South-West France booze tour!
“Just blow in the slot…keep blowing…keep blowing…” They’re the words you fear a copper will one day bellow into your ears after pulling you over after a few too many shandies as the designated driver.
Only in your dreams might that machine break and leave said plod tapping and shaking his gadget like a pensioner trying to use a mobile.
But for Lads Holiday Guide’s Lup Fun Yau, his boozy breath managed to do just that this week on a tour of the Baron Otard Cognac distillery in Cognac itself, in the south-west France.
After downing nine sample shots on top of a day of boozing on the local XO beer, our man was rather battered and was probably the worst volunteer to try out the machine at the factory at the climax of our wander around.
Cognac is the home of all the top boys when it comes to the drink: Hennessy, Rémy Martin, Courvoisier – they’re all based there. Well, they have to be to call their tipple the C word.
Lads Holiday Guide was in the region to stay at an old farmhouse an hour or so down the road, deep in the sticks of Jonzac. Not heard of it? Don’t worry, neither had we. It’s a sleepy little village tucked away about an hour from La Rochelle airport. Not heard of that either? Don’t worry, neither had most of us.
Jonzac and all of the other little villages around that way are much of a muchness – cute little spots with dozens of bars and restaurants serving incredible wine and cognac for next to nothing.
The area is renowned for its wine and cognac production, so when Lads Holiday Guide was invited over to sample the local delights for an off-the-beaten-track stay, we thought ‘sod it – why not!’ And we weren’t disappointed.
Now first off, this isn’t the kind of place to have a stag do. No way. But who goes on their stag to anywhere in France other than Monaco? A Paris stag? You need help.
No, trips to this part of the world are for the older chaps – think 30s up. Think married men or confirmed bachelors looking for a chilled out trip away where they can feel grown up and eat cheese and sip wine and moan about how much more we pay for it at home.
If you’ve ever seen the 2004 film Sideways, above, you’ll have an idea of what you’re in for. The movie stars Paul Giamatti and sees two middle-aged pals touring California on the sauce, downing wine and generally having a crisis.
We didn’t have so much of the crisis stuff but we certainly flew into the booze and food as good as we could.
The first night of our whistle-stop three-dayer was spent wining and dining in Jonzac’s Le Coq d’Or bistro restaurant run by the lovely couple Alexis and Séverine. It’s slap bang in the main square right near the Castle of Jonzac and also has a hotel upstairs. It’s serves traditional French fare – but is good enough to appear in the Michelin Guide. And we wasn’t disappointed.
We all went for the lamb chops, above, served pink with perhaps the best dauphinoise potato pile i’ve ever tucked into, washed down with a fine bottle of local red. The total bill for beers, wine and three courses came to just £50 a head. Amazing value.
The second day of our stay we jumped in our hire car – just £100 for three days – and whizzed over to the beach at Royan. Everything seems to be one hour away in that part of the world and this was no exception.
After what felt like miles of vineyards we emerged into a seaside town, complete with tourist trap restaurants and nicknack shops – including the all-white store, above – with a beach which went out for what felt like miles. We arrived around 10am and had the harbour to ourselves with it being off-season.
But by lunchtime on the Sunday, the place was rammed with locals taking to the sands and the surrounding quayside for a leisurely stroll and a bite to eat.
We headed into La Siesta – the smartest looking of the seafront eateries – which sits at the top of the slope all in black. Stepping inside we were met by the magical Sunday buzz. The place was heaving with families and couples tucking into top notch grub.
We ordered starters of a dozen oysters and a brilliant bacon, cheese and garlic bruschetta, below, which was sliced into slithers ready for munching. The salmon main with pasta was also a dream, served with hollandaise sauce.
Fully fed and watered once more we shot back to our farmhouse and spent the night watching movies on a projection. The owner said in summer they usually screen films beamed onto a white sheet hung between the trees as the sun goes down. But with it being chilly October, we went inside instead and stocked up the fire with piles of wood.
Our final day was spent in Cognac itself where we tracked down a distillery tour via the local tourist information centre after drawing a blank going direct to the brands themselves. For £20 each we had an hour browse around the barrels before sampling the full range.
I’m not a huge fan of the stuff but let me give you this tip passed to me by the guide: forget the traditional mixers…chuck BITTER LEMON in with your cognac!! I screwed my face up when she said it almost as much as i did when i tasted the stuff straight, but once she splashed a bit of the green stuff in, it was transformed.
Being our driver for the day, i stopped my boozing here and allowed our man Lup to down mine before stepping up to break the place’s breathalyser.
“We’ll have to get somebody to look at it,” said our guide as she tried switching it on and off again, likely feeling light-headed herself at breathing in our man’s drunken breath.
Oh, and of course we found time for a little gamble. The French love a wager and have Keno running in lots of bars, as well as at their Jonzac’s casino, so on the way back we popped in and lost most of our remaining Euros on roulette. Easy come, easy go.
The next morning we stopped for cakes and coffees in Jonzac before packing our bags and flying home – yep, you guess it, took one hour – with RyanAir. Flights were about £50 return from London Stansted.
All said and done, we’d enjoyed a great weekend away sipping great booze, scoffing excellent grub and generally having a chilled out laugh.
It’s definitely a destination for the more discerning Lads crowd – but one that will never get old.