24.03.2013 - 25.03.2013 14 °C
Slightly mixed feelings today after a somewhat frustrating day. We're in Jarnac (near Cognac) and staying in a chateau. That in itself is lovely. The building is wonderfully restored all rooms are decorated with heritage treasures. The house and its surrounding park are located on the edge of the town so easy walking distance to the Charentes River and to the Courvoisier distillery. Our hostess/landlady is warm and friendly and also helpful. We should be happy and enthusiasm should be bursting out of the page. And yet, it's not! Why is this?
Along with the privilege of staying in a beautiful house such as this comes restrictions. Not least is the fact that we can't eat or drink in the rooms. I understand why but not being able to sit back with a pre dinner drink or make a coffee is slightly frustrating. Especially so because our visit has conincided with Sunday and Monday and half the district seems to be asleep or not open for visitors on these days. When we arrived yesterday after a four hour plus drive from Carcassonne, we went for a walk thinking we'd find a cafe for coffee and, perhaps, a small snack as we hadn't eaten since a light breakfast. Nothing - repeat nothing - was open!!!! The town resembled the set of Attack of the Body Snatchers - cars all around but no life. We controlled our hunger and thirst and had a good walk and then drove off in search of dinner. Apparently most places were closed but there were a few restaurants open in Cognac and we enjoyed a good dinner there.
Never mind we said, that was Sunday, today is Monday - life will be better today. After a lovely petit dejeuner, we drove off to take a good look at Cognac and the area. We got into town and found a car park without trouble and in retrospect, that should have been the warning we needed. As we walked into the centre of the town we realised that all of the shops were closed - and again, I mean all of them!!! Heading down to Hennessey Cognac, we enquired about a tour, only to discover that we'd just missed the morning one and the next one was at 2.30pm! And yes, the shops would be opening after lunch - about 2pm, maybe, if they felt like it.
Don't get me wrong, Cognac is a lovely place but it would have been nicer if we hadn't had to fight for a coffee or if we hadn't seen exactly what we wanted in two shops and not been able to access them. Why didn't we go back later, I hear you ask??? Well we did - but they were two of the shops that weren't opening at all.
Jarnac itself was even quieter than Cognac and most of the shops, cafes and restaurants don't open on a Monday at all. The moral of the story, gentle readers, is to be conscious that when you go to towns that are a) off the tourist trail or b) off season, you may not find the facilities you are looking for. We were concerned about dinner tonight but have booked back at last night's establishment - the food and service were excellent and we know we can rely on it!
Yesterday we took the motorway most of the way from Carcassonne and I'm pleased to say that we appear to have got over our paranoia of tolls. It does help that:
a) I can now recognise the word for tollbooth (peage) so am forewarned
b) We've discovered how to fold the mirrors in so we can get closer to the machines
c) We know which lanes to go through
d) We have a collection of small notes and coins ready for the payment
Tomorrow we're driving up to the Loire Valley and will be going via the motorways so hopefully there will be happy tales continuing.
Dinner - La Barbacane
On Saturday night we had our best meal by far since we arrived in France. Don't get me wrong, there have been no duds but we'd built up a couple of occasions in our minds and been slightly underwhelmed - L'Epuisette for example. On impulse, on Saturday, we booked into La Barnacane at the Hotel de la Cite in Carcassonne. It's the only Michelin starred restaurant in town and it didn't let its reputation down. We had the 8 course tasting menu with matching local wines and it was superb! The range of treats from perfectly cooked vegetables with truffles, sea bass, foie gras, filet of boeuf, was extraordinary as was the service and ambience. We didn't start eating until near 9 and it was nearly midnight by the time we staggered the short distance back to our hotel but it was absolutely sensational!!!