Sunday, November 27, 2011

10 days in Duras

I think it's about time I wrote an update! I've finally finished my assignment (keep your fingers crossed for my result) and we've left the incredible exploding house today and we're heading to Centre Parcs for four days.

While we've been in Duras, we've been on some great sightseeing trips, enjoyed feeling a little bit like a local in this little country town, spoken lots of French, and even managed to just relax and do nothing for a while. Sound idyllic? It was pretty good!

Our time in Duras started off with warm bright sunshiny days, followed by much cooler evenings, which required us to light the nerve-wracking fire then just wait to see if the house would feel like it was falling in on us again. Thankfully it didn't. Their second repair job seemed to do the trick and in spite of a few breath holding moments, everything has remained structurally sound for the rest of our stay.

The second half of our visit here brought a thick mist which hung in the air until approximately 3.30pm, when it would miraculously clear for the whole hour and a half or so before it got dark. It's only now, as the kilometers of Tarmac build up between us and Duras, and we travel over peaks and through valleys, all the while experiencing dramatic fluctuations in the weather, that we realise that perhaps the mist was just cloud, trapped in a basin where Duras sits. Anyway, it wasn't the sort of weather that encouraged you to venture out and explore your surroundings much, especially with the narrow country roads with sharp bends and deep ditches, frequented by many an elderly French gentleman in a flat cap and a beaten up old white van or 2CV, who would appear from nowhere and drive down the centre of the road to counteract the effect of one too many vers du van rouge at lunchtime.

Duras is a really pretty little town, surrounded by rolling hills covered in row upon uniform row of vines. The region is well known for wine aling with prunes, fois gras and duck amongst other things. Duras has everything I love about a town; a great market on Mondays, which we spent about 45 minutes walking around, and I'm told it's much bigger in the summer. I'm sad that the Christmas market doesn't happen until mid December, because I'm sure it would have been good. It has a reasonable butchers, and a fantastic boulangerie - I'm ashamed to say I can't remember the name of it, but if you ever find yourself visiting, it's the one that's away from the town square, near the war memorial and the town clock with an arch and a road running below it. It was a mere stones throw from the exploding house, so we were regular customers most of the mornings of our stay.

Duras from the top of the Chateau

Duras has a few restaurants and cafes, a reasonable sized supermarket as well as a small independent market and a tourist office. We found a small children's playground, hidden somewhat, near the schools, and not in the most impressive state of repair, but somewhere to swing and slide, non the less. After San Sebastian, where there was a playground every 100 metres or so, I think the littlest hobo was a little bit disappointed though.

It's a great place for English-speaking tourists to visit - I never quite worked out whether the French dialect spoken there is beautifully slow and easy to understand, or whether the locals were just particularly kind natured, but I enjoyed speaking French here, and there is a large British expat community who are eager to interact and help out, should you require. There's a strong feel of community, and a friendly nature to the town too - we felt welcome!

The jewel in Duras crown is the Chateau. It stands on the edge of the main town, an imposing landmark watching over the valley below. We visited with low expectations and were most impressed by what we found. A self-led tour, following the guide card you are given on entry takes you through the depths of the chateau, where the servants would have worked, up through the opulent living space above, to the top of the tower, where we enjoyed a 360 view of the town and the surrounding valleys. There were a couple of surprises along the way, and the littlest hobo really loved the whispering room, where two people stand in opposite corners and can chat away, hearing each other clearly, while anyone else in the room is oblivious to their words.

Shhhhh, it's a secret! What a novel way to get a toddler to practice whispering.

Duras was a great base for visiting Bergerac, the unique and exceptionally picturesque St Emillion, and some of the surrounding Bastide villages, but I think I've bored you enough for now, so those are a story for another day!

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