The Grand Tour

Nothing to do with Jeremy Clarkson’s comeback, we had our own Grand Tour this summer. You could call it the pretty route home to England from the French Alps via Avignon, Nîmes, Carcassonne, Bordeaux, Tours and Honfleur.

The sharp-eyed will have noticed that it passes through a couple of significant wine areas. No accident there. In fact, it started as a visit to the Bordeaux region and in the planning, grew. Tony, as always, had a spreadsheet. It covered where we were staying each night (usually a ‘Chambre d’Hôte’, often in the ‘Logis de France’ range) and rough location. Then there was a print-out for each with the address and an email confirming the booking. He is organised so I don’t have to be.

It started to go wrong on the way to Avignon. The print-out for the ‘Logis’ for that evening went missing. Tony insisted he had taken it out of the file ready for use and I vaguely recalled he’d been waving a piece of paper around. We had a rummage – ruck-sack pockets, trouser pockets, pockets in the doors of the car – without success.

‘No problem,’ Tony insisted. ‘The Logis name’s on the spreadsheet. We just need to google it to find the address.’

So I did just that and we found the place. Congratulating ourselves, we went to reception. They had no record of our booking. And they were full. As the queue grew behind us, Madame did a lot of clicking on her computer, a lot of searching in a paper file and a lot of puffing.

‘Do you have a confirmation of your booking?’

Of course we did, if only we knew where the damn thing was. Then Tony had an inspiration and found the offending piece of paper in the side pocket of a previously unsearched hold-all.

‘Ah!’ she exclaimed, breaking into a smile of relief. ‘This is not us!’

We were at the wrong Logis.

Tony then remembered he’d been unable to book his first choice so had found somewhere else. But he hadn’t updated the spreadsheet. We need to take senior moments into account in our travelling. We set off to the correct Logis, which turned out to be far better than the first. It was hot, over 30 degrees and the swimming pool tempted us in.

We loved Avignon  – apart from the parking. It should be an Olympic sport, it’s so difficult. Roads are made for small cars, 2CVs. So are the underground car parks. We don’t have a 2CV. We did what all tourists do and went ‘sur le pont’. The part-pont, as only a small amount of it remains. I expected the famous song to be playing and at least someone to be dancing. Wrong. So on the way back, we sang a few lines of it, quietly to ourselves. If you’ve ever heard us sing, you’ll know why. We passed on the dancing; we didn’t want to be too ostentatious. However, the town recognises the importance of that simple ditty. It has brought more visitors to Avignon than any advertising campaign could ever have done.

Sur le pont d’Avignon. On y danse? Non!

Evening Avignon was beautiful. The main square by the Palais des Papes was flooded with gentle sunlight and a choir entertained the crowds with a mixture of Gospel and Rock. We looked down on the rooftops, all pale terra-cotta or brownish-cream. The houses were cream, too, with dark red shutters. We liked the pleasing uniformity and were glad to be there. The following day we visited the Palais; the nine popes who lived there knew how to look after themselves!

Evening sunshine on the Palais des Papes

Nîmes was a stop en route for Carcassonne. We couldn’t believe how difficult it was to find the enormous, almost intact, Roman amphitheatre. It’s obvious when you know where it is and a wonderful place. We didn’t buy any denim and I’d not appreciated that it was actually ‘de Nîmes’ until my clever husband told me.

The Roman amphitheatre in Nimes

I didn’t know it would be so hot in Fairyland – around 36 degrees. But that was Carcassonne, a magnificent fortification perched on a hill. It seemed all the world knew it was worth visiting. And that was before the Sunday Times ran an article on it, raving about its fifty-two turrets.

First view of the fairy-tale turrets of Carcassonne

Carcassonne caters for the tastes of the entire world. I managed to avoid the temptation of the Torture Chambers and Haunted Houses. I even avoided buying myself a wooden sword and mediaeval outfit. A trip out of season when the narrow streets are emptier would be lovely. We have left a little piece of England there. Tony dropped his sunglasses and one of the lenses came out and fell down a grating. He usually loses his sunglasses so it made a change. Amongst the tat there was some pleasant local pottery. We bought ourselves a planter. Actually we bought two as Tony slipped and smashed the first one. He did well in Carcassonne.

We ate that night at the Domaine Gayda restaurant in Brugairolles about 25km from Carcassonne.  It took us multiple circuits of the village to find it. With no phone signal, I couldn’t use Google maps. Sunday evening does not tempt people out so finding someone to ask was difficult. We got there half an hour late but the friend we were meeting was patient. The restaurant has to have one of the best positions in France. With glass walls on two sides opened to the warm evening air and a view across the immaculate vineyard, it would hardly have mattered what the food was like. It didn’t disappoint.

Then on to Bordeaux…


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I am an arts person who, for good reasons at the time, studied science but always wanted to write. Now I have retired, I can indulge this passion. I write fiction and non-fiction, even occasional poetry, preferably late at night. I have just completed my first novel, using my background in pharmacy for its setting. I have been a winner of the Daily Telegraph ‘Just Back’ travel-writing competition and have published in various magazines including Mslexia, ‘Litro’ online, ‘Scribble’, ‘The Oldie’, ‘Berkshire Life’ and ‘Living France’. I live in Berkshire and am married with three children and six grandchildren

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