenty of nice quiet spots by the coast, and also quieter towns, with less of the crazy crowds that we have witnessed during the peak season!

As is only right with a Sunday we rose a little later than normal, enjoying a lazy breakfast before heading off to Lac du Salagou. Even though it is only about 30 minutes from GUB’s house, we had not yet managed to see it over the years of visiting, so today was the day!

We’d seen photos of the lake on nice bright summer’s days, however today was a more overcast autumn day, so it was not quite as pretty as it maybe could be, however it did give me the chance to check out more options for riding as there are a number of different routes, both around the lake and in the surrounding hills – more exploring for me then……ah well!!

Stopping for a brief coffee and what we thought would be a little sandwich, but turned out to be half a baguette, we went for a little wander by the water front and looked at the collection of old gurney bikes that had arrived in the main car park as part of a round-lake rally. These old bikes looked like they would be more suited to very gentle flat roads rather than the undulating and narrow roads around the lake, but at least one rider had the sense to bring an old motorcross bike instead!

Back in the car, and the last stop of the day was the nearby town of Clermont-l’Herault. When we drove from the Alps last time we went by a route that we didn’t know and ended up driving through the town when we’d normally skip around the outskirts. We were pleasantly surprised by it and felt that it was worth a proper visit, so parking up we set about seeing what it was about. Being a Sunday most shops were closed however the centre was quite pretty, with a large square that would be packed with stalls on market day – definitely a place to revisit when it is at it’s bustling best.

A quiet night followed as we were once again due to work in the fields in the morning.

Our alarms rang all too soon in the morning and another day of work started as the sun rose over the hills. We were now getting toward the end of the vendange and there was an air of urgency about our fellow workers as the weather was looking a little uncertain, so we needed to pick as much as possible before it turned. A solid four hours of picking later, with stiff backs and hands covered in grape juice, we had finished the first day of the last week of the vendange season and although conversation with our French and Spanish colleagues is a little limited, it will be strange when the time comes to say goodbye!

You may have figured out by now that our travels have often revolved around food, so as not to break with this tradition a large risotto was planned for the evening. Armed with the shopping list, Blaise and GUB headed off to the supermarket leaving me behind to continue planning and blog writing. Arriving back with everything needed for the risotto, I set about getting dinner underway. The plan was for a chorizo and chicken risotto and soon discovered that the chorizo chosen was just about the hottest that I’ve ever tasted – excellent!!

With stomachs rumbling, the anti-cook rice was finally done, some 20 minutes after the cooking instructions suggested and we sat down to eat. Fortunately the chorizo had calmed a little and it was pretty good!! With tummies now full, beds called after another fun-packed day on la grande aventure!!