Friday, 27 June 2014

Busy Times Around Framlingham

You would think that after almost three weeks of holiday activity we would wind down a bit this week now that we're back home in Suffolk. But we're hell bent on cramming everything we can into this retirement (you only get one) so Monday night saw us at the Snape Maltings Concert Hall for a piano recital by Pierre-Laurent Aimard about which more later.

On Tuesday we did a bit of catching up around the house before heading to recently opened The Framlingham Wine Shop for an evening of wine tasting. The evening was themed around Italian wines and Richard, the proprietor, had a cracking selection which we enjoyed tasting and, having walked to the shop, enjoyed drinking without spitting too. Everyone who went agreed that it was a great success and we went home with half a dozen bottles to add to the haul that we brought back from France.

Wednesday was relatively peaceful but as we headed into Framlingham yesterday we saw that Market Hill had been transformed into a film set as a crew were setting up to film scenes from Mackenzie Crook's forthcoming comedy series. They had taken over the wonderful Panorama which sells the most eclectic mix of cards and nicknacks and turned it into "Maggie's Shop" for the show. As Crook plays an avid metal detectorist in the programme, and it's being filmed here, he's certain of at least one regular viewer - let's just hope that the town (and my hobby) are shown in favourable light. You never know, if it's a roaring success we could become another Holmfirth whose business owners dined out on the success of Last Of The Summer Wine for years and probably still do.

We were walking through the town early on our way to Framlingham College where we were catching a minibus for a trip to Cambridge organised by Framsoc the excellent society run by the college. Tony Lawrence (far left in the photo) had arranged a marvellous day out for us.

We started with a scenic punt trip along the river behind many of the colleges. The punter handled the boat perfectly and provided a potted history as we glided along sipping glasses of cool prosecco in warm sunshine - a highly recommended experience. Contact The Cambridge Punting Company for more details. After the punting we enjoyed lunch in the old chapel MichaelHouse Cafe a most unusual place which is still in use for religious ceremonies whilst the inner chapel is surrounded by diners enjoying their meals.

We then had a couple of hours to ourselves so Marion and I went to have a look around the lovely Clare College Gardens where we sat and read before heading back up to meet the other FramSoc members for a guided tour of Pembroke College. Pembroke has strong ties with Framlingham and the college as Framlingham's historic philanthropist Sir Robert Hitcham granted lands to Pembroke way back in the 1600's. The Chaplain gave us a fascinating tour before entertaining us with tea and cakes in one of the inner sanctums. It was yet another superb event organised by FramSoc - a society that everyone in the town should consider joining.

We were home in time to get to The Railway for the monthly quiz which was starting up again after Ian, the quizmaster's, brief sabbatical. Our team scored a creditable 67(ish) points which was only seven behind the winners but unfortunately all the other teams scored  a few more so we took the wooden spoon.

We let ourselves down in the quiz with the classical section of the music rounds where we mixed up La Boheme with Carmen and Tosca with La Traviata, which leads me back to that piano recital at Snape. Aimard was absolutely incredible. He gave a truly virtuoso performance that had the audience shouting "bravo" and raising the rafters with applause but, whilst I admired his sheer brilliance and his mastery of the keys, I am afraid that the music (Symphonic Etudes) left me cold and reminded me very much of Eric Morecambe's immortal aside to Andre Previn "I'm playing ALL the right notes - but not necessarily in the right order". We're off to more of the Aldeburgh Festival tomorrow  - it's Brahms and Mozart which may perhaps be easier for a Philistine like me to enjoy.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Back In Suffolk

After eighteen days in France we're finally back in Suffolk and catching up on life in Framlingham. We're back on a diet too as the cycling didn't quite work off as many calories as we were eating and drinking and I deluded myself that I could get by on a diet of steak and chips and wine without it showing on the waistline.

We had a fabulous holiday although when we met this road closure on the A12 en route to the Channel Tunnel, we thought that we were out of luck and things were not going to run smoothly. However, Marion's immaculate planning had allowed for such events and we arrived at Le Tunnel in time to catch an earlier train than planned.

Our first stop was in Burgundy where we stayed for two nights at a B&B called La Cimentelle. This translates as "the cement works" which is exactly what the site once was. The works are now ruins although there is a heated swimming pool on the roof of the old factory. The accommodation is in the beautiful house built alongside the works. Here husband and wife Stephane and Natalie have created a fabulous place that is much more than a B&B.

The bedrooms are all stunning and the hosts cook a wonderful four course communal evening meal where fabulous food and extremely interesting multi national conversation is enjoyed by all the guests. 

While in Burgundy we had time for a little sight seeing and were bowled over by the beautiful Abbey De Fontenaye.

From Burgundy it was onwards to our Deluxe Cycle Tour. We wanted a week's cycling but we also wanted to stay in some lovely hotels. Gary from Deluxe organised this perfectly and we had six nights in some stunning accommodation is some great locations. The bikes were easy to ride and we managed to climb the steepest hills.

We visited some Roman ruins.

All the accommodation was good but the last night's hotel (Hotel Particulier in Arles) was splendid.

We met some great people. Like Tim and Therese from Arizona.

And Steve and Mark from South Africa pictured here with Gary from Deluxe (top) and Martin our guide (in black).

We had an excellent week with Deluxe. The weather was incredible (not perfect riding conditions at 37 degrees plus) and the company was excellent.

At the end of the tour we left Arles and headed for our rented villa in Bonnieux. I've already written about our lovely week there but here are a few photos to finish with for today.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Such A Perfect Day

Yesterday was the sort of day that Lou Reed was thinking about when he wrote that song. The sun finally decided to return to Bonnieux so we were up at the crack of dawn and ready to depart on our final cycling trip of the holiday. The air was still fresh as we headed out from the villa so Marion wore a cardigan for the first part of the journey as we headed downhill to Lacoste.

We're quite fit after so much cycling so we even rode some of the way under our own steam with the power switched off. We stopped for a well earned breakfast at a bistro in the tiny hamlet of St Pantaleon. Cycling means that pain au chocolat - the perfect French breakfast -is not off limits.

From St Pantaleon we headed to Gordes. Clinging to the mountainside, Gordes has to be the most spectacular town in Provence and consequently it's spectacularly busy so, apart from the customary photo courtesy of some Chinese tourists, we gave it a miss. 

We did, however, find the near deserted historic village of bories (dry stone dwellings) nearby. This is a fascinating historic site and well worth the 3.5km detour.

From Gordes we took a steep climb towards the famous and spectacular Abbaye de Senanque. Even with electric bikes this was a difficult ascent. Conventional cyclists were barely inching up the road and it was fun to pass these bent double and super fit but struggling athletes sitting upright as if on a trip to the shops and giving them a friendly wave and a few words of explanation in French "Nos velos sont electrique mais nous avons soixante ans".

The ride down from the summit towards the abbey was incredible - even using both brakes we were travelling at dangerous speeds. The abbey has famous lavender fields in front of it but we could see that the lavender wasn't in bloom yet and there were a couple of coaches outside so we gave it a miss and took another steep climb to Murs. By now it was time for lunch but Murs looked pretty deserted and the only restaurant was empty so we decided to journey on and look for somewhere en route.

What a great decision that was as, about fifteen minutes later we saw a sign to Le Mas Des Herbes Blanches together with five stars and a Relais & Chateau sign. Although a little dusty from our cycling we were welcomed into the beautiful restaurant with panoramic views across the Luberon and enjoyed a delicious three course meal with fantastic service. We only paid twenty or thirty euros more than we've been paying for our usual lunches and this was very special - so great value for money.

From the Mas it was time to cycle on to Roussillon, the famous red town. It's another lovely place and, despite the mass of tourists, we made a stop to change the bike batteries in a central cafe and had a look at the amazing views.

It was all downhill from Roussillon as we returned to Bonnieux via the ancient Roman bridge Pont St Julien. We were sad to hand the bikes back to Sun E Bikes - hiring those bikes was the best decision of the week in Bonnieux. We rode over 70 kilometres yesterday but it was easy.

As the sun went down we enjoyed some fruit and a glass of wine on one of the villa's terraces -  a perfect end to a perfect day.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Now It's The Tour De Luberon

I know I shouldn't grumble but it's Sod's Law that we book a cycle tour and ride in temperatures approaching forty centigrade in the shade and then book a luxury villa with swimming pool for the remainder of the holiday and the temperatures drop by twenty degrees. So, with the swimming pool merely something that makes a pretty photo, we were left with the question of what to do here in pretty Bonnieux.

There are no prizes for guessing what we came up with and yesterday we set out on our rented bikes. There's a slight difference this time, Bonnieux is in a very hilly region so we have given ourselves a bit of a break and gone for electric bikes. You can still peddle them (they won't go if you don't) but climbing hills is a breeze and we take great pleasure in flying past real cyclists as they puff and pant their way to the summit.

And they really have been summits. We've climbed until our ears have popped and we've ridden along a ridge that has clear views down to the Mediterranean coast.

We're on our second day of bike hire at the moment as, at 60 Euros a day, seven days would have been an extravagance but it's been well worth it and we've done two rides totaling about 90 km. Today we rode through a forest on a ridge that separated the Luberon from the south. Sadly it was grey and cold but yesterday was mild and sunny and the route that the rental company gave us took us through some fabulous scenery.

The last stop on yesterday's route was Oppede Le Vieux a deserted medieval town high on a hillside. It was a beautiful place and we stopped for lunch in the restaurant.

We has a fabulous lunch in a stunning setting.

The public WC was far from stunning and it amazes me how many of these hole in the
ground loos remain in France - it's the one time that constipation is welcome. We're in the 21st century now!

We saw some absolutely beautiful places including the lovely Menerbes made famous by Peter Mayle. It's certainly a beautiful little town but even today,many years after the book's heyday, it's very busy with visitors. We also rode to Lacoste. Much of this super medieval village including its castle has been bought by Pierre Cardin who has done it up to an amazing standard (nor quite The Mowbrays).It's a magnificently photogenic place but it somehow feels sterile as if Cardin has sucked all the life out of it and left us with a manicured film set. Tomorrow we're off on our final bike ride - at 70 kilometers it should be a fitting last day but two to the end of the holiday. I'll finish today with some of the very pretty places we've cycled to.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Le Tour De Provence Est Finis

That's right, it's all over bar the shouting (although one of the tour members is a Holland fan and they're playing tonight so there may well be some shouting).

 Here are the men from our team of Nations at last night's hotel Mas De Oulivie near Les Beaux. From left to right it's South African Mark, American Tim, South African Steve, me and English tour organiser Gary. 

And here are our wives Therese from Arizona, Wendy from Durban, Marion and Carin from Durban.

The eight of us plus Gary and his assistant Martin have cycled about 50 kilometers daily. Sometimes it's been flat like this but there have also been some steep climbs and (thankfully) some equally steep descents. The weather has been fantastic although not perfect for cycling when it hits 39 degrees in the afternoon. The hotels have all been lovely and the group got on very well together.

Now the end is fast approaching and we're here in the beautiful five star Hotel Particulier in Arles. It's a beautiful old hotel and a very fitting end to our cycle tour - Deluxe Cycle Tours has certainly lived up to its name.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Settling Into Bonnieux

After five days of early mornings it was strange to have a lie in on Saturday at Hotel Particulier in Arles. We were lucky to have a fabulous room for our last night. Tour leader Gary explained that all the hotels have a few superior rooms and he tries to share these evenly throughout the week. 

Marion looked stunning as we headed out to dinner with our fellow cyclists for the last time. We celebrated our last evening with champagne at the hotel before heading to a restaurant in Arles for our last meal together. As always the meal was a fun affair and we will miss the conversation. Food and wine have been major features of the cycling week and I was able to eat like a king without worrying about my weight.


Sadly I won't be able to eat like this at lunchtime again unless I want to put on a couple of stones.

From Arles we headed to Avignon by taxi to pick up our car from Hotel D'Europe. And from there we drove here to a fabulous villa that we've rented in Bonnieux. The weather has cooled down and we've had a bit of rain but we're set for a relaxing time.

We will miss the characters we met on our cycle. There was the extremely modest  Steve - a very successful businessman with tremendous leadership qualities, his lovely wife Carin a devoted mum and fellow writer, the super fit Tim who, despite being a few years older than me managed to be first man to the top of every hill. Tim is a truly nice guy who recently retired from an executive role in one of the world's biggest chemical corporations. I said he was first man to the summits as his wife Therese, whose rendition of Chantilly Lace was one of the week's highlights, was often there before him - Therese is an amazing athlete and also an artist in glass. Our final couple were Mark , who works with Steve, and his wife Wendy. Mark has a fabulous sense of humour and gave us all plenty of laughs. Wendy works out almost every day and, coped brilliantly with all the climbs. It's hard to believe that the eldest of her three kids has almost completed university.

We hope that social media will allow us to follow their futures and we hope that they enjoy the rest of their holidays and have good return journeys to South Africa and the USA.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

A Picture Postcard Blog

I finally worked out how to put photos on the blog using the iPad but now I've no time left to write it. So today's blog is a picture postcard from me and Marion.

Having a lovely time on our cycle tour of Provence with Deluxe Cycle Tours. One day left and then we're off to the rented villa in Bonnieux. Cycling in 38 degrees uphill is not for the faint hearted. 

Restaurant Foux Di FaFa Avignon

On the open road

Isle Sur Le Sourge