Combine a birthday, sunny French skies, superb cuisine and more than few glasses of champagne with close friends and family and you’ve got the perfect long-weekend break
We’re always up for an invitation to a birthday party – even more so when its in France at a lovely villa close by to a delightful French town that offers so many distractions.
Boarding the Portsmouth – St.Malo Brittany Ferries ship on a grey evening in September is every encouragement to start our weekend break early by booking into the on board restaurant, before retiring to our cabin for a good night’s rest.
It’s always a pleasure to awaken to a bright sunny sky and we, along with our travelling companions Kelvin and Kerry, elect to make a start on the drive to Dinan in order to have breakfast in France. The drive to Dinan (not to be confused with Dinard that is across the river from St. Malo) is surprisingly short and no sooner have our tummies started to rumble than we’ve parked in the main town and are wandering around in search of sustenance.
Not having been here before we’re immediately impressed by the clean and smart ‘city’ feel of the main town and within a few minutes we’ve started climbing into the older part of town. We’re under the impression that we’d like to have breakfast in the port, so the steady climb suggests that we’re not heading towards sea level. We find that we’ve skirted the old city walls and are now gazing down a steep slope towards the River Rance and the pretty port of Dinan that nestles alongside its banks.
The lads immediately set off down a precarious zig-zag track more suited to a donkey than ladies in high heels but as we keep sufficiently far ahead of them only get a talking to when we reach river level. Their ill-humour is soon tempered by the sight of little bistro bars setting up tables on the waterfront in the sunshine for breakfast. We settle into a table at Le Papillon hotel/bar on 27 Rue du Quai and ask in our rudimentary French for coffee, orange juice and croque-madame.
‘Cor’ says the waitress in a broad north-England accent, ‘Chef and I take bets on what the Brits will request for breakfast and neither of us guessed that!’ Not disappointed to disappoint we bask in the sun until breakfast arrives and are duly pleased with the result. After another coffee and a few minutes persuading Kelvin that he doesn’t want a cognac just yet, we head off back towards the main town – but this time via the old cobbled street of Rue du Petit Fort (which we’d obviously missed on the way down).
The street is an absolute pleasure to climb and the ever increasing steepness of it is dispelled by the array of little shops and fascinating architecture of this olde worlde thoroughfare.
The girls are distracted by a little jewellery/bead shop that specialises in creating jewellery from millions of beads, shells, gems or ornaments that fill the shop. Once again, we’re surprised to find that the shop is owned and run by a Brit whose been in Dinan for thirteen years – and despite our dismay at the significant British presence here, it does make purchasing small additional birthday gifts that much easier.
We can’t delay too long as we’re the advance guard for the main birthday group. We’re tasked with finding the luxury farmhouse accommodation that’s been booked (through Luxury Gites, Brittany) but as the Rue du Petit Fort migrates into Rue du Jerzual and we pass upwards from port into town there are constant distractions in these beautifully picturesque streets to delay us even further.
Safely settled back into Kelvin’s sumptuous new Jaguar XF, we’re whisked into the countryside for a tour that’s extended by the deplorable satnav that’s fitted in his car and Kelvin’s inability to decipher five simultaneous instructions from all of us. The Satnav takes us (using the postcode facility) into a dead-end dirt track with a farmhouse, where a perplexed farmer’s wife asks what we want. She proves to be our saviour by kindly phoning around until she finds someone who knows where the correct farmhouse is and giving us instructions accordingly.
After another twenty minutes driving we finally pitch up at the correct address in Plenee Jugon (having to ask for further instructions en route) and draw into the drive of a neatly refurbished long low farmhouse glowing in the sun with the mellow pastel shades of its stonework.
We make our presence known (with the English caretaker – the British owners reside in Guernsey) and drop our bags, golf clubs, tennis rackets and any other superfluous items to give us space for a big supermarket jaunt we’re next tasked with.
We head off towards the nearest town of Lambolle and having exhausted ourselves in choosing all the things that any self-respecting party animals would need in the way of meats, cheeses and wines can’t resist stopping at the nearest Plennee Jugon bar on our return for a glass or two of ‘pression’ beer to truly cement our arrival in France.
We’ve no sooner arrived back at our luxury farmhouse than the ‘mob’ arrive, which turns our refined group of four into a raucous group of ten; including Georgie whose birthday it is in a couple of days’ time.
We’re allocated our rooms (we’d resisted commandeering them ourselves, thinking this not in the spirit of invited guests’ protocol), each of which has its own distinct character and style. The only reservation any of us have is that en-suite facilities are limited, which raises the prospect of midnight encounters in the hallways. The overall ambiance of the farmhouse is lovely and there’s plenty of surrounding grounds to enjoy the Jacuzzi/pool and to set up badminton net, pitching range for golf and to dine al fresco in the balmy evenings.
It’s a common denominator among the invitees that we all enjoy good company and even better food and wine, so no sooner have we all greeted one another than the party is underway for the evening – and for the next three days – with each couple taking it in turns to manage the evening meal whilst others buzz around refilling glasses or helping to prepare food or entertainment.
It’s a great formula for a get-together, whatever the occasion and there’s little to better like-minded people sharing time together in fun and harmony for a short time. As another friend of ours says; ‘Fish and friends go off after three days’, so its a formula we’re all mindful of; albeit we’ve spent many a happy week or two with this particular bunch in skiing or sailing where the constant challenge of the sport keeps everyone honest.
Les Clos was sufficiently spacious to enable private spaces to read or chat if we needed them and your only real consideration is whether you are happy with the relative isolation of Plenee Jugon.
Our next post invites you to our niece, Georgie’s, birthday party at l’Atelier Gourmand’ in Dinan Port.
In the meantime we’re just getting stuck into ‘Cranium’ by starlight on the patio and its now we really appreciate there being no neighbours to disturb!
Here are links to the various places we visited/stayed during our long-weekend break.
Le Papillon – the quayside breakfast halt
La Perlerie – Facebook link for the Beadshop at 26 Rue du Petit Fort, Dinan
Les Clos, Plenee Jugon – from the Luxury Gites in Brittany website
l’Atelier Gourmand, 4 Rue du Quai, Dinan – sadly no website but its the restaurant you’ll learn about in our next post