To Drink or Not to Drink – Cognac is the Question
Iggy the Hymer motorhome is lazing in a frosty, foggy field at N44.508499, W0.791013 in Belin Beliet, a few miles south of Bordeaux.
It is a small, linear village with little charm. The kind of place where people stay who pay the price of 3 hours commuting a day in order to escape the city. The houses are pretty, and there is a walk in the woods for Marley beside the field we are parked on. During the night it is calm and peaceful, but with the dawn the roar of traffic on the busy road is a constant backdrop to village life.
But for us this stop was perfect for our purposes. Last night was our seventh day on the road since leaving Edinburgh. Only seven, and yet that is a small lifetime when travelling. Every day packed with new places, sights, sounds. Always being that little bit stretched by new experiences. Needing to think more, be more…present.
We love it! But now and then it’s nice to step back and stop off somewhere with nothing much to see. To catch up on reading, on photo editing and, always, on writing the blog!
Incredible misty dawn in Belin-Beliet
In my last post I left you in fascinating Turquant two nights ago as we nodded happily off to sleep with bellies full of wafer thin French pizza, and finest 2 Euro a bottle French red wine.
Next day found us, in our usual fashion, up and on the road with no idea where we were going. Other than South.
South, and East tend to be our favourite directions when we’re touring Europe. North and West we don’t like so much. Mainly because they usually mean we’re heading homewards. Even if it’s still weeks and weeks ahead.
But for today “heading home” was a long, long way away. This adventure had barely begun, and the sunshine of Spain was pulling us forward through the wet, grey skies of winter in Central France.
A Sunday morning French market tempts us as we drive South.
On the road we passed a small town market, with splashes of blue skies and sunshine making the rain soaked tarmac shine. Today was just our fourth day of driving through France, and yet the persistent rain clouds were beginning to nip at our enthusiasm. Tempting as it was to stop for a wander round the market, we passed on by. Warmer climes were waiting and we didn’t feel like dallying.
A good scouring of Google Maps and our park4night app and I’d settled on a free Aire in Cognac for today’s stopover. I’m quite partial to a drop of brandy, and was pretty excited to visit this town with a world famous name.
A couple of hours uneventful driving later and we arrived at the free Aire. Wonderfully situated right by the banks of the Charente in Cognac. ( N45.698299, W0.332264 )
The two front spaces in the Aire looked straight out across the river to the old city gates opposite. The “view” from the others wasn’t quite so attractive. But we didn’t care. We don’t visit places to sit in Iggy and stare out the window at them. We visit to leap, excitedly from the door and wear out our shoe leather having a good old explore!
The Riverside Right Next to Cognac Aire
The old town gates were tantalisingly close on the other side of the water. Beckoning us past the winter bare arms of the willows and over the waiting bridge. Cognac. Surely this would be fun?
And to be fair, it mostly was. And most likely would have been much more so… on another day. A day not a Sunday. A day with less rain. A day that wasn’t the fifth damp, grey, rainy day in a row. A day not in early February. A day with more…colours, flowers, the passage of feet raising dust in the white, crumbly sandstone, empty streets.
Maybe it was just us but we seemed to spend most of our time in Cognac saying things that started with “It’s probably really nice when…”
I feel a little bad to describe it so as it was, in essence, a pleasant place, with all the right ingredients to make a wonderful place.
The river is of course a great starting point. The wide flowing waters, complete with accessible, wild, island walks, and a lock system, was my favourite part of the visit. And Marley loved being able to be off lead and charge around the wooded wonderland of the island.
Marley loved the river walkways and island.
The historic buildings were, well, they were there, but you got the feeling the commune didn’t care too much, and couldn’t really be bothered to make them as interesting as a modicum of effort could have made them. But again, we think this was mainly a sort of out of season malaise that seemed to affect the whole city centre.
It was Sunday of course so all the shops were closed. The only people on the streets in the old town seemed to be two of those slightly intimidating young men often found in France – and cities in many other countries too. Lurching through the streets with drug glazed eyes, loud voices, the challenging, appraising glance that screams poverty and crime.
We went another way to avoid them. Drifting slowly back towards the river and it’s broad, open walkway. Admiring the eateries that would be fabulous in the summer with clouds of greenery and soft music drifting to and fro like the river cruisers, abandoned now for the winter, with black mould covers against the rain.
We found a clean boat to take a picture of.
Cold, wet and ready for dinner and a movie we made our way back to Iggy for the night. On a Saturday in late Spring or early summer Cognac would be a lovely place to visit. Baskets of flowers and the arching waterside willows will transform the austere, white sandstone streets into things of utter beauty. The museums and Cognac tours will sparkle with interest, and a river cruise or gourmet meal in a superb riverside venue will finish off the day in perfect style.
On a cold, wet, Sunday in early February? Maybe not.