France Update May 2020

Greetings from Port Chalmers.
 
Level two has brought the cars and people back onto the streets and, as businesses start opening, the first signs of a possible ‘return to normal’.   Alas, overseas travel is still impossible and it looks as though it’s going to be impractical for some time.   After liaising with our clients we cancelled our Scotland-France tour and now have a bunch of credits for 2021.  Virtually all our operators/suppliers are issuing credits, valid for 12-18 months, against bookings that cannot be completed because of covid 19.  Like you, we are hoping that travel to Europe will be practical and desirable in 2021 and that we can use some of these credits.
This month France is loosening their restrictions and people will no longer need to download a permit to leave their house.  Most of the canals will re-open to pleasure craft on 29 May but we don’t expect there to be many takers.  Claire, from the hotel barge Serenity, tells me that they only have two September cruises left in the diary for this year, as virtually all their bookings have been re-scheduled to 2021.  Penny from the Luciole is having a similar experience and 2021 now has more bookings than this year.  
 
For 2021 we had a tour planned around a barge cruise in Champagne and a minibus exploration of Burgundy and Provence.  If social distancing becomes the norm, travel and flights could become more expensive, so we are now looking at lower cost options.  That means a rental boat, instead of a barge, with Robert as captain and Barbara as housekeeper-cum-tour guide.   This offers a flexible, hands-on boating experience without any worries.   We’ve successfully used rental boats for our tours in the past, cruising the Canal Lateral de la Loire, over to Dinan in Brittany and up the Charente River to Angouleme.     
horizon_5_-_exterior-gallery-1160x530.jpeg
There are lots of four cabin boats with ensuite bathrooms and Le Boat now has a deluxe 5 cabin boat that would give us the option to take one or two single bookings.   Le Boat also has some very good one way routes suitable for 10-14 day cruises, so if you are hoping to explore the French waterways with friends and would like the security of Barbara and I on board, please get in touch asap.  Have a look on our web site for some ideas on how the tour might work – http://www.bespokefrance.co.nz/private-tours-sample-boating-itineraries/ – 
 
Finally we encourage you to be positive and be thankful that we live in relatively safe NZ and with a bit of luck we can get over to Europe in 2021.
Best wishes to you all,
Robert & Barbara
BESPOKE FRANCE
Robert Buchanan & Barbara Keen 
52 George St, PORT CHALMERS 9023, New Zealand
ph 643 472 7856, freephone (NZ) 0800 147 856

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France Update

Greetings from Port Chalmers.

 
The port is still working, but otherwise our little village is like a ghost town.   Before today’s wet weather that was a bonus for the cyclists as with lack of traffic there were more bikes on the state highway than cars …..
 
We are receiving regular updates from our operators in France and last week the French government issued an ordinance, stating that in the case of cancellation due to Covid-19, a credit for any money paid has to be issued.    The validity of the credit varies between companies, but they are mostly for 12-18 months.   No obligation to refund money!
 
The rental boat and hotel barge operators are hoping the canals will re-open in May and are optimistically inviting new bookings with the condition that they can be changed/postponed without any penalty.   That is what most companies have already been doing and all our bookings for May and June have been postponed until 2021.   Clients who are travelling later are in a wait and see situation; like us.
 
For our September tour, we have travel insurance with Allianz Partners and like most insurers their Product Disclosure Statement has General Exclusion section, which “excludes claims arising from, related to or associated with an actual or likely epidemic or pandemic or the threat of an epidemic or pandemic”. 
 
Consequently, if you want to cancel your trip because of COVID-19, then the General Exclusion for an epidemic/pandemic will apply and cover is excluded.  If you want to re-arrange your flights/travel plans due to COVID-19, any General Exclusion for epidemic/pandemic will apply.   However, there are always exceptions, so check the details in your own policy and with the people who issued it, and you can always submit a claim to test the ‘fine print’.
 
This is very frustrating and disappointing, as we know how much time, energy and emotion goes into planning a trip to Europe.   Sadly all we can do is wait, isolate, keep washing the hands and hope for the best.   Despite the many unknowns and the anxiety over what might happen, for most of us it will turn out OK and maybe even produce a more caring and flexible society.
 
Best wishes to you all,
Robert & Barbara

 

BESPOKE FRANCE
Robert Buchanan & Barbara Keen 
52 George St, PORT CHALMERS 9023, New Zealand
ph 643 472 7856, freephone (NZ) 0800 147 856

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Covid19 – pushing the pause button on travel

A few weeks ago, we were getting ready to update our website, but the global pandemic has made that rather pointless for now.  The EU countries have closed their borders to non-EU citizens, and the French government is telling its people to stay home.  The Louvre is closed, as are many other museums, and restaurants, theatres, etc.  Most canals are closed across the country now though rental boat companies are hoping that they will be open again in June.  So are we, but nobody knows at the moment – and nobody knows when they’ll know!  

As soon as we have positive information from the providers we work with in France, we’ll put it up on the website.  

In the meantime, take care and stay well –

Barbara & Robert  

and some information about cycling, from Robert  – from March 19 –

An update as I am sure you are concerned about the situation in Europe and around the world.  The virus is even in Dunedin and last night the restaurant we visited was virtually empty!   The situation is certainly getting worse, but if Europe follows the pattern in China, then travel should be possible by August ……
Catherine of Active Tours, and everyone in Burgundy, is currently at home in self-isolation for two weeks and she is inundated with cancellations and postponements.    The cancellation conditions as shown on the booking form still stand – NZ$150 booking fee for cancellation more than 70 days in advance – but she is happy to carry over the deposits to bookings later this year or next without the amendment fee.
My advice is to wait and see how things develop.   By May everything should be clearer and a decision should be easier.
Best wishes and keep washing the hands.
Robert

BESPOKE FRANCE
Robert Buchanan & Barbara Keen 
52 George St, PORT CHALMERS 9023, New Zealand
ph 643 472 7856, freephone (NZ) 0800 147 856

 

 

 

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February update – walking & cycling

Bonjour tout le monde,
The Walking Party Is James Tamlyn’s owner-operator company, specialising in fully escorted, all-inclusive, small group walking holidays which get rave reviews from everyone who has experienced them.
Robert, I can’t say enough how I enjoyed the walking tour.  James is full of personality, very genuine and great fun. It was like travelling with friends.  At 46 I was the youngest on the tour.  However it was a small group (8 of us – 2 couples, 4 independents) and so we talked amongst ourselves a lot.  I got the impression that the tour can appeal to fun-loving people in their 50’s through to 70’s, as much as it did to me.   It really was a wonderful trip for a single traveller because I never felt alone, or like I was a third wheel.  James has it so everyone eats together at one table, and he mixes the seating plan up every night.  When we were walking, people drifted at different paces and found themselves walking at different times with different people.  It was so inclusive.
From Gina following her Haut Quercy walk

Hi Robert, Well, if you ever want ringing endorsements and loads of superlative-laden reviews of our Dordogne walking tour, then come to us!   

It has been one of the best holidays we’ve ever had.  Everything James and Diana have done has been impeccable – the accommodation, the food, the wine and the surprises.  James makes every moment special and has a knack of including everyone and involving everyone in his enthusiasm.   Thank you very much for finding this wonderful week for us!
From Sue & Ed following their Dordogne-Quercy walk
The Walking Party season started this week with a Truffle Hop in Quercy, where James lives, and ends in October in Georgia (only the non-walking tour starting on 3 Oct is available).   In between he’ll explore Catalunya from Barcelona to Collioure, the Basque country (including the Guggenheim Museum at Bilbao), the Dordogne-Lot-Quercy region and the St James Way from Le Puy to Cahors.   In June he takes a break from France with a couple of walks in Italy and, in July, he returns to his place of birth, Suffolk, for two more walks.   Most walks cost 2690 Euros per person and includes all meals, drinks, accommodation, entrance fees and transport, plus the services of James and his colleagues.
DORDOGNE QUERCY picnic
For independent, self-guided holidays, our Backroad Discovery cycling itineraries are available throughout France and our walking holidays in Burgundy and Alsace.  They can range from 3 to 19 nights.  Some are based at one hotel (no daily packing), but most are lineal or circular with daily luggage transfers and there is always a local agent to help if needed.  The standard bikes are hybrid models with 20-odd gears and e-bikes are available with a surcharge.  
Clients who combined three walks with some rest days, wrote –
Bonjour Robert,  Thank you so much for arranging three wonderful walks for us in the Alsace during September.  We did the three parts of the Medieval trail, from Wissembourg to Kaysersberg.  Espace Randonee were great – our bags always arrived safely, the hotels were brilliant – great variety and often, wonderfully big rooms with baths – the latter very important for a good long soak after a day’s walk!  The complimentary guide book to the Alsace, included in the walk pack, was an excellent resource and also a good souvenir of the region.  The hotels that were a highlight of the trip – wonderful service, food and location –  included Au Moulin de la Walk, Wissembourg; Hotel Au Lion D’or at La Petite Pierre, and Hotel Le Parc in the delightful village of Wangenbourg – the way a small number of staff handled a full dining room at the latter, whilst remaining smiling and courteous to all, was really impressive. 
From Margaret & Simon following their Medieval Trail walk
Get back to us if you are thinking of an active holiday in France.
Lastly, a quote from the author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road …..
Best wishes,
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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Happy New Year from Port Chalmers

Bonjour et Bonne Année,
The New Year is zooming past and it’s nearly February already.   At least summer has finally arrived and we trust that you are enjoying the sunshine.
The weather is never predictable, but in France the month of September has been consistently good for as long as we can remember.  This is especially so in Pays-Catalan, in the south-east, where in 218 BC, Hannibal and his elephants crossed the Pyrenees on his way to the Alps.  He was not travelling in peace and this region has seen much conflict since then, even into the 20th century.   Fortified villages, castles and concrete bunkers litter the Cote Vermeille, but they don’t stop it being the jewel of this region, which is still relatively undiscovered, with few foreign visitors.
Collioure streets-(3)
It was discovered by the post-impressionist artists, following a visit to Collioure by Henri Matisse on 1905 and by 1910 the Fauvism movement was born.  Picasso was also attracted by its bright light and colours as was Charles Rennie Mackintosh, who first visited in 1923.
Earlier, Glasgow-born architect and designer C R Mackintosh brought an art nouveau influence to the practical, working-class city of Glasgow with his stimulating blend of organic shapes and Japanese-inspired design.  His masterpiece, the Glasgow School of Art, was tragically destroyed by two fires, but on our Scotland-France tour you will have several opportunities to experience Mackintosh’s work.   We’ll visit the Hunterian Museum, home to the Mackintosh Collection with over 1000 exhibits.  More of his work is at the nearby the Kelvingrove Art Gallery, which is Glasgow’s best and biggest museum, housing everything from Mackintosh’s designs to stuffed elephants to medieval armour.
The Lighthouse and the Daily Record building are also on the agenda, as are the famous Willow Tea Rooms, dating back to 1903.   Outside Glasgow the tour includes the magnificent Hill House and the House of an Art Lover as well as visits to the inner isles of Bute and Arran.
Lord of the glen-urquhart-castle copy
After a relaxing, luxury 5 night cruise through the Great Glen from Inverness to Mull, we fly south for the warmth and colour of the Pays Catalan and the Mackintosh Trail.  Panels of Mackintosh’s paintings are displayed where he painted them and on our Scotland-France tour you will discover them and the many sights of this beautiful region, travelling by minibus, on foot, by boat and on a charming tourist train.
The tour starts in Glasgow on 22 September and ends on 11 October in Perpignan, which has good connections north towards Paris, or south to Barcelona.
 
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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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 community garden, and the 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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