I wanted to give a mention and a plug to, and show a few photos of the wonderful chambres d'hôtes where we stayed on the way home from the Pyrenees trip, then that'll be the last of it.
We reckoned we needed to stay somewhere in the vicinity of Fontenay-le-Comte (rather a cool town website this, with a good slideshow banner) on the way home, just going by the itinerary he had plotted from the atlas - we don't do GPS. We marked the turn as we passed it on the way down, and thought it would be no sweat to reach it on the first leg of our journey back.
The drive from St Jean Pied-de-Port to there on the return trip was mostly horrendous. We got sent scores of kilometres out of our way on unforeseen diversions for roadworks, the rain beat down in torrents in the slipstream of the lorries most of the way up through Les Landes, we took a wrong turn on the Bordeaux ring road so we were going into the city instead of out if it, then when we came off we couldn't get back on it again, and finished up driving round and round a lifeless suburb. As I was the navigator and had misread the immaculately planned itinerary, it was All My Fault. Finally we saw a supermarket in the distance, and drove towards it. Opposite was a pharmacy, we went in and asked how to get back to the motorway heading out of town. The lady pharmacist stopped, thought hard, took a deep breath and a pencil and paper, and carefully drew us a perfect map, explaining as she did so, which took us effortlessly through a complex network of roads and roundabouts and back onto our route. So the moral of that is, if you want to know the way, ask a pharmacist. Seriously, we've found this before, I suppose it's because they're trained and experienced in giving clear advice.
We'd barely averaged 30 mph thus far, so we broke with habit and took the toll-paying motorway, which was a breeze and a relief, and we got off, later than anticipated at Niort, but felt confident we were nearly there, since we knew Fontenay was the next reasonable sized town about 15 miles away down a large straight major road.
However, it may as well not have existed. We saw no signposts to it, and found ourselves yet again driving fruitlessly around a town centre with no clue how to get out of it. In the end we went most of the way back to where we came in, and on one roundabout sign, below the directions to the local exhibition centre, in very small letters, was the name Fontenay-le-Comte.
When we finally arrived at Dormir ben'aise, our billet for the night, after a more than 8 hour trip, without stopping for lunch but only a quick coffee and then bolting a couple of pains raisins in the car, Cécile, who owns it, confirmed my suspicions as to why the town of Niort fails to acknowledge the existence of its smaller neighbour: because it's in the next département. Ho-hum. France.
But our disgruntlement evaporated in the delightful atmosphere of the place.
(This one is kind of ironic, I think that's a near-enough correct use of the word, as the small blue oblong thing hanging from the chair contains my reading glasses and is meant to be hanging around my neck. I took this as we were more or less going out of the door to leave that morning, then a mile or two down the road I looked for them to read the map, and couldn't find them. I didn't know if I'd left them or if they'd been stowed in the boot, so we had to stop, rummage, phone Cécile and ask her to look... it half-crossed my mind to look on the photos, which would have revealed the facts much more quickly. We had to go back for them anyway.)
It was colourful but restful; the ethos was ever so organic, everything restored, repurposed, recuped, recycled. Including the loo.
Much of the this part of the Vendée is vast and flat and agrarian, but then in the south-western corner one comes to the Marais Poitevin, an area of marsh, woodland, natural channels and man-made canals that's been dubbed 'Green Venice'. Cécile is a former Parisian relocated to the country with her two teenage children, a beautiful warm person with lovely, quirky taste and quite a bit of the erstwhile hippy radical about her. She and the children love it there, she says - her 18-year old daughter cycles miles out to see her friends in the surrounding area and works in the holidays on the boats which punt about the canals providing green tourism. Living in the wetlands they are especially aware of taking care of water, not wasting it and keeping it clean; all the household water went onto the garden, where there were chickens and goats and a donkey. I collected a flask of hot water for morning tea, and breakfast was good bread and jam and coffee, all organic. Cécile lit the old Godin wood stove for us for the evening, and glory be, after a week sleeping in a bottomless concavity of a mattress in the house in St Jean PdP, the bed was marvellously firm. And there were nightingales which sang in the very early morning.
It's a lovely place to stay, and at a very good price indeed, a good 30% cheaper than any other bed-and-breakfast where we've stayed of recent years. Cécile says she knows this, the tourist office are always telling her she should charge more, but she prefers to keep the price down, and more often than not people stay on longer and come back.
We were certainly tempted to stay longer, and would have, but Mol, who'd fortunately been OK the week before, was showing signs of discomfort and a flare-up of the infection symptoms - which had further added to the stress of the journey there - so I was anxious to get her home and to the vet, (who decided against further antibiotics, and she now seems to be recovered and back to normal). But we mean to go back there one day, and explore the byways and waterways, and if you're travelling that way, I recommend you do the same.
Dormir ben' aise
02.51.87.26.42 / 06.43.88.48.29
The next day, we decided to stick to motorways all the way back to Rennes, and thanks to the Duchess Anne of Brittany, who, in the Middle Ages, made a deal that Bretons never never never should have to pay tolls to Paris, we didn't have to pay anything after we got to Nantes, and got home comfortably in about four hours.