So day 3 of our drive to Provence was due to take us down through The Charente and on into The Dordogne, where we had booked to stay the night at the Hotel De L’Esplanade in the stunning little bastide village of Domme. This was due to be a real trip down memory lane, as we’d stayed in the hotel on our honeymoon 31 years ago and had been blown away by the spectacular views of the river and valley from the bedroom window.
That first time we had arrived frazzled and exhausted after a mammoth trip from Saint Malo and we were determined that this time we were going to arrive early, enjoy ambling around the village, sitting watching the view before enjoying a romantic dinner on the restaurant’s terrace to the sound of Cicadas and Swifts as we watched the sunset. It’s fair to say we were rather excited at the prospect.
So we set off after a lovely breakfast with our friends and gently pottered along the quiet, empty roads of The Charente, feeling under no time pressures as it was only a short drive in comparison to the day before. We stopped amongst the sunflower fields….
We bought fruit from a roadside stall and chatted about all the memories we have of the area as we went. In fact the morning was pretty much perfect, especially as we found Angoulême has a bypass, meaning we didn’t have to re-live our trips through the centre with a caravan on the back… To be honest we were very happy not to have to revisit that again.
Once we passed Angoulême the countryside started to change from the open fields and distant views of The Charente to the cosy, rolling woodlands of the northern Dordogne.
The roof was down, the sky was blue, the birds were singing and Fifi was purring along, seemingly happy to be back on the road again.
We stopped in the pretty town of Brantôme for lunch, pulling into a car park by the river so we could sit in the shade and watch people enjoying kayaking the loop around the town, an activity we’d enjoyed with the boys when they were younger.
At this rate we would arrive in The Dordogne valley at about 3, allowing us plenty of time to stop in Beynac & La Roque Gageac before finally driving up the hill to Domme. Fifi though had other ideas and as we reversed into a shady parking spot there was a bang and a grinding noise then a bit of smoke from under the bonnet.
We initially hoped her clutch cable had broken, but a quick look made us realise it was much more serious and she was rather poorly.
So the sandwiches lay ignored on the back seat as we called the RAC emergency assistance number to see what we needed to do. A recovery truck was summoned and all we could do was wait and worry about what we would have to do and whether our journey was over.
The chap from the Assistance team was superb, calling back to let us know what was happening and then a call from the recovery driver too, just to tell us he was en route, arriving about 40 minutes later. By now we had realised that directly opposite the car park we had been parked in was a Citroën garage, even with a powder-blue ‘Fifi’ in the showroom.
The recovery driver confirmed our worst fears, the the clutch was ‘cuit’ (cooked), loaded Fifi onto the trailer and drove her across the road to the garage, whilst we were getting updates from the Assistance about hire car availability.
The staff at the garage were helpful and quickly arranged for the necessary part to be ordered, booking in the work to be done next Thursday, so for now Fifi’s French Adventure has taken a bit of a turn, with her spending a week ‘in hospital’.
By now our romantic ideas of driving her up through the honey coloured houses of Domme to park in the square by the church were in tatters, especially as due to the Virus, the only hire car was back in Angoulême.
After an hour long taxi trip back into the centre that we had been so happy to avoid earlier, we collected a car and were en route again, back along the road to Brantôme for the 3rd time that day.
It wasn’t the gentle trip down memory lane that we had imagined, just a quick drive through the villages en route back to Domme, although it made us realise we must come over again and spend some time enjoying the area, as it is beautiful and somewhere we have always loved.
So as the clock ticked past 8.30 we drove, frazzled and exhausted through the honey-coloured houses of Domme, parking à bland silver Opel Corsa where we had imagined parking Fifi and booked into the hotel, feeling about as tired as we had all those years ago.
The room we had booked was at the front of the hotel overlooking the river, in fact it was the same room as we had the first time we visited and the joy of pushing open the shutters and seeing the valley laid out below us brought me to tears, just as it had the first time.
Too late for dinner we just pulled up the chairs to the window and sat with a Gin & Tonic, eating the fruit we had bought for lunch watching the sunset over the distant hills.
So for now Fifi’s Adventure is on hold and we are now on the autoroute heading to Provence to plan our return next week to continue our trip.
We’re desperately sad, but as someone said on Instagram last night ‘Well your life is always quite interesting’ and this was always going to be an adventure and it’s Sod’s Law that the only piece that didn’t seem to need replacing during the recent renovation was the clutch…
It’s just a glitch, the adventure will continue and there’s worse things than having to drive to Provence for a few days of cycling around the lavender fields before continuing.
On the bright side we were together when it happened and dealing with problems is always easier together, also the RAC were superb, calm, helpful and supportive throughout so we couldn’t have asked for better. Also Fifi waited until she knew she was opposite a Citroën Garage before she gave up the ghost and so we are confident she will get the assistance she needs to get her back to continuing her adventure.
Hey ho… Things could be worse et à bientôt