Many Irish people, driving down to the south west of France and the neighbouring area of Spain, will know the Charente town of Saintes as a name on an autoroute signpost, north of Bordeaux. Which is a pity really as it is very nice small town with highlights such as the massive Abbaye aux Dames and its Roman remains: Arc Germanicus and the Arena.

I found another couple of good reasons to like the place last Thursday, namely the 2 star Hotel Au Terminus and the nearby restaurant called La Taverne de Maitre Kanter. Had driven without a bother from Arles to Saints and while booking into the hotel, near the Railway station, I met the lovely couple of Catherine and Jean Jacques who own and run this small old-fashioned establishment.

Jean Jacques was very helpful in helping us unload and in parking the car in a private garage behind the hotel. At this stage, we also became acquainted with their dog called Speed. Later on we met Catherine who has excellent English and is also very helpful. We saw her in action directing a couple and their children how best to spend their few hours in the town.

We were familiar enough with Saintes but did ask about the restaurants – the hotel doesn’t have one, though the beautiful 1920s room where we had breakfast the following morning used to be one and is also used for the once monthly (last Friday) Jazz Night. Catherine recommended a few eateries including one about 200 metres away who do excellent French food and give a free drink to customers of Au Terminus.

We had a bit of time to spare before eating so adjourned to the small hotel bar which prides itself on local aperitifs. Catherine was delighted when I ordered a couple of Pineaus and, while pouring, told us it came from a top local producer who has been doing it for generations. It was gorgeous for sure.

At the restaurant, our free drink turned out to be a glass of quality rose each and we followed that up with 50cl of Bordeaux red (Bellevue) for €9.00. The three course fixed price meal was €22.00. My starter was a trio of tomatoes  (yellow tomatoes, red and a cold soup) with mozzarella.  The mains was a millefeuillie of very tender beef served with shallots and chips and dessert was crepes with mandarin sauce. Very satisfactory indeed.

The following day, Friday the 24th, was also quiet on the roads towards Nantes. We had quite a bit of time on our hands and decided we’d check out the Nantes-Brest alternative to Nantes-Rennes as a way of getting to Roscof. But, up by Lorient, we cut across the countryside on a single carriageway road. It wasn’t bad at all and had a few dual carriageway pieces for overtaking. Generally though it was quiet ad we arrived in Roscof in good time.

Ferry left on time and after a rough enough journey, perhaps our worst in over 30 years, we were happy to arrive back in Cork at the scheduled time of 10.00am on Saturday even though temperatures were about half what we could have been enjoying in Provence. No complaints though after 28 days and over 5,000 kilometres!