Exclusive Use

New ‘Exclusive Use’ Holiday

Exclusive use deal world tourism day bel-air gites

Keeping safe

Bel-Air Gites is a small family-run business and our family live onsite all year round. We fully understand how important it is to ensure that your family and friends are safe during your time here. That is why we want to reassure you that we strictly follow the COVID-19 guidelines issued by the French government. It is also the reason we have come up with our new ‘Exclusive Use’ offer for 2021.

What is ‘Exclusive Use’?

This year, due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, we are introducing a new holiday package, aimed at giving you some peace of mind during these difficult times. With our new ‘Exclusive Use’ package you can hire both of our large family gites, that can accommodate up to 13 people. You will have exclusive use of the gite complex, including the gardens, children’s play areas and our huge outdoor pool with sun loungers. We guarantee that no other guests will be booked in to any other accommodation for the same dates. In addition, we will provide hand sanitiser sprays and cleaning products around the complex, and in the gites for your added protection.

Peace of mind

For just €2600 per week you can stay in our two family gites, Châtaigniers and Chouette ,with full unlimited access to all our fantastic family facilities. This will give you total peace of mind, and a wonderful time shared with your loved ones. Our special package is only available by booking direct with Bel-Air Gites. Availability is limited due to already confirmed bookings, so call us now to check availability and get a great deal. 

UPDATE : We only have a couple of weeks available in June and September 2021. Call now so you don’t miss out

Travel Advice – Government Sites

Updated Travel Advice – UK, Ireland and France

At Bel-Air Gites we care a great deal about all our family, friends and guests who come out to visit us every year. And we understand that the ongoing press reports and COVID-19 variations are a cause for concern which is why we want to keep you up to date with the latest travel advice. We are closely monitoring the coronavirus situation across various websites for advice on travelling in and around Europe. 

Travel advice - Family of frogs in a caravan

Travel restrictions

Since the beginning of the year the UK is no longer a member of the European Union (EU) which means that, even without the Covid issues, there would be different rules for travelling. In addition, because of the rising number of cases of COVID particularly across Europe, all countries have imposed stricter travel restrictions to try and contain the spread of the virus.

Holiday Insurance

We would like to reassure everyone that’s already booked their summer holidays with Bel-Air Gites, and all those who have made enquiries, that we are still open for business and taking bookings for summer 2021. Obviously if the situation changes then we will contact all concerned parties to discuss any new or existing bookings. We encourage all our guests to purchase the necessary insurance when they make any arrangements for travelling. This year it is vitally important that your travel insurance covers you for cancellations. And your car insurance also needs to cover European travel for the full period that you are staying and travelling in Europe. 

Remember to bring your driving licence, log book (V5C) and valid insurance documents if you are taking your own car. You will need to contact your insurer six weeks before you travel to get a green card that will prove you have insurance.

European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)

If you are planning a holiday in a country in the European Union (EU), and you already have a valid EHIC, then the card can still be used until it’s expiry date. The EHIC covers you for medical treatment if you fall ill or have an accident in any EU country where the scheme is accepted. 

What is the GHIC?

If you don’t have a valid EHIC card then you can apply for the new Global Heath Insurance Card (GHIC). This replaces the EHIC for the majority of UK citizens. Only apply for the card on official government sites. It’s free but some unofficial sites may charge you. The GHIC can take a couple of weeks to come through so make sure you apply in plenty of time.

Passports

Your current passport will be valid as long as it is less than 10 years old and has six months left before it runs out. If your passport is due to run out then make sure you apply in plenty of time before your holiday start date. 

If you are travelling from the UK then sadly you can no longer use EU fast-track passport control and customs lanes. Also, when you arrive in an EU country you should be prepared to show your return ticket. So keep all your documents close at hand. 

Travel Advice in Europe - Taking care of teddy with face mask
Keep Safe

Safety of our guests

The health and safety of our guests has always been – and always will be – one of our highest priorities. At Bel-Air Gites we want you and your family to enjoy your holiday. We also want you feel safe whilst you are here. This is why we provide lots of Covid-19 travel advice and information when you make a booking. There is also detailed information about the French COVID-19 rules in all our gites. And in addition we have implemented some changes of our own, including flexible check-in dates, and allocated areas.

If you have any concerns about travelling this summer, please get in touch with us. Alternatively, you can go to the following websites for up-to-date travel advice.

Traditional French Markets

French Markets – a thriving tradition

local bread seller french markets
Quality local products

Traditional French markets are such an intrinsic part of life that almost every town and large village will have a regular market day. In addition to the traditional producer or farmer’s markets, some of the larger towns will have monthly ‘foires’. These are much larger than the weekly ones, with more traders and a wider choice of products. Some even have fairground stalls, and sell donuts and candy floss. These are held on the same day or date, for example the last Saturday of the month.

An enduring tradition

There are heaps of wonderful French markets in the Charente-Maritime, and the surrounding departments. Many are closed or have reduced the numbers of stall holders allowed because of the pandemic. However they are slowly picking up again now and following new Covid-safety rules. Recently we saw that the traditional market at Angoulins got a mention in an article in the Complete France magazine. We can’t remember visiting that market, so seeing it in digital print has prompted us that we ought to check it out. At Bel-Air we only recommend places that we have visited ourselves, or that a lot of our guests recommend.

Different types of markets

When you visit France you might hear different terms referred to as markets, vide greniers for example. These are the French equivalent of car-boot sales and are well worth a visit if you want to take home something small and unusual to remind you of your wonderful holiday. Vide greniers usually take place in the larger towns in late spring and throughout the summer.

On your trips out keep an eye open for Vide Maison signs too, stuck at the side of the road or on gate posts. These are like house clearance or attic sales. Similar to the vide greniers but actually held at someone’s home. These are great fun. Often the items are displayed on the lawn, or on the floor of large barns. Don’t be afraid to call in and have a root around, but familiarise yourself with a few phrases beforehand.

Night markets

These are normally held in the summer months when it’s much warmer. They generally take over the whole town, with stalls mingling with café tables, and live bands playing outside bars. These markets have some traditional French market stalls, but there is also a focus on hand-made jewellery, arts and crafts. They usually start at about 6pm and continue till midnight. You see them advertised locally, but we can let you know of any that are on when you come to stay.

Where to go in the Charente-Maritime

We love visiting Royan market. It’s one of our favourites and our guests. They sell excellent fresh produce, all under a dramatic shell-shaped building. The market is open 7 days a week from 7am-1pm but it’s best to get there before 10am. Because then you see it at its bustling best when the locals come to buy not just fresh fruit and vegetables, but also the ‘catch of the day’.

Below is a list of all the markets that are on in our department. If you need directions, or want any other information about any of these just get in touch.

  • Chatelaillon: open-air market on Tuesdays and Fridays on the main street.
  • Jonzac: covered market every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday. A farmer’s market outside Les Halles on Sundays.
  • La Rochelle: covered market every day at Place du Marché. On Saturdays and Wednesdays it takes over the entire square and surrounding streets. Make sure you check out the nearby fish market at Rue Marche.
  • Pons: Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
  • Rochefort: market on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays
  • Royan: covered market at the end of Blvd. Aristide-Briand, every morning. Fish is a speciality
  • St. Jean d’Angely: large open-air market in the centre of town on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Saturdays.
  • Saintes: covered market on Wednesdays and Saturdays with an open-air market on Fridays and Sundays. On the first Monday of the month, the whole town is pedestrianised and taken over by a one huge market.

Travel updates

Before you book your holidays please make sure that you are fully aware of the Covid rules and any travel restrictions. These are being updated frequently due to the ever-changing pandemic situation. And if you do book a holiday, make sure that you have fully comprehensive travel insurance, in case your booking is cancelled.

April is Stress Awareness Month

Signs of stress. What to look out for

As France heads into another 4 week national lockdown, some guests have cancelled their bookings due to travel restrictions. We completely understand people’s concerns, and also wondered what affect the latest lockdown will have on people’s mental health. Coincidentally April is Stress Awareness Month, and stress is a major factor in mental health problems, including anxiety and depression. It has also been proved to be linked to other health problems such as heart disease and insomnia. So it really isn’t something to take lightly. But what are the signs of stress? And what can we do to help someone who might be suffering from stress?

According to a recent poll taken by the Mental Health Foundation, 74 per cent of people have been so stressed in the past year, they have felt overwhelmed or unable to cope. With 11.7 million working days a year lost to the condition in the UK, stress is a serious condition.

Netdoctor

Understandably a lot of stress over the past 18 months has been caused by worries due to the coronavirus pandemic. As business owners we have not been immune to these concerns. However, we are thankful that we manage to maintain a fairly positive attitude. This could be down to the fact that we are lucky to live in such a beautiful rural location. And also because we have been able to keep in touch with family and friends around the world.

What is Stress?

When you are stressed, your body thinks it’s being attacked and it releases a mix of hormones and chemicals, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It’s these hormones that gave our caveman ancestors a rush of energy, to either fight the sabre-toothed tiger, or run away! But if we feel stressed for any length of time, that’s when it can have a knock on effect. Long periods of stress can for example, produce high cortisol levels which can increase sugar and blood pressure levels. Although it might have helped our ancestors fight tigers, stress can have a huge impact on personal and business relationships.

Sabre-tooth tiger. Signs of stress would you run or fight?
Sabre-tooth tiger – would you fight it or run?

What to look out for

So what are some of the signs of stress that we need to look out for? We can all have ‘bad days’, but this is where people might show signs a few days in a row. Hopefully, the sooner we learn to recognise some of the stress-related signs, the better.

  • Lack of concentration
  • Moody
  • Irritable
  • Drinking and/or smoking more
  • Panics at the slightest thing
  • Shows signs of anxiety
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Frustration
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Aches and pains
  • Indigestion
  • High blood pressure
  • Isolating from others and not wanting to socialise
  • Sleeping too much, or too little

Easy ways to relieve stress

Sometimes easier said than done, especially if it is work-related stress, but one of the things that works for us, is to talk about how you’re feeling. That way if you do feel like fighting tigers, or you’re snapping at people for no reason at least they will understand. Just don’t let stress get the better of you – we found these eight simple techniques to help you keep your cool.

1. Get plenty of sleep

Sleep is essential and good for brain and body functions. Improve the quality of sleep going to bed at the same time. Read or listen to music, but don’t have the TV on, or use you mobile devices before bed. Try and get enough sleep each night so you feel rested when you wake up.

2. Drink less caffeine

Reduce caffeine and alcohol to help reduce stress and improve sleep.

3. Focus on the positives

Increase positive emotions by making a note of one thing you appreciate every day as this can help the mind function in a more positive way. At Bel-Air Gites we focus on our garden, going for walks on the beach and appreciating our beautiful surroundings.

4. Be kind

Do something kind for someone else. It might only be something small, but it can have a significant impact on the other person’s well-being and positivity as well as your own.

5. Exercise regularly

Regular, light exercise, preferably outdoors can be a great way to give yourself a positive boost. Do something that is interesting, fun and challenging. And if you can do this with a friend then that can help make this activity more fun.

6. Breathe in, breathe out

Perform deep breathing exercises and focus on your heart or breath to help to ‘reset’ your mind. Perform the six-breath test: Sit quietly and breathe at a rate of around five seconds in, five seconds out for six breaths. If you do this before doing new tasks, or when you feel more tense it can help you focus mentally.

returning guests relaxing in the pool
Relax and unwind at Bel-Air Gites

7. Take breathing a step further

Try performing a ‘quick coherence’ session, combining deep breathing with positive emotions. Carry out the breathing exercise as above. Then, attempt to experience a positive feeling like caring or appreciating someone or something in your life. Try and focus on that feeling for two-three minutes at a time, and then maybe increase it to 5 or 10 minutes each day.

8. Be aware of ‘pressure points’

If there is something you know that makes you feel stressed, write it down as a ‘pressure point’. When you recognise what these are then you can perform the breathing technique beforehand to prepare yourself.

Quality time

Getting to spend quality time with family and friends has been difficult for a lot of people over the last 12 months. So if you are lucky enough to live somewhere where the restrictions are being lifted, then make time to catch up. It will help improve your mental health, positivity and well-being and no doubt theirs as well. Stick to the government guidelines and hopefully soon we will all be able to have a great big group hug!

Château de la Roche Courbon

Château de la Roche Courbon, Saint Porchaire

Less than 45 minutes drive from Bel-Air Gites is the very picturesque Château de la Roche Courbon. Built in the 15th century, the chateau stands on top of the original 11th century fort, and prehistoric ruins. The stunning formal gardens, created before the ones at Versailles, make a wonderful setting for the weddings that are held here. For a long time the chateau has been known as the ‘Castle of Sleeping Beauty’. Some even dare to say that the Disney castle is based on designs and pictures of this chateau. Come and see for yourself when it re-opens to the public later this year, with some exciting new activities for all ages. With guided tours, indoor and outdoor games, prehistoric caves, and the occasional re-enactment, it’s sure to be a favourite with our guests.

New activities

The Castle Games, opening in April 2021, take place in 3 different Escape Rooms. These are ‘life-size, action puzzle games’ where you have 60 minutes to escape from a locked room. (Don’t worry, the rooms are monitored by CCTV in case anyone panics or gets upset and needs to leave). The games have been exclusively designed for La Roche-Courbon, and all the themes are based around the castle’s history. Your team’s mission is to solve the different puzzles, find codes, and look for hiding places. So there’s no physical effort involved – just brain power! Outside, the younger children (6+ years) can take part in the new Ladybug Adventure. Solving puzzles to find a hidden chest, and rescuing a colony of trapped ladybirds.

Book online

Access to the chateau, and some of the games, is limited so check the availability and age groups before you go. Tickets allow access to the gardens, ancient games, exhibitions and the ‘PrehistoZen trail’. Guided tours of the chateau (in English & French) are an additional charge.

Back to Bel-Air Gites

Get back to your ‘home-from-home’ holiday gite after an exciting day out, and our large outdoor pool will be tempting you to take a cool dip. Chill out by the pool, or relax with a cold drink on your private patio before lighting up the BBQ. It’s your holiday, so it’s your choice. No strict hotel meal-times. No stressing out trying to find a table. Just total relaxation, and lots of wonderful family holiday memories made at Bel-Air Gites, in the Charente-Maritime. See you soon.

The glorious heated pool

Eco-responsible Bordeaux

Responsible Tourism in Bordeaux

Bordeaux Tourism

Sustainable travel

Mention ‘sustainable travel’ or ‘responsible tourism’ and people generally think it only exists in poor countries. This is because there is a more visible impact in poor areas than in rich western destinations. But responsible tourism really just means supporting the local economy of the places you visit, rather than the global companies. Choosing eco-friendly transport, buying local artisan and culinary products.

Responsible Tourism is about using tourism to make better places for people to live in, and better places for people to visit, in that order.

Responsible Tourism – Harold Goodwin

Basically it means treat your holiday destination the same way you would want your home to be treated – with respect.

Bordeaux CityPass

Even if you have travelled by car or plane, there are ways you can offset your carbon footprint when you reach your holiday destination. For instance, in Bordeaux you have a number of environmentally-friendly options for getting around the town. Depending on the weather you could go by bicycle, scooter, tram or electric bus. There are even river taxis – the ‘Bat3 river shuttles‘.

It’s just over an hour to Bordeaux from Bel-Air Gites, and it’s definitely worth a trip out. If you go for the day, then we recommend you buy a Bordeaux CityPass. As well as unlimited trips on the trams, buses and river shuttles, you also get access to over 20 museums, monuments and other attractions. If you want to learn more about Bordeaux’s history, there are several city tours on foot or by bike.

Explore the vineyards

There is more than one vineyard within pedalling distance of Bordeaux city centre. Or you can combine, bike, bus and tram depending how far you want to travel. Famous vineyards such as Lafite Rothschild, Mouton-Rothschild and Saint Emilion can all be visited without a car if you plan your journey carefully. But just remember that you have to make your way back to your ‘home from home’ Bel-Air gite after your day out.  

Responsible Eateries

Back in Bordeaux, if you are looking for good restaurants selling traditional, local dishes then there is a wide choice. A lot of restaurants have now chosen an eco-responsible approach and source good local and organic produce. You’ll find many of these eateries on apps such as Tookki, or ask us for some of guests’ recommendations too. If you want to buy your own organic produce then you have to visit Bordeaux’s biggest market at Capucins. The stalls are run by local farmers, butchers, fishmongers, cheesemakers and grocers. If you spot an unusual vegetable or fruit, ask nicely and the vendor will probably give you a few recipes! Try it out back at your gite and then you can tell all your friends about it when you get home.

Must-see

Before you leave Bordeaux make sure you visit the ‘Mirroir d’Eau’ (the mirror of water) at Place de la Bourse. It’s one of Bordeaux’s most-photographed sites and loved by children and adults. You’ll see people of all ages walking, running, cycling and splashing their way through it, especially in the summer months.

Bordeaux responsible tourism

There are few cities as beautiful as Bordeaux so make sure you include it on you holiday planner. There is so much to see and do around Bel-Air Gites you will struggle to fit it all in. But then that just means you will have to come back and visit us again next year. And make even more wonderful family memories.

Booking your holiday

Depending where you are travelling from, there are still some travel restrictions in place. So please ensure that you follow the government’s travel advice and take out full, comprehensive travel insurance.

Once you arrive at Bel-Air Gites, rest-assured that everything will be safe for you, your family and friends. We know it’s a difficult time for everyone at the minute, so if you are thinking about booking, why not give us a call first? Ask us anything, about our booking terms, our new safety measures, anything at all. Because it’s important that our guests are happy and feel totally relaxed when they spend their holiday with us. Give us a call today. We look forward to hearing from you.

Family fun this Easter

Have some Easter Family Fun!

easter family fun

The Easter holiday countdown has begun! If you are not quite sure what to do for Easter, then don’t panic. And don’t let coronavirus spoil your Easter family fun. There’s still plenty of time to collect a few ideas for activities for the little ones, that all the family can join in. With clues to solve and tasks to complete, they’re guaranteed to keep the kids entertained (and stop them eating all the chocolate in one go!)

Easter egg hunt

This can be a great indoor or outdoor activity, depending on the weather. There are a couple of options too. The ‘treasure’ could be an Easter egg or a small gift. The best bit for the kids will be you taking part! Like treasure hunts you can create a few clues. They have to work out the clues to find their way to the treasure. If you have more than one child then you will need more than one set of clues and treasure for each one too. Or a bigger treasure trove that they can hunt for together.

Alternatively, hide lots of little Easter eggs or small, wrapped presents, such as pocket-sized colouring books, around the house and garden for them to find. Children love pretending to be explorers or pirates looking for lost treasure, so let them create their own fancy dress to make it even more fun.

Craft ideas with CDs and DVDs

If you have any old CDs and DVDs there are lots of great things that the children can make with scratched discs and ones you don’t use anymore. You can use almost anything for decoration but for painting them, acrylic paint is best. And lots of glitter! With the shiny discs and bright, colourful glitter, buttons and beads these would make wonderful, shiny wind-chimes for the garden.

For some fantastic, inexpensive ideas, check out these cute shiny fish and 25 recycled cd kids crafts

Egg and spoon race

All you need is eggs, spoons and somewhere to run – and don’t forget a prize for the winner. Use hard-boiled eggs, chocolate eggs or perhaps some marshmallows. If there are smaller children involved, maybe use something to stick the eggs on so they don’t fall off straight away.

For more games to play for different ages check out Kids Activities. There are so many things to do you could even have your own Easter Olympics.

Crispy chocolate Easter nests

It wouldn’t be Easter without crispy Easter nests. If you haven’t got rice krispies, cornflakes or shredded wheat lightly crushed are just as good. The amount of the cereal will vary depending on their size and texture, so add a little bit at first to get the right consistency. And if you have any cake-cases these are great for displaying the finished cakes in.

white tray displaying crispy easter nest cakes

List of ingredients

  • 1 cup rice krispies
  • 100 g chocolate
  • 30 g butter
  • 1 tbsp golden syrup or honey
  • veg or sunflower oil for brushing
  • mini chocolate eggs for decorating
  1. Melt the chocolate and butter over a pan of simmering water.
  2. Remove from the heat, add the rice krispies and syrup, then mix it all together.
  3. Lightly oil a 6 or 9 hole muffin tin, divide the warm mixture evenly, pressing gently with your fingers to make a bird’s nest.
  4. Chill them in the fridge for at least 2 hours.
  5. Use a knife to ease the chocolate nests out of the tin, then fill with chocolate eggs.

I hope this has given you a few ideas for Easter family fun, and some of these can be adapted to use any time of the year. But whatever you do this Easter, please remember to stay safe.

Have a very Happy Easter, and we hope to see you all soon at Bel-Air Gites

St Patrick’s Day at Bel-Air Gites

How to celebrate St Patrick’s Day

Anyone who visits Bel-Air Gites will always receive a very warm, Irish welcome. But visit us on 17th March and you will definitely find us in a more festive and friendly mood. That’s because it’s St Patrick’s Day, and a very special day for us. Saint Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland and we celebrate this day wherever we are in the world.

Music and Dancing

In Ireland the 17th March is a public holiday, so there is a carnival atmosphere wherever you go. As well as the huge parade in Dublin city centre, every town in Ireland has a parade. A long procession of decorated business floats, accompanied by various community and volunteer groups, musical groups and dance troupes take part, with a prize for the best decorated float. Because it’s a holiday it’s also a fantastic family day out, with everyone, including the kids, dressed up in lots of green, white and orange.  

A traditional welcome

Every year thousands of visitors arrive in Ireland to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day. They will be given a traditional welcome of ‘céad míle fáilte’, which translated means ‘one hundred thousand welcomes’. They’ll probably also hear lots of shouts of ‘Slâinte’ meaning ‘Cheers’ or ‘Health’, which is a bit similar to the French expression ‘Santé’.

Unofficial symbol of Ireland

The shamrock is a young sprig of three-leaf clover, which has been associated with Ireland for centuries. According to legend, as a missionary St Patrick used the shamrock as a visual representation of the Holy Trinity. Nowadays, although the Celtic harp is the official symbol of Ireland, the three-leaf shamrock is the unofficial symbol. It is more widely recognised around the world than the harp, and seen as a symbol of Ireland and the wonderful Irish hospitality. 

Typical Irish menu

When we lived in Belgium we worked in an international environment. Each year, along with our other Irish colleagues we hosted a St Patrick’s Day festival for our workmates. On the menu would be Irish soda bread and wild Irish smoked salmon. Followed by a traditional dinner of bacon and cabbage, and afterwards one or two Irish coffees, made with Irish whiskey and real cream!

Family celebrations

St Patrick is not celebrated here in France, except perhaps in the big cities, where there may be Irish-themed bars. But we like to keep the tradition going at Bel-Air Gites, and this year will be no different. We will be celebrating with our family that live close by, and all hoping that someday soon, we can celebrate with family and friends who are further away.

So you can have your own celebrations I’ve included the recipes below for you to try.

Paul and Patricia St Patrick's Day

From everyone at Bel-Air Gites – ‘Slâinte’. Enjoy Saint Patrick’s Day, wherever you may be, and we hope to see you very, very soon

Springtime in France

Goodbye Winter. Hello Sunny Spring

Springtime in France is a special time of year. It’s when we wave goodbye to a cold, wet winter and welcome in the new season. It’s wonderful to see the gardens come alive again, with bees buzzing in and out of the flowerbeds. The local farmers have begun to plough and fertilise the soil ready for planting some of the earlier crops. Life in general feels more positive this spring, and it’s almost like we’re all coming out of hibernation.

Promise of warmer days

The days are getting longer – it’s light from 7am to 7pm – and although curfew stops us going out of the gates, it’s warm enough to sit outside in the early evenings. Longer days means it’s time to start our Bel-Air Gites spring-clean, in preparation for the arrival of our first guests in a few weeks. Springtime in France also brings with it the promise of warmer days and early seasonal produce which we can buy at the local farmer’s markets.

Springtime in France Farmers markets
Farmer’s Markets

Fresh spring produce

Eating seasonal produce is at the heart of French life, with fresh produce bought and sold according to the seasons. New spring herbs and vegetables include spring chard, broad beans, spinach and parsley. Even broccoli and leeks, sown in the previous spring, can be left in the ground for harvesting the following April.

In the restaurants, springtime is marked with a culinary selection of lighter, fresher flavours, replacing the warm and hearty richness of the winter cassoulets and stews. In spring, healthier dishes such as asparagus wrapped in ham, or sautéed beans with garlic may be served. There are also a few egg-based dishes, because the hens’ are busy laying again at this time of year.

Warm spring sunshine

Although there is still a nip in the air at night, daytime temperatures can get up to the mid 20s. So it’s a great time to top up your vitamin D levels after the a long dark winter. It’s an ideal time for walking, cycling or hiking too, and seeing how many different spring wildflowers you can find. The fresh Atlantic coastal air is a welcome change after being cooped up indoors during the winter. It definitely revives the mind and body, and is the best medicine for shaking off the winter blues.

Cycling in Royan

But never underestimate the strength of the sun here in France, even in springtime. Nowhere near as hot as the Charente-Maritime summer sun, but you might still need to wear some sun lotion.

And if you are thinking of the summer sun, and wonderful family and friend reunions, remember Bel-Air Gites offers an ‘Exclusive Use’ package. Get in touch with us today to check availability for Summer 2021 and 2022.

Real Bread Week

How to celebrate Real Bread Week

Make your own baguettes during Real Bread Week

Is there anything more delicious than a warm French baguette straight from the boulangerie? We don’t think so. If you love bread as much as we do, then you will love Real Bread Week. Running from the 20th to the 28th February it will definitely be a week that we will be celebrated here at Bel-Air Gites.

What is ‘real bread’?

But Real Bread Week is not just about any old white sliced bread, it is about ‘real bread’. This means any kind of bread made without the use of processing aids, additives or added enzymes. And that can mean any type of additive-free bread, for example pittas, tortillas, bagels, baguettes and indian roti or chapatis.

We are spoilt for choice at Bel-Air because we have so many great boulangeries close by. The nearest is just a 5 minute drive away in Brie-Sous-Mortagne. We love picking up a few baguettes to make sandwiches or just with cheese. The waft of freshly baked bread has to be one of the best smells in the world. But we sometimes wonder whether anyone living close to a bakery gets fed up of being woken every day by that wonderful aroma.

What is it all about?

So now you know what real bread is, but what is this week of celebration all about? Real Bread Week first started in 2010, so it’s been going for a few years now, and is celebrated worldwide by all the people that make it. Not surprisingly it was launched by the Real Bread Campaign. Nowadays lots of community groups, schools, mills, and baking schools get involved. They bake delicious real bread, but they also hold activities and events, including bread baking classes. 

real bread week

Do the French eat a lot of bread?

France is a country that takes its bread very seriously, and the baguette is certainly the favourite. Don’t be surprised when you visit the local towns and farmer’s markets to see people carrying 6 or 8 large baguettes or ‘pain’. Bread is part of the French national culture and even has a Patron Saint. Every year on the 16th May they celebrate St Honoré, with processions, tastings and other festivities taking place throughout the country.

Bread is so much a part of French culture that even the word ‘copain’ meaning ‘buddy or mate’ comes from the Latin cum pane (with bread) meaning the person with whom you share bread.

Daily Bread

French culture

If you want to take in some French culture when you come to Bel Air Gites then you must visit the local markets. Royan market has an excellent selection of fresh, local produce and is open 7 days a week from 7am-1pm. It really is a gastronomic experience with a huge selection of stalls selling fruit, veg, meats, cheeses, seafood and bread. Get there before 10 o’clock to see this wonderful market at its best. You’ll also be able to pick up some great fresh ingredients for your barbecue back at Bel-Air Gites too.

How to celebrate this week

Sadly celebrating is not only about eating bread. The week is also to encourage people to bake their own bread at home, and buy from small independent local bakeries. One thing is for sure, we definitely don’t need anyone trying to persuade us to buy more. Whether you are eating it, baking it, or both, this is definitely a week that we should all be celebrating.

Celebrate the summer at Bel-Air Gites

Happy Chinese New Year!

Celebrating the Year of the Ox

2021 The Lunar Year of the Ox

Celebrations for Lunar New Year 2021 started on February 12th and now it’s officially the year of the Ox. It’s one of the world’s biggest annual celebrations with around a fifth of the world’s population taking part in the festivities. The pandemic may have limited travel and family gatherings but some traditional celebrations went ahead across Asia, on a much smaller scale.

How Chinese New Year would normally be celebrated

Chinese New Year is also known as Lunar New Year or Spring Festival. It’s one of the biggest annual holiday celebrations in the world, so there is a lot of preparation. People make a special effort to look their best and buy new shoes, clothes, and accessories. Traditionally the men wear a neatly pressed shirt and trousers, while the women wear beautiful dresses in bright red and gold. Across Asia and beyond there are fireworks to ward off evil spirits and spectacular parades. Chinese families would normally gather for a ‘reunion dinner’ and serve traditional dishes like rice cakes and dumplings. At midnight, that’s when the firework begin to welcome in the new year.

Chinese legend tells of a monster ‘Year’ 2,000 years ago that terrorized people...brightly lit fires used to chase ‘Year’ away.

Chinese New Year info

Celebrations in France

It is not an official public holiday in France, but it is becoming more popular. The supermarkets stock Chinese goods so people can create their own authentic meals. And in Paris, where there is a large Chinese population, the Belleville district is especially festive. There are parades of dancing dragons, lions, tigers, and colourful fish. As well as colourful Chinese lanterns, street dancing groups, and special ceremonies like the opening of the dragon’s eye. I’m sure we’ll soon see the date added to the public holidays, because the French adore a ‘célébration des fêtes’.

Why 2021 is the year of the Ox

The Lunar Year calendar doesn’t match up with the traditional Gregorian calendar. Instead it is based on the phases of the moon so always falls between 21 January and 20 February. The first day of the Lunar calendar is when a new moon appears, a theory which is over 5,000 years old.

This calendar has 12 Chinese zodiac animal signs, which rotate every year. The zodiac signs include the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. Each year has a different sign, which means everyone is represented by one of the 12 animals.

Typical Ox

The Ox person is strong, reliable, fair and conscientious, and inspires confidence. They are also supposed to be calm, patient, methodical and trustworthy. But they can also be very opinionated, strong-willed and potentially stubborn – just like an Ox.

Find out what animal you are

year of the ox
Photo by Ridwan Meah on Unsplash

How to say ‘Happy New Year’ in Chinese

Happy New Year is written as 新年快乐 / 新年快樂 and translates as ‘Xīnnián kuàile, which literally means “New Year Happiness”. As Chinese has two main dialects, the pronunciation of Xīnnián kuàilè in Mandarin is ‘Shin-nyen kwhy-ler’. Or in Cantonese it is pronounced ‘Sen-nin feye-lor’.

This Lunar Year, in Sydney Australia, large lanterns lit the city’s harbour area. With the locals there hoping the Year of the Ox will see the coronavirus brought under control. And that is something everyone here at Bel-Air Gites hopes for too.

‘Xīnnián kuàilè’ – New Year Happiness to you all.

Valentine’s Day

Happy Valentine’s Day from Bel-Air Gites

Valentine's Day love heart on the beach

A lot of people feel that Valentine’s Day has become too commercialised. But here at Bel-Air gites, we still think that it is a special day worth celebrating. And it doesn’t take much effort to show that special person in your life how much you love them.

Sadly a romantic meal out might not be possible this February. However, a lovingly prepared home-cooked meal will show them just how much you care. I’ve listed a few recipes below that are quick and easy, and ultimately, will help to inspire you.

Entrées

Not everyone is a fan of shellfish, so I’m going to avoid the obvious fishy ‘food of love’ oysters. Also, unless you live near the French Atlantic coast where we have the world’s best oysters, then you may struggle to find good quality ones. If you are going to make it a special meal, then try to get the best produce you can afford.

  1. Tomato and basil pesto bruschetta or smashed avocado and ricotta bruschetta. Both of these recipes have a few, easy-to-find ingredients, and only take 15 minutes to make.
  2. Chicken Cordon Blue soup – even the name sounds fancy. But it’s actually really easy to make. This recipe makes enough for 4 so half the quantities for your Valentine’s Day meal for two.
  3. Chicken Satay skewers – this will impress your partner, so long as they don’t have a peanut allergy! Longer to prep and cook though, but we think the effort is worth it.
  4. Baked Camembert with garlic bread – simplicity itself, and Camembert even provides it’s own baking container, to save on the washing up.

Main Courses

We found we liked a lot of the budget recipes that were on a supermarket website, and you can ‘dress them up’ by adding your favourite side dishes.

  1. Sausage whirls with apples and mash – easy to make, and the apples add a great twist to the dish. Use a good Cumberland sausage, or a plain old banger, whatever you prefer.
  2. Tuna pasta bake – delicious topped with grated cheese and served with garlic bread
  3. Easy chicken curry – no need to slave over a hot stove for hours with this curry recipe. Recipe to serve in 40 minutes
  4. Steak and polenta chips – if polenta is not to your liking then it’s easy to substitute your usual fries, or perhaps some crispy little roasties instead.

Cheese Course

valentine's day cheese board

In France the cheese course is always served before the dessert, unlike in the UK. We have hundreds of French cheeses to choose from, and have a number of favourites. But if you are going to put together a date-night cheeseboard for two, then select three or four different cheeses. Or if your skipping dessert, then add a couple more, and a nice glass of port.

Desserts

There are just far too many delicious desserts out there, but as it’s Valentine’s Day, why not have a sharing one? For us, it would be a large bowl of fondant au chocolat, vanilla ice cream and lashings of gooey chocolate sauce. Oh, and two spoons – so you can share, remember?

Switch on the subtitles if you want to learn how to make this scrumptious dessert!

French Cuisine

Food-wise, there are so many wonderful Charentais specialities our guests always tell us they are spoilt for choice. Oysters, éclade (smoked mussels with pine needles), chaudrée (fish soup), or galette charentaise. Dining out in the region is an incredible experience, and we can give you lots of great recommendations. But if you are not sure about what to do or how to order in French, we are always happy to help.

Peace of mind

When you are ready to book your summer holiday, why not check out our new ‘Exclusive Use‘ package? It’s proving very popular with French families wanting to spend some quality time together.

For just €2600 per week you can stay in our two family gites, Chataigniers and Chouette , with full unlimited access to all our fantastic family facilities. This will give you total peace of mind, and a wonderful time shared with your loved ones. Our special package is only available by booking direct with Bel-Air Gites. Availability is limited due to already confirmed bookings, so call us now to check availability and get a great deal. 

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