The rover’s return is not, as you may think or even wish, a local pub with a convivial pot-bellied landlord, nor the reappearance of a long lost shaggy-haired dog, but a subtle reference to yours truly having returned to the hallowed halls of Europa Star to come on as first reserve whilst everyone’s favourite blond, Sophie Furley, is off on maternity leave.
But before I submerge myself once again in the watch industry’s antics, I’m going to regale you with the tale of my Europa Star ‘retirement’ gift - a long weekend from which I have only just returned - at the Manoir de Beaulieu gatronomical delights and entertainment included.
The Manoir is located in Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne, which is to be found with some difficulty on the map of France about a finger’s length west of Geneva and a thumb’s distance east of Bordeaux. The flight to Bordeaux from Geneva is a mere forty-five minutes, but requires a late night call for an early morning take-off at a time when sane people are still having erotic dreams and cows are ruminating in the dark.
Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne is a three-hour scenic GPS guided trip by car (that’s touristic rhetoric for bumpy, muddy and dangerous country roads) from the airport where you have as much chance of being run down by a rampant cow as a ten ton truck, and the Manoir is a mere hop, skip and a jump from the Dordogne river. By way of compensation for the hazardous trek from city to countryside, the powers that be at the magazine had ensured that this townie would have idyllic weather, excellent food, mouth-wateringly delicious wines and everything would be accompanied by a smile.
The first major smile was brought about by a visit to a dairy farm, where we saw one after the udder cows being mechanically milked, highlighted by the unmitigated pleasure of Daisy, the largest of the bovines, defecating on us from her raised stall. No wonder I prefer Geneva’s trams! The following day a visit to a well-known goat cheese manufacturer saw us in the middle of nowhere visiting several hundred goats that bleated happily in a vast straw-strewn barn whilst an estimated eight hundred and seventy-one thousand and four flies buzzed around like lunatics and making my life hell by dive-bombing me to check out if I’d left any breakfast on my beard. Unaware as I am of pastoral precedures, I was surprised that the nanny and billy goats were kept in separate enclosures within the barn, but I figured that since there were quite a few cuddly kid goats around, obviously there are some shenanigans in the dormitory after lights out.
We left the farm reeking of whatever it is goats reek of and I vowed to continue my goat’s cheese embargo. After a picnic lunch in the car due to an uncharacteristic cloudburst, a vineyard beckoned and despite the sun still being metaphorically visible above the yardarm, I succumbed to temptation and sampled a deliciously syrupy local dessert wine called vin paillÉ. I don’t remember the drive back to the Manoir … nor the driver.
The highlight of the trip was a flight (shouldn’t that be a float?) in a balloon. Brochures on the subject claim it is an experience to die for and religious extremists maintain it takes you a step closer to God, but being a bit of a heretic and a lover of life, I was more interested in my predisposition to vertigo and innate scepticism for anything that floats either in the air or on water than life in the hereafter.
We arrived at the early morning meeting point with a little apprehension and a large packet of pampers and managed to avoid helping in the preparation of the ballon’s 27 metre long envelope which took about forty-five minutes. We then clambered aboard what seemed to be a rather large shopping basket and by the time I’d promised to all the religious icons known to man to stop swearing and be good for the rest of my life, I’d missed lift-off and the balloon was already fifty metres in the air. And I hadn’t even been given a sweet to suck by the pilot. To my utter surprise my vertigo had been too frightened to come along for the ride, consequently all that was left for me to do was enjoy a truly spectacular trip and click away with my camera at the amazing Dordogne landscape as castles came and went, villages slowly appearing through the slow swirling early morning mists and the Dordogne river meandering through the fertile green countryside.
And so, armed with my certificate that states that I’m now an aeronaute and have flown (or should that be floated?) in a montgolfiÈre at 550 metres, it’s out of retirement and back to the grindstone where I’m rying to adapt from the spiritual adventure of a hot air balloon to the more secular realism of plain hot air.
Source: Europa Star December-January 2009 Magazine Issue