A not so 'Brief Encounter'

But time to linger at the Railway Station in Agen.

Sometimes our long-haul guests arrive in France at the Paris airports and then take the TGV train to Agen.  Others, preferring not to fly from elsewhere in Europe, including those coming from the UK, also arrive via Paris on the TGV.  The TGV from Paris is a regular, fast, comfortable and efficient service.

Agen is about 45 minutes from Las Razes.  A lovely town center, river-side and some great places to eat and drink. 

If you are travelling to Las Razes by train and then picking up a hire car and you have time to kill, maybe a wait for the car hire office (across and a little up the road opposite the station) to open after lunch.  Or, you must wait for some of your party to catch you up, then do not despair.  Without even leaving the station you are well catered for.

La Grande Brasserie at Agen Station is a wonderful place to eat.  It is sort of counter-intuitive to enjoy eating at a Railway station, but La Grande Brasserie is truly an exception.  So, if you have luggage and don’t want to venture into town, you can either eat inside LGB or on the lovely terrace and literally watch the world go travelling by. 

Rick Stein loved this place. So don’t panic if you must be at the station for a while – you’ve struck very lucky.

www.la-grande-brasserie-agen.fr; www.la-grande-brasserie-agen.fr

05 53 67 17 37, La Grande Brasserie, 1 place Rabelais, 47000 Agen

November and the leaves are falling.

It is nearly the end of November and we are still being blessed with lovely weather.  Yes, we now have nippy mornings but the sun is warming and the days are just awash with autumn colours. You would swear that some of the trees were actually plugged in somewhere.   Some die-hard roses are making a last push to produce one more bloom but the colder nights have now put an end to the tender plants. So the pots and baskets are now all away ready for March next year when it will all start again.

I don’t think that anyone really tires of walking among fallen leaves and so getting out for a walk is truly a delight at this time of year.  Everywhere is peaceful, the air is so clear and fresh and you can just feel the earth pulling everything back ready for the harsher months to come.

It is this time of year that makes this a very special place to live. 


Pyrenees, Padded Pants and Picnics

So living here all year round, where do ‘we’ go for a quick break- where do we have our holidays?

One of the best options, at any time of year, is down to the Pyrenees.  In just three hours, in the car and across the wonderful rolling Gascony countryside, we can be in the heart of the Pyrenees.  Obviously many people go down this way in the winter for the skiing.  Pick your moment and off you go – hit the best of the weather and have the best of times.

We went down at the end of September not for the snow but for the wonderful autumn sunshine and for the cycling.  Bob as many of you will know is a mad keen cyclist and ‘he’ loves nothing more than attacking some of the eye-watering Pyrenean Mountain ‘cols’.  You have cows with their bells, old shepherd huts – stunning water-falls and streams of ice-cold, clear water and of course those magnificent views. 

It’s calm and peaceful and the oxygen levels are high.  There are hidden away valleys offering the sort of scenery that thankfully remains private and feels personal.  Picnics are a must under the late season sunshine and by reviving running water and then in the evening and back to the villages – as the inevitable fondue awaits.

The land that covers the tops of the hills – a little Spanish, a little French and most of all an awful lot of what life is all about.


It's a Bug's Life

Autumn is here at Las Razes a little earlier this year.  Not that we’re complaining, there’s fresh air and after a few days of unseasonal September rain we have blue skies and warming sunshine.  The fields and woods are very inviting for getting out and enjoying the peace.

There’s a slight renaissance underfoot as wild flowers make an end of season come-back and insects and bugs are exposing themselves as they appear to do a little sun-bathing.

Walking in the fields is once more causing a little flurry of butterflies as you pass by; especially if you are accompanied by a more than enthusiastic terrier.  Trying to capture the ‘bug life’ on camera is not easy.  Focusing on something so small means bending down by which time the ‘enthusiastic terrier’ is all over the subject assuming there’s something of great interest to her down on the ground.

Today we have seen the pictures of yet another earthquake in Mexico and hurricane in the Caribbean – so somehow the solid earth and perfect calmness of the Quercy countryside seems even more precious than usual.


Stunning September

I have to admit that this is my favourite month.   Any extreme heat has gone, the sunshine is still warm but the nights are cooler.  There is a sort of re-birth in the garden where plants that have struggled in the height of summer recover, flower again and appear to enjoy the gentler warmth.  This is often most noticeable with the roses, which draw breath and go on to colour most of the autumn.

This is the start of one of the busiest times of our gardening year.  There is so much to cut back.  The first to receive a ‘good trim’ are all the lavender plants.  It’s best to cut them back when there is still plenty of time for them to grow a little before the start of the winter’s chill.  It’s at this time of year (every year) that you discover just how many lavenders there are in the garden.  Just when you think you’ve the job done, another one waves its scented and faded arms at you from a far corner of a bed somewhere. 

The chopped off lavender stems do make great bedding for the as it holds some of the antiseptic properties that the plant is famous for.   The ‘local lavender and lamb’ farm uses their cut lavender for bedding their lambing ewes so as to help protect the new-born lambs.  So we will save some of our removed stems for the hen-house here at Las Razes.


Paris, Yorkshire and bits in between

For Robert it’s been a very busy couple of weeks.  He‘s been in Paris, with his daughter, doing the sites.  Anyone that knows Robert will know that for him this means a lot of walking at high speed.   He sailed the Seine, climbed the Eiffle Tower, conquered the Metro and had his wallet emptied everywhere from the Champs-Élysées to Sacré-Cœur!

Arriving back to the peace of Las Razes it was quite clear that the bright lights of the city will not going to be calling him back any time soon!  Living here we get so used to tranquillity and a much nicer pace of life than cities tend to throw at you.   There were only a few days for him to try and get the garden back under some sort of control, catch up with swimming pool management and help prepare the place for our next guests, 16 people arriving from the UK by train, plane and automobile.   

Before jetting off again he took a day-off to visit St Cirq Lapopie, a lovely little village clinging to the rocks on the side of the River Lot.  He took his daughter for a wander and some lunch.  It’s a site well worth a visit although in the height of the season it can get very busy. 

Bags packed again and this time off on a flight from Bergerac for an important supper date in Yorkshire with a two year-old granddaughter.  Normal life will resume tomorrow when he returns and stays put here for the foreseeable future.

Edible Mermaids and Duck-Based Dining


The last two weeks have been a real mixture of extreme heat and then showers and light relief and then back to the heat again.  This makes planning activities a bit more difficult as some days have been only fit for resting and sheltering from the sunshine.

Add to this the arrival of some regular visitors.  Firstly family from England, including our (very nearly 3 year old) granddaughter, Emma, who had a ‘month-early’ birthday party with us.  This involved a lot of balloons and a rather special mermaid cake which she shared with Emily who’s also visiting and who has just turned 18. Then (we think for at least the 10th year) Joe and Edwine arrived from Brussels for their holidays – they are really family now and part of the fabric of this place.

Suggesting places for people to go and eat is always difficult.  We have our favourites but then we are set in our ways and when you add other people to the group it forces us to think more carefully about other ages and preferences.  At this time of year we get emails from many of our season’s guests who are trying to work out where to book(as there are often 18 of them – they are wise to be doing this in advance) and when you do not know the people concerned there has to be a bit of a leap of faith.

This week, as an extended family, we didn’t go far to eat out; but we did have some lovely meals.  On Sunday we went to the market at Montcuq (46800) which is always a favourite with visiting family and guests.  Sometimes we eat at the Café de France in the centre of the village but as we’d one or two less than adventurous eaters we went on to the next village - St Daunes.   

Here you’ll find what’s possibly the area’s best pizza restaurant.  Restaurant L’Ecole as its name suggests was formerly the village school and is very easy to find and has plenty of parking.  There are other options other than pizza – including the ever popular ‘moules et frites’ but if you haven’t tried their pizzas yet then you should have a go – a favourite with our family is any pizza with duck on it.

Then one very warm sunny lunchtime we had a trip up to what has been a firm family favourite since at least one of our now ‘all grown-up’ family first went there and sat in high-chair.  The Auberge de Lauzinie, close to Lacour de Visa (82190) has never changed.  When it’s cold or dark we eat inside and when it’s warm and dry we enjoy the simple terrace with its almost ‘Tuscan’ view of the surrounding countryside.  All the meats are cooked on an open fire and for us the duck steak ‘magret’ is a must-have.  Needless to say we all ate far too much and just about managed to get back home for a nap – or in the case of those under three years old – yet another swim.

As always with these times, eventually Bergerac Airport comes-a-calling and it’s time for people to make their way back home.  It’s always sad to say goodbye, but Las Razes will be here for them all when next they need there next break and a week of duck-based dining.

Warm Weather, Waggy-Tails, Sticky Desserts and Wiping Whiskers

In common with most of Europe the weather over the last week has been dangerously hot.  In France they call it La Canicule (heat wave) and when this happens in Southern Europe the affects can be devastating to health and as we have seen, with the wild fires in Portugal, lives and the environment.

Here at Las Razes the rising temperature brought us to a virtual ‘stand-still’ things could only be done at about 6amand the second half of the day meant staying safely in doors and resting.

Opening the house up during the early hours – doors and windows flung wide and then closing them up by about 9am is about all you can do.  Closing shutters and curtains and keeping the sun out.  Fans become essential until it passes.

Well it’s passed and the joy of being able to go outside and breath real air is one that always surprises.  A simple thing but it becomes a real pleasure.

So as the weekend approached a little cooler and our new guests were safely installed in the gîte for their holiday. It was time for our plans for the weekend to be considered. 

Just outside Tournon d’Agenais some friends were organising a charity dog show to raise money for canine causes and so we thought that our Mimi should go along and strut her stuff. She’s the least likely mutt to ever agree to be groomed and cooperate, however it was worth a try.

Close to the ‘show ground’ there is a restaurant called the Auberge de Brelan and so we decided to go and have a late lunch and then be prepared to quickly wipe any duck from Mimi’s whiskers and get her entered into a class or two. 

It was a stunning afternoon and we sat outside with the tables laid out under the trees – we did indeed eat many variations of duck and some very splendid looking desserts.  Mimi sat quietly and watched all that was going on – there were many people eating and there was plenty to see.  She tried to keep her whiskers clean whilst eating her treats and then we set off for her big moment.

By mid-afternoon it was actually getting a big hot again.  So everyone clung to the bit of shade there was.  Mimi agreed to enter every class she was eligible for, she tried her best, showed the judge her backside more often than her facebut did ultimately win the ‘dog with the waggiest tail’.  All in a good cause!







Celebrations, Fabulousness and a Hairy, House-Guest

All things festive this week!  Nearby there’s a huge wedding this weekend and Las Razes is full of wedding guests from Dublin here to celebrate the marriage and enjoying a very hot weekend here in the South West of France. It has been a very hot weekend!

Just before the weekend started we’d a visit from Karla Wagner who does the catering for guests at Las Razes who want a celebration or special meal without leaving the house.   Karla lives not very far away and we do wonder just where she gets her boundless energy from!  So we’re sure that there will be some delicious party nights, here, during August.

Then the weekend started with plenty of comings and goings. Much to the delight of our canine meet and greet team.   We had wedding ‘goodie bags’ delivered by the bride’s family for their guests’ arrival.  Gradually, throughout Friday, all the guests arrived, mainly by hire car from Toulouse airport and a couple who arrived by bicycle; they’d flown into Toulouse a day or two earlier with their bikes and then cycled their way to Touffailles.

On Saturday a coach came to collect everyone and take them to the Bride’s parent’s house.  The coach turned out to be too large to make its way up the drive and so everyone had to make their way down to the bottom of the drive and meet it there.  Everyone looked fabulous as they left.  We did not see their return trip as this was scheduled for the early hours.  Nobody was up very early on Sunday morning!

We’ve also had a very hairy, house-guest for the last few days.  Both Katherine and Tom have been away and so, Jack, their lovely border collie, has been having his very first ‘sleep-over’ with Bob, Mimi and I. He’s missing his Mum and Dad but being a very good boy.  It’s too hot for dogs at the moment and so it’s a case of them finding a cold floor and seeking out a fan for some cooling relief.

Butterflies, cows and chocolate cake

Well, it is a lovely Sunday (if you are in the shade and maybe with a fan) the temperature has just turned up a few notches. The countryside and the gardens look well.  However, if this heat continues we’ll start to see things browning and crisping up fairly quickly.  We’re used to summers with no grass growing and the miracle of those few weeds that keep going however hot it gets but it always a bit sad to watch things go from green to brown.  Right now we’ve the benefit of the prolific late spring flowers with the bluest of summer skies and swarms of summer butterflies covering the early lavender plants.

Another annual event took place in the last couple of days.  The arrival of the cows; the local farmer grazes his cattle in our pasture and there’s always that slight regret that the lovely wild flowers and endless orchids are just about to meet their maker.  However, when you go into the garden and hear rhythmic munching and see the peaceful cows and ever-so-sweet calves standing in the shade it’s sort of forgiven again.  The wild spring flowers and orchids will be back next year and for now we have the company of these gentle beasts.

The gîte is being prepared again today for a large party of wedding guests arriving this week.  We have been watching the weather forecast for the wedding planners, hoping that they do not hit a period of thunder and lightning or indeed that it is not simply too-hot for the many people that are arriving to the area to celebrate.  Standing about in new shoes and possibly even suits can, surely, damage your health very quickly in extreme heat.

Yesterday we said goodbye to a lovely family who had to get their flights back from Bergerac to Liverpool and then onwards.  There were lots of little children with them and they seemed to all enjoy playing in the pool.   It is lovely to hear happy voices and excitement.  This family went out for a birthday lunch on Friday to Le Caillau (www.lecaillau.com) and had a wonderful time, bringing back (and sharing) a rather delicious and extremely chocolaty cake from their lunch party.