We returned home on time from Lac de St. Mathieu to say goodbye to our first guests, and to begin to prepare our home for the arrival of our second visiting Home Exchange family. They arrived punctually the next morning and we welcomed them all into our newly-cleaned home. After a speedy tour and basic overview of how to look after our pool, we left them to settle in and enjoy. We headed south out of the ‘Shire’ (Haute Vienne to others) to our first planned stop at Périgueux. We were last here on the day we bought our French house, and were then a little distracted by calls, so it was good to return and see it afresh. It was a Sunday morning and we thought the town would be closed and quiet, but it was mid-festival and there were many places open, with crowds of people wandering around. It was as beautiful as previously, although decorated with millions of pieces of coloured plastic.
We doodled south along the sleepy backroads of Dordogne, to reach Domaine de la Lande, on the outskirts of Monbazillac. This was a France Passion vineyard where we parked up adjacent to neat lines of vines, were graciously welcomed and invited to a tasting session at 6pm. After a lazy afternoon we arrived into the quirky tasting room, site of a thousand fun nights. A memory wall was covered with photos of camping cars arriving there for many years, under all country flags. Our host was a fantastic character, explaining all about their wines with humour, passion and vigour. His grandfather was Albert Camus, but not the famous one. He was the fourth generation of winemakers to run this domaine, his son is now in charge of the main business (he still loves to take the fun-filled dégustations) and his 18yo grand-daughter is in line to be the future proprietor, the sixth generation.
There were four couples from other vans in the same tasting. Max the dog, visiting along with one camping-car couple, was adopted by us (or us by him) for the evening. After eight or nine small glasses of varied tasting, trying to keep track of the relentless French chatter and variance in wines was impossible, so I zoned out and just enjoyed the cheery atmosphere. In the morning we got up early to run a quiet 10km loop of the local vineyards, but a few kilometres in Nicky felt a little light-headed and dizzy, so we gently walked back. We saw the same beautiful views, breathed the same morning freshness, all just at a slower pace, allowing more time to appreciate it. Once returned we bought a few bottles from the store and said our goodbyes to our gracious host, glad for the fun experience.
We kept on moving south, passing vines and sunflowers and stubble fields recently cut for hay, until we moved into the region of plum trees and walnuts. We soon reached familiar territory, as we were back in Allez-et-Cazeneuve, to visit now old friends Monica & Ken. We hadn’t seen them since their visit to ours last September, and several other visits had been cancelled due to complications or weather, so it was great to be able to make it work this time. Soon after our arrival we set out for a gentle countryside walk around some well-worn paths, taking in the views and the reddening sky as we caught up on news. We cooled off in their pool with a glass of Ken’s wonderful home-brewed beer, ate beautifully roasted home-grown vegetables with succulent fish and had a fun evening of catch-up chat.
The morning took us out for a 32km cycle around the local countryside, mostly on off-road trails we never found ourselves, even during the two months we house-sat for K&M back in the winter of 2018. We were not feeling very bike fit, having ignored them for months in favour of running, but were happy to see we could keep up and really enjoyed the route. We ventured around the perimeter of a huge corn field and found ourselves being showered in river water under the gaze of a giant irrigation frame. We visited a windmill on a hill in Montpezat before returning through Dolmayrac to finish our loop. After lunch we had archery. Ken managed to place an arrow right in the centre of the bullseye, from over 80m away. He might claim it as skill, but it was a glorious fluke, and with 40 arrows fired between us we only managed to hit the target four times in total. But this one shot was worth remembering.
We all had a cultured hour’s downtime, us listening to Ken’s classical guitar playing, Monica playing piano in another room, me sketching (practising faces and features) and Nicky undertaking another self-led lesson in Italian. Rested and contented after our creative pause, it wasn’t long before we were all back at the poolside for a continuation of cooling swims accompanied by trays of tasty beers. More fabulous food and a little too much wine followed, the chat increasing in volume and timbre with each new glass filled. It rained heavily overnight, but was dry and bright again by morning. Nicky & I had a morning run with Ken, a hilly 8km, where the trees dripped on us like showers as we passed under them, with muddy ground underfoot and long grasses tickling our legs. It was good to shake off that hint of hangover from the previous evening’s excess, and it always feels good to have your prescribed exercise for the day completed before breakfast. Ken and Monica had their own Home Exchange visitors arriving later that afternoon, so we headed off to give them time to prepare, with fresh aubergines and home-made chilli sauce in hand, and the knowledge it will be late spring 2020 before we have opportunity to meet up again.
After a supermarket shop and more beautiful country lanes, we arrived at a France Passion vineyard near Blasimon that afternoon, to be greeted by a huge Great Pyrenees mastiff, the same breed as on the farm at Buron de Fages. After meeting the owner who would be out later for a marché nocturne, we arranged a time for a tasting. He was clearly busy and a little stressed, but still had time to gift us a handful of plump, ripe tomatoes from his garden, unprompted, which we could roast with Ken’s aubergine. At 5pm sharp we had a few quick tasters, bought ourselves a bottle of rosé and a dry white in exchange for our night’s stay, before leaving him to his evening plans. We settled in for a gentle read and relax in the warm summer evening air. Late, as we sipped tea and thought about sleep, we watched a young deer walk through the fully-laden vines very near to our van; a calm, serene view.
Our next stop was at the Grand Etang de Jermaye, a lake we know well from our time in our house-sit near to Riberac. Within moments of our arrival we decanted to the beach and spent our morning reading and relaxing, interspersed with some longer swims. Each time we see Monica & Ken we are reminded that we should be swimming more, as they are both passionate and talented long distance swimmers, and they inspire us to push ourselves. Well toasted, we moved on to Saint-Front-de-Riviere, solely because the aire looked nice in the Camper-Contact app, and we found it to be so. We had a short walk and found an accessible stretch of trickling river. It was inevitable; to cool off from the sticky drive, we both stripped and sat down in the shallow flowing water, like in a cold bath. It was so refreshing and invigorating, and immediately restorative. We drip-dried and dressed, returning to the aire with cheeky grins, feeling satisfyingly naughty.
There was a lot of noisy palaver later, when many more vans arrived and spent hours wrangling ways to connect themselves to one of the two free electricity points provided. We stayed well away from it all, and pondered over some motorhomers mini-obsessions with having power, especially free power, at all costs. After a lazy morning and another chilly river dip, we returned north to Lac de St. Mathieu, originally planning to overnight there. After an afternoon on the beach, swimming and toasting ourselves, we decided to move on. There was a weekend event on and looked like being a noisy spot, and as it never hurts to be closer to home, we moved on to overnight at Pageas, our local aire, only 4km from our home. Only the thumping rattle of falling acorns occasionally landing on our metal roof disturbed our rest, and we were up and ready to say goodbye to our second Home Exchange family.