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On Friday, we decided to get up nice and early and go down to the Château de La Roche-Courbon ( ). This is described in the brochure as the “Sleeping Beauty” castle. You can see why. I think Walt Disney designed his theme parks on this kind of design. Lots of tiled cylindrical spires and things. This one was obviously desgined by a guy who knew he was doing it for show. OK it has big walls, but it also has formal gardens, a pond instead of a moat, and practically no defensive capability. It looks nice on photos though.

The day started with a frenzy of pastries, sandwich making, covering each other in sun cream, getting dressed, and other busy, busy activities. The net result was that we got out of the house only 20 minutes later than we planned. Can’t be bad. Both girls seemed refreshed after a pretty much undisturbed night’s sleep.

And so to the N11 to explore the overnight resurfacing activities. It turned out they’d more or less finished and no junctions were closed, so we got onto the autoroute heading south without bother. Château de La Roche-Courbon is about 40 minutes south of La Rochelle, and the trip down was uneventful.

Last time we were in La Rochelle we also came to Château de La Roche-Courbon. On that day the heat was pretty fierce and our poor little 2 year-old Ami had a bit of a ‘mare. Today was a bit cooler, but by “cooler” I mean 30 Deg C instead of 35. Still hard work for two little ones, as well as for the older ones. All, however, put in a sterling effort and survived the day with no tantrums.

Ami was too young to appreciate the castle tour last time so we thought she’d appreciate a trip round with Granny and Grandad. She apparently behaved impeccably, despite the tour lasting nearly an hour and it being in French, translated (badly) off the crib sheet by Grandad. Meanwhile, Kas, Kev and Izzy toured the grounds, took photos and visited the collection of wooden games in the exhibition room. These included Japanese billiards (no cues, just roll the balls into the scoring holes), elasticated shove ha’penny and checkers/draughts. We don’t know whether the games were genuine antiques but the Japanese billiards certainly took a few years worth of damage from Izzy’s efforts. She was scoring OK with those balls that stayed in the frame but quite a few went across the floor and all of them were thrown using the Barnes Wallis method instead of the traditional rolling technique. Just as well none of the staff were watching.

After the wooden games we decided to beat a retreat to the exterior and wait for the others. At one point, Ami and Grandad shouted out of a window at us. Flaming tourists ! It was peaceful until then. While we were wandering around slightly embarrassed we noticed the world’s most twee little apple trees. Apparently they’re called “jump-overs” or something. Anyway, it was like a bonsai orchard, except the fruits were full sized. The hedges turned out to be apple trees as well, with more varieties than you get down your local specialist greengrocer’s, never mind at Tescos.

All this activity made everyone hungry so it was time to exit the castle grounds for the little cafe jobby by the gate. We were actually trying to get to the picnic area to eat our packed goodies, but once outside the gates the sign says “Privé”, so we gave up and sat on the grass by the cafe. Had we looked around a bit longer we would have noticed the other gate to the picnic area (inside the castle grounds) which lead nicely to the seating area. Never mind. The gate by the cafe was the only one on site which didn’t say “Reserved for ticket holders”, it just said “Private”. The sandwiches were good, Izzy ate nothing again and the nice lady at the cafe bought our two cafés au lait round to the picnic mat for us. All jolly civilised. She also didn’t demand payment on delivery, so we had to remember to go and pay up before we set off again.

Next up, after the mandatory toilet break (clean) was the caves, or “grottes” if you’re French. It was a longer walk than Kas & Kev remembered, although mainly flat and not so rough. The little Maclaren buggy coped well really. The caves were inhabited 50,000 years ago by a tribe of Neanderthal. I hope they had discovered fire, it was a bit dark at the back. There’s about 5 caves of various sizes and with varying types of twiddly and knobbly bits, orifices and stuff. At some point whilst trying to get Izzy to pose through a hole in the rock we discovered the tree, and discovered that Izzy liked that much more. So did Lamby.

On the way back, everyone was getting a bit hot and bothered, and the walking pace slowed off a bit. Ami got carried for part of the way as well. To their credit though, there was no grumping. Maybe it was the promise of ice creams. These were consumed with enthusiasm at the cafe, and they went down very nicely thank you – a round of Magnums, one Mövenpick double scoop in an oversized waffle cone, and the customary Chupa Chup for Izzy. Luvverly-jubbly. The only strange thing was being asked by the attendant to keep the kids quiet because her baby was asleep round the back. Strange because a couple of energetic kids talking and singing wouldn’t be enough to wake our kids. Come to think of it, a front row place at a Motörhead gig wouldn’t be enough to wake ours.

And so to the gardens – the final stage of the proceedings. The gardens look fantastic, even though they are a bit rough-hewn. The bedrock shows through in various places around the edges. There’s an ornate flowery bit, probably a parterre, and a big but somewhat moss filled lake/pond with a big flight of ornate steps at the far side. And over the other side from the parterre there’s the bonsai orchard. All very nice. The girls liked the swans on the pond. And they loved frightening the trolls over the wooden bridges. And for some reason they both took their shoes off before trying to climb the big steps. Ami always starts this game off and Izzy naturally follows. Irritating but slightly funny. What was quite entertaining was a Spanish family who thought it was fun to keep irritating the swans. Swans aren’t that friendly at the best of times and these guys decided it would be fun to pretend to feed them, but then shout and run away in faux fear. Silly Herberts. They didn’t stay long, thankfully.

After this lot, it was time for a nice drive home to allow the older and younger members of the party to get some much-needed sleep. Somehow Ami ended up in the middle row, thereby forcing Granny into the back with Grandad. The drive back was uneventful, including a brief stop at Marche U for more bread.

On returning home Ami, Kev and Grandad had a quick flirt with the swimming pool before all six sitting down outside for a very civilised evening meal of the meats, cheeses, shed loads of bread and beans/sausages/chips for the little ‘uns. The weather was still very hot and the sun still felt like it was burning. Not bad for 7pm.

And then it was time to get the girls to bed (easily) and to neck some much-deserved wine whilst writing the diary and watching the sun go down. The end of another busy and happy day.