Map reading in France has its problems. Why, when we were quite clearly on a map-numbered road, should it have another number on its road signs?
It was explained to me that French roads have an EU number, a French national number and a local number. So that explained why I was having difficulty in guiding us around the country and countryside.
Early on a late August morning we left our Trôo cave behind and made our way south to the Bordeaux region.
From our host’s verbal description, we found the Skipwith farmhouse Gite south of Saint-Emilion in Entre-Deux-Mers (Le Cros, route de Sallebruneau, 33760, Frontenac) as, at long last, the weather was beginning to clear.
To be with a half English and half French family with bride-to-be and relations from both sides present was, in its grand scale simplicity, much like a relaxed week end party in England.
We admired the regimented rows of hedge-trimmed vines all around us and as far as the eye could see. We gathered pink greengages for a lunchtime tarte (delicious) and jam making. We drank cool local white wine and ate a light lunch beneath a tent-like sunshade.
After lunch we followed our host’s car through lanes along an impossibly circuitous route to where we were to stay – this time in a large pigsty, beautifully converted and without a trace of its former occupants. It had a shower outside and a separate lavatory that worked by pressing an electric button, whereupon the bowl filled with water, and then, with a downward spinning motion, sucked the contents to its destination with a mighty roar – not unlike those employed in ships.
The owners of our accommodation were a wine merchant, and his wife who was an elegant artist/carpenter, designing and making anything from fencing to wardrobes – mostly from seasoned oak. Her workshops took up a large part of their grand country farmhouse, a building that glowed in the southern sunshine with its yellow stone walls and pink tiled roof.
A generously-filled well supplied water for a swimming pool, set among trees and lawns. The overall theme was rustic/modern in a vineyard setting, and in such silence that one could hear only a morning cockerel, daytime woodpecker and distant chainsaw….and the lavatory. A friendly, mottled housedog patrolled his territory with much barking should anyone pass by who was unknown to him.
After exploring the nearest town, Sauveterre, with its medieval fortifications and gateways, we ate our only indifferent meal in France. We were partly accompanied during this meal by a band, whose members set up their equipment close to the tables before starting songs, but never finishing them.
And so we came to the wedding day – the very reason for our trip to France.
Our hostess at the farmhouse where we lodged, near Mauriac, gave us breakfast of coffee, a loaf straight from the oven, a slab of butter, and home-made jams. Then we changed into our finery and set off to explore Saint-Emilion (too full of tourists), some 50 kilometres away.
Beyond, in Montagne Saint-Emilion, we located the wedding church after enquiring directions from a lovely old peasant – a character straight out of some French Art film. We then found the very grand Château Fombrauge where the reception was to be held. Having noticed a pleasant-looking restaurant next to the church, we ate an excellent lunch there. Our red wine was the astoundingly good Château Maison Neuve 2004.
The service, in the mellow, brick-vaulted church, was pretty well inaudible because we were on seats at the rear among several fractious children.
Then pushing two guests into the back of our car – rather like pressing them down in a jack-in-a-box, we reached the Château, to be given Ayala Champagne, sipped to the music of a Spanish guitarist, and overlooking the panorama of the Château’s vineyards.
Then, after the speeches, punctuated by thunder overhead and a few large raindrops, some 150 of us retired to the marquee attached to the Château for a fine meal of lobster, quail and sweets - all accompanied by Château Tour Grand Faurie 1998 red wine, a white, and a sweet 2003 Château Tillac, Monbazillac.
Inside the Château, and seen through a glass door, rested row upon row of new wood casks in which wine was maturing. The floor of this almost unreal sight was unstained by a drop of the precious liquid.
Being my turn to drive, I was only able to taste the delicious and well-chosen wines. With father of the bride, Charlie Skipwith, a South West France specialist wine merchant, it was expected and confirmed that we should drink the best.
Throughout, the very pretty bride, Georgina, and handsome groom, Simon, made a glowing focus to all events.
A three piece band of jolly fellows provided pleasant evening music, and when, at my request, they played one of their own compositions (“My Heart has a Mind of its Own”), the guests stood to cheer them.
After fireworks, seen from the terrace and launched from the vines (I trust the spent gunpowder did not settle on the grapes still hanging heavy on the vines), we drove back to our lodgings in complete darkness, getting somewhat lost in unmarked lanes around the Saint-Emilion vineyards. It was a 50 km test of eyesight, nerve and endurance as we conducted the car through the circuitous roads of Entre-Deux-Mers. It must have been the Monbazillac on Margreet’s breath that scented the night air so pleasantly as we drove through the foreign night.
Guests returned the following day to Château Fombrauge for cold collation and what remained of the fine wine, which, no longer being the driver, I was able to enjoy to the full,
The wine merchant owner of our lodgings came to drink an aperitif with us as we sat outside our room that evening. We shared wines. His preference was for Château Ducla as his daily wine and Premius (available at Auchan, though we couldn’t find it in Dieppe) as his other preference. As the distributor of Yvon Mau wines in France, he should know a thing or two about what to choose.
Then, after enjoying the whole occasion of the English/French wedding so much, we were on our way to La Rochelle on the Atlantic coast to the north.