The little village of Villiers-le-Roux lies deep in the heart of the Charente region of South West France. As far as the eye can see, vast fields of yellow sunflowers sway in the balmy breeze. At nearby St Fraigne, the climate and soil combine to produce the sweetest Charentais melons. To the south, the gentle slopes are host to the neat rows of vines which produce the world's most celebrated golden spirit, Cognac. Further south and west is Bordeaux, and the endless rows of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot vines, which in spite of stiff competition from the 'new world', jealously guards its reputation for making the greatest wine.
Sunday morning. Eight o'clock. It's already twenty three degrees. John decides to go for a last ride before returning to Kent the following day, and certainly before the temperature reaches the predicted thirty-two degrees at midday.
The last house in the village bears a plaque which informs passers-by that one night in the year 1941, the occupants of this house - M et Mme Sabirault and their family - were taken away by the Gestapo. The father and mother died in separate Nazi concentration camps. As John cycled by on this warm July morning in 2010, an elderly man was standing by the front gate. John stopped and told the man how moved he had been when he first saw the plaque several years ago. Was the man by any chance a member of the Sabirault family? Yes, came the reply. "It was my mother and father who were taken".
Every bike ride must have at least one objective, and today's is to find (for future visits) the tiny hamlet of L'Houmelee, where Mme Penigaud raises free range chickens, capons, ducks, and probably much else besides.
On the outskirts of the pretty village of Pioussay, a man stands admiring his magnificent 'potager'. Not a weed in sight. Just neat rows of luscious looking haricot beans, tomatoes, onions, carrots, beetroot, lettuce, radishes. Would he by any chance know L'Houmelee? Of course he would. Go past the Chateau de Jouhe on your left, and you can't miss it. Chateau? John has discovered a Chateau within 8 miles that he's never come across in twelve years.
According to green fingers, it is owned and inhabited by an English doctor. On the stone wall by the imposing gates is a plaque which explains that the castle dates from the thirteenth century, with dungeons added in the fifteenth and sixteenth. It is also a classified historic monument, which probably means it can be visited. (Back in Kent, John is delighted to find on the Chateau de Jouhe website that this is indeed the case.)
L'Houmelee is just down the road, and a helpful sign saying "Volaille Fermier" holds out the prospect of several tasty meals in September....
Back to the house in time to help prepare lunch for ten members of Dydiane's family, in the shade!