Sweeping out of Paris on a comfortable high-speed train, the French countryside whisks by fields of yellow flowers and wind farms in the distance yielding only to the greenery that surrounds them.
As much as I love Paris, I have grown weary of the hustle, bustle, and concrete of big cities. I prefer them the size of Lyon and Bourdeaux which have many of the amenities of the great cosmopolitan centers, but lack the crime, grime, and graffiti of their larger counterparts. Even better I prefer the gentle lull of the French countryside. I can sense a feeling of deep relaxation setting in the further I am from Paris, and look forward to my two weeks of volunteer work in the pastoral beauty of Southwestern France in the town of Brossac where I will be helping out at an old auberge which developing into a comprehensive French cultural center. Brossac is located right between Bordeaux and the Dordogne, two of my favorite places to visit but quite different from one another.
Bordeaux has the charm of Paris’ 17th. And 18th. Century buildings combined with a mayor who likes to keep things tidy. He took it upon himself to have the majority of the structures power-washed and offered tax incentives to private citizens to do the same. What resulted is a small city with Parisian style architecture and charm that looks like it was built yesterday. Add to that a new tram system, and you have aesthetics and convenience. Considering that the buildings were as black as soot, the transformation has been striking.
Not to be outdone by larger metropolises, Bordeaux has Europe’s longest shopping street with many of the world’s most sought after brands like Louis Vuitton, Chanel, and Cartier. The city also has the oldest opera house in France with a firehouse attached since it is mostly built with wood. This is one of the few of its kind since most of them burned down hence the nearby fire station. And, of course, one mustn’t forget Bordeaux wines.
Now for the big surprise. A one bedroom apartment in the best neighborhood can be had for under 1,000 euros a month. Try finding that in Paris. I will always pay it a visit from time to time, but I won’t be taking up residence there any time soon.
The Dordogne dials the stress down a couple of notches further. The sheer natural beauty of the region leaves one with the feeling that it is clearly not necessary to die to go to heaven. Chirping songbirds, fields of sunflowers, and medieval villages couched in greenery make this area my number one pick for an idyllic retirement. This is duck country and the foie gras capital of the world. If like me you’re not smitten with foie gras, the duck magret and confit are an absolutely delicious alternative. Rocamadour is one of the biggest attractions in the area and is a stunning medieval village built into the side of a hill where they make a phenomenal goat cheese called cabecous. Wherever I go in France, I seek out this cheese in fromageries throughout the land.
Sarlat is the oldest most well preserved medieval village in Europe, and shouldn’t be missed. They have a sumptuous open-air market on the weekends and some interesting shops as well. More on the Dordogne next year when I plan to revisit the area for a month or so. Prepare for a visit to paradise. This is an easy day trip from La Giraudiére, where I will be spending the next two weeks.
La Giraudière 1904 – The location and focus of my two weeks in the town of Brossac in the Southwestern French region of Charentes. This is where I will be volunteering in the ongoing maintenance and restoration of this lovely Auberge. My fellow volunteers and I will be working three days a week and then spending the rest of the time touring about and cozying up with the locals. There are all types of things to busy yourself with at La Giraudiére. There is gardening, computer work, writing, housekeeping, and painting to name a few. If you would like to come and spend some time in one of my personal favorite regions of France then check out their website at http://www.lagiraudiere.com
Foo and I prepare for a days work.
The bare cinderblock we covered with cement in order to prepare the wall for rendering.
We also installed the railing for the patio.
VIEW FROM THE PATIO
Zach and Foo enjoying a beer on their way back from Brossac.
Tuesday afternoon on a beautiful Spring day taking a stroll after the work is done.
Coming into the town of Brossac population 700.
THE TOWN CHURCH
Farming is the main industry in the area.
CHALAIS AT NIGHT
4/20 Birthday dinner for Paul on right.
VILLAGE OF PONS – Donjon or Medieval Dungeon
How about those amazing sculptured shrubberies? This is an area where the French are very skilled along with so many other aesthetic notions and is yet another reason to settle here.
MARINA NEAR LA ROCHELLE
En route to La Rochelle
ENTRANCE TO LA ROCHELLE
LA ROCHELLE WATERFRONT – The openings that can be seen at the waterline are passages through which goods were offloaded directly to shops from the ships in the port.
This street performer enlisted these kids to help entertain the crowd. Here you see a young boy doing one-armed push-ups to the delight of all attending.
ENTRANCE TO THE OLD TOWN
NICEST CAFÉ IN LA ROCHELLE
TAKING THE FERRY BACK TO THE CAR
VILLE DE FOURAS-LES-BAINS – Le Fort Vauban á Fouras
PLACE ROYALE – Water Mirror in the foreground.
An especially nice reflection in the Water Mirror.
I was here last year and took most of these shots, but I couldn’t resist a second go-round on such a beautiful day. If you’d like some more Bordeaux just check April 2015 on the Blog.
PORT CAILHAU – Original Entrance to the Old Town
PALAIS GALLIEN – The remnants of a 2,000-year-old Roman amphitheater in a residential neighborhood.
LE PARC PUBLIC
FOO & ZACH
GRAND THEATRE – Opera National de Bordeaux
MONUMENT AUX GIRONDINS – On Sunday there is a Bric a Brac Market behind it, and many food stalls to grab a snack.
RACK OF LAMB
L’OMBRIÈRE CAFÉ – Breakfast at Place Parlement – Entreé, Main & Dessert – 9 euros
EN ROUTE TO THE BRONZE TURTLE
GROSSE COCHE DE BORDEAUX – Big Bell of Bordeaux
Rue Saint-Catherine – Europe’s Longest Pedestrian Shopping Street
Just forty-five minutes before we had to leave to catch our train back to Brossac, I discovered that my passport was missing! I was purchasing canalès, the classic Bordelaise pastry halfway across town, and I went fishing in my secret pocket for my debit card. It and my passport were gone. I didn’t panic but headed back to the street where Foo and I had done some power shopping earlier on. We had been in a couple of clothing stores, an electronics store, and the SNCF to purchase train tickets. I had visions of using the card, missing the hidden pocket in my pants, and having my two most important possessions fall out in the middle of one of the busiest shopping streets on the planet.
We reckoned that probably the last place I used the card was the SCNF where we had purchased tickets out of a machine, and then went upstairs to make sure there wasn’t a rail strike on. So we went back there to begin our search. I entered the tiny elevator and got out on the 1st. floor. There was the desk where we inquired about the strike. As I opened my mouth to ask the pressing question, the woman at the desk handed me my passport.
Man, that’s a good feeling I have to tell you.
THE OLD HOUSE – Another beautiful Spring day at La Giraudiére.
ANOTHER WALK INTO TOWN
An Ancient Well at La Giraudiére
MY TURN TO MAKE DINNER
RESTAURANT BY THE LAKE
THE RICE BROTHERS – Paul and John – British Expats living in France and Germany.
LA TOUR DE BROSSAC – It was bitter cold – I felt bad for those guys in the shorts.
OFF THEY GO!
PASSING LA GIRAUDIÈRE
The day cleared up and got warmer so we walked into town to check things out.
We took the back way past fields, a lake, and a vineyard.
There were rides and games in town with Bric a Brac for sale in a parking lot.
Foo with his first cotton candy, or grandfather’s beard as it’s known here in France.