Sunday, June 21, 2009

FRANCE 09 Part 2
















MONDAY JUNE 15th – AT THE ZOO
Monday was supposed to be a big bad thundery day. There was rain overnight but the morning was fair, cloudy but dry. Went for walk in the nearby fields before lunch and then decided to visit the famous zoo of La Palmyre with its 1600 animals.
They stress the conditions and the care supplied to the animals but one can’t help feeling somewhat sorry for the likes of the giraffes and lions in their miserable enclosures. Still, the zoo stresses its valuable research work and the value of its breeding programmes and, after all, how is Joe Soap and the kids ever going to see such animals at close quarters unless at a zoo.
Entrance fee is €14,00 and turns out to be much better value than the €13.00 you pay to enter Fota though in some cases, particularly with the giraffes, the animals are better off on the Cork island (of which I am a supporter).
Still they have no high platform where you can rub noses with the giraffes, no fascinating show like that of Palmyre’s Californian sea lions and the parakeets. The African gorillas, in a relatively spacious compound, are another highlight as are the polar bears, especially if you catch them swimming underwater.
Loads of monkeys, tamarinds, chimps, also a reptile house and animals (including a bunch of very lively cheetahs) too numerous to mention. We spent about four hours there and would have gone round again but the time was up!
For more info see http://www.zoo-palmyre.fr/
TUESDAY JUNE 16th – GARDENS & BEACH
Temperatures are high again today as I drive for the breakfast croissants. Later head for Royan with double purpose: to see the Jardins du Monde and to restock on basics by calling to Leclerc.
Ten euro is the entrance fee to the gardens and they are just about worth it. If you have kids bring them as there is a large children’s area plus quite a few of the exhibits are also attractive to the young ones.
Highlights are the bonsai pavilion, the orchid and butterfly gardens and the 1800 year old tree that stands in the Tuscan garden.
The food on sale at Leclerc's is amazing. We ended up buying more food such as Stuffed Tomatoes and Moussaka from the Traiteur and a chunk of Tomme cheese but this time of the goat variety. Petrol is also much cheaper at the large supermarkets.
In the afternoon, headed down to Meschers sur Gironde for the Plages des Nonne. Very few on this beautiful beach which had a Mediterranean feel to it with the palms and white cliffs. But it was the good old Atlantic that refreshed us and then we headed back for a late dinner made up largely of purchases at Leclerc's.
WEDNESDAY 17 JUNE 09
Hot again today and sometimes bothered. Drove to our old haunt of La Palmyre and caught the tail-end of the market. Down to the Tourist Office to get some info, including market times, but it was closed for lunch (12.30 to 2.00).
Second objective was to visit and climb the nearby Phare de la Coubre. That too was closed, both for lunch and more importantly repairs.
Mornac, one of the most beautiful villages in France, was next on the agenda. It is quite pretty but most of the artisans’ shops, which apparently keep the village alive, were closed. We enjoyed an ice cream in the shade and walked down to the port. But there was little activity. On a previous visit, kids were diving in to keep cool. No such luck on this occasion so we headed back for a dip in the pool and a check on possible venues for this evening’s dinner. Tough going!
Meursac is a nearby village and the place where La Table is to be found. It is behind the church, close to the community centre (hall, swimming pool, tennis courts).
It is a gem, run by Julie and Julien Massonaud. Service is courteous and with a smile and a little English and the food is top-notch and you can eat indoors or out. After a couple of small free appetisers and a campari (not free), I made a spectacular start with nests (and they looked the real thing) filled with goats cheese and tomato along with a green salad. The advisor had a Mushroom Terrine, with toasted walnut bread, olives and gherkins.
We each had the same main course, Volaille (in rough puff pastry case) with thinly sliced mushrooms in a prawn (yes, believe it or not) sauce. Absolutely gorgeous, the fish and poultry and mushrooms also coming together for a fabulous main dish.
Desserts too were excellent. One was an apple pastry combination served with ice cream while I had the chef’s surprise: chocolate and caramel layers on a biscuit base with a lemon ice cream and a mango coulis. Lovely stuff.
The three course meal came with a price tag of €19.00 a head. The wine, a Bordeaux blanc, cost €18.00 and we finished off with two good coffees at 1.30 each, every bit as good but a lot less expensive than you’d pay in Jacques.

By the way, when you see chevre on a French menu, it invariably means goats cheese not goat meat.
THURSDAY 18 JUNE 09
History is on the menu today, in particular the history of the nearby medieval city of Pons. We were returning there mainly to see the Hospital of the Pilgrims, open from 2.30 on Thursdays.
The pilgrims were (and are – we saw one) those on their way to Santiago de Compostella. Geoffrey, Lords of Pons, ordered its construction and it was built between 1380 and 1385. Alongside is its famous Jardin Medicinal, growing plants (many herbs) which helped treat many of the ill pilgrims.
We had reached the impressive hospital by car but had already walked the walk, starting in the Place de Republique where the castle keep, Le Donjon, stands, serving now as a tourist office and exhibition centre.
With map in hand we followed the walk down the giant staircase, through the Passage sous les murs and other medieval passageways. In the Rue de Robinet, we saw some medieval gabled houses. One had kept a sundial dating from the 13th or 14th century and a couple of feet away sported a 21st century satellite dish!
Back then in the heat to the gite and another turn in the pool before starting up the barbecue again, the morning having started with a long walk to the baker in Pisany for a baguette.

FRIDAY 19 JUNE 09
No history today, though the meal we had at La Foret was historic in its own way, marrying French flair with the Irish love of large portions.
Royan is popular with the Irish, among others, and the Michelin recommended La Foret is not too far out on the east, on the road to Talmont. It is easy to find.
Started, aside from a few small appetisers, with a massive Goats Cheese and Tomato plateful, containing several slices of a tart that had the cheese and tomato, several rings of another cheese at the four corners of the plate, various bits of fruit and crudités and topped with a “sail”, made up of two rashers on two skewers.
The other starter was also huge, a Carpaccio of various fruits: several slices each of melon, grapefruit, watermelon, pineapple, and grapes, along with a plentiful supply of sorbet. The centre point here was a glass of the local Pineau which you couldn’t really free until you ate most of the fruit.
Main course was Bauvette, an excellent beef dish with parsley butter and caramelised onion, served with a few chips. Quite an amount of meat filled the long dish but there was bowl of salad on the side and also more chips. Massive and it went down well.

Then came the cheese course. I forget the first one on offer as we each went for the second which was a white cheese with cream and cognac. Beat that!
Then on to the desserts, all this remember in the €26.00 euro menu. Picked the classic Ile Flottante – melt in the mouth decadence. The other dessert at the table was a Terraro: a sorbet type combination of very fruity boules of frozen fruit (including blackcurrant, strawberry etc) all surrounded by sliced strawberries.
It was an unbelievable meal at quite a busy restaurant and the price of house wine (red, white or rose) was, believe it or not, €6.00 for a 70 cl carafe.
There are a couple of set menus but the a la carte is huge, opens out like a broadsheet. There is no English version so you could struggle to get though it unless you have very good French. But take a chance. It is worth it!
The cooking, the presentation, the service, the location of La Foret and its ambiance is excellent. But be warned about those huge portions!
Earlier in the day we had visited the long and impressive beach at St Georges and also the nearby Parc d’Estuaire where you get some excellent views but little else (though it could be quite an entertaining spot to take the kids).

SATURDAY 20 JUNE 2009
Despite the large meal last night, our Saturday begins with a food raid on Royan. First to the Marche where we pick up some pork pieces and beef brochettes for barbecues, also other necessary veg and greens, plus some prepared Tomato a la Greek for lunch.
Than down to our favourite traiteur in the area, Guy Laurent. Here we bought a prepared meal €7.73 for two and two sets of tartes (Clafoutis and Apple) for €6.30. Then, with two bags full and a loaf under the arm, back to the car and then to the gite.

The Greek style tomato fits the bill for lunch and after that we head to St Georges de Didonne, paddle in the sea, walk along beach and enter the town where we stroll to the centre and the pleasant square, noting the restaurants (the search for food never stops) and so on. Back then to the beach area where we see a bonfire ready for St John’s Night and watch some beach football.
For dinner at the Gite, we have the traiteur’s Turkey in Tomato sauce, having started with some smoked salmon. Dessert is a gorgeous apple tart each from the traiteur and all that, along with the free bottle of Rose from Madame Masse, makes for a cheap but lovely meal.