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!

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. 

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.

December Cookie Days

December is a feast of Cookie Days

Cookie Recipes

Cookie Day December 4th

For most English-speaking countries, except the U.S and Canada, we sometimes call big chewier biscuits ‘cookies’ and the smaller crunchy biscuits would be, well.. just ‘biscuits’. But we are not going to argue over terminology when there is a special day for celebrating a good, chunky choc chip cookie. So on December 4th let’s all celebrate Cookie Day!

Different shapes and sizes

Cookies come in all shapes, sizes and they’re really easy to bake. So easy that even the kids can join in. And what could be more fun than making some lovely biscuity treats with your children? Eating them of course!

Here in France we have some lovely, moreish, crispy cookies, like Crêpes Dentelles, which means ‘lace crepes’. They are very thin crepes with have been folded over, so you have a deliciously thin, layered crunchy texture. They were invented over 200 years ago in Brittany by Marie-Catherine Cornie. She developed a secret recipe for making the paper thin crepes, but luckily it isn’t a secret any more. So now you can find artisans all over France who specialize in making crêpes dentelles.

langue de chat cookies

Another favourite of ours is Langue de Chat. These are small, thin, crispy French cookies and you can get them dipped in chocolate for extra scrumptiousness. Or flavoured with lemon, orange or vanilla. Langue de Chat means ‘cat’s tongue’.

It’s probably where the saying comes from ‘has the cat got your tongue?’ when someone is very quiet or doesn’t answer a question

genoise cookies

Up next is the Genoise Sandwich which is surprising similar to the popular McVitie’s Jaffa cake (is it a cake or is it a biscuit?).

These French biscuits come in three layers – a soft, Genoise sponge base, a jelly filling, and a thin chocolate layer on the top. It’s a delicious blend and a Genoise Sandwich is lovely with afternoon tea.

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Speculoos are a crunchy dark brown cookies that originated in northern France and Belgium. They are flavoured with cinnamon and and taste like caramel because of the special dark brown sugar that’s used, called vergeoise brune. These biscuits are delicious with coffee, which is why you will find them served in cafes all over the world. There is also a famous brand of ice cream that makes a whole range of speculoo-flavoured ice cream treats. And they’re very, very difficult to resist!

Image credit – Jonathan Taylor on Unsplash

Bake a Cookie Day 18th December

So there’s also Bake Cookie Day this month as well. So on the 4th we can just choose to eat our favourite cookie or biscuits. But on the 18th December, you can’t put it off any longer, and you have to bake some cookies. And in case you are stuck for ideas, here’s a few simple cookie recipes that all the family will enjoy making and eating.

Image credit - Antevasin Nguyen- on Unsplash
Image credit – Antevasin Nguyen- on Unsplash

A cuppa and a cookie

A biscuit and a brew. Same thing but different. Whatever you call them, they’re delicious. So sit down with your favourite biscuit or cookie and put your feet up. And while you are relaxing and thinking about where to go, when travel restrictions and lockdown are a thing of the past, remember Bel-Air Gites. Your favourite family holiday destination and all those great memories. Do you remember that wonderful pool, the play barn, and the playground that kept the kids totally entertained all holiday? So what are you waiting for?

Book your next family holiday at Bel-Air Gites

Pastry Day December 9th

Let’s Celebrate with a French Pastry!

French Pastries – spoilt for choice

If you had to choose just one favourite French pastry then what would it be?

December 9th is Pastry Day so this calls for a celebration! But there are so many to choose from this is going to be a very difficult decision. And it doesn’t help that the patisserie window is always such a beautiful, eye-catching display of gateaux and French pastry. Perhaps we need a French Pastry Week. What do you think?

It takes a tremendous amount of effort to pass a boulangerie or patisserie, especially early in the morning. Because that’s when the rainbow-coloured pastries on display are supported by the enticing aroma of freshly baked bread.

french pastry on display

List of the Best French Pastries

You’ll never know the real taste of France, until you have tried at least one of each of these pastries.

This is just a small selection of some of Bel-Air Gites’ favourites, in no particular order. Each one has it’s own delicious merits so as far as we are concerned they are all at Number 1.

Éclair au Chocolat – I don’t know how the French manage to make this amazing moist filling that creates such an overall deep chocolatey sensation. The icing starts to melt in your mouth as soon as you take the first bite. (My mouth is watering already, and we have only just started the list!) Some patisseries also make a coffee version, which I’m told is equally as good, but personally I prefer my coffee in a cup rather than a cake.

Gateau St. Honoré – named after the patron saint of French bakers and pastry chefs. Small profiteroles are dipped in sugar and attached to the top of the circle. This base is traditionally filled with crème chiboust and finished with whipped cream using a special St. Honoré piping tip.

St._Honoré_cake_with_chocolate
Image credit – wikipedia

Mille-Feuille – You might know a slightly different version as a vanilla slice. But the French version, sometimes called a Napoleon, is even more delicious. It has extra layers of buttery pastry, vanilla pastry cream and a thin layer of smooth icing on the top.

Image credit – www.recetteaz.net

Paris-Brest – A sandwich cake made of two round wheels with lots of thick coffee cream inside, and slivers of peanut on the top. Apparently it got it’s name from the bike race between Paris and Brest, because the gateau is shaped like a wheel.

paris brest gateau frecnh pastry
Image credit : Jordane Mathieu

Tasty Tartes

Tarte au citron – For all the lemon-flavour lovers out there. This is a crunchy pastry basket full of amazingly zingy soft lemon filling. A bit like a lemon meringue pie, but without the meringue! There’s also a Tarte Chocolat – Same as the citron, but with a soft gooey rich chocolatey paste. And who can resist a crunchy Tarte Tatin – an open apple tart, it’s baked pastry side up and then flipped over before serving.

Lemon tarte
Tarte au Citron

Macarons – All colours and tastes. Probably the French pastry that’s most popular with our Bel-Air Gites guests because macarons are nicely boxed and travel well. Assuming they make it back! Strawberry, mango, pistachio, chocolate – you name it, you can get it. There are more combinations than you can possibly imagine. It’s probably why they’re are so popular.

french pastry macarons - all colours and all flavours
Multi-coloured Macarons

Bake and Stay?

Why not have a go at making your own macarons? Send us some photos, or better still, bring a few with you next time you come and stay at Bel-Air Gites.

Book now for Summer 2021

Blue Lagoon of Charente

Pure Blue Lakes of the Charente

Just under an hour’s drive away from Bel-Air Gites is the town of Touvérac. It’s only a small town, but the area surrounding it is a protected natural site, with some wonderful hiking trails. However, this is also a place that can take your breath away. In amongst the pines there is a hidden paradise – the beautiful clear waters of ‘Les Lacs Bleus’. The Blue Lakes of the Charente.

Blue Lakes of the Charente

Hiker’s paradise

Lace up your hiking boots, get your binoculars ready, and head off on the trails surrounding the pure blue waters. It’s a good 2 hour walk so make sure you are suitably kitted out, and have plenty of water. The wet clay can be a bit slippery, so take care as you walk the white slopes. Well-sign-posted trails will take you around the old kaolin quarries.

Kaolinic Clays

Mined in the Charente up until the 1990’s, this beautiful white clay has a variety of uses. Primarily used in porcelain, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and paper-making, it’s now also used in skincare. However, the kaolinic clays extracted in the Charente were mainly used to make refractory materials to withstand high temperatures, such as in furnaces, kilns, etc.

When the mines were finished with, the holes were left open and the rain turned them into small, hillside reservoirs. It’s these old mines that now make up the blue lakes of the Charente. The water is pure and clear, but because the environment is still young, the aquatic life is still developing. So don’t expect to see lots of fish.

Slippery surface

Allow a good 2 hours to hike the complete circuit, and try and allow some time to read the many information panels. Because there are some fairly steep slopes, the trails are not recommended for people with restricted mobility. And tempting though it looks, swimming in the lakes is not allowed. We would also advise people not to go too close to the water’s edge, because if you slip, it can be very difficult to get a firm footing on the slippery clay surface. Don’t be put off though. It really is a beautiful place, and the blue lakes are a spectacular site to see.

The walk around the Lacs Bleu is one of the things I will remember most about our holiday trip. Unsure if we were in the right location, the first glimpse when rounding the bend was just breath-taking.…. Unmissable if you like nature walks!

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Book Bel-Air Gites

So, yet another wonderful family activity for you to plan into your next summer holiday with us here at Bel-Air Gites. Be sure to bring your hiking gear, but don’t forget your swimming costumes as well, Because when you get back from admiring the Blue Lakes of the Charente, you can take a dip in the beautiful cool blue pool at Bel-Air Gites.

We look forward to welcoming you and your family to our fantastic child-friendly gite complex next summer. Book now to avoid disappointment.

The glorious heated pool
Bel-Air Child-friendly gites in the Charente-Maritime

Talmont-sur-Gironde

One of the most beautiful villages in France

Talmont-sur-Gironde is recognised as one of France’s most beautiful villages. It is 15 km south of Royan, and situated on a rocky cliff overlooking the Gironde estuary. Less than 30 minutes drive from Bel-Air Gites, this pretty little village is one of our guests’ favourites.

Les plus Beaux Villages de France

White-painted houses with blue shutters and gardens filled with scented roses and multi-coloured hollyhocks. It is a photographer’s dream location. But it also has an incredible history and some of the most wonderful views of the Atlantic Coast.

Fishing huts on stilts

Along the cliffs you will also see the ‘carrelets’. These are fishing nets suspended from the fishermen’s huts built on stilts. The carrelets are part of the Charente-Maritime heritage and an incredible sight, standing tall on the coastline.


Surprisingly perhaps given its position, Talmont was founded as an English bastide town in the 13th century and the layout of the streets now is more or less the same as it has been for the last 700 years.

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Exploring the village

The streets of Talmont are quite narrow so you need to park the car and explore the village on foot. Start by following the old fort ramparts around the outside of the village and finish with a stroll around the streets and the pretty whitewashed houses.

Talmont-sur-Gironde is best known for the magnificent 11th century Sainte Radegonde church, that stands right on the edge of the cliffs. The façade of the church had to be rebuilt in the 15th century after the original façade fell off into the sea. But as well as its location, the church has a beautifully ornate carved entrance, and fascinating carvings of animal heads just below the roof.

Coastal views

The views along the coast from the cemetery are very impressive, with white cliffs in both directions. After completing a tour of the ramparts take a stroll through the narrow streets of Talmont-sur-Gironde to see the little whitewashed houses.

Pink and white hollyhocks

Colourful display

From the end of spring and into the summer months, the hollyhocks dominate the village streets and the cemetery. They are a really beautiful sight and seem to grow from every little crack in the wall.

We have hollyhocks here at Bel-Air Gites as well. Incredibly tall stems that look too fragile to last a long time, but some can flower for several months. They are self-seeding so we get more and more every year. If you want to see the hollyhocks in full bloom then make sure you book your next summer holiday at Bel-Air Gites in the Charente-Maritime. We are in a great location close to beaches, woodlands, vineyards and castles. There are plenty of family attractions here as well. From theme parks to golf courses. Hiking trails to water-sports. You’ll find something to suit everyone.

Book now for Summer 2021

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