Our Car Tour Of France
For our summer holiday this year, instead of a cruise we decided to go to do a car tour of France and visit some areas we had not been to before including the Dordogne region. The idea was a relaxing holiday and to taste sample some good French cuisine. We booked through Brittany Ferries and went across to Santander from Plymouth and then travelled up the west coast to Roscoff and back to Plymouth. Here is a diary of our somewhat eventful two weeks. I have also added comments on Tripadvisor in relation to the 5 hotels we stayed in on route.
30th June 2013 Ivybridge Devon To Ainhoa France
Left our home in Ivybridge, Devon (which is about a 20 minute drive to the Plymouth Brittany Ferry port, at 2.00 pm for Brittany Ferry for sailing to Santander), 10 minutes down the road realised I had forgotten my eye shadow brush which no woman could be without so had to turn around and go back home. Steve (hubby) as you can imagine was less than pleased, even though we were in plenty of time. This was not a good start to the holiday, but this was only the start of our eventful 2 week holiday. Got to the port about 2.40 p.m ( ferry leaves at 4.00 pm see what I mean!). Then told on arrival that ferry was 30 minutes late arriving due to the powerboat racing in plymouth sound, so again having to go back home was not a problem. Finally got on board The Pont Aven and found our Commodore cabin which was fine, except that the balcony hadn’t been cleaned properly as there was still the remains of the previous persons’ croissant crumbs on the table, so had to find a cleaner.
Went down to the excellent restaurant at 6.00 pm . Now Adrian (my Son) & my Mum had clubbed together and gave Steve a dining voucher to the value of £80.00 (2 x £25.00 vouchers and 2 x £15.00) to use on board for his birthday (so I benefitted as well). The actual meal came to just over £50 so of course and would normally just have had one bottle of wine, but as we still had £30 worth of vouchers to spend we ordered an extra bottle, with a bottle of water took it to just over the £80.00 which was perfect. The waiter brought us the bill, and we left the vouchers plus the little extra cash that was due and went back to our cabin. Unfortunately the extra bottle of wine resulted in me having a headache during the night.
1st July 2013
Got up next morning to have our croissants and coffee on our balcony which was was included in our ferry ticket. However we then had a knock at the door to be told we had to go back to the restaurant as we had not paid our bill. Bemused, Steve went down to be told that the vouchers did not include beverages, (which clearly stated on the vouchers, but we did not read the small print), so we ended up having to pay for the two bottles of wine, and were given back the 2 x £15.00 vouchers, (which we could now use for the return ferry crossing). So not only did we have to pay for a bottle of wine we didn’t really want, but I had to suffer a headache all night which I needn’t have done.
We arrived on time in Santander at 11.15 am as it was such a calm crossing so the captain was able to put his foot down and make up the time lost when we left Plymouth. However we sat in our car on the car deck for ages and were the last but one car off.
On leaving Santander it was straight onto the Spanish motorway which Steve was not looking forward to on route to our first stop which was just across the border into France, and having to negotiate toll roads on the way. Steve had done a bit of research about tolls, but to be honest each one was different. Some you just found the manned booth and paid what was owed. Some you had to take a ticket, then handed the ticket to the next manned booth, and then there were unmanned booths where you paid by machine. Putting Euros in a slot and in our case having to collect change, as we didn’t have the exact amount, was difficult as not much room to open car door, so I had to squeeze myself between the door and the machine which then caused a delay for the impatient French driver behind.
Once we left the motorway Steve thought he could relax a bit but that is when the next problem arose, as we got lost. We had to park up and had to resort to the car sat nav to help us out. The first problem was to programme the sat nav with the French maps which was a bit trying and easier said than done but eventually managed it. However it turned out, we were only about 9 miles from our 1st destination and Mable (our car sat nav’s name) got us there. Relieved and tired after a long journey we arrived at the lovely chalet hotel. The Argi Eder in the pretty little village Ainhoa where we would be staying for the next 4 nights, which I have to say looked more like Switzerland that France.
We booked in and were shown our room which was a lovely very traditional room at the front of the hotel, which had a sweet little balcony. We unpacked and had our first French meal in the lovely restaurant UNTIL the coffee arrived with a little dish of petit fours. Steve bit into one which was very crunchie and then realised that he was also crunching on his tooth. and out it fell. See what I mean about the holiday going really well and we were only on day 1. After dinner we decided to take a a little stroll up into the charming little village of Ainhoa, although Steve’s mind was elsewhere as he was contemplating what to do about his tooth, and the possibility of having to see a dentist. Now Steve hates going to the dentist in England, let alone the thought of having to see one in a foreign Country. It was about 9.30 pm and it was like a ghost town as there wasn’t a soul around, parked cars at the side of the road, but no moving traffic at all, it was totally silent and quite unbelievable.
We then went back to the hotel and so to bed, but needless to say Steve did not sleep and had a very restless night worrying about his tooth. I too did not sleep that well but for a completely different reason(s) as although the hotel is in a super situation and would be very peaceful, apart from the town clock chiming the time on the hour and also chiming on the half hour, and a neighbouring garden where they had a peacock which squawked all night, along with a cockerel and chickens. I also heard what I thought were cow bells (which actually turned out to be horses with bells around their necks as we found out the following day, so please read on) and I am sure I heard a donkey braying in the middle of the night, but didn’t see one, so that might just have been my imagination.
2nd July 2013
We woke up and went down to the buffet breakfast. Steve got himself a croissant and just sat and looked at it. Now Steve not eating a croissant rang alarm bells that there must be something wrong. It transpired he was feeling sick and blamed the toothpaste, or the awful milk in the tea, but I knew better, and detected he had been worrying so much about his tooth and the thought of a dentist. We walked up to the village and found the tourist information office, where there was a lovely very friendly lady who thankfully spoke English. We went initially to pick up the route maps for the walks we intended to go on, as Ainhoa is perfectly placed for plenty of varied walks in and around the Pyrenees mountains. Steve then plucked up the courage to enquire about a dentist, which it transpired was in the next village and she offered to phone him.
We left the office and sat on a park bench and pondered what we were going to do for the day, trying to forget the broken tooth. But I knew Steve was worrying so much that I pushed him into going back to ask the lady in the Tourist Information Office to make an appointment, as there was no point in putting it off. she rang them and was able to make an appointment for 3.00 pm that afternoon, which was amazing as that would be impossible back home. Now we do not speak much French apart from the must know words such as vin rouge sil vous plait, and bien cuit (for well done steak, which is a must in my French dialogue), so now Steve was going to have to face his nightmare, not only a dentist but a French one who could not speak English.
It was only about 10.00 am so had to keep him occupied until 3.00 pm, so we decided to follow one of the 5 walking routes. We chose the shortest one which was and hour and a half long, and off we went. As we proceeded along what we thought was the green route (even though it was in English, so absolutely no excuse) nothing was matching up with the directions on the map and it transpired that we were actually following the red route which was the 2 hour one.
One of the first things we heard first was the sound I heard during the night which I thought was cowbells, but as we got closer it was a field of horses with large bells around their necks which was quite bizarre. Two hours later we arrived back at the hotel very hot and sweaty, so we decided to cool off in the lovely unheated swimming pool which was very refreshing. That passed away some more time before we had to leave to find the dreaded dentist in the next village about a 10 minute drive away.
We found the dentist and Steve was called in whilst I waited in the waiting room. I heard the drill going and various bits of dental equipment being used and hoped that he was coping. About 45 mins later, Steve emerged having seen a very nice female dentist and said that they managed to converse with each other in his pigeon French and her pigeon English, and using “grand flesh” which were the only words she could use to tell him that his cheek would swell. He had an injection, an X-ray, and his tooth refilled, which of course included the dreaded drill. Now the bill, which we thought would have cost an arm and a leg, but the total charge around £45.00 unbelievable. As Steve had his E111 form he was just charged the French equivalent to our NHS, although I think the treatment he had would have cost a lot more if he had it done through an NHS dentist in England.
After no breakfast or lunch, it was amazing that Steve suddenly felt hungry, the worry appeared to have subsided, thank goodness, and he could perhaps now get back to enjoying the holiday. We went ahead and booked a table for the evening in the hotel, a apart from breaking his tooth, the rest of the meal had been excellent. Steve had to be a bit careful so he only had one course being a beautiful soft fish dish which he thoroughly enjoyed – pain free and started to feel better. A good nights sleep ensued, as we had asked if the air conditioning could be turned on as it was quite warm in the room, as I suffer from what we now refer to as tropical fever, and I was finding the bedroom a bit warm (although other normal people would not have the same problem). With the air conditioning on, we were able to shut the window so the peacock, the cockerel, the chickens and the church bells were silenced a little.
3rd July 2013
Overslept as so peaceful and almost missed breakfast. Warm but raining today, but decided to go for a walk up a mountain track behind the hotel although Steve was very emotionally tired from his stressful day yesterday!!!! The rest of the day passed uneventfully, and we had another lovely meal in the hotel restaurant as it was a very small village and apart from a couple of other hotels and a couple of cafes there was no other restaurants and pleased to say that Steve’s appetite was back to normal. Retired for the night and another good nights sleep ensued.
4th July 2013
Had a , good breakfast and ventured out on the French roads. 1st stop was Sare, supposed to be one of the prettiest villages in France but Ainhoa is so much better. We had a quick walk around including a street market and then drove a few miles to go up a mountain on the little La Rhune Cog Railway. It was a 35 minute trip up the mountain and as we started to climb it became foggy and got thicker the higher we went. At the summit we should have had a panoramic view but unfortunately saw nothing due to the fog. Went and had a coffee in the mountain top cafe hoping the fog would clear, but no, so took a photo of the picture hung up in the cafe to show what the view should have looked like. Back down the mountain as we got nearer the bottom the fog cleared and out came the sun.
We then drove to a seaside town of St Jean de Luz and up around the coastal road stopping at a viewing place overlooking some sheer cliffs and and out to sea to amazingly see a bloke fishing halfway down the sheer drop. Had our last meal in the restaurant and a last walk around Ainhoa.
5th July 2013 Ainhoa To Perigueux
Had our last breakfast at the Hotel Argi Eder and said farewell to our lovely waiter who had served us at breakfast and dinner over the 4 days, who I have to say was utterly charming and made our stay in this hotel, so much so that he warranted a two cheeked French kiss. However I must say that all the staff in this hotel were lovely, and certainly a huge factor that made our stay at this hotel so enjoyable, but the waiter was very special and I could have brought him home with me.
It was a very hot day and were in the car for one of the longest stretches of the entire holiday on our drive to Perigueux in the Dordogne, where we would be staying for the next 4 days, but at least we had the car air conditioning which became quite a factor on this holiday, which we certainly needed, so it was quite a relief.
Took about 6 hours to get to L’Orangerie Chateau des Reynats. about a 5 minute drive from the Perigueux . Arrived in the gravelled drive to an impressive chateau where the reception was. We however were in a separate modern block about 50 yards from the chateau (which we knew we would be) and we were given our key and went over to the block and found our room which was up on the 2nd floor. It was a very dark and pokey room and very very hot. Too hot for me to stay in so went back to the reception desk to enquire about the air conditioning, to be told that it was automatic and would kick in. Went back to the room and told Steve but he looked around the room and said that there were no air conditioning vents. There was no way that I could stay in this room, so Steve went back to reception to be told by the same young man that he had only been working there for a week, and didn’t realise that actually was no air conditioning. Steve said unless we could move to a different room or they could supply a fan we would look for another hotel. The reception chap came up to the room and did agree that it was very hot. He did show us to another room on the next floor down which was a lot bigger and lighter but still no air con, so Steve said that if he could provide us with a fan we would stay (we had had a long drive and it was late, so didn’t really want to find alternative accommodation). We decided to cool off in a dip in the pool ( although not like hotel Argi Eder pool) and when we went back to the room and a floor fan had appeared so was a little bit happier.
This chateau has a Michelin star restaurant starting at 75 euros a head going up to about 150 euros a head, but we went to the alternative bistro style restaurant in the very modern conservatory that was built on to the end of the chateau where breakfast was also taken. We had a very nice and unusual meal which was very tasty and a very reasonable cost which we enjoyed, although the waitresses did not speak any English so out came the French dictionary. We had coffee out on the terrace to finish off in the cool which was very nice. Had a little walk around the surrounding area which transpired to be a residential area. Back to room and bedded down for the night, with the aid of the quite noisy floor fan – but I survived.
6th July 2013
Very hot but decided to go for a short drive and the much welcomed car air con to Brantome which was a picturesque town in the Dordgone, full of character and surrounded by a river, and was certainly well worth the visit. We walked around the town and stopped to have a cold drink in a riverside hotel. Decided to buy a filled cheese and ham baguette, a french pastry for Steve and a bottle of wine and sat in the shade on a grassy bank beside the river. After a leisurely lunch we decided to hire a canoe (I have never been in one before) and paddled up river working quite well as a team and didn’t end up in the bank or capsize. It was very hot and after an hour were quite glad to get out. However, Steve did not tell me until we got out, but as soon as we got in to the canoe and sat down, as there was no back rest, he hurt his back (and that was just getting into it). He then suffered in silence for an hour as we paddled up the river and back. Did think afterwards that at our age we perhaps should not have contemplated going canoeing in the first place. So he hobbled around for the next few days with a bad back. Got back into the air conditioned car, and back to the hotel for a quick dip in the pool, before going down to for our evening meal.
7th July 2013
Very hot again, so decided to drive into Perigueux the capital city of the Dordogne and only 5 mins down the road (we were going to walk, but as it was so hot decided to take the car instead). Parked by the river and walked up into the town. Just another big city on a river and as it was Sunday all the shops were closed, but there was a large market in the centre. Wasn’t that impressed as it was just another capital city so decided to search points of interest on the car sat nav and it threw up a little village called Bourdeilles about a 20 minute drive away. So glad we did, as what a find this very pretty medieval village was. We found somewhere to park the car and walked up to the centre of the village where there was a small Sunday market. There was also a very charismatic Frenchman singing turning a paper punch card music box whilst trying to get people involved. We sat with a drink at the roadside hotel, and took in the charming atmosphere.
We wanted to buy the obligatory French bread and cheese/pate but everywhere was closed and the market stalls had run out of bread, so ended up in a little street cafe which was very good, but ate too much for a lunch time (don’t look too closely at the photo, but Steve never eats beefburgers in the UK but fancied a French one!!! After we had finished looking around as we were so hot we headed back to the hotel for a swim in the pool and to sit under the parasols in the shade for a couple of hours. The tables were laid up on the outside terrace for dinner which was very nice, but as we had eaten so much for lunch it was only two courses for us tonight.
8th July 2013
Guess what another hot day, had breakfast then in the car for the coolness of the air con (don’t think we could have coped without it) and drove to Sarlat which was recommended by the chap at reception and said it was a “must see” place. It took about an hour and a half but was worth the drive, as it was another medieval town and full of character although very toursisty and busy. We had a walk around and bought a ham and cheese baguette and a french cake and bottle of rose wine and decided to drive to Bergerac and follow theDordogne river hopefully finding a picnic spot by the river on the way.
Achieved this and came across just what we had been looking for, parked the car and walked a little way along the bank to a picnic table. I sat down and then Steve joined me (same side) promptly causing the table to tip up and almost depositing us both on the grass (Steve’s back was feeling a lot better, but jolting it when the table tipped soon changed that). Luckily he managed to stop it before we hit the deck and it was just a good job that I had not poured the wine!!!
We had a leisurely lunch then got feet wet in the river – well it had to be done. Arrived at Bergerac got out of the car and it was like getting into a hot oven. It had been hot over the last week and where we had just come from, but here was the hottest we had felt, and there was no air at all. The streets however were decked out in floral decorations so there must have been or was due some sort of festival, and it looked very pretty. It was too hot to walk around and everywhere was extremely quiet, but we managed to find a street which did have a little air blowing through it, with a pub so sat outside with two cold drinks. We did try again to walk around but it really was too hot, and went back to the car and the much needed air conditioning (gosh how would we have coped this holiday without it), and back to the hotel pool for a cool off. Nice meal out on the terrace to finish off a very hot and tiring day. Packed cases in readiness for our journey onwards towards the coast tomorrow.
9th July 2013 Perigueux To Rochefort France
Left Perigueux and headed for the costal town of Rochefort for our next 2 night stop, not knowing that almost a day travelling could be so eventful. We came to quite a big town and Steve nearly ran 4 people over on a pedestrian crossing. Then on a country road we were following a French car towing an old caravan and it suddenly stopped, no brake lights no indication, nothing causing Steve to swerve out past it (luckily nothing was coming the other way). Steve looked back in his mirror to see the driver going for a wee at the side of the road.
We eventually arrived in Rochefort but the sign showing exactly where our hotel entrance was had been damaged. It was the Hotel de la Corderie Royale, but we knew it was right next to the largest rope making building in Europe which is now a museum, and what a beautiful building it was. We eventually found the entrance and in we went. We arrived about 1.00 p.m but were told that our room was not ready yet, but it would be at about 2.30. We decided to take a walk around the marina which was right next to the hotel, although walking in the heat was energy sapping. We found a bar and ordered a beer and a coke, (waitress could not speak English but what came was what we ordered). We then thought why don’t we have a bite to eat, so I went inside and got a menu which was all in French and we couldn’t decipher it. A gentleman then came over and obviously had gathered we were English and promptly gave us an English menu. We liked the sound of a small goats cheese salad and a pastry wrapped Camembert salad so summoned the waitress over and began to order when she said “no fini” which transpired it was closing. Couldn’t, believe it as it was only just after 2.00 p.m. and the fact that we were just given a menu. We drank up our drinks and promptly left.
We walked along the road and spied a bicycle hire place (an idea for tomorrow) and a little way in the distance spied a Lidl supermarket. I have never been inside a Lidl in our country but our stomachs were now rumbling and nowhere else seemed to be open so we decided to go in get a sandwich (although they did sell fresh French baguettes) we ended up buying 2 pre packed ham and cheese sandwiches and a bottle of Californian, yes Californian bottle of rosé wine for the grand total of 3 euros 90 (about £3 which was half the price of the coke and lager we had just consumed). We are in the supposedly food capital of the world but we ended up in a French Lidl supermarket with a plastic sandwich and a cheap bottle of wine which was ideal. We walked along the Charente riverbank and found a wooden seat to sit and eat lunch, swigging the wine out of the bottle as we had no cups with us and chomping at the plastic sarnies. Brits abroad!
We decided to look at the bicycle shop on the way back and decided that we would hire 2 electric cycles tomorrow. We got back to the hotel and were greeted by a lovely receptionist who spoke English. We booked in and went up to our room, put the key in the door and what a lovely and welcome relief, it was lovely and cold with vey efficient air conditioning. Things were looking up and our view from the window overlooked the river – perfect.
Unpacked and then went down to the pool which was very attractive, again things were looking up, and so much better in every way than the previous hotel. Now the big test what would the restaurant be like? The location of the hotel restaurant was very pretty, and was in the conservatory with views over the river. Menus arrived with some English translation, and there were various menus to choose from including table d’hote or a la carte menus. We wanted to try a table d’hote menu but did not understand the 3 starters on the menu, but once translated were oysters, snails or salmon, and as I do not eat any sort of fish or shellfish this posed a problem. I did tell the waiter who kindly offered an alternative of fois gras pâté, which was another problem, as due to the cruelty the ducks and geese endure in order to produce this particular pate, I would not normally eat eat, it, however on this occasion begrudgingly, as the starter was included in the price and the waiter had offered this as alternative I really could not refuse.
Before the starters we had some little canapés, which were very nice and then a peppery tomatoey creamy soup amuse bouche, served in a shot glass. The pate came beautifully served and it was very nice (said through gritted teeth). The main course was superb all beautifully presented with great flavour and I did notice that there was no salt and pepper on any of the tables. I have to have pepper on almost anything as I do not like bland food, but I did not have to look for any, which was a sign of excellent food perfectly seasoned. The dessert was an absolute picture, and was almost too good to eat, and coffee followed with petit fours. We thoroughly enjoyed the meal in the tranquil setting overlooking the Charente river and it was absolutely perfect. Went for a short stroll along the riverbank before retiring to the ice cool bedroom and so to bed in readiness for cycling tomorrow.
10th July 2013
Had a good breakfast in the restaurant overlooking the river. and then it was time to go and collect our bikes. Had a little instruction on the electric bikes, as neither Steve or I had ridden one of these before and off we went. 1st top Lildl again to buy our French stick freshly cooked, French cheese (not plastic sandwiches) and bottle of French rosé , safely packed in the backpack and and we were ready for our cycle ride in 30 degree heat!!!
We followed the cycle path which ran along the river and soon got used to the different experience having to work out the battery powered controls. The path was flat, thank goodness and it all went quite smoothly except for turning off the designated path at one point and ended up in a tall crop field. We found a suitable spot by the river for our picnic and had another leisurely lunch, which we seemed to have quite a lot of. When in France do what the French do. We had booked the bikes all day but 4 hours was enough in the blazing heat, and our bums were getting saddle sore, so decided the best course of action would be a swim to cool down in the hotel pool – bliss.
As we enjoyed the meal in the hotel restaurant last night, didn’t think it was worth finding somewhere else so decided to eat in the hotel again, but pushed the boat out and decided to choose separate dishes from the A la Carte menu. Ordered and when we got to the main course I chose a steak dish, the waitress asked me in French how would I like my beef cooked , which I replied in French “bien cuit”, two words which are a must in my limited French vocabulary as I have to have all my meat well done. She looked rather strangely and then said in English, well done, medium or rare. I looked at her and then she suddenly realised what I had said before and laughed. She obviously couldn’t understand my French which was most embarrassing.
The little canapés arrived which was something wrapped in filo pastry which looked like mushrooms but on enquiring with the waitress found out it was fish, so I left mine. Now the head waiter realised from the night before that I did not eat fish so he took that away and brought me a little triangle of oh no, the dreaded fois gras, but I had to eat it as he had made the effort to serve me an alternative, even though the canapés were an additional little free extra.
The rest of the meal did not disappoint and the quality and presentation of the food was even better than the previous night. My dessert however, was quite unusual. I do not have a sweet tooth so opted for a local cheese served with fresh fruit which sounded an ideal combination. Well a beautifully presented plate arrived with the fruit beautifully sliced, complete with 2 shot glasses, one full of a strawberry coulis, the other of an almond flavoured milk, then what looked like a white piped banana shape, and two little pots, one containing finely chopped spring onions and the other the green onion stalks, again finely chopped, a very unusual and was not quite sure what I was going to do with all the little bits and pieces. The waitress then garbled in French finishing off with the word cognac and pointing to the white banana shape. I said “yes” not knowing what I was saying yes to, but she then poured some cognac over the banana shape which of course was the local cheese. Then she brought a glass sugar shaker. I tasted a bit of the cheese expecting it to be of a cheese flavour, but boy was I wrong. I have to say it was horrible with no taste at all, and a texture a bit like a smooth junket. Even with the cognac, the onion, the almond milk, the strawberry coulis, and the sugar which I am sure was meant for the fruit, it was not very pleasant, but obviously the locals must like it.
The whole meal (apart from the so called cheese) was delicious and have to say it was the best, and most expensive meal so far but worth every penny, and both the meals we had at this hotel were fantastic. Went for a short walk and even at 9.45pm it was still about 26 degrees. Back to our fridge cool room to pack the case again for the onward journey to our next hotel tomorrow. However, the next hotel will have to go some to beat this one, as we thoroughly enjoyed it. Our next hotel is a 5* star and the one we were really looking forward to, 5* food, 5* service or was it????? Please read on, as this one makes interesting reading.
11th July 2013 Rochefort To La Baule Escoublac
After breakfast, it was in the car to on route to our next hotel, a 5 star one on the coast at La Baule Escoublac. First stop Lidl for our fresh baguette to have with the cheese I had left over from yesterday (which had been in the little fridge that was in our room all night) for our lunch stop on the way. Again very hot, and a long drive ensued in the air conditioned car. Managed to find a super place by a lake for lunch which was a super find. Had a picnic table which did not fall over and rested with our cheese filled baguette which was very nice.
Arrived after a 4 hour journey to a long seafront promenade lined with hotels and apartments, overlooking the beautiful white sandy beach and the beautiful clear sea. There was a mixture of modern and more traditional buildings but which one would be ours? We drove to almost the end of the promenade and our hotel the Hermitage Barriere came in to view. It was a lovely typically old French exterior and was very large and imposing, and we were really pleased that it was not one of the bland modern buildings.
We drove up the drive to the grand entrance where we were met by a car valet. The door was opened for us to get out, and he asked for the boot to be opened so that he could get our luggage out to carry up to our room. Not having stayed at a 5* hotel before, we were not expecting that, and when the boot opened, rushed to beat the valet in order to sort out what bags we wanted to take in and hoping that he did not pick the Marks & Spencer’s bag filled with dirty washing. Dirty underwear falling out in the drive in front of the main door would have been rather embarrassing. Had we known we were going to get the over the top service which included being ushered into the revolving doors into the grand reception area we would have worn something a little more appropriate than a pair of shorts, a vest tee shirt and flip flops.. Steve then had to hand over the car keys for it to be driven to its private (and expensive car parking spot). We then had to leave the car keys with the concierge which steve was not that happy with, but we had no choice.
We went to the reception desk and booked in, and again the 5 star service kicked in, and we were given a tour of the hotel by the receptionist before she personally took us up to our room. We did notice the room prices in the reception area and as expected the rates were astronomical, various standards of rooms from a basic classic room as ours was at the front, to rooms with sea views or a whole suite. Ours was booked through Brittany Ferries and we had one of cheapest rooms at the front of the hotel, which overlooked the front gardens and the road, the back of the hotel had the more expensive rooms which overlooked the beach. Still we were not disappointed as it was a beautiful room, as I suppose you would expect in a top class hotel, complete with towelling slippers and bath robes. It was very typically French decorated and was very large, with a huge bed which could have easily slept 4 people.
We unpacked and went for a look around the hotel, and the sea water pool area, and out to the pedestrian promenade and miles and miles of beautiful white sandy beach. We saw that you could hire sun loungers and parasols, but also a little sort of tented blue and white striped beach hut. We liked the look of these as you would get some much needed shade from the blazing heat, so decided that we would hire one of those and have a day on the beach tomorrow. We also saw the hotel’s other beachside restaurant which we liked the look of as to sit on the decking right on the beach would have been lovely. We walked a little way along the promenade to see if there were any alternative restaurants, but decided we would try the hotel once we had seen the menus.
There was a large book in the reception area that gave details of the hotel and the menus in various different languages, but the English details were missing. Before we booked the tables we wanted to see the menus first, so Steve asked at reception if they could get the English menu for us to have a look at. Instead of the receptionist walking about 50 feet to the restaurant to get one, he phoned the restaurant and one was emailed to him which he promptly printed off a copy and gave it to Steve. We booked for tonight in the main hotel restaurant and also booked the beachfront restaurant for tomorrow night.
We got changed for dinner into something a little more in keeping with the 5* surroundings, and were shown to our table in the very elegant dining room. We were given an English menu and made our choices. There was a variety of fish starters and the only non fish starter was a vegetable soup, and then for main a fillet of beef with a pepper sauce, with some fancy named potatoes, (which turned out to be new potatoes halved and sautéed). Whilst we were waiting we were given a basket of little baguette rolls, which were extremely crusty, and Steve was a little worried about his teeth (he didn’t want to see a dentist again) so took one bite and then didn’t have any more. No canapés appeared as in the previous lesser starred hotels just the bread rolls. Well the soup came in a white china tureen shape bowl and they looked okay nothing special as it was just a bowl of soup. Well I took one mouthful and found not only was it almost cold, and had the taste of liquidised baby food, and was so bland with no seasoning in it whatsoever. So much so that even Steve had to put salt and pepper in it, to try to give it some taste, which is a complete rarity.
We did eat it as we were hungry but it was probably the worst tasteless bowl of soup I have ever eaten any where and cost 13 euros each (about £12) which for a bowl of soup was outrageous. We told the waiter we didn’t think much of it. Then the main course arrived which consisted of a piece of fillet steak, with about 10 small new potatoes halves which had been sautéed, one very very small mushy piece of red pepper plonked on the plate and a little china sauce boat containing the so called pepper sauce (so unlike the beautifully presented food we had in the previous hotel). The pepper sauce which again was so bland I would have to say that it tasted as if it came straight out of a packet.
Steve took one bite of his steak and complained that it was really tough. As a result he left most of it. The cost of the mains was 31 euros each (approximately £28). For what we had was a complete rip off. It might be 5 star hotel, but the food was anything but. After the awful main course, we decided not to have a dessert or coffee much to the waiter’s surprise, which promptly followed the appearance of the Head Waiter who Steve complained to about the food we had just eaten, and were surprised at his inactive concern. We got up and left the restaurant and went straight out the reception desk to voice our complaint again and to cancel the table at the beachfront restaurant tomorrow night.
The receptionist did not take kindly to us complaining about the food, as obviously for us English to complain about French food, was unheard of, what did we know, we have the reputation of eating McDonald’s, and although we don’t personally, I have to say that would probably have been more tasty. We were really disappointed, never mind the faffing about with the car valet service, or each time you left the hotel there was someone there to help you into the revolving doors, a good plate of food would have been the first priority. To think back on all the meals we had had the previous days, particularly the two meals we had in the previous hotel, you would have expected a 5 star hotel to beat them all, but it was by far one of the worst meals we had ever had. As we had cancelled our meal for tomorrow night we decided to go for a walk along the promenade, where there were more beachfront restaurants, but we also walked up to the main town area where there were even more to choose from, which were packed even at 9.30 pm and decided we had plenty of alternatives to choose from.
12th July 2013
Really looking forward to a good nights sleep in the huge bed, but Steve had an upset stomach, which could only have been caused by the awful steak, so he hardly slept a wink, so decided as he could not be far from the loo we would have a day at the pool. Went down to breakfast, although initially Steve was not going to eat but he was desperate for a drink (and unlike our hotels, French hotels, even 5* star ones do not provide tea and coffee making facilities in the rooms) he decided he would make the effort.
I have to say that the breakfast was worthy of 5 stars, and I have never seen such a variety for breakfast and everyone was catered for. There was absolutely everything that anyone could possibly want for breakfast which included salmon and pancakes with a chocolate fountain, great for all the children who were staying in the hotel. However at the price of 36 Euros each (£32) you would expect it, and I could not fault the breakfast in any way. Steve managed to down a cup of coffee and even managed a small croissant (well bed and breakfast was what we had already paid for).
We found a nice shady spot by the pool and I had a couple of dips in the sea water pool which was very nice. (I hadn’t mentioned them before, what with all Steve’s problems, but I had been bitten by various insects on my legs and arms during the previous week, which were red and swollen and was not a pretty sight). I had been putting germolene on them, but a swim in the sea water pool did more good than any creams. Steve however stayed put on his lounger, dozing and reading his kindle, as he dare not go swimming just yet!!!
We stayed there for a few hours and then walked down to the beach, hoping for a dip in the sea, but the tide was a long way out and I mean a long way out, so we walked out to a little channel marker buoy way out and paddled in the vey shallow water. We decided it was too hot to stay on the beach so came back to the hotel pool and had another swim and as Steve had managed to go a few hours without needing the toilet thought it was safe to venture into for a much needed swim.
At approx 4.30 we decided we would go back to the room, to have an early shower and change as it was quite a little walk back into the town centre and Steve was now feeling hungry, but did not want anything too heavy for dinner. However we turned the key in the door to find that our room had not yet been cleaned. That meant there were no clean towels to use and the shower had not been cleaned since yesterday – unbelievable. I went down to reception to say our room had not been cleaned and was told that it would be shortly, but they were very busy. I said that we were about to shower to go out, so what were we supposed to do, to which the receptionist replied, she would get some more towels sent up to our room and our room would be cleaned when we were out, to which I was taken aback and couldn’t believe what I had just been told. I went back up to the room and relayed to Steve what I had just been told, and the hackles went up, so we decided to go back down to reception as this was totally unacceptable, and that we wanted to speak the Duty Manager.
The receptionist said that after our complaint about the dinner, the Duty Manager actually wanted to speak to us (but no-one had told us) and she said that he was out at the moment but would be back about 5.00. At that moment she also said that she would arrange for our room to be cleaned. We waited in the lounge area for manager to return as it was now 4.45 p.m and there was no point in going up to our room. Whilst we were waiting the receptionist confirmed that our room had now been cleaned.
About 5.10 pm we were told that the the Manager had just returned and he would be with us shortly. At this point we were offered a drink from the bar which we declined (pity this was not offered 1/2 an hour ago). He shook our hands and sat down to think we were just going to discuss the meal, little did he know there was now an added issue with the non cleaning of the room. We relayed the problems we had encountered and said for a 5 star hotel it was not acceptable. He agreed and sort of apologised and he too agreed that it was unacceptable. He did say that he would like us to give the hotel a second chance and to eat in the beachside restaurant which we had cancelled last night and that there would be no payment due. We declined, as we were not prepared to give the hotel a chance to put right something that should not have happened the night before. He then said that the meal we had the night before had not been charged to our account, and kept re-iterating the fact that the best produce was used and he had not received any similar complaints before. Steve did enquire if the chef looked at the steak he left, and apparently he had and agreed that it was tough, but nothing was done at the time. He did apologise and said that it was the hotel’s aim give all its customers first class service which is reflected on trip adviser (which I will certainly be making an entry, and it will not be favourable). He did try offering us free drinks and again the offer of the free restaurant meal, to all we said “no thank you” – the damage had been done. He did also apologise for the room not being cleaned and said he would look into why this had happened.
We went back to our now cleaned room, showered and got ready to go out. We walked up into the town and found a lovely pizza restaurant, yes I know not fine French dining, but Steve’s tummy was still not right so we thought a pizza might be a safe bet. We had a very good meal with the freshly cooked pizzas being enormous, so big that they hung off the side of the plates, but they were delicious and were actually cheaper than the bowls of awful soup we had in the hotel restaurant the night before.
We strolled back along the promenade now being abut 9.30 and there were still loads of people on the beach. I have to say that La Baule Escoublac is a very nice place and liken it to an upmarket Nice and would certainly recommend a visit. Although there were a few beach bars right on the beach, where youngsters were there well into the late evening we did not come across any drunken behaviour and the whole place had a good feeling about it.
We arrived back at our hotel, went up to our room to find that the bathroom had been cleaned AGAIN with new towels and the bedroom had also been tidied. Pity the room was not cleaned the first time earlier in the day, and certainly was not necessary for it to be cleaned for a second time just a few hours after the first (particularly when it not had been cleaned for 24 hours previously). Also on the bed were 2 red wrapped parcels and a letter. The letter was from the Duty Manager apologising again saying that the packages were a token of the inconveniences we had encountered. I suspected what the packages were before opening and was proved right – 2 cellophane wrapped white towelling bath robes, with the “Hermitage Barriere” logo on them, that every room has for each guest to use during their stay – WOW, he was obviously trying everything to make things better (the trip adviser entry that I might make, clearly uppermost in his mind!!). Steve was going to leave them behind as a matter of principal as if this was going to make things right. If the Manager thought this would make up for the problems he was very much mistaken. As we had declined all his other offers this was the last and final resort. We did decide to take them as one would make a good present for my mum perhaps. And so to bed after yet another eventful day.
13th July 2013 La Baule Escoublac To Frehel France
Started the day with another super breakfast, although the 5 star service was again over the top as there were two members of staff at the entrance to the dining room who greeted guests with a” good morning” and escorting them to their tables. Quite amazing really that two staff were present here which although very pleasant was not necessary, but not enough chambermaids, although not quite sure what a chambermaid in a 5 star hotel is called, as I expect that they too have a grand name!!
We were not looking forward to checking out, as the Duty Manager did ask us what time we would be checking out so that he could see us off. We took our key down to reception, and as soon as we did, the Receptionist disappeared into the back room and we thought here we go. She came out, and told us that there was nothing to pay for. Not only had our previous dinner and wine been deleted from bill, the private parking had also been deleted which was 20 euros a night. Then from out of the back room the Duty Manager appeared to bade us farewell. We thanked him for his letter and also the robes, which he said they would be a reminder of our stay, which we certainly would not forget, but all for the wrong reasons. We then had to go through the palava of going over to the concierge desk to ask for the car. We were helped through the revolving front door, to await the grand arrival of the car. It promptly appeared, the doors opened for us to get in and the luggage put in the boot. We bade our farewells and drove down the drive with a huge sigh of relief – back to the real World!!! So that was supposed to have been 5 star luxury, which clearly it wasn’t, 5 star prices, but 2 stars for the services that really mattered.
We travelled down to the seaside town of Frehel and our last Hotel in the actual area of Sables D’or Les Pins for 2 nights. On the way there was man standing by his BMW on the opposite side of the road and as the car in front of us drove past him he waved at them, and then when we drove past he waved again and I thought he was being friendly so I waved back, only for Steve to question why I had done that. It transpired that he was waving for help as a car going past him on the same side of the road stopped to give him a hand with whatever problem he seemed to have, oops and I just thought he was being friendly.
We were not expecting much from our last hotel, as this was only a 3 star hotel, and was going to be a bit of a comedown from the 5 star luxury we had just encountered (well parts anyway!!). We arrived at the Hotel Diane with the outside of the building being in the typical Breton style and it looked quite attractive. However on entering the main doors to the reception it looked a bit tired and shabby so were sort of apprehensive about the room. We climbed the stairs (although there was a lift) to the second floor which again the décor was rather tired but when we went into our room, we were pleasantly surprised. We had a view of the sea which was about a 5 minute walk away, and it was very modern with all mod cons, including a lovely bathroom with soft close hinges to the drawers and a super shower, and a separate toilet with a soft close hinge to the toilet seat, so very different to the other parts of the hotel. The only down side was there was no air conditioning.
We unpacked and took a little walk down to the beach and were amazed at how quiet the area was, particularly being a Saturday and a beautiful hot sunny day. On the way back we stopped off in a cafe which we had spotted on the way down for a cup of coffee, but mainly for a real French cake which Steve had waited almost 2 weeks for. They were delicious, and Steve came away smiling, saying he would have to go back again tomorrow and try a different one. It was now about 3.00 p.m so decided to go down to the beach again and go for a swim in the sea (this was the only hotel that did not have a swimming pool). The water was quite cold but very clean and invigorating. We then sat on the beautiful sandy beach for a while, as it wasn’t quite as hot here thank goodness, and I could actually stay out in the sun for a little longer without having to find a shady spot.
It was then time to get ready to sample the hotel restaurant, which after the meal at the 5 star hotel being poor, were not expecting much. We were however extremely surprised, the food was excellent, very well presented, tasty and very good value, and could not fault it any way, so 5 star Hermitage Barriere take note that a 3 star hotel can do a much better job than you in the restaurant department. During the meal we noticed that the area had come to life and it was like a different place than the afternoon, it was really busy. We decided to have a drink in the lounge and then have a relatively early night.
We retired up to our room, hoping to settle down and have a good night’s sleep after a tiring day travelling. However, about 11.30 it got very noisy outside (the windows were wide open as this was the air conditioning) as the streets filled with people. I got out of bed and went over to the window and noticed a car with flashing lights down the road, and thought it must a be a police car sorting out some sort of trouble. The car then started to move off very slowly towards the beach, followed by a stream of people walking behind it holding lanterns. Then at about midnight there was an announcement over a loud speaker (in French of course) and then a choir started to sing, then piped classical music during which a firework display took place, which was quite spectacular. All this we could see out of our bedroom window and we must have had one of the best views in town. It went on for quite a while and then a final announcement was made and all went quiet, then the mass exodus began and every road became jammed with cars as hundreds of people left the town. We stood at the window and watched them make their tracks home until about 2.30 am, as there was no way we could sleep with all this excitement going on and just another unexpected event to add to our already fun and incident packed holiday. It went fairly quiet during the rest of the night apart from the odd groups of noisy people going past the window.
We would have to enquire in the morning what it was all about.
14th July 2013
The last full day of our holiday. We had a good breakfast in the very quaintly decorated Breton style breakfast room. We did enquire what the fireworks and celebrations were at reception to be told it was the 14th July Bastille Day celebrations. Steve felt really embarrassed, being in holiday mode we had not realised the date.
We decided it was a day for donning our walking boots and to go for a walk around a coast path to Cap Frehel, which has a lighthouse on it. It was a 21/2 hour walk there and 21/2 hours back. We stopped off at the lovely little cafe and patisserie where we had our afternoon coffee and French cake yesterday, to buy a ready made ham and salad baguette to take for our lunch, and as we walked to the end of the road there was a Sunday market, so we added the now obligatory bottle of rosé to have with it.
We started our walk which took us along a path by the sea, and then through a forest which was shady and cool, and then back out on the coastal path. However after about an hour with another hour and a half to go before our intended final destination, Steve had spied a secluded little pebbly cove, and we decided to forget the walk to the lighthouse and climb down the rocks to the cove. We found a lovely smooth large rock to sit on and as we were so hot we decided the water looked so clear and inviting that we would have to have a swim. But we did not have our swimwear with us, but the lure of sea was so great. As we have now reached a certain age, our inhibitions disappeared, and Steve stripped down to his underpants, and me my bra and pants, which I have to say I would not have dreamt of doing in my younger years or in normal circumstances, but there wasn’t another soul around so what the heck, I was not going to miss the opportunity of a cool swim in the clear blue sea.
It was however a little difficult to scramble over the large smooth pebbles down to the water, but we made it without falling over (but totally different to the beautiful miles of white sandy beach by the hotel), but no fine sand to get into certain crevices, and in the food so was much cleaner. We came and dried off on the lovely smooth rock which was amazingly comfortable. Steve cooled the wine in the water jammed between 2 stones, and when at just the right temperature, out it came to have with the now slightly warmed baguettes – and our last perfect relaxing French picnic lunch in total isolation was enjoyed.
We stayed there for a few hours soaking up the last of the French rays, and going for a couple more swims in the lovely cool clean sea before walking back. This had been a much better idea than walking miles and miles in the heat. Steve had already decided yesterday that we would stop and have a last French cake and a cup of coffee before going back to the hotel and getting ready for our last meal on French soil. We decided we would eat in the Hotel restaurant again, seeing as we enjoyed it so much the night before, and to be honest, it was quite a small place and there wasn’t much else to choose from, and we enjoyed another faultless meal.
We then took an evening stroll back to the lovely beach and were amazed to see a few people still on the beach some actually swimming in the water which was incredibly calm and looked like a mirror, and with the sunset over the bay it was a lovely tranquil scene. A perfect way to spend our last night in France and hopefully a peaceful night. There were a few more fireworks and a few people we could hear walking past the hotel, as the windows were open as it was warm and stuffy but we had a good sleep UNTIL we were woken up by a lorry parking outside, the electronic tailgate being lowered, then what sounded like some chains, the electronic tailgate being raised and the lorry driving off – time 3.30 am! We then went back to sleep until it was time to get up for breakfast.
15th July 2013 Frehel To Roscoff France – Then Ivybridge Devon
Breakfast and then our journey to Roscoff, quite straightforward and still hot and sunny until we were approaching Rosoff when we came into a thick sea mist, and temperature dropped and had to put on my sweatshirt (the first time in 2 weeks), even though it was still 18 degrees, but we had been used to heat at least 10 degrees warmer. Parked the car and had a little walk to edge of the town and had a cup of coffee to use up some euro coins overlooking the harbour. Stopped at a wine warehouse to stock up with the French vino and then it was down to the ferry port. We were quite early, so hoped that we would get on the ferry early, but as we had requested a lower deck we were one of the last cars on. At one stage we thought we were being directed to the custom area for a check, but thankfully it was for another car – that really would have topped off our rather eventful fortnight.
So onto the ferry to Plymouth and 3/4 hour into the crossing the mist cleared and the sun came out, and we sat out on the deck and watched the world go by sailing on the very calm sea. Had our last holiday meal on the ferry and chose beef bourginon (well had to keep the French theme until the bitter end) , in the self service restaurant so a bit of a comedown. It was okay, but not the quality and taste we had been used to over the last 2 weeks (bar one). Did manage to round it off with a French cake as we wanted to use another of the vouchers we had left from the crossing over.
Arrived in Plymouth and luckily at this end were the 2nd car off the ferry, and just the last 20 minute journey home to Ivybridge, with a stop at Tesco (holiday now well and truly over) on the way home for some milk and French stick and some cheese for lunch tomorrow. Can’t go back to ryvittas just yet. Two weeks of relaxation, plenty of food and fun and games along the way and tomorrow start the mammoth pile of washing and back to normal work routine.
A special note of praise goes to Simon our 5 year old Jaguar XF. He took us over 1177 miles in air conditioned comfort through Spain and France averaging 40.5 miles to the gallon! And also thank you to Mable (the sat nav) who we couldn’t have done without.
Below Is the route we took.