Restaurants

We love our food and wine and love to eat out. We are very lucky to have some excellent restaurants in the area, some we regularly visit, some are for really special occasions and others have been recommended by families who have stayed with us at our family holiday cottages here in the Charente Maritime region of France.

Restaurants for a special occasion

Le Scorlion restaurant, Saint Jean d’Angely

Le Scorlion is a superb restaurant located in the centre of Saint Jean d’Angely and overlooking the Abbey cloisters. Perfect for an intimate dinner for two. Excellent service, delicious food and superb price. Listed in the Michelin guide. Well worth asking me to babysit so you can have a grown up meal out one evening whilst staying with us.

menus from 27€ to 40€

Read more about Le Scorlion restaurant here…..

La Goule Beneze restaurant, Saint Jean d’Angely

 

 

 

 

Located just on the edge of Saint Jean d’Angely, La Goule Beneze is a small family run hotel and restaurant. Subsequently it offers a superb childrens menu and there may be families present who are staying in the hotel; however it still offers a grown up atmosphere with linen tablecloths and lovely table settings, so worth a special occasion.

The couple have travelled extensively and speak excellent English if you are struggling with the menu. The menu itself is well thought out, changes regularly with the season and has unusual flavours mixed with classic dishes.

menus from 26€ to 40€

childrens menu

Read more about La Goule Beneze restaurant here….

Les Pigeons Blancs restaurant, Cognac

Located on the edge of Cognac in beautiful grounds, Les Pigeons Blancs restaurant offers a lovely setting for a sunny outdoor meal or an intimate evening meal inside. The cheese platter is fantastic and you have to choose a minimum of 3 desserts – so make sure you are hungry !

menus from 27€ to 60€

childrens menu

Read more about Les Pigeons Blancs restauarant here…..

Christopher Coutanceau, La Rochelle

With 2 michelin stars, this is one for a very special occasion. I’d say it would be difficult to find a restaurant in the UK of such a high standard at such a reasonable price and pretty much impossible to find one with a high chair !

Located overlooking the beach in La Rochelle and at the entrance to the port area, you can watch the yachts sale in and out of the harbour whilst enjoying a superb meal.

Businessmen and woman frequent this establishment to impress their clients but we have eaten here with the children (because they love their food as much as we do !) and they are treated with the same respect as everyone (but they are very well behaved of course !)

menus from 68€ to 230€

Read more about Coutanceau restaurant here ….

Restaurants for all the family

The closest restaurants to our family holiday cottages can all be found just a short drive away (10mins) in Saint Jean d’Angely. All our local restaurants welcome families with well behaved children. All the following restaurants have a childrens menu.

Le Petit Bouchon restaurant, Saint Jean d’Angely

Le Petit Bouchon restauarant is located in the centre of our local town, Saint Jean d’Angely, just next to the indoor market ; so the perfect spot to eat after an hour or so browsing the market stalls on Wednesday and Saturday market days.

 

 

We have so far never eaten there but many of our guests have. One said he always eats there as it’s the best steak he’s ever eaten – quite an accolade. It has good reviews on Trip advisor

Le Cabanon restaurant, Saint Jean d’Angely

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We have eaten here at lunch and dinner and also for a coffee in the morning. The great thing about this restaurant is it’s open on Monday evenings when everything else is closed ! Plus it’s open all day for coffee. We experienced great service (as do most of their clients according to the excellent reviews on Trip advisor )

Le Moulin de la Baine restaurant, Chaniers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This has been a favourite of ours for many years. Set in a Colbert appointed water mill over the river Charente it provides a stunning setting for a long lunch on sunny Sunday afternoons. We often go for birthday celebrations with the whole family as the service is always excellent as the staff are used to waiting on large groups.

The restaurant is teemed with the Bernard Palissy boat which offers a mini cruise down the Charente river from Saintes ending at Le Moulin de la baine for a set menu and return trip from Tuesday to Sundays. Their speciality is a huge baked alaska, sometimes requiring several staff to carry it in for large groups.

They welcome families and children too and have a pleasant childrens menu. When they were very young we used to take it in turns between courses to take them exploring beneath the bridge through the tunnels where the river water rushes through – they loved it and it kept them happy during a long grown up lunch on sunny afternoons.

It is also lovely to walk over the bridge to the island where the canal meets the river and you can watch barges negotiating the lock.

Visit their web site here

Batia restaurant, Saintes

Located on a boat moored on the river in Saintes the Batia restaurant has a superb location. The menu is upmarket burgers and steak frites plus a few other more refined dishes. Nice ambience, especially on deck on a sunny day and it’s nicely decorated.

 

 

 

When we ate here the service was very slow but trip advisor reviews vary from excellent to awful so it obviously varies

Menus from 15€ to 27€

childrens menu

Visit their web site here

Saint Jean d’Angely restaurants

Saint Jean d’Angely only has a population of around 7000, the size of some villages in the UK; yet it boasts 3 large supermarkets and numerous smaller ones, an A&E unit/hospital a thrice weekly market and numerous bars and restaurants. Here’s a selection of the main ones.

Hotel Restaurant de la Place restaurant, Saint Jean d’Angely

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Located on the central place near the Maire. Good for an evening out ‘sans enfants’ . it is a hotel restaurant so will have families staying in the holidays but the restaurant is stylish and has large picture windows looking out onto the central square (although this is a car park)  With crisp linen tablecloths and a quiet atmosphere it is ideal for an intimate meal out. We ate here years ago before we had the children and really must go back as it has great trip advisor reviews

menus 25€ – 35€

childrens menu

Les Jacobins restaurant, Saint Jean d’Angely

 

 

 

 

 

This is a pizzeria restaurant serving wood fired pizzas for takeaway as well as to eat in but it also offers some great down to earth Italien and  French basics like steak frites, spaghetti bolognaise, confit de canard and carbonara. Perfect for a relaxed meal out with the children. It has a good sized inside restaurant plus a smaller outdoor terrace.

A la carte menu, pizzas around 8-10€; pastas around 8€

childrens menu

Le Mareyeur restaurant, Saint Jean d’Angely

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Le Mareyeur restaurant is principally a fish / seafood restaurant but with a couple of meat dishes thrown in . Not eaten here yet but has good trip advisor reviews and several of our families have had very enjoyable meals here so looks like it’s on our list to try out. Located on the furthest square from the centre but still only a few minutes walk from wherever you park in town. Has a nice terrace to the front for summer evenings.

menus 15€ to 30€

La Creperie de l’Abbeye and L’ancre Marine restaurants, Saint Jean d’Angely

La creperie de l’Abbeye and L’ancre marine are both creperies. Not my idea of a ‘meal’ but obviously very popular in this town. Great for a simple lunch maybe after the market.

Carottes et Gingembre vegetarian restaurant, Saint Jean d’Angely

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carottes et Gingembre (Carotts and ginger) is a vegetarian restaurant which is quite a novel thing in rural France so is subsequently quite popular. It also has vegan and gluten free options. It’s number two on trip advisor after Le Scorlion. Find out more on their web site here

menus 15 – 20€

These are just a selection of the main restaurants found around our family friendly holiday accommodation here in the Charente Maritime region of South West France.

Most families who stay with us tend to have lunches out when they are sightseeing then come back to the cottages and light up the barbecue or have a simple alfresco meal of fresh crusty bread, patés, cold meats and salads together with a crisp chilled glass of wine whilst sat watching the sun go down on their terrace. Occasionally they’ll have an intimate meal out one evening whilst I look after their children in their cottage or pop out with the kids to one of the bistros in Saint Jean d’Angely I’ve mentioned above. I’d love to receive comments from families who’ve stayed with us on how they enjoyed any of these restaurants . Thank you.

content by Wendy Blakeman

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What to see and do in the Charente Maritime

What to see and do in the Charente Maritime

charentemaritime2The Charente Maritime region is famous for its Cognac and Pineau production. There are many tiny villages and hamlets to explore. Quaint chateaux are common. Local delicacies include mussels in cream, goats cheese, honey and cake with angelica. Swimming, fishing, horse riding, golf, tennis and rowing are all available during the summer months in the local area. There are also many lovely country walks all year round. The landscape is gently rolling and ideal for cycling. Below we have listed some of the things there are to see and do for families, for children and for adults. the blue links are to blogs we have written on the subjects to give you more insight.

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There’s little need to venture further afield than our local town of St Jean d’Angely, just 10mins away, but if you do there’s a huge range of places to visit and things to do to suit all ages. Details of days out can be found in each of our gites, cottages and villas and you can always ask us too if you run out of ideas.

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At La Grange du Moulin and Les Vallaies we are just an easy 1 hour drive from the coast, beaches and the famous coastal resorts of La Rochelle, Royan and Rochefort. Its also about an hour to the inland towns of Angouleme, Niort and the area around Poitiers, so we are vey centrally located for the whole Charente Maritime Region. Closer to our gites, cottages and villas you will find Cognac, Saintes, St Savinien all within just 30mins drive.

If you would like further details on any of the places listed just ask. We also have many activities going on at some of our holiday cottages. We hold professional wine tastings on a regular basis throughout the summer, every week we have a walk through the vines that the whole family can enjoy. We hold large barbecues, where everyone joins in and for our younger guests we hold teddy bear picnics and pottery painting and even scuba diving at our child friendly properties.

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What to do with Children in the Charente Maritime:

  • Atlantys Swimming Centre in Saint Jean d’Angely – play pool, dive pool, swimming pool, big slide and hot tubs, great fun when its a rainy day or even when it’s too hot.
  • St Savinien – a must for the young ones, ride on the hand made electric boats around the lake
  • Aquarium – in La Rochelle, a great rainy day thing to do but top tip, go early or very late (it’s open until 11pm in summer)

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  • La Palmyre Zoo – the best in Europe, well known for it’s breeding and rescue programme and its interactivity with the animals
  • Futuroscope – perfect for older children, not so worth while for little ones though, a theme park with rides and a vision of the future
  • Fort Boyard – have you seen the programme ? Take a boat trip to view it (can’t go in but a lovely trip all the same)
  • Nautilys Water Park – a great day out for the whole family . Near Angouleme and with indoor and outdoor pools and slides, perfect for all weathers.
  • Donkey Sanctuary – See the famous shaggy haired Poitou Donkey
  • Valley des Singes – Surround yourselves with Monkeys and learn all about them.
  • ViviLnkPaleosite – watch Dad turn into a Neanderthal, learn to make fire and throw a spear
  • Playgrounds – are numerous in the area, St Jean d’Angely has a good one next to the lake so you can feed the ducks too
  • Karting – in St Jean d’Angely for the teenagers
  • Canoeing and Pedaloes – at the local loisier near the play park in Saint Jean d’Angely

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  • Chateau Branch or Acrobranch – tree top adventures for all levels of ability
  • Chateau des Enigmas – maze and quiz
  • Noahs ark – run by the world parrot trust
  • Puy du Fou – amazing – what can I say ! A couple of hours drive from us but perhaps worth stopping over on the way down or back home. There’s nothing quite like it anywhere else.
  • European zoo – at Chize for a quieter and closer zoo visit than the one at La Palmyre. European animals. Well laid out.
  • Iles aux serpents – discover reptiles
  • Comic Museum and Chocolate factory in Angouleme

For all the Family in the Charente Maritime

  • Markets – Thrice weekly in St Jean d’Angely
  • Beaches – From La Rochelle down to Royan
  • La Rochelle – for its shopping and amazing aquarium
  • Cognac – with its world famous distillery tours

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  • Saintes – a beautiful Roman town with a fantastic ampitheatre
  • Poitiers – with the superb ‘Futuroscope’ park
  • Bordeaux – and its world famous vineyards, beautiful city
  • Angouleme – has a great water park, museums and shopping
  • Niort – for its history and shopping
  • Rochefort – with the Hermione reconstruction and corderie royal

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  • Royan – with its European awarded animal park.
  • St Jean D’Angely – our local town, shops, markets, park and tourist office
  • Venis Verte – hire a boat and explore the waterways on a canoe or hire a guide
  • Glassworks – in Cognac
  • Cafes, bars and restaurants – in St Jean d’Angely and all the local towns

What to do in the Charente Maritime for Adults:

  • All the above of course plus
  • Golfing – there a number of golf courses within an easy drive
  • Fishing – from river and lake to fishing in the sea. Passes/permits readily available

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  • Concerts – are regularly held throughout the summer season, Cognac Blues and Francofolies in La Rochelle are two of the bigger ones but our local town of St Jean d’Angely regularly holds open air concerts and shows.
  • Scuba Diving – we regularly have discover scuba sessions for children but adults are welcome to join in or if you prefer we can organise private sessions and courses.

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So as you can see the Charente Maritime has a host of fabulous things to do and see and to keep you entertained on your family holiday to France

Content by Wendy Blakeman

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Jean Balluet – the alternative Cognac tour

Each week at our barbecues I bring out my now famous ‘chocolate chip cookie’ dessert and Chris brings down a frosty bottle of ‘Tempete de la mer’ (stormy sea) This delicious liqueur drips into your glass and then glides down your throat with the ease of melted chocolate and just as gorgeous. Its sweet and chilled with a slight ‘petillance’ and 30% alcohol,so its pretty lethal !

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The cries of ‘wow’ and ‘that’s delicious’ are heard every week and inevitably at least one family will make the 30 minute drive a day or so later to stock up on this ‘sparkling Cognac’ as we call it, to take home with them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cognac houses have never heard of it. It can only be found exclusively from Jean Balluet, the producer in Neuvicq le chateau, east of Saint Jean d’Angely.

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You can visit the Chateau too

Since many of our guests at our family holiday cottages visit Balluets, we rarely make the journey ourselves these days, we just ask them to buy a few bottles for us when they go, however last week we were completely out and since we were on our way back from Angouleme we popped in. This time our eldest son was with us. He hears the stories every week about Jean Balluet and his ‘alternative Cognac tour’ but has never been himself . It’s been about 15 years since we ourselves have done his tour around the distillery – we usually just pop in buy what we need and leave; but today we had some spare time and decided it was time Benjamin had the pleasure.

You would need to know where it was to find it, blink and you’d miss it. No big sign (I don’t think there’s any sign) and not much to look at. A few stainless steel tanks at the back, but those can be found all over the area, as many farmers produce wine to sell to the large Cognac houses to distill since we are in the fin bois region of Cognac vineyards. 2016-06-21 11.20.10 2016-06-21 11.20.45

Jean wasn’t there that day, it was Arlette, a neighbour and friend of Jeans who took us on the tour. (probably a good thing as Jean is quite the comedian but his jokes are a bit on the rude side – our 13 yr old would die of embarrassment !)
She starts the tour by getting you to look in the mirrors which are straight from the fairground – making you fat or thin or very short (they don’t do that on the Hennessy tour !)

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Arlette then locks the front door and takes you passed rows of barrels in a dark passage to where you have the tasting session. We passed by the next part as Benjamin was with us and it was only 11am ! This tasting of the Balluet Cognac and Pineau is legendary. You get to taste everything and you get huge glasses of the amber liquids – make sure you have a dedicated driver !!!

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The Cognac barrel is next – you get to take a big sniff and as you do Arlette blows through another hole so you get blown away by the Cognac fumes up your nostrils – certainly clears the airways (I always remember Jean asking for the lady with the largest chest and lowest cut top to bend down to the barrel for this trick !)

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You get to see where the grapes come into the distillery and the grapes are separated from the stalks in the grappoir. You are shown the maceration and storage tanks, the swan neck copper still and finally row upon row of barrels filled with eau de vie, maturing and waiting to be blended into Cognac. You are shown the whole process from beginning to end . This isn’t the glossy, slick tour of the famous Cognac houses – it’s the ‘real’ tour of a real working distillery. The floors are sticky, cobwebs hang in every nook and cranny, you bend to walk under pipes and past stainless steel tanks.

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La ‘piece de resistance’ is the tower ! Four flights up a dark, wooden staircase to a magnificent view of the surrounding countryside. 15 years ago it was just the view, now there is a big orientation map and two telescopes.

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Our son felt very privileged to of done the Jean Balluet tour that he had heard so much about; we are privileged to have such an excellent local Cognac producer who thinks outside the box and has developed new products to attract new business. Unfortunately they had run out of sparkling Cognac until the 10th July, so we shall be going back very soon. We did however buy some of his sparkling Pineau which is just as delicious (and slightly less deadly) the problem is it was so delicious we went through two bottles before the barbecue even got going !

To make a day of it, you should also visit the Siecq winery just a few minutes away. No tour but you can have a tasting of all they produce. We have a chilled bottle of their Sauvignon for our guests when they first arrive and use their Pinot noir on our Taste du Terroir evenings. They also do a superb sparkling wine (champagne method) for just 6€ so well worth a visit.

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If you have travelled to us in the car rather than flying you can also fill up plastic bottles of your own with their vrac wine sold by weight .

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In fact trying and buying local wines, Pineau and Cognac and being able to take some home with you is one of the main reasons we recommend driving to us here in the Charente Maritime ! For more information about our family holiday cottages visit our web sites

www.grangedumoulin.com

www.lesvallaies.com

www.french-gites-and-villas.com

Content by Wendy Blakeman

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Rainy day top ten things to do

1,  Aquarium

IMG_1312The aquarium in La Rochelle is the number one destination for all our families on a rainy day. Unfortunately everyone else has the same idea so either go early and get there at opening time or leave late in the afternoon and take advantage of the late night opening when it’s always much quieter

Find out more about the aquarium…..

2, Amuzetvous play centre

amuz_logoin Saintes, just a 30 min drive from our family holiday cottages this is the perfect indoor activity for children aged 0 – 12 years. A huge soft play frame of towers, tunnels, slides etc, four large enclosed trampolines, a baby ball pit for the littlest ones and even an ‘ice rink’ in summer. There is wifi and café and board games too. I have spent many a rainy afternoon with a friends playing scrabble and drinking hot chocolates whilst the children wear themselves out !

3, Paleosite

paleosite1A mostly indoor interactive museum about the ‘Pierette’ neanderthal skeleton found on the site. Activities such as making fire, spear throwing and morphing your face into a neanderthal keep the younger kids interested and lots of interesting facts for the older ones too. A perfect rainy day activity as much of it is indoors and only a 30 min drive away from our family holiday cottages.

Find out more about Paleosite…..

4, La Palmyre Zoo or Zoodysee

2016-02-22 15.40.47obviously these are much more enjoyable on a hot sunny day but both animal parks are located in woodland with very tall trees so unless it’s actually lashing down you are quite protected for the most part by the canopy.

Zoodysee is relatively local, about a 30 min drive so although not as good as La Palmyre (it’s European animals so lots of brown and often nocturnal animals ! So more of a pleasant woodland walk) it’s a better option if you just have to get the kids outside for a couple of hours to burn off some steam

Find out more about La Palmyre Zoo……

5, Corderie Royal

P1110578in Royan, an easy hours drive from our family holiday cottages. The royal rope making factory has some really interesting and family friendly activities. Learn how pulleys work by pulling on the ropes, be amazed at the length of the building, visit their regular special displays (we saw one on Shackletons Antartica voyage) It’s also next to the Hermione which although now finished and has travelled to Boston already, is regularly docked at Rochefort and may be visited.

Find out more about the Hermione here…..

6, Cognac distillery tour

IMG_0693Just a 30 min drive from our family holiday cottages, Cognac is a great rainy day activity as many of the tours are mostly indoors. The Hennessy tour is fast moving and you are only ever in one place for 5 minutes, it even includes a short trip in a boat. The lighting and smells will keep even toddlers interested (take some snacks to keep their mouths occupied just in case !) This area is all about Cognac so it’s a must when staying with us come rain or shine.

Find out more about Cognac tours….

7, McDonalds in Saintes

There are Mcdonalds all over the place of course but the one in Saintes is where I used to take my boys when they were little on a rainy day. It has a great play room – like a soft play tower with tubes and many levels.

They’d spend literally hours chasing each other and making friends and just come out to me when they needed a drink. For the price of a few soft drinks and a coffee the kids burn off steam and you can sit back and facebook or twitter all afternoon !

8, Restaurants

andres2-218x223A long lunch in a restaurant in La Rochelle – although not most parents idea of relaxing with young children !

Andrés in La Rochelle is a great choice. There are fish tanks to sit next to which have kept our two (when toddlers) happy while we tucked into our oysters.  They also have crayons and puzzle/coloring sheets and a good kids menu too.

After lunch you can take a walk through the streets which are for the most part covered walkways (designed to keep the sun off but works for rain too ! ) and if the rain should stop for a while there is the town beach which will keep them happy

Find out more about Andrés…..   and La Rochelle……

9, Laser Lander

laser2Laser Lander in Saintes is a great way to while away a few hours blasting each other with lasers. Get together with a couple of other families and all go together.

To extend the afternoon or if you have younger children (under 6) then a simple trip to McDonalds opposite Laser Lander is a good option as it has a great indoor play area.

Find out more about Laser Lander

10, Stay home

pigeonsblancs3Stay in your cottage with some local cheeses and local wines and have a tasting while the kids have popcorn and a movie on the sofa

As you can see there are lots of ideas for rainy day things to do when staying at our family holiday cottages here in the Charente Maritime region of France but since we have the second most sunshine hours in France after the south coast then rainy days are the exception rather than the rule. Fingers crossed you’ll be able to enjoy all these ideas – but in the sunshine !

Find out more about our family holiday cottages here…..

Happy Holidays

Content by Wendy Blakeman

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Wine tastings at our family holiday cottages

When staying at our family holiday cottages here in the Charente Maritime region of France we can offer exclusive wine tastings and other wine related activities. Professional wine tastings, Family vineyard tours and Taste du terroir social evenings which all add to mum and dads holiday enjoyment.

Our wine tastings and other wine related activities are organised by Chris Blakeman – our very own professional wine expert. He has made his living in the wine industry teaching ‘wine’ to employees, wine tasting as a judge at the international wine challenge and working within the hospitality industry for over 20 years. It is also a passionate hobby and he enjoys sharing his knowledge to all who are interested and dispelling some of the mystery which surrounds wine.

Wine

We are ideally situated in France, here in the Charente Maritime, the family holiday cottages are in fact in the heart of the Fin Bois region of Cognac and vines can be found in any direction. Bordeaux and its world famous vineyards are only a 1.5hr drive.

 

 Professional wine tastings at La Grange du Moulin

wine tasting

Six fine wines will be selected to give a well rounded and enjoyable tasting. The evening is intended to be an informal and friendly chat about wine where you feel at ease and able to ask any questions you wish about wine. Chris will go through in detail how to taste a wine including appearance, nose and taste. You will have the chance to make notes and discuss what you see, smell, think about each wine. No one will be put on the spot and you can say as much or as little as you wish. In all it lasts about 3 hours. Held in our front garden, baby monitors should reach from your cottage.

8 per group, no children. 30 euros per person.

 

 Family Vineyard walks at La Grange du Moulin

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Our family vineyard walks are held each week. We start with a cold glass of Pineau – the local tipple, for the adults and a short chat about this locally made drink. We then take a gentle stroll along the country lanes and tracks towards the vineyards. Stopping regularly along the way, Chris talks about the countryside, its history and uses today, how vines grow and why wine tastes like it does, plus anything else you would like to know. Lasts about 2hrs. Not strenuous, can take prams although a bit bumpy through the vines.

min 4 adults, 8 euros per adult, free for children

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Taste du Terroir evenings at our family holiday cottages

If you can’t make on of our wine tastings we have Taste du Terroir evenings as an alternative (or as well as !) or as an extra social evening. Here we have a selection of local produce, wines and food all sourced from within 20km of our gites and produced by small family owned enterprises. Held early evening and in the garden so the children can play whilst mum and dad enjoy the local delicacies – not a meal, more of an aperitif, very relaxed and informal. You can chat to Chris about the wines and Wendy about the food or just chat to the other guests about anything at all.

min 6 adults, 15 euros per adult

2015-06-17 18.04.43For full details of our family holiday cottages here in the Charente Maritime, France visit our web site www.grangedumoulin.com We have a range of cottages to choose from for all the family or if you prefer we also have several stand alone private villas which would be ideal for a group of adults wanting to enjoy a relaxing wine themed holiday. Find out more at  www.french-gites-and-villas.com

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What to see and do in the Charente Maritime

charentemaritime2The Charente Maritime region is famous for its Cognac and Pineau production. There are many tiny villages and hamlets to explore. Quaint chateaux are common. Local delicacies include mussels in cream, goats cheese, honey and cake with angelica. Swimming, fishing, horse riding, golf, tennis and rowing are all available during the summer months in the local area. There are also many lovely country walks all year round. The landscape is gently rolling and ideal for cycling. Below we have listed some of the things there are to see and do for families, for children and for adults. the blue links are to blogs we have written on the subjects to give you more insight.

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There’s little need to venture further afield than our local town of St Jean d’Angely, just 10mins away, but if you do there’s a huge range of places to visit and things to do to suit all ages. Details of days out can be found in each of our gites, cottages and villas and you can always ask us too if you run out of ideas.

IGND17

At La Grange du Moulin and Les Vallaies we are just an easy 1 hour drive from the coast, beaches and the famous coastal resorts of La Rochelle, Royan and Rochefort. Its also about an hour to the inland towns of Angouleme, Niort and the area around Poitiers, so we are vey centrally located for the whole Charente Maritime Region. Closer to our gites, cottages and villas you will find Cognac, Saintes, St Savinien all within just 30mins drive.

If you would like further details on any of the places listed just ask. We also have many activities going on at some of our holiday cottages. We hold professional wine tastings on a regular basis throughout the summer, every week we have a walk through the vines that the whole family can enjoy. We hold large barbecues, where everyone joins in and for our younger guests we hold teddy bear picnics and pottery painting and even scuba diving at our child friendly properties.

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What to do with Children in the Charente Maritime:

  • Atlantys Swimming Centre in Saint Jean d’Angely – play pool, dive pool, swimming pool, big slide and hot tubs, great fun when its a rainy day or even when it’s too hot.
  • St Savinien – a must for the young ones, ride on the hand made electric boats around the lake
  • Aquarium – in La Rochelle, a great rainy day thing to do but top tip, go early or very late (it’s open until 11pm in summer)

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  • La Palmyre Zoo – the best in Europe, well known for it’s breeding and rescue programme and its interactivity with the animals
  • Futuroscope – perfect for older children, not so worth while for little ones though, a theme park with rides and a vision of the future
  • Fort Boyard – have you seen the programme ? Take a boat trip to view it (can’t go in but a lovely trip all the same)
  • Nautilys Water Park – a great day out for the whole family . Near Angouleme and with indoor and outdoor pools and slides, perfect for all weathers.
  • Donkey Sanctuary – See the famous shaggy haired Poitou Donkey
  • Valley des Singes – Surround yourselves with Monkeys and learn all about them.
  • ViviLnkPaleosite – watch Dad turn into a Neanderthal, learn to make fire and throw a spear
  • Playgrounds – are numerous in the area, St Jean d’Angely has a good one next to the lake so you can feed the ducks too
  • Karting – in St Jean d’Angely for the teenagers
  • Canoeing and Pedaloes – at the local loisier near the play park in Saint Jean d’Angely

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  • Chateau Branch or Acrobranch – tree top adventures for all levels of ability
  • Chateau des Enigmas – maze and quiz
  • Noahs ark – run by the world parrot trust
  • Puy du Fou – amazing – what can I say ! A couple of hours drive from us but perhaps worth stopping over on the way down or back home. There’s nothing quite like it anywhere else.
  • European zoo – at Chize for a quieter and closer zoo visit than the one at La Palmyre. European animals. Well laid out.
  • Iles aux serpents – discover reptiles
  • Comic Museum and Chocolate factory in Angouleme

For all the Family in the Charente Maritime

  • Markets – Thrice weekly in St Jean d’Angely
  • Beaches – From La Rochelle down to Royan
  • La Rochelle – for its shopping and amazing aquarium
  • Cognac – with its world famous distillery tours

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  • Saintes – a beautiful Roman town with a fantastic ampitheatre
  • Poitiers – with the superb ‘Futuroscope’ park
  • Bordeaux – and its world famous vineyards, beautiful city
  • Angouleme – has a great water park, museums and shopping
  • Niort – for its history and shopping
  • Rochefort – with the Hermione reconstruction and corderie royal

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  • Royan – with its European awarded animal park.
  • St Jean D’Angely – our local town, shops, markets, park and tourist office
  • Venis Verte – hire a boat and explore the waterways on a canoe or hire a guide
  • Glassworks – in Cognac
  • Cafes, bars and restaurants – in St Jean d’Angely and all the local towns

What to do in the Charente Maritime for Adults:

  • All the above of course plus
  • Golfing – there a number of golf courses within an easy drive
  • Fishing – from river and lake to fishing in the sea. Passes/permits readily available

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  • Concerts – are regularly held throughout the summer season, Cognac Blues and Francofolies in La Rochelle are two of the bigger ones but our local town of St Jean d’Angely regularly holds open air concerts and shows.
  • Scuba Diving – we regularly have discover scuba sessions for children but adults are welcome to join in or if you prefer we can organise private sessions and courses.

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So as you can see the Charente Maritime has a host of fabulous things to do and see and to keep you entertained on your family holiday to France

Content by Wendy Blakeman

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Rémy Martin Cognac house

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It was my Birthday on Wednesday and we had cleared our schedule for the day so we could have a ‘day out’. After 20 years of living in the Fin Bois region of Cognac we have visited many of the large names – Otard, Martell and our favourite – Hennessey but since Hennessey is closed for the summer this year we thought we’d try one we had never been to before and a little harder to get to – Rémy Martin.

It is located just a few km from the center of Cognac, on an industrial estate. The web site recommends booking a tour in advance and indeed if you just turn up there didn’t seem anyway of accessing the reception as the gates appeared to be kept locked, security also was quite tight with hand bags being checked on entering – very different to Hennesseys relaxed ‘open door’ shop and tour reception area. Still we had booked so were let in by the security guard. We were on the 11am English tour and there was another at 1.30pm. The 1.30pm tour seems to be a regular event but the 11am one is ‘on demand’ depending on numbers of anticipated or booked visitors.

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The tour lasts 1hr30 which is split into a 1hr tour and then 30 mins in the tasting room and shop. We had heard there you tour on a ‘train’ which goes into the vines – we thought this might be a great Cognac tour for our guests at our La Grange du Moulin and Les Vallaies family friendly holiday cottages since most have young children so a tour about Cognac needs to be fast moving and visually stimulating enough to keep the children happy whilst Mum and Dad learn about this delicious drink ! The Hennessey tour starts with a boat ride across the river and the Remy train ride sounded just as good !

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Our guide Max was excellent, he spoke perfect English with a wonderful accent. He regularly asked if we had understood and made a point of saying we must tell him if we don’t – I suspect they receive numerous complaints from foreign tourists moaning that the tour guides don’t speak perfect English – likely a reflection of the ignorant tourist rather than the tour guides. The tour started with a description of the Cognac region, terroir and the history of the Rémy Martin company, a company founded in 1724 by a young wine grower in the region and is now in its 5th generation. We took our ‘train’ which actually turned out to be a row of electric carts which we hopped on and off throughout the tour as it took us to the different ‘chai’ on the large estate. We did pass some vines located on the estate, but just a few – we have far more within a short walk of our family holiday cottages.

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 We were told about the barrel making process, visited one of their many chai and told about the ageing process and also visited their oldest chai filled with barrels containing eau de vies over 100 years old and from which they make their most prestigious Louis 13th Cognac at 2600€ a bottle – we didn’t get to taste this one ! They do however do a Louis 13th tour which is by appointment only and includes a full day including a gourmet lunch and of course a tasting of this very special Cognac – I suspect it costs a little more than our 18€ ticket.

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Our tour ended with a tasting of their VSOP and XO cognacs which were each paired with an ‘amuse bouche’ – A parmesan galette with roquefort cream for the VSOP and a divine passion fruit macaroon with chocolate filling with the XO – they really worked well together with the Cognacs. The children were given a fresh orange juice with some biscuits and a few sweets.

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All in all we had a lovely day. It was a professional tour including everything you needed to know about Rémy Martin and Cognacs in general however although our children aged 12 and 9 were welcome (and free) and the tour held their interest, for much younger children it wasn’t as visually stimulating (for little ones) or as fast moving as the Hennesey tour and the ‘train’ wouldn’t hold muster with even the youngest of kids !

content by Wendy Blakeman

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les Pigeons Blancs – restaurant Cognac

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Today we were celebrating a friends birthday and decided to try a new restaurant – well new to us any way, the restaurant and hotel have been in existence since 1973 but we have only just got around to going and we are so glad we did.

Les Pigeons Blancs is set on the edge of the town of Cognac (of the drink fame) which is an easy 20-30 min drive from our family holiday cottages here in the Charente Maritime region of France. The hotel has been home to the Tachet family since the 17th century and has been a ‘relais de poste’ since Francois 1st. Family member, Jaques Tachet is the chef.

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It is set in beautiful gardens filled with oak and walnut trees, rose bushes and well manicured lawns. We visited on a perfect day, the sun was shining, the temperature a very pleasant 28c with a gentle breeze – perfect for a long lazy birthday lunch.

We chose the 5 course degustation menu at 59€ a head with one of us choosing a supplement of 16€ for the lobster – the menu was excellent value but the lobster supplement was not, it was a very small lobster dish and not worth the extra 16€ on top when the perfectly cooked sea bass alternative was included in the menu. We had a foie gras starter, the fish course, then duck, cheese and dessert.

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It was a refreshing change to find the cheese course included as so menu restaurants these days seem to be offering it as a supplement.

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We also had a childrens menu (19€) which was a delicately cooked piece of salmon served with risotto followed by a choice of desserts from the dessert trolley – we always think its a sign of a very good restaurant when they offer a grown up childrens menu which any adult would be happy to eat.

The dessert trolley was fab – we were told by Jean-Michel that we had to choose a MINIMUM of 3 desserts so here is our youngest with his strawberry creme brulee, raspberry charlotte and coffee meringue !

 

One of our party also chose the 38€ ‘le nez du marché’ menu which is described as  1/3 of fresh produce, – 1/3 of Skill, – 1/3 of Friendship … Jean- Michel describes the options in detail and it is all the more charming and feels more ‘spontaneous’ than being written on a board. Catherine and Jean – Michel are so relaxed and friendly, you feel very welcome; despite it being a ‘gastronomic restaurant’ there is no stuffiness; we had a very relaxing and enjoyable meal.

Since we welcome families with children, toddlers and babies to our holiday cottages here in France it would not make sense to simply go for a gastronomic meal and then go straight ‘home’ again so we recommend working off some of those desserts with a walk around the André Mermet park, just a couple of km away from the Pigeons Blancs restaurant. Its a bit far to walk with young children although you could take the river bank walk with a buggy which would be beautiful on a sunny day (we were lazy and took the car !)

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Being a very sunny Sunday the park was very busy, filled with families barbecuing, picniking and  eating in the onsite café/bar . There are bouncy castles (optional extra fee)

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a play park, petanque court, huge sandpit, football ground, zip wire, lots of trees, park benches and tables and lots of space to run around and work off that lunch

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all set on the edge of the Charente river where you can hire pedaloes and canoes, go swimming or go for a walk

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All in all a lovely family day out, you could really make a full day out by visiting one of the many Cognac houses in the morning before lunch !

For full details of all our family holiday cottages in the Charente Maritime department of France visit our web site 

Content by Wendy Blakeman

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Gillardeau oysters

gillardeau1 We first discovered the Gillardeau oyster dining at Andrés seafood restaurant in La Rochelle. Chris adores oysters and has been known to eat literally a bucket full (picked off the beach by a good French friend of ours) but when he discovered the Gillardeau there was no going back ! We are obviously not the only ones as the Gillardeau company has a 24/7 boutique where you can pop in at 2am when the oyster urge hits and use their oyster vending machine which not only supplies boxes of 18 oysters but the lemons and oyster knives to go with them and with the credit card machine next to it you don’t even need cash !

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The Gillardeau oyster beds and boutique are about an hours drive from our family holiday cottages here in the Charente Maritime department of France, so we don’t often jump in the car in the middle of the night to pick up a box even though they are incredibly delicious! It’s really more of a treat for a birthday or, as happened yesterday, we were passing on our way back from the kite festival in Chatelaillon and picked up a couple of boxes for our Easter lunch with friends tomorrow.

The Gillardeau family has been in the business of farming oysters for well over a 100 years. Originally it was Henri Gillardeau who had a passion for oysters and was so proud of the quality of his produce that he was one of the first to put his name to his oysters. In the 70’s Gerard Gillardeau took oyster farming to a new level and created in 1978 ‘The Gillardeau’ a method of farming oysters that creates a superb and consistent  product leading it to be one of the most highly sort after oysters in the world.

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The method of course has its secrets  but the basis for excellence is, after an initial 9 months in oyster parks the oysters are then transferred to bags in deep sea water for a further 3 years. The key is low density, so the oysters have space to grow plus a highly intensive program of care where the Gillardeau team watch over the oysters, moving them, cleaning and turning them to produce this world renowned quality oyster.

During our holiday season we often have ‘seafood evenings’ where guests enjoy a stroll around our local Saint Jean d’Angely market and pick up oysters and mussels (and occasionally lobster too) to enjoy at the social evening.

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Many of our families love oysters, others arn’t so sure, perhaps having had a ‘bad’ experience in the past or never having tried them or being unsure of how to open and eat them. Chris is passionate about teaching those who want to learn the art of this gastronomic delight ! He will show you how to open them (we provide the oyster knives you provide the oysters !) and then most importantly how to tell if they are fresh. A good rule is if they are hard to open then they are still alive as the muscle that keeps the shell closed is still active, but a further assurance is the scent – they should smell sweetly of the sea – if you arn’t sure then the best rule is throw it away. Of all the hundreds of oysters we have eaten we have never once been ill.

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Oysters are very high in mineral content and this is one cause of some peoples possible intolerance to oysters, we know one guest who simply adores them but everytime he tries one he comes out in an awful rash.

Another one of Chris’ tips is to refresh the oysters in fresh water. My first taste of oysters was not pleasant as they had been left sitting in sea water and it was so salty it nearly made me gag, it was inedible. By refreshing them – a quick dip once opened in fresh water, you remove the sea water and retain the sweet salty creaminess of the oyster itself.

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Families are often surprised that we eat oysters in summer, having heard the old wives tale of only eating oysters when there is an ‘r’ in the month ie not summer; this comes from the days before refrigeration and high speed transport, when oysters were taken inland on horse and cart which in the hot summer months wouldn’t of been a good idea ! However when water temperatures warm, wild oysters are induced to spawn creating a ‘milky’ appearance, they are perfectly safe to eat, its just the taste is not as good, however in these days of controlled production techniques if you are buying your oysters from a reputable supplier and not picking them off the beach, this does not happen – Gillardeau in fact state their oysters ‘never become milky’.

After shucking and eating our oysters we then whip up a pan of mussels but you can read more about this in our ‘seafood evening’ post.

Our Gillardeau oysters are in the fridge together with a delicious Pouilly Fumé ( de Ladoucette 2011 to be exact)  that we also picked up from the Gillardeau boutique – they have an excellent choice of wines, chilled champagne and other local delights such as Ile de Ré salt, Pineau de Charentes, Cognac as well as gifts and essentials like lemons, butter and onions in red wine vinegar.

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For more information on the nutritional content of oysters and how to open, keep and eat oysters visit the Gillardeau web site here www.speciales-gillardeau.fr . For further infrmation on our family holiday cottages exclusively for families with young children, toddlers and babies visit our web sites La Grange du Moulin and Les Vallaies

My mouth is watering just thinking of the delicious creaminess of the Gillardeau oysters, the warm spring sunshine, chilled wine and the good company of our friends. We hope you enjoy your Easter as much as we are.

Content By Wendy Blakeman

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Cognac

All Cognac is brandy but not all brandy is Cognac – Cognac can only be made in a specific area surrounding this French town of the same name in the Charente department of the Poitou-Charente region of western France just an easy 30min drive from our family holiday accommodation.

The town itself is a prosperous one with medieval cobbled streets that fan out from a delightful riverside quarter.  On the river is where you’ll find the largest concentration of chais or cellars where the Cognac is matured.  It’s not hard to spot these world famous chais as their walls are covered with ”torula coniacensis” a microscopic fungus which feeds on the vapours of alcohol, known as the ”Angels’s Share”.  There are many Cognac houses to visit including Otard, Martell and Hennessy Cognac, which keeps 180,000 barrels in stock. Here (and in all the distilleries) you’ll discover the fine art of Cognac making and the secret of blending, as all run regular tours throughout the year and all end with a tasting.

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Martell distillery

We highly recommend participating in one of these organised tours as even young children are kept interested.  Cognac is what our area is all about and you should not miss learning more about it. The vineyards growing grapes for the Cognac industry are grown in 6 zones which all have differing ‘terroirs’ (soil/rock compositions)

 

These differing terroirs give the wines and subsequently the eau de vies, they produce differing properties – some giving body and depth, others giving longevity – essentially Cognac is a blended product and it is down to the expertise of each ‘houses’ master taster to ensure the specific character of their individual product year in year out . Our own family holiday accommodation is in the Fin Bois zone and we have our very own local Cognac producer 2 mins away from our cottages ! Producers of Cognac must obtain an Appellation d’origine contrôlée meaning its production methods must meet certain quality requirements. In particular, it must be made from specified grapes such as Ugni blanc, which makes for rather an acidic wine – but is perfect for distillation, it is distilled twice in copper stills and aged for at least two years in French oak barrels from the Limousin or Tronçais forests but you will learn all about the ins and outs on your tour.

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Otard Cognac house is set in the Chateau de Cognac or Chateau des Valois as it is also known

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hennessey tour is quick moving and although lasting 1hr15 it never stops for more than 5 or 10mins in one place, with lots of exciting sounds and smells inside the chai to keep even the littlest holidaymaker entertained – there’s even a boat trip across the river. We particularly enjoy the short film with the sounds and sites of the Vendange or grape harvest, as having participated in this experience every year since we moved here, we can vouch for the fact it is a very realistic view of how it is – children laughing and playing, the chatter of the pickers and yes even singing !

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Vendange 2014 – the boys are old enough now to actually do some work rather than just eating the grapes !

 

The layout of the tour means you can always sneak out if toddler has a ‘terrible twos’ moment and rejoin when he’s ready to carry on . You can also bribe them with a trip to the park afterwards – we always did when ours were tiny.

 

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André mermet parc, loads of space to run and play

The Andre Mermet park in Cognac has loads of fun things for children including bouncy castles and a splash pool in peak season. All the play equipment is free to use but for access to the bouncy castles and splash pool you will need to purchase a wristband but gives access all day long. You could spend the whole day there or pop to and fro perhaps spending lunch at the nearby La Courtine restaurant, set close to the river Charente. It has a ‘pub’ like interior, so it’s informal dining but has a superb terrace , so a beautiful spot to enjoy a relaxed lunch on a warm summers day. We have eaten there several times and always had a delicious meal.

You can park for free along the river and walk up into the town itself where you’ll find lots more restaurants of all flavours and budgets; there’s lots of cafés, brasseries and fine dining, so something for everyone – you may prefer just to take a picnic and sit in the jardin public a lovely green space in the center of town, watching the world go by. There are lots of shopping opportunities and a morning market which is on Tuesday to Sunday and also lots of cultural sites to see too; museums, the church Saint Léger, the chateau des Valois and lots of beautiful French medieval architecture such as the Maison de la Lieutenance.

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Cognac town center

If you’d like to visit Cognac then why not take a look at our family holiday accommodation we have on offer close by. Visit us at

www.french-gites-and-villas.com and

www.child-friendly-gites.com

Content By Wendy Blakeman 

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