It was a very bad start. The deviation from the autoroute caused by what must have been a very serious accident had driven us into uncharted territory, certainly as far as the mapreader was concerned. The small town of Nérac suddenly appeared before us in all its splendour – a welcome apparition. From there it was a doddle to find Bellecombe and we easily spotted the impressive row of poplars lining the driveway; the house sign by the road faces the other way, presumably directed at arrivals from the more sophisticated town of Agen. Up the drive and what do we find, an ivy-clad house for sure but definitely not the one we thought we’d booked with Dominique’s Villas! Further inspection of the unexpectedly large grounds revealed the main house (the first one houses the table tennis and other games) tucked away amongst a great variety of mature trees.
We had advised the caretaker of our late arrival and he had kindly left the keys under the doormat, as well as a welcome surprise of milk, butter, bread and eggs, ideal for Sunday breakfast, and more importantly cold beers and wine. Since I was little I’ve always loved reaching a new destination at night with the excitement of discovering the place in the morning. I wasn’t disappointed. The next morning was glorious…
We had decided to spend a week at Bellecombe and then a week in a hotel by the sea near La Rochelle to give our grandchildren a taste of all sorts of watersports. In fact it would have been far more relaxing to just spend two weeks at Bellecombe – the children loved the pool so much – it had a large shallow end ideal for little ones afraid to venture deeper than up to their waist. And we loved the fact that it was away from the house and fenced-off. So the children spent most of the day playing by the pool, exploring the grounds and collecting insects, and in the evenings, as the countryside fell silent, they waited for the toads to gather by the side of the house. There were hedgehogs and red squirrels too, and even deer if you woke up early enough.
The adults indulged in cooking in the evenings – there were so many cook books to choose from (and far too many cooks), and everything you needed in the kitchen, from a purée maker to a fish steamer. The market at Nérac had great produce but the local supermarket in Roquefort had fantastic meat and fish, inconceivable in the UK. We’d planned so many outings to the local villages and vineyards, and ended up doing far too little – it was just too tempting to spend the hot afternoons reading under the trees. It was really a charming place full of paintings and large colourful butterflies decorating the stairwell, very comfortable too, with two sitting rooms – it was just so relaxing, a proper holiday.