Wanderlust: Strong longing for or impluse toward wandering (source)
Imagine you own a house in the French countryside, where you live with your dogs and horses. Now imagine that you want to spend Christmas with your family in the U.K.
Such situations are exactly what the website Trusted Housesitter sets out to resolve. Once you have signed up, then all you need to do is list photos of your house, the dates you’re away, and what animals needs to be looked after. Then people can apply to look after your house and beloved (usually furry) friends for no cost. You give them accommodation; they look after your animals. Like many online platforms that rely on trust to some degree, they use upfront identity checks and follow-up reviews to try and keep people honest.
We recently made use of Trusted Housesitter to find a house in the Aquitaine region in France, where we spent a week over Christmas. For those of you who don’t know so much about European geography at the regional level, then look at the map below and think mustard yellow and south-west (that’s bottom-left, for the even more geographically challenged).
Bordeaux is the capital of the Aquitaine region, and it is a historical city that is famed for its red wine. When photographed from a particular angle in certain climatic conditions, part of Bordeaux looks like this. That is, quite nice.
I understand the central city is UNESCO heritage listed. We spend three nights in Bordeaux itself, and especially enjoyed walking through the Old Town, along the river, and then looping back through the old wine district. I could actually see myself living and loving here. Bordeaux is lively, with good restaurants and bars, without too much hustle and bustle.
From a transport perspective, the most interesting aspect of Bordeaux is probably the LRT; in the city centre the system is powered by induction loops embedded in the pavement. I understand the use of induction was prompted by the desire to avoid the visual polllution caused by overhead wires. Like most innovative technologies, this one has encountered its share of reliability issues. Could cities like Auckland learn from the issues Bordeaux encountered?
The city itself is also very flat, and I was somewhat surprised with the lack of cycle infrastructure, especially compared to the Netherlands and even Paris.
Nevertheless, after three nights in Bordeaux itself, we grabbed our hire car and escaped to the Aquitaine countryside to take up residence. The house we were living in was located in a little hamlet called Lunas, which was about 15 minutes drive north from Bergerac. The house we stayed in (with our Dutch friend Nienke) was rather delightful, as shown below.
During our stay we were charged with looking after Filou (brown dog), Elmo (black dog), Thomas (black horse), and Blue (white horse). I am pleased to report that all are still alive, even though Thomas did try and have a chew of my jacket.
During the middle of the day we ventured forth to surrounding towns and villages. Aquitaine is an interesting region partly because it was ruled by the English royals for approximately 300 years from 1154 until the end of the so-called Hundred Year’s War in 1453, when it was annexed by France (source). Thereafter the region sustained a high proportion of French Protestants, or Huguenots, at least until St Bartholomew’s Day massacre, military defeats, and loss of rights resulted in sustained emigration to new world countries with more tolerant religious climes (NB: Game of Thrones fans may want to read-up on these events, as I understand they inspired the Red Wedding scene). Or for a somewhat related take on the European (Norman) influence on England, some of you might be interested in this article.
Partly because of this historical legacy, Aquitaine is peppered with partially fortified villages, called Bastides, which combined a central marketplace, church, and fortification. On our day-trips we visited several lovely small villages, such as St Emilion, Perigueux, Limeuil, and Monpazier. Here’s a couple of pics to tease the taste-buds. We were there in winter, so many of the shops were shut. Nonetheless, we always found somewhere decent to eat and as well as some talented local artisans hawking their wares. I have heard, and can imagine, that these places bustle during the peak summer months.
Our week in Aquitaine makes a hard man crumble like a freshly-baked croissant. The food was amazing, and very affordable. We ate several three course lunch meals for 15 Euro, or 23 NZD. And when I say three course meal, I am talking about a shrimp risotto entree, marinated roast duck mains, with creme brulee for dessert. That is, a decent poke of the tasty food stick for a small piece of the old travel budget. I’d highly recommend the restaurant Euskadi, Bergerac. For those who don’t know, lunch is a serious event in France — and most tourist places will shut between 12-2pm. Be warned and plan ahead; I’d recommend joining them in enjoying a slow lunch.
One of the most impressive things about Aquitaine is that it’s quite wild. In the woods close to where we were staying, wild deer and boar roamed relatively freely, at least until they were hobbled by a hunter. Indeed, one long-term upside of the gradual decline of rural areas in many parts of Europe is the gradual “re-wilding” of marginal land that was previously used for farming. This is a topic to which I’ll return in a future post, as it’s been the topic of considerable debate, especially when it is accompanied with the return of mega-fauna, such as bears and wolves (source).
Either way, the key messages of this post are:
- If you are an animal lover with wanderlust, then check out TrustedHousesitter.com. The site operates in many countries around the world, including New Zealand and Australia. If you’re somewhat flexible, then it’s a great cost-effective way to travel and also puts you in touch with locals who can advise on things to do.
- If you want to go off slightly the beaten track in France, then I’d recommend Aquitaine. You can easily spend 1-2 weeks visiting the towns and villages, even in winter. If you’re short on time, then I can recommend St Emilion — as it’s close to Bordeaux and has a wonderful monolithic cathedral in the centre of town.
- Rural areas around the world are struggling with demographic, environmental, and technological change. Is it possible for government policy to help rural areas transition their economy away from marginal extractive and/or agricultural industries? In ways that will benefit both urban and rural areas? I’ll be pondering such issues in an upcoming post.
Until next time, travel safe. And to finish, here’s some lovely street art from Bordeaux. Goodbye concrete; hello psychedelic wolverines. Have any of you travelled in theAquitaine region? If so then please feel free to share your experiences and advice in the comments section. I’d personally be keen to know a bit more about the Atlantic coast, which we didn’t visit on this trip — but may do on another.