Sleep… It’s a wonderful thing. Sadly I’m not as familiar with it these days as I used to be. The knack of getting into bed, going straight to sleep, and waking up in the morning seems to have left me. Particularly when it’s hot. But nights pass and the sun rises and each morning is a new beginning. And at least the room at the Chateau where we stay for the first night of our road trip is lovely, and the bed is very comfortable.
The Second Day
We get up and go down to a really great breakfast in the beautiful dining room with its view of the sloping lawns, tapestries on the wall, round table and – joy of joys – a lazy susan spread with bowls of apricots, home-made jams, fruit, delicious bread and croissants, and really good coffee. We love this place and will definitely make the effort to come back. Although we might find somewhere different for dinner!
Another stunning day; blue skies, sunshine and the Dordogne is beckoning. Back into the car and the first excitement is that our route takes us past the buildings and paddocks of the Le Mans circuit. And before we know it we’re actually driving along a section of one of the most famous race tracks in the world.
No, we’re not lost. The Mulsanne Straight is the 3.7 mile section of the 24 hour circuit which is part of the national road system. I am not the biggest fan of car racing – why anyone would want to drive around and around the same bit of tarmac for 24 hours without stopping I simply can’t imagine. But even I get a buzz from driving along a stretch of road where cars in the race achieve a speed of over 250 mph.
The countryside we drive through during the morning is pleasant enough without taking our breath away. It’s great to be off the motorway, although one of the disadvantages of the smaller roads is that you do tend to get stuck behind slow lorries for long stretches without being able to overtake. But the fields stretch out on either side of us, the trees line the roads in that uniquely French way, and some of the villages we drive through are very pretty.
We talk amongst ourselves about the meal we ate the night before and how it is possible for food to cost so much and taste of so little. Breakfast at the Chateau went a long way to making up for it, but we’re still in need of food reassurance and lunch is beckoning. So we stop at the very promising looking Les Orangeries in Lussac les Chateau. Which turns out to deliver even more than it promises!
Fantastic lunch sitting on a shady terrace in a walled garden looking out across green lawns. Charming service, food delicious enough to banish the horrors of the previous night, and the shade provided by the tree over our heads sufficient to protect us from the intense heat. Definitely a place to return to; maybe for a night next time!
Back in the car, back on the road; and now the scenery around us is beginning to show its true colours. We are in the Dordogne with its rolling hills and wooded valleys. It’s impossible not to come over all bucolic and start waxing lyrical! The roads we wind our way along take us beside tree-lined fields of mown hay, past tumbling rivers and through the light-filtered glades of green forests. It feels like we’re being drawn into the heart of another France, where the villages nestle in the nooks and crannies of a landscape that hasn’t changed that much for the last few centuries. The busy motorways and tollroads feel a million miles away.
We’re heading for a night at the Moulin Neuf, which is just outside the ridiculously pretty little town of Paunat. A few struggles finding it; the satnav is sulking after its performance the night before and refuses to cooperate for the last few, crucial, miles. At one point it takes us down what it tells us is a road, but which turns out to be the drive to someone’s house; a house which looks a bit rundown as we approach it, with decidedly odd looking people standing around the front door, who watch us suspiciously as we pull up and start to move towards us in a way which makes us feel we definitely shouldn’t be there. We back away fast.
We get to where we are supposed to be in the end, and are met by Robert, the owner of the Moulin Neuf, who wheels our luggage from the car in a nifty little trailer, and shows us to our rooms in a separate building next to his lovely old mill.
This B & B has the most stunning setting out of all the stunning settings in which we stay on our journey. It is tucked into the bottom of a little valley, with chairs and tables set out in the shade of the trees, the sound of water tumbling along a water course that runs under the house and through the garden, wisteria on the walls and blue painted shutters at the windows; completely different to the grander Chateau of our first night but completely lovely.
Our room on the ground floor is small but prettily furnished, with a good sized bathroom, although the room our friends end up in is definitely of the not enough space to swing a cat variety and is rather in need of a face lift. The owner has been in touch before we left to say that he has an extra booking needing more nights then the one we were staying, so wondered if one of us would be prepared to go into the room which turns out to be the one that, if it were a dog, would definitely be the runt of the litter. Our friends drew the short straw!
This is a very different experience to our first night. There the rooms were state of the art comfortable; here things feel a little bit tired. But the setting and the friendly welcome more than make up for it, and we wander around the lovely garden before getting back into the car and heading into the village. Because it turns out that, entirely without planning it, we’ve timed our stay in Paunat to perfection. Three nights every summer the village has an open evening where the local people gather in the square for food and wine and dancing. And this Thursday is the last one.
The village square setting is picture book perfect; there are stalls set up selling the food of the region, everything from foie gras to suckling pig to walnut tarts. The whole village is there, talking and eating and drinking and dancing. There are families sitting at tables spread with all kinds of delicious looking food, old ladies sitting comfortably on plastic chairs watching their grandchildren running around them, people queuing for the most popular stalls, men turning huge spits with meat sizzling over the flames. A man and a woman are doing a great job of singing to a recorded backing track, all kinds of songs old and new. I love watching the little children, the way they get swept up by the music so that they twirl and skip on the cobbles of the village square with complete abandon. And the teenage boys who cluster on the edge of the space that has been left clear for dancing, looking with yearning at the flocks of teenage girls who are happy to join in while the boys hold back.
We soak up the atmosphere and can’t believe our luck. But it’s been a long day and we’ve covered a good few miles, so while the village keeps going we head back to the mill for a not entirely comfortable night. Tomorrow we are going to explore a bit before we get back on the road. And then it’s on to Pyrenees-Midi for night three.