Relocating, renovating, regenerating

Sunrise over French alps

We are constantly on the move; regenerating ourselves, our ideas and horizons, through travel and exploring or relocating and renovating houses, all as jobs or life require it.

After a summer of regenerating ourselves and indulging our passion for travel we have also thrived on the changes that our business and our life choices have brought. The result is we are relocating again.

We thoroughly enjoyed renovating and regenerating a 1960s bungalow, transforming it into a contemporary home.  We learned a lot about building, renovating and, enjoying the privilege of living there, we learned a lot about us. We surprised ourselves when the day came by how difficult we found it was to leave.

We both felt a mix of nostalgia, apprehension and excitement as we stood one last time in the now empty rooms together.  A pair of Muntjac deer came to say goodbye and we smiled as each of us silently pictured the wonderful memories of our time there.

Time to move on, we nodded to each other, we had made our home in this house for a short time but our hearts have already relocated and we leave the house to be regenerated into their home by the new, young family.

Relocating this time is driven by our enthusiasm to expand our holiday cottage business outside of the UK and what better way to do it than guided by our passion for the outdoors, the stunning landscapes of the French alps and for renovating houses.

On a visit to the French Alps last year we fell in love with a tumble down barn in dire need of renovating and, though it wasn’t in our plans quite so soon, we decided that regenerating the ancient building into a luxurious and unique chalet could be a perfect fit us and for our holiday property business, sheepskin.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Over the year we have been through the processes of French planning, selling in Oxford and buying in France and are now, for the foreseeable future, relocated in Morzine, France.

This week we started renovating the ancient French alpine barn, or Grange in French, with the plan of sympathetically, regenerating the scruffy old man into a more contemporary and unique modern gentleman.

This year we will continue to transition each day between laptops and perhaps, not to flip flops but instead to snowboard boots and hiking boots.  We have been out and about getting to know the slopes and back-country of the Portes du Soleil…

…exploring the Aprés ski places, especially our local favourite a micro-brewery and great place to relax, Bec Jaune.

Each day we will be visiting the barn/building site as we help the team with the renovation…

renovating, regenerating French alps property…and then regenerating ourselves with fresh mountain air, exercise and indulging in great local food, ales and wine.

We will be out exploring with the future guests of our chalet in mind so that we can point them to the best spots during their holidays with us.  We will also be searching for other like-minded chalet owners who have done their own regenerating of a beautiful, traditional building here and want to share their home with Sheepskin guests.

When we have a moment during the renovating, we will post the progress on the barn as it is regenerated into a chalet for the Sheepskin holiday property collection.

If you know Morzine and the Portes du Soleil and have tips on best places to eat, drink, ski or snowboard please do comment below.

If you have already done or are in progress of renovating of a chalet in the French alps and would like to talk about joining Sheepskin as we launch in the mountains again please comment below.

Gower holiday, close to nature

Memorable Gower holiday close to nature

Our recent Gower holiday was made all the more memorable with our days spent close to nature.

Before the hours of daylight got too short and the days a little too chilly to sit for hours, by the crashing waves, watching the end of a fishing rod we planned a short holiday for a few days of fishing on the Gower peninsula.

We started each day of adventure and exploration before the sun rose above the horizon and meandered back late each evening.  Every day memorable in its own way and each with new discoveries about Gower.

We had fished off breathtaking Rhossili Bay beach before and know you can reach the small headland at Burry Holms and some great, quiet fishing spots but only at low tide. High tide was 7.30am that day so to get over to the headland and back safely before then meant an early start…Peaceful Rhossili bay beach to Worms Head Gower

The 5am alarm was certainly a memorable part of our holiday; jolting us out of a deep sleep in this peaceful place on Gower.  We thought about snoozing but knew that getting up in time to see the sunrise over Rhossili Bay would be more memorable than a lazy morning.

We were far from disappointed; even stepping out of the cottage in the lane, where few street lights pollute the sky, the stars were bright in the still black and clear sky.

After a walk through the dunes in the twilight we were rewarded with a truly beautiful and memorable sunrise over the Gower coast and along deserted Rhossili Bay.Stars at sunrise Rhossili beach Burry Holms Gower

As we sat, mesmerised, on the rocky outcrop at Burry Holms we both gasped as we spotted an otter peak out from the rocks below then sprint across the sand.  The returning tide was just starting to wash our foot prints away on the beach where the otter dived into the waves lapping on the sand.  We were both so excited to be so close to nature and to share such a memorable experience.Fishing at sunrise Rhossili Gower

Finally with bait in the water we were joined by other natives and were close to nature again when a couple of seals popped their heads above the waves just in front of us.  The seals were certainly more interested in our fishing rods and bait than any fish and for the next few hours followed us to each new fishing mark.

The morning was one of the most beautiful and memorable on our Gower holiday even despite the lack of fish.

We explored the paths to Worms Head in the afternoon.  A crisp clear day meant the view from the coast walk of Rhossili Bay beach towards Burry Holms was spectacular and certainly will be memorable.Beautiful deserted Rhossili Bay Beach Gower

Another twilight walk along the long winding path from Rhossili village to the National coast watch hut, looking out to the causeway to Worms Head, we explored the various beautiful bays along this stunning part of the Gower coast.Walking Gower coast path

Each day different paths, different rocky outcrops, different vistas, always a wonderful sunrise.  Each day also the same attention from the seals which equally amused and frustrated but made each day unique and overall a very memorable holiday on The Gower peninsula.Gower seals enjoy fishing

We gave up fishing and instead enjoyed a few pints of locally brewed Gower Gold ale, delicious and dangerously quaffable.  In the pub we got a few handy tips for fishing spots and bait from the locals that Adam put in his memory banks for next time.

Yet again Gower amazed us; a small corner of Wales where the stunning coastline helped us to experience a very memorable Gower holiday and enjoy, as we always do, being close to nature.Memorable Gower holiday close to nature Gower seals

 

 

Our favourite places in Oxford

The occasion of Adam’s birthday gave us a great excuse to visit some of our favourite places in Oxford.  Having Oxford as our local town is really a great privilege and we take every opportunity we can to wander the breath-taking streets of Oxford and visit our favourite places.  I wanted to share our favourite places with you to help you make the most of your visit to Oxford…

Oxford has many beautiful and awe-inspiring places and buildings, many of them are out-of-bounds except for the privileged few (privileged not just financially one assumes but in the determination and dedication that they must have in order to have the honour of studying in such a wonderful university town).  However although you will see plenty of private, no entry, closed signs…

No entry private places OxfordThere are still many wonderful places to explore.

We have been locals for several years now and have our favourite places in Oxford.  We never tire of it; we are always finding new favourite places and we still meander the streets, looking up to be sure to see the true beauty of the city its wonderful historic architecture and amazing vistas and skylines.

amazing architecture Oxford historic buildings

There is no denying that Oxford is a transient town, a place for tourists.  Every day of the year the streets are packed with throngs of visitors and rightly so it is a stunning and fascinating town.

The city of Oxford changes throughout the seasons as visitors and students come and go the city, its colours, feel and appearance change with the seasons but our favourite places in Oxford remain the same.

You will see our favourite places in Oxford are a little biased to places to eat and drink however they are also all great places to sit and watch the fascinating world of Oxford for by.

The first of our favourite place in Oxford is really an activity enjoyed in numerous places; walks along the River Cherwell, through University Parks and Christchurch Meadow.  I recommend getting away from the town centre and enjoying the paths by the rivers.  In Christchurch Meadow (behind the Botanic Gardens) the Thames and Cherwell rivers meet.

away from Oxford Crowds Christchurch Meadow

There are many paths along the river Thames but the prettiest and easiest are along the River Cherwell.  You can’t follow the river directly as much of the land is owned by the university but with an OS map it is easy to pick up the paths any quickly get away from the hustle and bustle.

Peaceful walks or punt on River Thames Oxford

Through University parks, north of Oxford town centre, you emerge on Parks Road and are quickly back in town along St Giles to find one of our favourite places The Ashmolean.  Established in the 16th century and refurbished in 2009 a mesmerising museum in a breathtaking building with exhibitions to inspire and amaze.

Ashmolean museum Oxford

We have visited numerous times and still not seen everything.  Since our privileged sneak preview of prior to the reopening in 2009 The Ashmolean remains one of our favourite places in Oxford.  Its only downside is that it is not open on Mondays which has disappointed some of our family and friends on extended weekend visits to Oxford.

Before heading to the town centre perhaps head out of town a little for a spot of lunch at one of two of our favourite places to eat in Oxford. First Gees restaurant is part of a local, privately owned group of restaurants each of which is very individual.  Gees looks very decadent and pompous from the outside but venture in and it is a very relaxed environment with quirky decor, attentive and friendly staff and great food from local produce.  Adam and I have turned up in walking gear on a late Saturday afternoon and stayed all evening but also enjoyed, slightly, more formal evenings there with family and friends.

A little further out of town but worth the walk (or taxi ride) is The Cherwell Boathouse, it’s hidden away in a quiet spot by the river and worth the trek for a special treat.  The week day lunch menu is great value for wonderfully creative and delicious food thought the wine list may still damage the wallet a little.  If you are in Oxford in the summer then you should book in advance, this goes for most places in fact.

On your way back in to town, just north of Gees, have a wander down North Parade, it’s a lovely little street for a mooch with an eclectic mix of cafés, restaurants and shops.  Carry on straight ahead to reach Woodstock Road and turn left to head back to St Giles and Oxford centre.  If you get thirsty on the way you can stop for refreshments at another of our favourite places The Royal Oak pub.  Being out of town it is a more of a locals place and is a good place for a beer and nibbles.

refueled and re-energised you’ll be ready to tackle the Ashmolean or save it for another day and continue the exploration of our favourite places in Oxford with a food and drink theme…

Not so easy to find The White Rabbit, behind the Oxford Playhouse near to Gloucester Green, is a quirky and friendly place.  The young owners pride themselves on their pizzas (which for me are ‘ok’) but the main thing is it’s a lovely little place to while away a little time, watch a diverse range of students, locals and tourists come and go and enjoy a pint of ale in this tiny and stylish place.

The White Rabbit pub Oxford

Often packed with tourists, because it is easy to find in the heart of Oxford on the corner of Broad St and Holywell St opposite the Bodleian Library, but with an equal mix of locals The King’s arms it’s a great place for a good pint of ale, some very tasty home made pork scratchings or a spicy scotch egg and a good people watching spot if you can grab a seat outside in the sunshine.  We’ve spent some wonderful afternoons there watching the world go by.

Ale and nibbles at Kings arms pub Oxford

If you wander through Christchurch meadow from behind the Botanic Gardens you come out at the other end through a grand gateway on St Aldates, turning right back towards the centre and Carfax Tower and you’ll find another of our favourite place in Oxford.  It’s another pub!  St Aldates Tavern nice atmosphere, friendly staff, a quite usual menu (unusual in that the menu is hidden inside old hard back books but also in that it ranges from pork pie and pickle to Mozzarella and tomato salad or ham, duck egg and chips to fresh pasta).  Needless to say they have great beers too in a great atmosphere so it makes a good place to escape the crowds for a while.

St Aldates Tavern Oxford

Talking of crowds I suppose you have to visit The Bear Inn, the oldest pub in Oxford and a quirky little place. Their website describes as ‘a hidden gem’, and granted it is tucked away but everyone finds it so it is not a place for quiet pint, nice relaxed meal or catch up with friends.  The interior, with its wood panelled walls adorned with the neck ties of previous visitors is worth popping in to see and experience but it is not one of our favourite places in Oxford.

On past The Bear and over Magdalen Bridge towards St Clements and Cowley to the last of our favourite places in Oxford; you guessed it another pub!  The Cape of Good Hope on the corner of Iffley and Cowley road on the roundabout at St Clements is another wonderful people watching place particularly in the summer when you can spill outside and enjoy your pint of local ale.  The staff are always friendly and knowledgable about the guest ales and always offer a little taste before you decide.

The Cape of Good Hope pub Oxford

The very last of our favourite places in Oxford is not a specific place but a general area.  A wander down the Cowley Road at any time of day or night is always entertaining and we have spent many afternoons, evenings (and on into early mornings!) doing just that.  On every block there is a great place to eat, we have our favourite places for Chinese, Nepalese, Greek and Indian food as well as our favourite place to dance into the early hours The Hi-Lo.  It’s a place you should discover for yourself though and find your own favourite places.  Do be sure to venture out away from the tourist and historic centre of Oxford and explore.

I hope that you find our favourite places useful when you visit Oxford and that this blog helps you make the most of your time in our wonderful town.

I know many of you must have your own favourite places in Oxford so do please comment and add your favourites too.

behind closed gates Oxford

Delicious local flavours in Southern Italy

We have always enjoyed delicious local favours in Southern Italy though continue to be amazed at just how easy it is to find wonderful local produce and restaurants serving delicious local flavours.  Our last visit through Puglia, Basilicata and Campania was no exception and the variety and quality of the flavours amazed us again.

Having taken the ferry from Dubrovnik to Bari we journeyed south west across Italy through Puglia and Basilicata then turned north, along the coast, and through Campania. The scenery varies from barren to dramatic, lush to picturesque but what does not seem to falter is the fact that you can stop in any town along the way and you will find good food from amazing local produce with wonderful flavours.

We’ve travelled from Bari west before so we took a windy route through the hills in Puglia to see something new.  Mile after mile we passed through valleys where every inch of the land was green with farmed crops and at the corner of many of these vast fields, abandoned, beautiful old farm buildings made redundant now by mechanised farming and large cooperatives.

First stop, desperate for coffee after our 6am start off the ferry, in what seemed like the middle of nowhere without a town or village in sight, we came across a tired looking roadside café with just a few builders’ and road workers’ trucks parked outside.  As we opened the door we were hit by the most amazing smell – fresh baked bread and cooked tomatoes. Risorante Il Rifugio really was a wonderful refuge, behind the old bar wooden shelves were stacked with huge fresh rustic loaves, locally made Tartalli (savoury biscuits made with olive and white wine instead of butter), local jams and chutney as well as wines.

Rustic bread south italy

We resisted the massive, fresh-made, crusty panini filled with cured hams and mozzarella that the builders were enjoying but welcomed ourselves to Italy with classic espresso’s after buying provisions for later.

Next stop, lunch in Basilicata, the landscape around Potenza was a mix of farming and industry and predominantly modern building with not many places to eat. Finally at the edge of a modern but scruffy looking town a pizzeria hidden behind a shop selling mozzarella.  We ventured in to find two uniformed policemen and a few people in smart business dress enjoying large plates of pasta.  In our shorts and flip flops we too enjoyed wonderful pasta with fresh porcini mushroom and mozzarella sauce.

On to Campania where the road was lined with Buffalo farms many selling Mozzeralla direct. We chose one at random principally because it had Buffalo in the field next to the car park.

Buffalo Mazzarella Italy

Behind an unassuming door in the farm’s immaculate courtyard we found the Caseificio (Creamery) where a queue of people with shopping baskets were busy placing their orders, the lady in a white apron disappeared into the creamery behind and emerged to pass over the counter various sized bags of water filled with various sizes of delicious looking white Mozzarella balls.  When our turn came, we ordered Bocconcini, small mozzarellas about the size of eggs, and carried our prize away like a goldfish from the funfair.

Stylish Mazzarella farm Campania Italy

Through another door a stylish, air-conditioned cafe hid where a couple of tourists in shorts and flip flops like us mingled with Italians in business dress evidently on lunch break.  Though there were artisan breads and cakes filling the shelves, we were all after the same thing; ice-cream and yoghurt made from Buffalo milk. A worthy alternative to classic Italian ice-cream, not as rich but bursting with a fresh milk taste.

Now on to somewhere we know already, the Caseificio and Buffalo farm next to the ruins in Paestum where we know we can camp with our camper van for the night in their olive grove and taste some of their amazing local produce.

Caseifiecio Paestum Mozzarella Italy

In the garden next to the shop we feasted on a 500 gram Mozzeralla, Bocconcini with prosciutto crudo and very simple but extremely tasty tomato salad (sliced, fresh plum tomatoes, sprinkled with rubbed oregano and drizzled in olive oil – all from the farm).  Oh yes and a deep, ruby red Jungano wine from the farms vineyard, full of silky blackberry and vanilla flavours.

The next morning we watched the Mozzerlla and Bocconcini being made…

Production of mozzarella bonconcini

…before a run on Paestum beach in the hot morning sun, which was a memorable but rather painful experience due to our feast of wonderful wine and Mozzarella cheese.

We were late setting off to continue our journey and our bellies called lunch shortly after Naples.  Leaving the motorway at Capua; our hearts sank as we entered what felt like no-mans land, a military town with scruffy industrial buildings on the outskirts.  We trundled down street after street trying to see a glimpse of lunch, eventually we spotted a little sign over a door ‘Trattoria Antica’, it seemed our only option.

On tables by the bar a few people enjoyed plates of pasta as they watched The Simpsons on a small tv on the wall, a strange combination but the food looked good so we took a seat in the other room next to a few men who looked to be discussing business over their pasta. We listened discreetly but as we often find in southern Europe, their noise and gesticulation could have been arguing, agreeing but one thing we did understand was their enthusiasm about the food.

Trattoria Antica Capua Italy

They downed their espresso and left us to our simple yet delicious food; freshly made pasta with wonderful ingredients expertly combined to make the sauces.  My seafood pasta was piled high with mussels and clams with a tomato sauce that tasted like it had been infusing and simmering for days to get such an intense flavour and Adam’s simple sounding Spaghetti Pomodoro was perfectly seasoned and packed full of flavour.

Our schedule meant that we had little time left in Italy and after a long day on the road we chose the location for our last overnight camp, on the recommendation of friends who live in Rome, Sabaudia on the west coast just south of Rome.  A little touristy, as our friends had warned, particularly near to the pristine sandy beach dotted with cool beach bars, beds and umbrellas but overall an intriguing and  beautiful place.

Over leisurely morning coffee watching the sun rise over the lagoon, we recalled the amazing food we had had the day before and suggested it was almost inevitable that during the course of the day to come, we would have a similar experience in some unexpected place somewhere.

Sunrise over Sabaudia lagoon

We walked back across the lagoon into the town itself, very sleepy on a Saturday close to the end of the summer season.  In a street off the main square we came across an amazing delicatessen, packed to the rafters with an array of local produce and with tables outside suggesting we may find lunch there.  It looked like the shop had been the same since the 1950’s, there wasn’t a menu, the lady simply told us all she had available that day which was pretty much anything you could possibly desire.  A normal occurrence, it seemed, for several locals who nonchalantly took tables inside and sat chatting to each other or their dogs and reading newspapers until their delicious lunches arrived.

Sitting outside in the sunshine, we were treated to a huge plate of mixed cured meats, marinated, grilled vegetables and fresh crusty bread, simple and simply not reproducible in the UK.

delicatessen local produce sabaudia Italy

After these days exploring Italy, punctuated by delicious, conversation-stopping, local produce our eyes, taste buds and bellies were completely satisfied and full (for now).  We slept, one last night in Italy, dreaming of ruby red wines, the complex flavours of cured meats and melt in the mouth Mozzarellas.

We have travelled a lot in Italy and always we marvel at the unassuming ability to convert local produce into fantastic yet simple food with incredibly rich and distinct flavours. It all seems so natural and effortless, not food for special occasions, just food for every day.

SaveSave

Life at a difference pace in Lumbarda, Croatia

Though it doesn’t come naturally and didn’t feel right we felt we should try life at a different pace, a slower pace for just a while and Lumbarda in Croatia was the place to try it. We both notice how we tend to live and travel at a fast pace and we recognise we can skim over and past places rather than taking the time to get under the skin of a place, to get to know it better.

We are hungry for adventure and new discoveries yet at the same time wanted a place that would force a more relaxed pace of life and to have adventure and discovery on a smaller and different scale to normal.

Living in flip flops but attached to our laptops our requirement was; a place where we could connect easily to balance work with wonderful views, sea to swim, places to walk or jog, enjoy great food and wine and generally enjoy getting to know the place and perhaps ourselves a little better.  A tall order but we were confident that Lumbarda, on Korcula island in Croatia, could fit the bill.

Lumbered Harbour Croatia

Sonja at Camp Vela Postrana greeted us with tired looking eyes but a big smile, the summer had been busy and very hot and she admitted she was happy but exhausted. She was pleased we had returned In September, her favourite month when everything was all a little quieter, the sea was warmer and she said with enthusiasm brightening her eyes ‘you’ll see the sea and the sky are different colours, it’s beautiful!’

At the camp site we had wifi and views to the mountains on the Peljasac peninsula, it is staggering distance to places to eat and drink and a short meander to the sea in pretty much every direction.

For several days we woke to blue skies and had a run up through the vineyards or along the coastline to the next bay. One of us would pick up breakfast at the bakers on the home straight; we found that you have to get to the tiny shop before 10am or she sells out. Once we figured out the required routine we enjoyed some wonderful fresh bread and local pastries like Burek Sir (a little like the Greek cheese pie Tyrikopita) and, after a few visits, even a welcoming smile from the shy lady.

In the summer we had seen tiny pips of grapes emerging in the vineyards and now large bunches of red and white grapes weighed down every branch. One morning we were overtaken by a tractor and several scooters laden with empty crates as families busily began to harvest the white grapes. Having waited and watched patiently all summer it seemed the whole town was out lending a hand and joining in the jovial chatter as crate after crate emerged from the leafy rows covering the hillside.

Walking through Vineyards Croatia

As we walked back down lane on our way home we were surprised when one of the men called to us and beckoned us over. The smile creasing his rugged and weathered face showed he was pleased with their harvest as he passed us each a bunch of grapes straight from the vine. We enjoyed our little piece of the harvest as we strolled down the lane; tiny, juicy and delicious you could taste the flavor of very local and unique Grk white wine that these grapes will create.

The following day on our jog we saw the harvest was complete and the vineyards were quiet again. We skipped breakfast planning to enjoy a lunch of local cheese, Prsut (Croatian Proscuittio) and Grk wine at the Posip winery as we had last visit however the terrace, normally set up for hungry and intrigued tourists to taste their wonderful local produce, was completely taken over by crates of grapes and shiny grape crushing equipment. The man who had passed us the grapes the day before didn’t mind breaking off his work to pour us a glass of everything they make including some wonderful fig liquor.

Lumbarda sunset croatia

Croatians can come across as quite austere and, at first at least, don’t seem friendly because they don’t seem to smile very often or be very chatty. Perhaps this impression can be explained more by shyness and the difficulty of trying to make conversation in several European languages depending on who decides to take a seat at your table. Germans, Italians and English seem to be the most numerous visitors and you very rarely hear anyone trying to speak even a little Croatian. More often than not once you break the ice with a few, probably very badly pronounced, words of Croatian and a smile of your own they warm up and normally happy to teach you a few more words so that you can surprise the next person you meet.

Croatian cypress avenue church KorculaSo after chatting for a while with the men at Posip winery, using English, a little terrible Croatian and basic German, we bought several bottles of Grk white wine (which may or may not make it all the way back to the UK before we enjoy them) and we left with a warm glow inside and out.

We found it surprisingly easy to settle in to a routine and leisurely pace of life in Lumbarda…most days we wandered along the coastal promenade for a swim drying off in the afternoon sun.

We explored to the very tip of the island and spent an afternoon lazing in the quiet bay by the light house where an unmarked memorial cross made an unusual foreground to the coastal view…

Lighthouse lumbarda

We walked and, much to our own amazement, on another day jogged the 8 mile round trip into Korcula old town and back.

Korcula old town Croatia

We were warmly welcomed back to restaurants we had visited before and discovered new places where the food, the views and the welcome were equally amenable.

We enjoyed live music in the bar by the harbour that attracted more locals than tourists and spent quiet evenings, just the two of us, by our camper van, never boring of the inky black night sky. We listened to the murmur of the village across the field knowing that most of the chat and laughter was that of locals not the very few tourists who were lucky enough to choose September in Lumbarda.

Our little Mediterranean oasis had not disappointed and before we knew it a week had disappeared!

Vines, wines and beaches in Bordeaux region

We were rewarded with vines, wines and beaches in the Bordeaux region after a long drive from Languedoc. Over the Massif Central with a lunch stop in Roquefort (home of the wonderfully creamy blue sheep’s cheese and a must for foodies and cheese lovers!) brought us to our friends already settled in a nice rural campsite at Rauzan just outside of Bordeaux. Roquefort cheese and mountains Our travels, over the next days, around Bordeaux and Medoc regions taking in as much as we could of the vines, wines and beaches of this fascinating area.  Some places such as Saint Emilion surprised us with its many fairy tale chateaus surrounded by a carpet of vines all set up for wine loving tourists… Bordeaux chateau and the medieval town centre, though busy, had some quiet, romantic places. Medieval and romantic St Emilion Pomerol and St Esteph were particularly disappointing with a distinct industrial feel between the few more ordinary chateaux.  The wine never the less was wonderful and of course we took advantage of the abundant wine-tasting and tasted and bought as much as we physically could. Bordeaux vines near St EmilionBut our direction now was north and home.  Already desperately sad to be gradually losing the heat and the sunshine we shivered outside the van in the evening though it was still 22 degrees. A check of the map and the weather forecast suggested we may be able to enjoy a view of the sea and warmer weather if we lingered in Medoc.

The beach at Soulac sur Mer is a vast sandy beach, stretching as far as you can see north and south and looking west to the Atlantic. White tops were being whipped up by the back drop of a stormy sky when we arrived so an afternoon for wrapping up and strolling rather than beach bathing. Edge of storm no beach todayThe dark storm that threatened on the horizon never quite reached us… Storm approaches on beautiful Soulac Bordeaux beach we suspect that us spending half an hour in the blustery wind putting up our canopy, much to the amusement of our fellow ‘camper-vanners’, turned its path.  Much like if you take an umbrella or water-proofs on a day out you can guarantee it won’t rain and if you brave changing into t-shirts and shorts, the sun simply disappears.  The canopy did keep us warm though as we enjoyed our hearty stew with a big fruity Bordeaux.

Exploring the coast of the peninsula the next day with the storm clouds hanging stubbornly over Brittany to the north… storm clouds build above Brittany France our walk took us to a great fish restaurant by the port at Verdon sur Mer where we finally got around to enjoying the great feast of seafood that we had been yearning for since deep in the Mediterranean south. French seafood platter Verdon sur mer Rising early, but certainly not with the sun, we’d enjoyed far too much Rose for that, we made our melancholy way to the ferry to Royan and north to Normandy.  We hoped to have time to explore the area of the 1944 World War II beach landings on the Normandy coast.

Enjoying Piemonte hills and Languedoc wines

We wanted to be sure we had time to enjoy the Piemonte hills and Languedoc wines.  We needed a quick dash across France after our relaxing days in Rome so that we could arrive in Bordeaux in time to meet up with friends at the start of their summer long travels through western France and Spain.

First one last stop in Italy, in the Piemonte hills above the coast between Genova and Ventimiglia.  We never seem to learn and made the mistake first of thinking that we could find somewhere in one of the coastal towns but after slow progress through traffic along the coast road and stopping outside several camp sites that looked more like camper storage places, we admitted defeat and headed to the hills.

At Campsite Terra Rossa we found a peaceful place scattered amongst the trees on a hillside, with a pizzeria restaurant below.  With perhaps only six pitches occupied, we checked if the restaurant was actually open and would the wood fired oven be producing pizzas that evening.  We were assured it would be and when we walked down the hill later that evening and rounded the corner to the restaurant, we got quite a surprise; the restaurant was packed, it looked we had found THE pizzeria in the area.  A need to wait for over an hour for a table meant we had time to enjoy more of the local wine and watch the buzz in the restaurant.  Finally the pizza chef emerged with our Buffalina and Quattro Formaggi pizzas that were fantastic, the best of the trip and certainly worth the wait.

We left Italy replete and content the following morning with our France Passion book pointing the way to a small chateau in Languedoc.  typical french farmyard vineyardMas Montel Chateau proved to be a fascinating location with wonderful Languedoc wines, we are sure we will not find easily outside of France.  We had a very informative and enjoyable wine tasting which included pretty much all of the local produce from the vineyard!  We bought as much as we could fit in the fridge in our van (the warm temperatures still meant our wines needed to be kept chilled).

The evening provided another spell-binding experience, a fairy tale place with us the only people choosing to camp there, though five spots are available in front of the rustic old chateau.

When the yard and shop closed around 6 we were left alone to enjoy the quiet space with our private view across the vineyards.  Adam inspected the vines whilst I opened our bottle of chilled white wine given as a gift from the shop…

Adam wondering when the grapes will be readyDuring the night we even had access to one of the old cellars where the generous host had set up a bathroom for France Passion visitors.

We made friends with the chateau’s chickens as they wandered around our table, disappearing into their pen just before sunset. After a wonderful picnic on the lawn, we danced in the light of the moon to Glen Miller Big Band music, no pictures of this of course but take it from us it was an evening we will cherish for a very long time.

Free camping vineyard chickens

We emerged early from our dream world with the long road over the south of the Massif Central ahead of us and the intriguing prospect of stopping in Roquefort to pick up some delicious cheese and then on to the Bordeaux region.

Roquefort cheese and mountains