I have just had a holiday. Not a lying on a beach, slow strolling holiday either - a seeing, doing, travelling, eating, meeting holiday. I've been in France for just over a week, and we managed to pack an impressive amount into our days away from London.
Our trip started with an early morning dash in a rental car through the streets of London, out to Gatwick airport. Thank heavens there was time for coffee before boarding. Except there almost wasn't, so cue another frantic hurtle through the grey corridors of the North terminal, attempting not to spill a cooling cappuccino down myself. But we made our plane, and a couple of hours later we were safely in Nice. But not for long. We grabbed our second rental car of the day, having bumped into two groups of friends in the collection area, and headed for rural Provence...
We were out in Provence, to help celebrate a wonderful wedding at a vineyard near Bargemon. And celebrate we did...once the thunderstorm and freak hail had finally stopped! What are the chances of that happening in Provence in July eh? The bride (part English, part Welsh, sometimes French) and groom (all Australian) met several years ago whilst travelling in Latin America, and their joyous wedding was full of tales of their adventures and symbols of all the places they have explored together so far.
After speeches that made everyone laugh and cry, and several buckets of excellent rose, our university friends stepped up to own the dance floor. I like to think we did the bride proud. The Accidental Boyfriend even busted out a few of his dance moves. 'Stunned' is I think the appropriate word to describe my friends' reactions to this. Stunned and maybe 'a little afraid'. It was a blissful luxury to have several long sunny days and nights to hang out with friends who live at the opposite end of the UK, chatting, laughing, toasting the future and supporting our glorious, funny, beautiful friends.
And then the Accidental Boyfriend and I set off in our little rental car to explore a new (to us!) corner of France - the Cevennes. Think tiny mountaintop villages, huddled along winding rivers, and higgledy-piggledy mediæval towns full of snoozing cats. It was ludicrously picturesque. Even the local government buildings in these towns and villages were housed in ancient castles and fortified towers.
We would have loved to stay longer, as we felt we barely grazed the surface of this fascinating area after a scant 36 or so hours here, but Burgundy was calling us. We mostly Airbnb-ed our way around France (staying in couple of lovely little flats), but up in Burgundy we stayed at a traditional B & B, just outside the tiny town of Charolles - the home of Charolais beef for the steak-lovers among my readers. Our host was a fascinatingly well-travelled lady, who regaled us with stories of motor-biking through Costa Rica over breakfast, fed us extremely well, and introduced us to her rambunctious troop of handsome ginger cats. This is Rupert...
We were somewhat unlucky with the weather for our first few days in Burgundy - it threw it down until our last day when (as you can see from the sunbathing moggy above) the sun finally shone. But the rain didn't stop us getting out and about as soon as we were all settled in. We toured a chateau and its soggy gardens, where we met a somewhat unimpressed rabbit. We (well, mostly the Accidental Boyfriend to be honest) tasted and bought a fair bit of local wine, to start a little wine cellar back in London. We wandered along canals and stumbled upon more fairytale towns to explore.
One day we found ourselves in Paray-le-Monail, France's second most significant pilgrimage site. Amidst the pilgrims we took a look at its monasteries, with their peaceful inner courtyard gardens, and its impressive basilica and smaller chapels. I delighted in a tiny (but excellent) museum of religious art, which contained some of the most outstandingly blinged up sculptures I have ever seen. (I also put my rusty French to work to learn about jeweller Joseph Chaumet's work on verifying the origin of rubies.)
And we ate a lot of wonderful food. We were in the home of some of the best beef in the world, so frankly it would have been rude not to, right?! Particularly when we discovered the local town restaurant had a Michelin star. And a complete bargain of a tasting menu!
Then we hit the road again, for the last time. Early one morning we sped up the motorway from Burgundy to Paris for a final couple of days holidaying in the city, eating yet more food, and catching up with more friends. Reunions at opposite ends of France were a glorious way to book-end the holiday. Oh, and staying in a beautiful, white flat in Montmartre, with balcony views over the city didn't exactly hurt either.
On Sunday evening, we took the Eurostar back home to busy old St. Pancras station. But London appears to be much as we left it ten days ago. A little cooler, a tiny bit greyer maybe. Oh, and there's a vast hole outside my kitchen windows. (My downstairs neighbours are building an extension. Although right now it's just a trench full of semi-naked builders with jackhammers.) Nice to know we haven't missed much!