With incessant rain falling across southern England the chances of any cricket over coming days were non-existent. However a further check with Google indicated much balmier weather was in the offing just across the channel.
Within 20 minutes from landing I had collected my hire car and was on my way. A further twenty minutes later I sat in late afternoon sunshine, glass in hand, overlooking Eymet’s imposing castle grounds. Somehow, the town of Eymet felt both foreign and familiar, which is not surprising as centuries ago much of the region had been under British rule, medieval bastide towns like Eymet had flourished and to this day many Brits call the Dordogne region home.
As dusk settled I drove a few minutes north to the village of Lestang and accommodation for the weekend. Schoolboy French switched immediately to English as I met gite hosts Richard and Eileen. Hailing from Cheshire and settled in France a decade ago - since then they have transformed La Colombiere, a rustic farmhouse, into a successful and delightful gite business.
My one bedroom suite was comfortable, light, spacious and very reasonably priced. The warmth of welcome continued as the evening evolved into an impromptu barbecue of beer-in-the-chicken, a house specialty, and beer with other gite guests from across the continent accompanied by some very drinkable local wines.
While the wines of Bordeaux are rightly acclaimed across the globe the wines of the Duras and Bergerac regions are less well known. Therefore I was eager to discover for myself whether they were indeed ‘one of France’s better kept secrets’ as my local wine store in Wimbledon had advised when I mentioned to the owner Michel my spur of the moment weekend away.
A pleasant 5km drive took me to Chateau Thenac. I have been fortunate over the years to have visited some outstanding wineries and chateaux, yet even I was astonished by the quality of the wines and the exemplary standards on show. Turns out the Russian owner and his English speaking Directeur D’Exploitation, Stephane, have one simple aim: to produce wines that match for quality the best Bordeaux and as critical acclaim shows they are clearly succeeding. My own assessment (in their delightful tasting room) reinforced those opinions. Chateau Thenac Rouge is aged in French oak, rich, elegant and smooth, and I am confident the case I ordered will (like the chateau) be a winner at future dinner parties.
.Five minutes further north took me to Chateau Vigiers, a 15th century chateau transformed in recent years into a luxurious golf hotel and spa. A Michelin starred restaurant attracts diners from far and wide while the more casual brasserie seemed a great option for lunch. I ate a perfectly prepared steak tartare at a table overlooking the challenging ninth hole. Little wonder I needed a late afternoon nap before heading back to Eymet where the delightful town square hosted live
music to entertain the passersby. The late-ish lunch meant a quest for simpler fare and the Italian Pizzeria, an Italian family run business, serving Italian sourced fare overlooking the square did not disappoint.
Sunday morning it was time to work off some of those calories with a walk along the banks of the river Dropt which runs through the heart of Eymet. Rabbits and hares bounded through adjacent fields as fishermen vied with kingfishers along the river banks. On the edge of the town I was surprised to hear the unmistakable sound of ‘ball on willow’ and a cry of ‘two’. Perhaps I had overimbibed the night before, after all this was South west France not St Johns Wood….!
A brief investigation revealed a 35 overs per side cricket match was indeed in progress. Turns out Eymet cricket club is one of the more successful sides playing in the South West of France league and from all I observed to a very decent standard.
The warm welcome I had received everywhere else continued at Eymet cricket club as by chance I met club President Andrew Cardle who told me “the side plays in a regional league from April through October and warmly embraces touring sides in April and September and October. Our greatest weather imposed difficulty is heat in the peak summer months of July and August”. Andrew continued “we have a long tradition in hosting Touring Teams and encourage Touring Teams to come and enjoy our Indian summers. Eymet is a perfect location with the family to escape, unwind, and enjoy the depth of history the region has to offer. As we reflect back each year it is the Touring Teams that consistently provided the best Cricket, played in the spirit of the game”.
What better way I thought to myself for a cricket club to end its season than a trip to this delightful region, rich in history, fine foods, excellent wines good cricket and a truly warm welcome.