After waiting in Orléans for four days to see a mechanic, we visited VW and ordered the required part for Gary. Following a frantic few phone calls and reorganisation, Gary's new hip had arrived and was booked in on Friday 25th May. The VW team were simply amazing, and knowing it was where we were sleeping (and thus making overnight work impractical) whilst also dealing with our very average level of French, they made our journey possible and we cannot thank them more. They even provided Brigid with complimentary coffee and friands, which is pretty much the way to her heart.
Anyway, so we finally got on the road towards Bordeaux - our first chosen destination of our trip after just over two weeks. As we had picked the van up at 5pm on a Friday, we headed an hour southwest with the GPS set to avoid toll roads, and found a simple campground on a lake to spend the night after driving through some beautiful villages. Patisseries in hand, the next morning we headed directly towards Bordeaux, and five hours later, following several deviations, arguments on directions, trying to find lunch after 2pm when everything is closed, and an intense lightning storm, we made it to Bordeaux.
During this process we continued to learn a lot about what we need and where to store it in Gary, given the limited space and specific layout. We had continued to pick up a few small items along the way to make our trip more practical (like another portable gas burner to cook outside when the weather is nice, as well as bike puncture kits etc). During this trip, we finally checked everything off our initial setup lists.
As we had been constantly chasing our tail for several days, we hadn't found the ideal camping spot in Bordeaux prior to arrival. Daniel had a pretty clear vision of what he was looking for - but primarily with one condition: among the vineyards. As we arrived, the first few sites we looked at weren't ideal, and luckily the third (and final) option was absolutely perfect. We couldn't recommend Château la Peyraude more. Seriously, if you're staying in the area in a camper, stay here. You can park right up against the vines, and it's FREE (including electricity), providing you spend at least €20 at their cellar. Which is not hard, because their wines are beautiful - we chose their Sauvignon Blanc, Rose, Merlot Brut and Merlot (total €22). Showers are €3, but who cares when your wine (which you would have bought anyway) has paid for your stay.
Following a night of insane lightning and thunderstorms, which were very impressive from the van, the sun was shining brightly in the morning. After our incredibly inefficient morning regime which included a good sleep in, bacon & eggs, and a family Skype, we were ready to explore the local vineyards by 1pm.
However of coarse given our current luck, it was Sunday in France, and all the vineyards we biked past on our 1.5hr ride were closed (except funnily enough the one we were staying at).
TIP: Opening hours in France are never clear. Whilst Sundays are a definitely no-go (especially after 1pm where even most supermarkets will close), don't trust Google, signs, or even locals. It's completely random and unpredictable. It's best just to wing it, expect the unexpected, have a backup plan, and have fun. Always buy as much food and alcohol as you can carry before a Sunday ;)
Not that it mattered. We had plenty of wine following our tasting from our current site. Furthermore we had met the owner of Château de Bonhoste during our exploring, who said he would give us a tour of their vineyard and famous underground cellars on Monday morning. This suited us perfectly, as following the tour and a nice lunch, would allow us ample time to get on the road towards Biarritz and San Sebastian in Spain (our fourth country of the current trip).
Whilst you could easily spend several days or weeks wining and dining in this palette-loving part of the world, here are our top recommendations from our short stay:
Gratuit Camping - completely new to us, but something we definitely recommend. As described above, the ability to camp for free in a vineyard, and have costs for things like electricity (if any) paid for via buying wine off them, if simply the best thing since fermentation itself. Another plug here for Château La Peyraude - amazing.
Biking - to be completely honest the area we stayed in is not very bike friendly as there are quite a lot of hills. Albeit other areas are quite flat. Nevertheless biking is quite practical when having a few wines, and also helps burn off a few of the many carbs acquired during the feasting and drinking.
Wine, Wine and Wine - as it should be, the wine is spectacular, cheap and plenty. Eat, drink and be merry.
Bordeaux city is not necessary - whilst neither of us have ever actually been to the main city, we don't really have any desire to. Like most places, the centers are often touristy, and not actually a genuine representation of the area. Feel free to prove us wrong, but if you have limited time, our bet would be to focus on the actual wine growing countryside itself.
Avoid Sundays - as mentioned above, it's quite difficult to find tasting on Sunday and we would generally recommend against planning to do so on Sunday (or public holiday for that matter).
So after 36 hours in another stunning location, we headed towards Spain and FINALLY back towards the ocean, beaches and pure happiness.
Bidi & Dan