Season’s Greetings

Bonjour from Port Chalmers.
 
This will be our last missive for 2019, to wish you all JOYEUX NOEL & BONNE ANNEE and to update you on the remaining early booking offers. 
Boating dominates our 2020 bookings with an even mix of rental boats and hotel-barges, including two whole barge charters for family get-togethers.  European Waterways has a fleet of 16 barges and an early booking discount of 10% for selected cruises between April and June 2020.  This applies to barge charters as well as bookings for individual cabins.   In addition we are offering a 5% discount across the whole fleet for bookings confirmed before Christmas
 Rosa-Pont canal Agen
We have known the charming barge, Le Papillon, since the eighties and now it is undergoing a major refurbishment, converting its three cabins into two generous suites with king-size beds.  From May to July, it will be cruising the Nivernais Canal, featuring visits to Chablis and Vezelay. Then it will move to the Saone River, via the Burgundy Canal, which offers the possibility of a longer cruise (2-3 weeks).  Next Le Papillon navigates the Saone river and explores the famous the Cote d’Or vineyards before entering the tiny (39km) Seille River up to Louhans.  The four person charter rates are US$24,000-US$27,000, and there is a 15% early booking discount up to Christmas.
 papillon copy
All the rental boat companies have had early booking discounts, culminating in this Black Friday hoo-ha, but most are continuing with smaller discounts of 5-15% throughout December.  These vary so much between companies, boats and regions that they are impossible to list, so tell us what you want and we’ll give you the best price available and even round it down for bookings confirmed before Christmas. 
 
The Walking Party’s all-inclusive walking holidays, escorted by owner-operator James, are getting rave reviews and are particularly popular with solo travellers and small groups.  However, because of accommodation limitations, he can only accept a few singles on each walk, so to encourage more couples/pairs, we are offering a  5% discount for all bookings for share twin accommodation  confirmed before 31 January 2020. 
 Note that the Georgia week (October) is already fully booked and the new Transhumance walk (May) has five bookings and could fill quickly as a small group is ‘in discussion’.  Dordogne Quercy (May), Tuscany (June) and the St James Way walks (September) also have bookings for 2020, so are now guaranteed departures.

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Lastly, we have vacancies for four people to join our France -Scotland 2020 tour, which starts in Glasgow on Tuesday 22 September and ends in Perpignan on Sunday 11 October – 8695 Euros per person, share twin.   
 
Phone or email for more information/brochures.
 
Bien cordialement,
Robert & Barbara
BESPOKE FRANCE
Robert Buchanan & Barbara Keen
52 George St, PORT CHALMERS 9023, NZ
ph (64) 03 472 7856,  freephone (NZ) 0800 147 856

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Scotland – France 2020 – update November 25

Bonjour from Port Chalmers.
 
Another short update on our Scotland-France 2020 tour before Christmas madness overtakes everyone. Let us introduce you to the charming four-bedroomed Colintraive Hotel, which sits at the narrowest point along the Kyle of Bute & will be our base for two nights. Clare runs the bar & restaurant while hubby Joe produces hearty breakfasts & delicious dinners from the kitchen.  It’s a picturesque spot with some lovely walks, a conn unity garden the  a ferry over to Bute.  
 Colintraive Hotel
 Our visit to Bute (just 5mins away) features Mount Stuart, whose estate covers 300 acres of beautiful woodland and gardens.  The house is one of the best examples of High Victorian Gothic in Britain and is simply stunning.  It has the world’s first domestic heated swimming pool, an early telephone system and even a Victorian lift. 
 MountStuart
 Our guided tour will amaze you, with the remarkable craftsmanship and the fine details of the lavish interiors, which include a map of the stars on the ceiling of the Marble Hall.
 Mt St interior
 Bute is brushed by the Gulf stream creating a gentle temperate climate ideal for gardening and we’ll discover some these gardens before returning to Colintraive for a special dinner.
 To enjoy Bute’s many charms and Joe’s cuisine, join our tour, which starts in Glasgow on Tuesday 22 September and ends in Perpignan on Sunday 11 October. 8690 Euros pp, share twin. Phone or email for the brochure with the daily itinerary.  
 
Cordialement,
Robert & Barbara
BESPOKE FRANCE
Robert Buchanan & Barbara Keen
52 George St, PORT CHALMERS 9023, NZ
ph (64) 03 472 7856,  freephone (NZ) 0800 147 856

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Scotland-France 2020 escorted tour – update November 11

Bonjour from Port Chalmers – 
 
Since our return from France, we have revised the itinerary of our Scotland-France 2020 tour, changing some hotels, adding extra lunches and allowing for some late starts, but the most significant amendment was extending the stay in Collioure to six nights.  Françoise’s property is an amalgamation of two village houses and it is an absolute gem.  The views from the roof-top terraces will take your breath away.  Yes, two roof-top terraces AND a shady garden courtyard ……
 
Collioure-Terrace copy
Collioure is the most picturesque village/port on the Catalan Mediterranean coast and has been attracting visitors since the 12th century when the Kings of Majorca made it their summer home.  The Chateau Royal still exists and it is often the subject of paintings, along with Collioure’s beach, colourful streets and harbour.  Around 1910 artists such as Matisse and Derain made it their base, and later Picasso and Charles Rennie Mackintosh visited. 
Collioure streets-(3)
To enjoy Collioure’s charms, come and join our tour, which starts in Glasgow on Tuesday 22 September and ends in Perpignan on Sunday 11 October.   Phone or email for more information and the brochure with the daily itinerary.
 
Cordialement,
Robert & Barbara
BESPOKE FRANCE
Robert Buchanan & Barbara Keen
52 George St, PORT CHALMERS 9023, NZ
ph (64) 03 472 7856,  freephone (NZ) 0800 147 856

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Labour Weekend newsletter – cycling, walking & calendars

Bonjour tout le monde,
We trust you are enjoying the great weather over the long weekend.  We’ve been sweltering down here in Port Chalmers and getting out into the garden although there are some grey clouds on the horizon …….
The brochures and 2020 prices for our Backroad Discovery cycling and walking holidays are now updated and available as pdf files or printed copies by snail mail, so contact us if you want a self-guided holiday in France.  We’ve dropped some routes and added several new ones, including some “daisy” cycling programes from Chablis, Colmar, Saint Malo and La Rochelle.   These are 3-4 night holidays based at one hotel, so no daily packing, and they can be combined with other lineal routes for a longer cycling holiday.
Burg-Clos de Langres.jpg
We have eight self-guided walking holidays, some of which can be combined – in Alsace that can become a 3 week programme.  In Burgundy we’ve introduced a new walk from Macon, which takes you over gorgeous rolling countryside through vineyards, woodlands and fields, visiting chateaux, a world famous abbey and a prehistoric site with a museum. This is a lovely walking holiday with daily luggage transfers, covering 20-23kms per day, and staying in 3 &4 star hotels.  All dinners are included and, being Burgundy, the wines will be memorable.
The Walking Party are also offering some new walking weeks (fully escorted and all-inclusive) in the Dordogne-Lot (9 May), Massif Central (23 May) and Georgia (3 October)!  We don’t yet have detailed itineraries but the first offers relatively flat walks along the valley and features the strawberry festival in Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne.  The second features the Transhumance festival in Aubrac where the cows are blessed before heading up to the higher pastures, & also includes meals at three Michelin starred restaurants!  The third tour is in Georgia, about which we know little, but James tells us the walk will “concentrate on the cultural elements of Georgia without the mountains (wine, gastronomy, ballet, polyphonic singing, bread making, cave cities, abbeys etc).”   James is currently leading a private group in Umbria but promises to send more details on his return home in November.
Dordogne walking.jpg
In the meantime we have his 2020 schedule and prices, which are largely unchanged, so get in touch if you would like to indulge yourselves on one of James’ exceptional walking weeks.   The popular St James Way walks are scheduled to start on 6 September (from Le Puy) and 12 September (from Figeac), plus James is again joining up with our favourite barge, the Luciole, for a walking-barging week in Burgundy, along the Nivernais Canal, starting on 31 May.
Our 2020 tour to Scotland-France is on track with all the accommodation secured, including the cabins on the Lord of the Glens.  There has been a lot of interest and some flattering feedback on the unique itinerary.  The dates are 22 September to 11 October when temperatures in Catalonia should be comfortable – it reached 38ºC when we visited in September this year.  The price is 8695 Euros per person, share twin.  Only share twin this year as there are no spare cabins on Lord of the Glens, nor at the hotel in Colintraive, or  the house in Collioure.  The tour is guaranteed departure and we have places for four more people, so please get in touch if you would like a brochure.
collioure_plage_st_vicens copy.jpg
Lastly, the FRANCE 2020 calendars need to be ordered before 8 November, so get back to me asap if you would like a copy.  Now we only take pre-orders and do not order any extra copies for general sale.  Delivery is 3-4 weeks and the price remains at $32 incl. post and packing.
A bientot
Robert & Barbara
BESPOKE FRANCE
Robert Buchanan & Barbara Keen
52 George St, PORT CHALMERS 9023, NZ
ph (64) 03 472 7856,  freephone (NZ) 0800 147 856

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Scotland – France 2020 – update

Bonjour from Port Chalmers.

We are back from our tours in Aquitaine, where we had fabulous weather, good company and some wonderful meals. The highlight was a five course tasting menu at MILES in Bordeaux.  They call it a surprise menu based around the best produce of the season and every course was a delight; both inventive and delicious.  The price (55€) was also a surprise, being significantly more than on their web site, but it was worth every Euro and we cannot recommend this restaurant highly enough.  An added bonus was finding Domaine Templier’s Bandol rosé on the wine list.  This is a wine we have wanted to taste for many years and it was so gorgeous that we ordered a second bottle – with food and wine this good, who cares about the budget?

Our next stop was Scotland, where the weather was cooler and more varied, but we relaxed with old friends on a rental boat and cruised up the Caledonian Canal to Inverness. No Nessy; only glorious landscapes and lots of conversation.  

 Lord Glen canal copy

We also visited the luxury 27 cabin cruise ship, Lord of the Glens (above), before continuing our research for our 2020 tour, which is now finely tuned.  The main change is a six night stay in Collioure (instead of four) and our last night in France will be in Perpignan, allowing us to enjoy the tasting menu at a Michelin starred restaurant.

Scotland-France 2020 explores the Charles Rennie Mackintosh connection between Glasgow and the Catalan region of south-east of France.  It starts in Glasgow on Tuesday 22 September 2020 and ends on Sunday 11 October 2020 in Perpignan, which has good connections north to Paris or south for Barcelona.   We will travel by minibus and ferry to the isles of Bute and Arran, followed by a 5 nights aboard the Lord of the Glens, cruising from Inverness to Mull and Oban.  
 Collioure view from terrace copy

After a night in Edinburgh, we fly to France for a six nights at a rambling old house with fabulous views (above) in the centre of Collioure.  We’ll explore the Mackintosh Trail by foot, minibus, boat and the Petit Train Jaune, as well as relaxing in this charming village and sampling the unique local wines and cuisine.  The price for the 20 day tour is 8695 Euros per person share twin, so send for your brochure and secure your place on this unique small group tour.

 Serenity enter lock
Boating holidays are our specialist area and last March we introduced you to the Serenity; a new affordable six passenger hotel-barge, cruising in Champagne.  It’s owned and operated by a Kiwi-English couple who offer good-value, informal cruises, “providing the welcome and comfort associated with a quality, family-run hotel”.  
Cruises are all-inclusive with transfers from Paris, all meals, drinks and daily excursions and for 2020 the price is just 2,950€ per person for the six-night cruise.  Having three en-suite cabins the Serenity is ideal for small group charters, but they also offer individual cabins by arrangement and currently have the following departure dates available for 2020 – 
6 MAY from Sillery to Chateau Thierry
23 SEPTEMBER from Sillery to Dormans (5 nights only)
30 SEPTEMBER from Chateau Thierry to Sillery.

Phone or email for more information on the above or any of our holidays in France.


Cordialement,
Robert & Barbara

BESPOKE FRANCE
Robert Buchanan & Barbara Keen 
52 George St, PORT CHALMERS 9023, NZ
ph (64) 03 472 7856,  freephone (NZ) 0800 147 856
email info@bespokefrance.co.nz

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Bastille Day newsletter

Bonne Fete Nationale

We currently have several clients in France who will be enjoying the fireworks and celebrations of Bastille Day. Some are cycling in the Loire, others are exploring the canals on rental boats, or driving around Brittany, while one couple is relaxing on a hotel barge and another is on a customised tour around La Rochelle.  
We will soon be departing for Aquitaine and our Taste France tours on the Rosa and are delighted (and relieved) that a last minute booking has made up the numbers on Tour Two.  It will be the third time this couple have joined us in France, so we must be doing something right.  
In fact repeat clients are the mainstay of our business and a record number of them have already booked for next year.  All are going boating: rental boats and two hotel-barge charters.  Chartering a whole barge is great value for a group of six or more, as everything is included and it lets you tweak the cruise itinerary to suit your interests.
 collioure_plage_st_vicens
Our 2020 tour of Scotland and France includes a cruise through the Caledonian Canal and the departure is now guaranteed, with two of the four cabins allocated.  While the cruise is only part of the tour, it is one of the highlights.  We will be researching Loch Ness this September, when we take a rental boat up to Inverness after visiting Collioure (photo above) to check out the accommodation, etc.  Collioure will be the main base for the French leg of our 2020 tour – 22 September to 11 October.
Contact us before 29 July for more information on any of our holidays.  It is never too early to start planning.
Bonne fete
Robert & Barbara
BESPOKE FRANCE www.bespokefrance.co.nz
Tel: 03 472 7856, or 0800 147 856 info@bespokefrance.co.nz
 

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Scotland-France 2020

Bonjour from Port Chalmers.
 
It is 7 months since we tentatively mentioned our ideas for a 2020 tour exploring the Mackintosh connection between Glasgow and the Catalan region of south-east of France.  We are delighted to announce that now the tour is all go with a confirmed booking and so a guaranteed departure. Luckily, we were just in time to secure the last four middle-deck cabins on the 27 cabin Lord of the Glens – photo below.  
 Lord of the Glen
 Scotland-France 2020 will start in Glasgow on Tuesday 22 September 2020 and then we will travel by minibus (and ferry) to the isles of Bute and Arran, visiting Hill House, The House of an Art Lover, Glenarn Gardens, Mount Stuart, Ascog Hall and the standing stones on Machrie Moor, combined with some whisky and beer tasting and great food (naturally).
Stage two is a cruise through the Great Glen from Inverness to Mull aboard the deluxe Lord of the Glens.   Next, on Sunday 4 October we fly to La Belle France for four nights at a rambling old house in the centre of Collioure, followed by three nights at Domaine de la Fauvelle in Thuir.  We’ll explore the Mackintosh Trail by foot, minibus and Petit Train, sampling the unique local wines and the aperitifs and liqueurs at Cave Byrrh.  
The tour ends on Sunday 11 October 2020 in Perpignan, which has good connections north towards Paris or south for Barcelona.  The price for the 20 day tour is 8695 Euros per person share twin, so send for your brochure and secure your place on this unique small group tour.
 
This year has been a mixed season and disappointingly we still have a free cabin on our second Aquitaine tour, but surprisingly we already have several bookings for 2020.  These are all boating holidays, mainly hotel barge cruises and some rental boats, and one is for a whole barge charter for a family get-together.   There are barges sleeping 4 to 12 people, offering a unique holiday that combines boating adventures with sightseeing ashore and delicious food & wine.  Cruises are fully escorted and charter bookings can be tailored to suit the group’s interest – art, wine, history, cycling and walking.  Plus some barges offer ‘family’ cruises which welcome children and can include activities such as canoeing, zip-lining, horse riding, swimming, etc. 
 Randle Nivernais
 
One ideal barge for whole barge charters is the delightful, owner-operated, 4 passenger Randle (above) which cruises the beautiful Nivernais Canal in Burgundy.  The Randle is different in that most dinners are taken ashore at carefully selected restaurants and they offer 13 night cruises, as well as the usual 6 night.  Transfers from Paris are included.
 
What are you waiting for?  Get back to us and we will make your boating dreams a reality.
 
Cordialement,
Robert & Barbara
BESPOKE FRANCE
Robert Buchanan & Barbara Keen
52 George St, PORT CHALMERS 9023, NZ
ph (64) 03 472 7856,  freephone (NZ) 0800 147 856

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Boating in France 2019

Bonjour from Port Chalmers.

We trust you made the most of the glorious weather over Labour Day weekend, as it is rather different now.  Today’s wet and windy conditions remind me of our introduction to hotel barging way back in April 1984.  It was a cold and blustery day in Paris, when we discovered the barge owner drunk and incoherent in her cabin.  This was the first day of our first jobs on a hotel barge and the passengers were due any minute.  Our learning-curves rocketed skyward as Barbara took on the roles of chef and hostess as well as cabin girl and I became the host / waiter / tour guide / matelot.  Thankfully, we had a Dutch pilot arriving next day for the cruise from Paris to Briare.  Somehow it turned out OK, we even got good tips and so began our love affair with boating and the French waterways.

Lord of the Glen

Our boating adventures have continued and we’ve cruised virtually all the waterways of France as well as the Venice lagoon.    Last year we ventured into England to cruise the Kennet and Avon Canal and after next year’s tours, we will be joining friends in Scotland to cruise the Great Glen up to Inverness (photo above).  That will be another new experience, but it is also research;  in 2020 we are planning a tour to Scotland combined with the Mackintosh Trail around Collioure in France!  We do not have a brochure yet, or a price, but we do have an itinerary if you would like to know more ….

Next year’s tours are in Aquitaine, cruising between Toulouse and Bordeaux on the peaceful and beautiful Canal de Garonne.   Tour One filled very quickly but we still have vacancies for three people on Tour Two, 19 to 31 August 2019.  The itinerary consists of 2 nights in Bordeaux and 4 nights in the Dordogne, sightseeing by minibus, followed by 6 nights on the Rosa – a traditional Dutch barge with two double and two twin ensuite cabins.  Most meals are included and the price is 7300 Euros per person, share twin, or 8000 Euros for single occupancy.  The tours are guaranteed to depart, so please request a brochure if you would like to join us.

Our passion for boating has made it our specialist area and we believe that hotel barge cruises, or self-drive rental boats, offer the ideal holiday for a couple or a group of friends/family.

Hotel barges cruise in Scotland, England, Ireland, Venice and Holland as well as in France and they all combine boating adventures with sightseeing ashore and delicious food & wine.  Cruises are fully escorted and truly all-inclusive with prices starting around 3500 Euros per person.   Barges can accommodate 4-12 guests and most can be booked by the cabin, or as a private whole barge charter.

Luciole leaving Auxerre

 

Our favourite barge is the Luciole, cruising the picturesque Nivernais Canal in Burgundy from Auxerre (above).  They offer individual cabins (with no single supplement) for up to 12 guests, or whole barge charters for 8 to 12 which can be themed to suit the group’s interest – art, wine, history, cycling and walking, plus ‘family activity’ cruises including canoeing, zip-lining, horse riding, swimming, etc.

 

Randle Nivernais

On the same canal is the delightful, owner-operated, 4 passenger Randle (above).  The Randle is different in that most dinners are taken ashore at carefully selected restaurants and they offer 13 night cruises, as well as the usual 6 night, for whole boat charters.

 

Waving on Baise River

Self-drive rental boats offer a more informal and flexible holiday and are ideal for get-togethers, comfortably accommodating up to 10 people.  No licence is required and the boats are relatively easy to handle, so an hour’s tuition is usually all that is needed before heading off down the canal.  Most clients favour a one way route and plan for a week on the boat, but we urge everyone to think of the boat as a floating base, rather than as a means of transport.  If you rent the boat for 10 to 14 days, or longer, you will not feel compelled to move the boat every day and can explore ashore at your leisure.  Boating is quite  relaxing  and we recommend an average daily cruising of no more than 4 hours to allow for late starts, leisurely lunches, sightseeing ashore and the unexpected adventure …..    We work with all the rental boat companies, and so will find you the best boat on the best route for your holiday afloat.

What are you waiting for?  Get back to us and we will make your boating dreams a reality.

Cordialement,

Robert & Barbara

BESPOKE FRANCE

Robert Buchanan & Barbara Keen

52 George St, PORT CHALMERS 9023, NZ

ph (64) 03 472 7856,  freephone (NZ) 0800 147 856

email info@bespokefrance.co.nz

website www.bespokefrance.co.nz

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Cycling & walking in France 2019

Bonjour from Port Chalmers.

For us the 2018 season is over and now our travel planning is for next year, and even 2020.

We’ve just revised the routes and the 2019 prices for our Backroad Discovery self-guided cycling and walking holidays so the updated brochures are now available as pdfs or as printed paper copies.

Morgon

 

Changes are minor in the Loire and Burgundy regions and the Beaujolais itinerary has been extended to allow for more time in Lyon – a city which is too often overlooked.

We’ve changed the itinerary in Champagne to reduce the daily cycling distances and the price, but it is still based around Reims and Epernay, using 3 star accommodation.

Alsace-Eguisheim

 

In Alsace we’ve a new cycling route through the Northern Vosges, which is relatively easy and very different to the popular vineyard routes.  However, it could easily be combined with them and also compliments several of our Alsacian walking holidays.

 

bordeaux-bourg-gironde-1024x491

For an escorted cycling holiday consider the MS Bordeaux, which offers barge and bikes cruises around the Gironde estuary and the Dordogne and Garonne rivers.  It has 49 cabins with ensuite bathrooms and breakfasts and dinners are included.  Bike excursions range from 25 to 55kms and the standard bikes are unisex with 21 gears, or electric bikes with 8 gears are available as an extra.  The beauty of a barge and bike cruise is that the cycling is not compulsory, so you can easily take a day off cycling and relax on the barge and explore the sights ashore once the barge is moored. Prices range from 1249 Euros per person for a 7 night cruise, so it is great value.  Get back to us with your provisional dates for more information and prices.

 

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We (and everyone who has been on his walks) are great fans of James of the Walking Party.  He takes small groups on leisurely walks in France and beyond.  James is an excellent leader, both knowledgeable and entertaining, and very enthusiastic about the local food and wine.  The walks are supported by a back up vehicle to carry the luggage and lunch and to rescue any weary walkers.  However, the walks are designed as walking holidays rather than tramps, so are suitable for anyone of average fitness.  Walks start on Sundays, are for six nights and the all-inclusive prices start at 2690 Euros per person, share twin.  They have been very popular with our solo travellers as the single supplement is a modest 390 Euros.  James offers two consecutive walks along the St James Way in April and in September and they can be combined with a rest day in Figeac in the middle.

Please get back to us if you would like a brochure or more information.

Cordialement,

Robert & Barbara

BESPOKE FRANCE

Robert Buchanan & Barbara Keen

52 George St, PORT CHALMERS 9023, NZ

ph 643 472 7856,  freephone (NZ) 0800 147 856

email info@bespokefrance.co.nz

website www.bespokefrance.co.nz

 

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Taste France – 19 to 31 August 2019

Bonjour from Port Chalmers
 
All our 2018 bookings have now been processed, so our thoughts are again turning to 2019.  Can we tempt you to join us in Aquitaine?  We have room for just three more guests on Tour Two of Taste France 2019 – guaranteed departure.
 
The tour starts with a couple of nights in Bordeaux at the welcoming 4 star Hotel Majestic, a guided tour of the Margaux vineyards (including two wine tastings) and dinners at two innovative restaurants.  
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On Wednesday we drive up the Dordogne valley, stopping at gardens and chateaux en route to Sarlat-la-Caneda for a luxury B&B on the edge of the medieval town centre.  During the four night stay we’ll visit more gardens and chateaux, a working nut oil mill, Lascaux for the remarkable cave paintings and enjoy free time in Sarlat on its market day.
 
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On Sunday we head south for the Garonne valley, but first experience a Sunday lunch at a simple country restaurant that we first discovered in 2010  and which is still getting great praise – see the review below.  
 
Later we’ll be welcomed aboard the hotel barge Rosa with a glass of champagne, while the crew deliver our luggage to the cabins.  Rick Stein cruised on the Rosa in the BBC’s French Odyssey TV series way back in 2005, but since then it has changed hands and been completely refurbished.  It sleeps up to eight guests in four ensuite cabins and has a crew of four to move the barge, wine and dine you and whisk you ashore on half day excursions.  While you visit various pretty villages, markets, chateaux and food, wine and armagnac producers, it is the barge that is the star of this second week, as canal cruising is a unique, relaxing experience. The Rosa cruises at walking speed so you can relax on board while the scenery slides past, or stretch your legs along the towpath, or take off on one of the bikes to explore further afield. 
 
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The tour ends with a transfer to Toulouse where we suggest you enjoy at least a couple of nights.  Please get back to us if you would like a brochure with the daily itinerary, inclusions, etc.
 
Best wishes
Robert & Barbara
BESPOKE FRANCE
Robert Buchanan & Barbara Keen
52 George St, PORT CHALMERS 9023, NZ
ph 643 472 7856,  freephone (NZ) 0800 147 856
November 2010 – LA POULE AU POT – Goujounac
Tuesday lunchtime in a restaurant up a side road on the edge of a small village in south-west France.  It could be empty and sad in these recessive times, but it’s busy – mostly locals at a guess, plus an English couple, some heating engineers from nearby Cahors, and us.  The big attraction? A relaxed, friendly atmosphere and good food at reasonable prices, including a 14€, four course menu with wine, which most people were having.  14€ gets you the soup of the day, dish of the day and cheeses of the day, plus a choice of pudds AND a large carafe of the local red.  
 
How do they do it?  There’s a carefully thought-out labour-saving service plan for a start – we sat down to a short stack of plates topped by a soup bowl, and all the cutlery we would need – a soup spoon, knife and fork and dessert spoon. Each course is brought to the table in a large bowl/platter and diners serve themselves. As we finished, the used dishes were cleared and we were ready for the next course.  
 
The soup of the day was bean and vegetable, topped with slices of excellent country bread.  Delicious, but we were pacing ourselves.  It was followed by the plat de jour – a veal and mushroom stew, with rice, until the rice ran out, then it came with pommes sarlardaises – thin slices of potato cooked in goose or duck fat to a chippie-like crispness.  Sometimes they have with bits of truffle added, but not at this price, still delicious though.  The stew was seriously good, with tender meat and lots of tasty fungus in a rich sauce.  We were told to keep our knives and forks for the cheese course.  Surely there’d be just a tiny sliver, but no, a round of fresh local goat cheese, plus three generous wedges – a sheep, a white-crusted camembert style and a chewy comté with more of the great local bread. We hardly did it justice.   
 
Puddings came already plated, or glassed – there was a choice of chocolate mousse, Ile flottante, rum baba, apple or plum tart – a good old-fashioned line up.  Robert had the apple tart, as usual.   I ordered the floating island, thinking it was probably the lightest choice.  It’s a sweetly simple dish – just poach spoonfuls of meringue mixture in simmering milk, then make a custard with the milk and the egg yolks.  Let everything cool, then float a meringue island on a custard sea and finish with threads of caramel and/or toasted nuts. 
 
Whether you were a table of one or a table of six – you got a litre of wine, but most people seemed to have just a glass or two, a couple of tables didn’t touch it at all.  I couldn’t help wondering what would happen in a Kiwi restaurant if every table got a litre of wine with lunch ….. 
 
We loved the relaxed atmosphere and the friendly efficient service.  There’s no hint of meanness, just good cheap French food, well made and confidently presented.  We were shown to a table for three, but the chair in the sun was already occupied by a ginger cat.  He slept on undisturbed right through lunch.  I was very glad that no-one attempted to shift him, and I like to think that if we’d been a party of three, we would have been shown to a different table.    

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