It seems that an August holiday has become something of a ritual in my house. Over the past two summers, Bali has been my gracious host, but this year, a wedding invitation delightfully curtailed all plans to head East and Europe made its way onto the itinerary. With the nuptials to take place in the idyllic Yorkshire Dales, it was inevitable that I was going to end up in the throngs of London’s 2012 Olympic chaos. Admittedly, I wasn’t exactly keen on the idea of being in Europe’s busiest city, during the most expensive time of year, especially when a substantial chunk of the world’s athletic enthusiasts were in attendance. However, with very little goading and some clever planning, it turned out to be the perfect excuse to take in a part of the world I had never experienced. While I had raced across volcanic fields on Icelandic Ponies, trekked Tiger Leaping Gorge and braved the wilds of the Okavango Delta, I had yet to lay eyes on the Eiffel Tower, gawk at the Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia or feel the beat of a thousand drums at Edinburgh’s Military Tattoo. It was high time I knocked off a few of the things on my Euro bucket list, and spending some time in the south of France was priority number one!
Putting together a trip through Europe is very different from piecing together a month-long country-hop through Southeast Asia. First of all, if you don’t know the in’s and out’s of budget Europe travel, it can be quite cost prohibitive. One of the biggest costs to consider is transportation, and while most of Europe has the benefit of a brilliant infrastructure, a plethora of low-cost air carriers to choose from, and splendid train routes, in the month of August, you risk your pocketbook taking an unrecoverable hit if you’re not prepared to book ahead!
My travel partner and I decided to join friends in southwestern France, at a beautiful traditional house they were renting for the week. The house was about an hour away from Toulouse, minutes from a tiny town by the name of St. Clar, and the only way to get to it, was by private transport. With that in mind, I embarked on what I thought would be a painstaking hunt for car rental deals. Ironically, securing a car for a week was one of the easiest set of arrangements I had to make for the entire trip! In mere moments, I managed to snag us a brilliant deal, and in no time, we were zipping about the sunflower laden country side in luxury and comfort.
After a picturesque train journey from San Sebastián (fear not, I’ll be posting about that delectable adventure shortly) to Bordeaux, we collected our car at the train station, and spent the next hour meandering through sleepy vineyards, passing dilapidated French castles, and rolling hills of tawny burnt grasses. Southern France in August may not be the most awe-inspiring sight to be seen, however, one can close their eyes and envision the lushness of a warm spring. I for one was bewitched, and as we neared our destination, I was desperate to get behind the lens to capture the few sunflower fields that were still in bloom.
We arrived in the hazy heat of a dusty afternoon. Temperatures soared, and the coolness of stone was a welcome gift as we unpacked our belongings. Greeted by a warm faces and a lunch fit for royalty, we dined on local cheese, dry white wine, baguettes, fresh tomatoes and olives. With a full belly and a week of dozing by the pool ahead of me, if this was to be my introduction to life at Maison Tudet, in midst of the French countryside, I hardly know how I summoned the will to leave it!