We finally hit some cooler weather in France. When we woke up in the morning, temperatures were in lower 60s and some rain showers. That did not stop us from getting out of the house and exploring beautiful Jardins de Marqueyssac. It is the most visited garden in the Perigord region, giving us spectacular panoramic views of Périgord & Dordogne valley. We walked around the gardens for few hours and enjoyed stunning views from above. Glad we got there in the morning because once we were leaving, the rain started to come down pretty hard. The afternoon brought naps for everyone (much needed) as the rain lasted into the evening.
It rained all through the night and again into the morning and temperatures didn’t make it above 60 today. Honestly, its the first time on this trip where we’ve had unpleasant weather (I think we’re 40+ days on the road). Pretty good track record if you ask me. We bundled the kids up in their rainproof coats, and decided to take a train ride through a nearby village called Domme. One of France's Most Beautiful Villages, perked high up on the cliff, it gives you another lookout point of the entire valley. When you set your foot on the grounds of Domme, it really feels as if you are taking a step back in medieval time. After the wet and very cold train ride, we walked through a weekly green market located in the heart of the village. Although the weather was terrible, the marker still drew a decent amount of people.
That evening, our hosts invited us over for dinner and drinks. They both speak perfect English as she is an English teacher and he is from Great Britain. They bought a fixer upper barn, renovated it and turned it into their beautiful home. They showed us the before/after pictures and we could not believe it - they completely took the roof apart (the owner did it himself), created a 2nd floor, installed genuine oak floors, created water and septic lines, electric, and everything else it takes to make a house. Pretty much created a gorgeous home out of a ruin. Maybe the best part was learning the owner isn’t even in construction, he just learned the trade on his own. Impressive! We were and still are very impressed by it. If you’ve ever watched an episode of House Hunters International and saw people buying a complete fixer upper in a country, that is exactly what this reminded us of.
Our hosts were extremely hospitable. First, we shared some appetizers and cocktails, then they prepared us a delicious dinner (chili con carne with rice) and then, the dessert was served - a strawberry tart, and finally, to finish that feast, we had a cheese platter with homemade bread & cognac. We learned about each other quite a lot, talked about cultural differences, travel, family, politics, life in general, and everything you can think of. Here we were, at their home, laughing and talking well past 11pm, and they had to work the next day. It was an unforgettable evening with people we just met 3 days ago, yet they made us feel like we were part of their community. There was never a moment of silence or awkwardness, just 4 adults having an amazing time together. Yes, France is beautiful and picturesque country, and traveling around it is simply spectacular. But what this trip is about, is the people who we meet along the way, who open their arms to us, and welcome us as if we were their family. That alone is simply priceless…
Our last day in Perigord brought more rain. We took our time today (everyone slept until almost 9) and did not rush. Both Rick and I got our workouts in, the kids took a nap and after a late lunch, we decided to visit a village called Belves. Another one of France’s most beautiful villages, this place is simply an enchantment for heritage enthusiasts. I have to admit that so far, this was my favorite French village. It is located on a top of a hill, and as you get closer to it, it is breathtaking. It seriously looks like an ancient french village seen in the movies. Everything is made of a light stone, each house has colorful shutters and amazing flowers - in other words, a true picturesque french village. We walked around the cobble stone streets and almost could smell in the air the history filling this unique and idyllic place. It is funny, because ever since we arrived in France and I see local people, I can’t help but wonder what they do for a living, what their days look like, what they eat, and are they tired of all of the tourists like myself, who keep staring at them as if they were a piece of art in the museum. The French are really amazing people.
So far, being in France and exploring this beautiful country has been a dream come true. This is our third location and yet again, truly unique and diverse from our previous places. Everyone we have met has been extremely nice and compassionate. Sometimes, I almost have to pinch myself that all of this is really happening. I am so thankful and grateful for this trip, even with all of the bang ups and hang ups that come along with it (kids had some moments this week). Not every day has been perfect and easy, but that’s not the point. What really matters is the fact that the four of us committed to this adventure and made it happen.
Our next stop through France takes us to a small little village called Saint Martial de Nabirat located in the Perigord region. Its 250km from our previous village, or 2 hours due east of Bordeaux. The drive in was simply spectacular. For a good 40 kilometers, we were wowed by all of the gorgeous chateaus and wine country of Bordauex. Right when we thought we saw the most beautiful chateau, another one popped us right over the valley. The drive continued past wine country and followed along the La Dordogne river, past villages and castles that define this region. Sometimes called “the valley of castles”, the Perigord region is home to over a 1000 of them. Stage 10 of the Tour de France will race here (actually happening today) a 178km section that we had the chance to drive (and bike) a good stretch of.
Once we reached our destination - our home for the next week was something that we have never experienced before. Part of a hamlet (group of 5-6 homes that rely on their agricultural land), we were guests to a stone house build in 1640 that has been remodeled, but the original aquatint feel was fully kept. An old farm house turned into a beautiful living space, with exposed wooden beams and antique decor that made us feel right at home. Leo and Mila took advantage of a little pool & treehouse in the backyard and enjoyed time splashing around and climbing.
Our first day in Saint Martial de Nabirat was very slooooow. We had no food so grocery shopping was priority #1 (hungry Polaka, angry Polaka!). We decided to grab breakfast in town first, and then run some errands (groceries, gas, laundry). For some reason, we were all pretty tired and running low on energy. We returned to our house to make some lunch, a creme of tomato to be exact. As I was blending the cooked veggies, the blender exploded and some of the hot soup landed on my arm burning my skin pretty bad, ouch!
The afternoon went much better. After the kids took a nap, we decided to head back to town and take a boat tour on La Dordogne river to see Chateau de Beynac. This castle is one of the best known in this region of France. It is located on a limestone cliff, dominating the town and the north bank of the Dordogne river. It was nice and a pleasant boat ride with spectacular views, Leo and Mila also enjoyed it although they were like little bees on the boat wishing they could jump into the river for a swim :)
Knowing the Tour De France will be arriving in this region, we decided to conduct our own Herman race. The day was perfect for such an excursion, cloudy yet still in the 80s. We rented our bikes at Liberty Cycle in Sarlat and took off on our little adventure through villages and towns. I had the easy ride, Rick on the other hand, was pulling a buggy with Leo and Mila for 40km! The first 20 km were downhill, but what goes down must come up so he had tough sledding on the way home! At the halfway point, we stopped at the little beach along the river and had lunch. Kids were having a blast throwing rocks into the water. Mila felt very liberated (I guess France is wearing off on her) and decided to take a dip in the water with her shoes on (butt naked, haha). After a very relaxing and peaceful break, we headed back to our starting point. For the return journey, I was biking with my wet shorts on and as a result, I have a pretty nasty rash on my thighs. Add that to my burned arm and you have a beat up momma. If I make it in one piece through this whole trip, I will consider it as a victory in my books :-)
Funny Mommy add-on story. . .
When we put Mila in the buggy for our bike ride, she threw a huge tantrum and refused to be strapped in or even wear a helmet. Surprisingly, after a while she loved it so much that she threw another tantrum when we got back and had to force her to give back all of the rented equipment. Kids, when you think you know them, they throw a complete curve ball at you leaving you speechless and confused..
After two straight days spent at the beach, we decided to take a break from the sun and chose to visit the city of Bordeaux. Its an 1.5 hour drive from our village and the perfect day for a city trip, cloudy and temps in the mid 70s. Sometimes referred to the “Napa of France”, Bordeaux is the fifth and is well known for its wineries. After the drive, we decided to let the kids release some energy, so we found a nice playground and let the kids run around while we relaxed for a little bit. Overall, Bordeaux as a city is very old and historic, with many neoclassical buildings stretched along the Garonne river. Our favorite part of our city excursion was a visit to The Miroir d’Eau, the world's largest reflecting pool. Its is located right across the street from the Palais de la Bourse in the central part of town. This attraction is set up on a black granite platform and gives you a fabulous reflection of the Palais. It looks spectacular and kinda spooky. Leo and Mila ran along the water for good 30-40 minutes and were soaked in their normal clothes. Kids being kids at this point. (Note to family travelers: No matter what attraction you are going to see, always bring a spare change of clothes. We forgot that part today and as a result, Leo was pretty much naked wrapped in a blanket and Mila wore a little pullover with a diaper on, nothing else. Thank goodness we were parked only 1 mile away.
After a few hours of fun in the city, we wanted to visit a winery. The great part of the Bordeaux region and the 1000+ wineries is there are plenty that attend to the kids. We picked Chateau Saint Ahon (about 15 miles outside of the city). It's a small winery that has your kids in mind first. As soon as we arrived, we were greeted by the receptionist who handed our kids crayons and an activity sheet. We were then led to a trail that describes the wine making process while leading to a picnic area with a playground. We let Leo lead the way on the path so he was excited to be a part of the adventure. Along the way past the grape vines, we met horses, a donkey and ducks - a true paradise for Mila. This little trail was very interactive and fully engaging for kids. At the end of the trek, we relaxed at the picnic area with a little playground. Once we got back to the wine shop, we had a little wine tasting while Leo and Mila were given grape juice from the chateau while coloring at a desk. In other words, everyone was happy. We made a family toast to our amazing journey. Another day spent in the outdoors. Moments like this make me realize how lucky I am to be living the dream right now. We may not have all of tangible things like a car or home but I came to a conclusion that traveling with the ones you love is a home in motion.
Saturday was our laziest day yet. We all slept in, and that was actually needed. We took our time in the morning, worked out, ate breakfast and took the kids to a local playground. Exercising their creativity, Leo found a little track and instead of swinging and climbing onto things, he decided to run laps while Mila followed! It was so cute and funny because Mila was trying so hard to beat Leo. After their olympics practice, we drove a nearby village called Pons. A hilly climb from the parking lot, we walked all the way to the top and were treated to a beautiful medieval castle and witness a French wedding - very chic and, well French :-) We ended the night with a delicious grilled dinner and went to the bed early since this was our last night in the village of Thaims.
Yet again, an amazing week spent in the French countryside. I really don't have enough words to describe the hospitality of our hosts and beauty of this region. The first two weeks here have been nothing short of spectacular. I’d recommend to all folks who have a passion for traveling to consider these regions, particularly those with kids. As we were getting ready to leave, our hosts came over and handed us a beautifully written note and a jar of homemade honey (they own a bee farm). Funny enough, we also wrote them a short note showing our gratitude and thanks for everything they did for us (thank you google translate for making it possible). Kinda sad to be leaving this little charming village but also extremely excited for what's ahead of us...
After 6 amazing days in the Bretagne region of France, we said good bye to our splendid host Isabelle and headed about 5 hours south to Charente-Maritime and a little village called Thaims. Our host Brigette greeted us immediately upon arrival with fresh honey and jam and set us up in our new home. It was an extremely nice and warm welcome that immediately made us forget about our long journey in the car. The property where we are staying is gorgeous. Nestled in the countryside, it blends perfect French architecture with modern amenities. The exterior has retained its old vintage feel with light brown original stone work and baby blue shutters. The interior is completely remodeled with hardwood floors and an updated kitchen. Our rental is attached to the owners home so we are able to share their spectacular garden filled with colorful flowers, vegetable garden, and lemon trees. In other words, it's a perfectly manicured French village home.
We mentioned in one of our previous posts, that we do not speak nor understand the French language and its something we regret not taking the time to learn a bit prior to our arrival. In a way, we feel very ignorant about it. We find the French to be extremely hospitable, gracious, warm and welcoming. The ability to communicate and unlock the power of conversation with people around the world is one of the greatest thrills of travel. Everyone we have come into contact with has offered assistance, whether it be in the local grocery store, restaurant, or gas station. Rick even had to have the car serviced and our mechanic made ever effort to help us and speak English. Both our hosts have been wonderful to us and we wish we could hold a conversation longer than a minute. It would be nice to converse with them over a glass of wine, learn more about their history, share a laugh together, and just take to the time to understand one another. So far, everyone has been extremely friendly and helpful but we feel that the language barrier is limiting us from realizing our full potential on our journey in this beautiful Country.
However, this whole lack of understanding the French language doesn't bother our kids. Everywhere we go, they manage to make friends and play with other kids as if they were pals for a long time. On the day of our arrival, Leo was playing soccer on the yard with the owner. They both were laughing and telling each other things (Leo in English and the gentleman in French). If you were a passerby and observed the interaction between them, you would think it was a grandpa and grandson having fun, living in the moment and enjoying each others company. As I sat back and watched Leo being completely open and free, I wish I was more like him; a wild child with an amazing soul, full of empathy, compassion and love for life. After they finished playing, Leo walked over to the French monsieur, gave him a high five and said “merci”. It was a moment that I’ll never forget, bringing tears to my eyes seeing him so happy and respectful to someone he’s known for 30 minutes. That moment is why travel is worth every penny.
The next morning, Rick and I managed to squeeze in a workout and that felt amazing. After breakfast we packed our car and drove to a beach called La Grande Cote in Saint-Palais-Sur-Mer (about a 45 min drive from our village). This part of France reminds us a bit of Spain. It’s very dry, hot, and life seems a little slower here than up north. You can also tell this area attracts a lot more tourists for the beaches. The beach was huge and partially nude, hahaha! We were not brave enough to join that part of crowd ;-) For the next several hours we simply enjoyed the hot air and sand in our toes. The Atlantic waters are a bit warmer than their English Channel counterparts so Leo and Mila waded in and out, keeping each other entertained all day.
The following day was pretty much the same (beach in the morning and early afternoon). Rick went for a run with our host, who is a professional triathlon and ironman athlete (and let me add that he is 64 years old!). In the evening, we decided to pay a visit to a tiny French village called Talmont-sur-Gironde. This place in considered as one of the most beautiful villages in France, with a stunning Church of Saint Radegonde build in the 11th century. Its another area that is dominated by the sea as the entire village is perched on a rocky peninsula. We walked around for the evening, snapped some photos and headed back home.
We got back around 9 and our hosts were outside and we had the urge to get to know them a little more because after all, the most amazing aspect of travel is meeting people from different cultures and backgrounds. We used hand gestures, a French dictionary and Google translate! Technology is such a blessing! Our hosts’ daughter, who speaks fluent English was on the phone helping translate some of our conversation. From the side, it probably looked like a scene from the movie “Family Vacation”! We managed to discover a few things about each other and shared a few laughs. It was a lovely evening spent with a super nice french couple who truly made us feel at home. It was a a great evening that made us even more thankful for this whole adventure.
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