Our first night in France, we stayed at a family run hotel and restaurant combo. Andrew and I both really respect the work of a locally owned and managed establishment like this one. Friday night we were treated to a jazz concert and three course meal, slept soundly in a comfortable room and woke Saturday to a basket full of fresh pastries and jam. It was obvious the owner was doing the bulk of the work, aided heavily by a competent and friendly staff: he met us at check in, took our orders for dinner, served breakfast and waved goodbye as we payed the bill. And, for all that, not a detail was overlooked. In an area of France where many well off travelers opt for a night in an 18th century chateau and don’t bat an eyelash at the hundreds of euros calculated on the final bill, Le Bon Duq offers a comprable service for a fraction of the price. If you want to check out the vineyards of Bordeaux and le entre-deux-mers, but are on a tighter budget, please, stay here.
From our hotel in Les Billaux/Libourne (a 40 minute or so drive from Bordeaux) we set off to discover the popular (for good reason) and well preserved wine town of Saint Emilion. We arrived fairly early, so the first half hour of exploring, we had the streets blissfully to ourselves. Birds chirped gleefully, baby lambs nuzzled mamas, the sun sparkled in the cool morning air and French grandmas tended their flower boxes. It was a scene from a movie. Surrounded entirely by vineyards, the buildings of the town are made of more gorgeous blonde stone. Wine vendors dotted the store fronts and servers at cafés set tables outdoors for lunchtime. After traipsing around St. Emilion for a while and dreaming of buying our own little cozy home in town, we headed off to find a winery open for tastings. Easier said than done. Ultimately, our mission failed, but we did have the opportunity of meeting a former vineyard and winery owner who had recently sold his business and property to new Chinese owners. The Chinese flag waved next to the European Union and French flags out front. They didn’t open for visitors.
From the countryside we drove towards the Dordogne region, stopping for a quick walk in Bergerac. Even though it is the main hub town of this region, we wouldn’t recommend a stop. There are more beautiful views of the Dordogne and more tastefully restored timber homes elsewhere.
Our final stop for the day was in Sarlat, a town we’d visited in December when it was gray and raining. It was lovely even in the wet and cold weather, but Springtime turned it magical. More later…