This year was the first group holiday abroad: 12 of us in a huge château, in the Dordogne region of France.

Day One | Getting to France | Bristol, Luton, Bordeaux, Latisonnie youtube

Although we booked flights separately, it ended up that we were all sitting right near each other, which gave it a homely feel - like we’d booked out part of the plane.

We picked up the two rental cars once we arrived in France. Fiona picked up the “bus” - a nine-seater Renault Trafic - almost immediately, so she took most of the group off to the house via a supermarket while the remainder waited for the other, smaller car to become ready.

The entire journey took most of the day. We left Bristol around 9 am and didn’t reach the château until about 7 that evening.

Right at the point where we wanted to grab some dinner and jump in the pool, Frederick the owner chose to give us an eye-wateringly thorough tour of the entire house and its minutiae. When he finally did leave, James and I sprinted over to the pool and did a couple of laps. Absolutely freezing.

Fiona’s van pulled up with the food and everybody else just as we were drying off. The original plan was to have a sit-down meal, but that broke down into everyone standing around the huge chopping board in the kitchen eating fresh bread, half a wheel of some rather excellent brie, and chunks of chorizo.

Day Two | Pool Day | Latisonnie, Ribérac youtube

As the first full day of the holiday, today was supremely lazy. We began the laziness with a breakfast of pastries and croissants followed by a dip in the pool that was only just warmer than last night.

The weather all week was supposed to be extremely mixed, and the first day didn’t disappoint when it started raining while we were in the pool.

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Fiona led an expedition to get food for the next few days and returned with just over €400 of meat, cheese, bread, and wine. James and I went for a quick drive in the backroads around the house. The house is in the backcountry, so there’s not much going on.

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Breaking the usual tradition of having the murder mystery at the end of the holiday, we decided to have it on the first evening. There was some solid crafting from cardboard and duct tape, producing handbags, army medals, and even handcuffs.

The murder mystery itself wasn’t up to the level of the last couple of years - it was pretty short and we had to work to space it out. However, we had some excellent costuming at Heathcliffe Manor, with the murderer being the good Reverend Will Bedone himself, replete with hip flask concealed in a book.

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Day Three | Hiking, BBQ | Brantôme

Compared to yesterday, we had a pretty early start to the day. We drove to Brantome for a quick walk around the town and a long walk in the surrounding country.

“Long” worked out to about 6 hours. Tom had his geocaching game on, and our walking trail followed a trail of country-themed geocaches, each containing a differently coloured ink stamps.

About halfway through we came across a field with a very friendly horse and some sheep, with an apple tree growing right next to it. As they couldn’t reach the apples that’d fallen outside the fence, we made some new friends.

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Not surprisingly after such a long day, we had a pretty chill evening.

BBQ was on the menu once we worked out how to get it going (change the gas canister, use matches), and I applied myself to salad construction.

After dinner we played some board games - Chris smashed the first game of Obama Llama in five turns, which set the bar for competitiveness.

After that, we had a brief browse of the five TV channels we could receive and basically fell asleep in front of an apparently classic French film.

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Day Four | Pool, Vineyard, Tower-climbing | Saint-Émilion youtube

Me, James, Beth and Tom took an early drive to Ribérac on a mission to get bread and croissants for breakfast. We discovered to our horror that most bakeries don’t open on Mondays, and three of the four in town were closed. We did scavenge some delicious bread from the remaining one but had to find a Lidl to get our fix of croissants. They were actually pretty good.

Once we did get back, we had an extended breakfast - pastries, bread, eggs.

After eating, Lara made a few calls to book a vineyard tour. We had an hour before we needed to leave, and given we had some sun, we made good use of it jumping into the pool.

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The vineyard we visited was just outside of Saint-Émilion. The tour was fairly interesting, though they only made red wines which I’m not a fan of.

Afterwards, we spent a couple of hours in the town of Saint-Émilion itself. It’s a quaint little place surrounded by a whole lot of vineyards. We split into two teams - team food and team shopping. While food team were waiting for the food to actually arrive, Lara and I went off to the tourist information office to find out about climbing the local towers.

We took ourselves on a self-guided tour up the one more on the outskirts of the town, which had great views of all the surrounding vineyards.

That evening we sampled a fair bit of wine from the Saint Emillion vineyard we visited while playing some pretty intense Uno.

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Day Five | Kayaking | Brantôme, Bourdeilles youtube

The plan for today was to go kayaking on La Dronne, out from Brantôme to the west. We had another fairly lazy morning with croissants and bread, followed by some reading.

Most of us were in single kayaks, though we did have a couple of doubles that were rather more difficult to steer.

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We found a cave about halfway round and paddled inside to explore.

The route we were on was supposed to take four hours, though we took it fairly slowly so we were out on the water for about five. Rain combined with splashing meant we were cold and wet by the end.

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Once we reached the end point, we had a van ride back to the car park where we started. Supplies were running low, so we picked some more food for dinner up on the way home, and had a quick jaunt to a McDonald’s to pick up some essential nuggies and hot chocolates.

The house came with a couple of raclette machines, so that evening we made full use of them. We also cooked up the snails that we bought in the first shop. I had one with James… it was pretty grim.

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Day Six | Pancakes, Caves, Paddling | Fleurac, Lacépède , Dordogne youtube

We usually plan a couple of big cooked breakfasts when we’re away. However given it’s France, up to this point we’d mainly been going for pastries, bread, cheese, and meat. Today was pancakes!

We spent the day at a couple of caves. The first at Fleurac, where you took a small train deep into the tunnels to view cave paintings that date back about 13,000 years. The train was driven by a very enthusiastic man, although a lot of his enthusiasm was wasted in French.

The second cave was Rouffignac Cave, which was far more commercially developed, to the point of having a light and music show when you went in. Still, it was an interesting place.

We had a restaurant booked, so decided to spend a couple of hours going for a paddle on the banks of the Dordogne beforehand.

The water was extremely cold, exactly what you want after a day in hiking boots. It was just the perfect time between late afternoon and evening, and the lighting made for some amazing photos.

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After feet were dried, we had a quick game of pooh sticks off the bridge over the river. Peter won.

Dinner was at a restaurant not too far from the river. Food was generally excellent, though some slightly odd flavours.

Day Seven | Breakfast Raclette, Pool, Rounders, Stars youtube

Last full day! We had a whole bunch of food to get through, and not satisfied with a single raclette session, I took to trying to caramelise pears using it. Semi-successfully.

We spent a lazy morning by the pool, pausing only to top up the wine glasses. We also put some effort into trying to empty out as much of the water as possible.

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After lunch, we had a solid game of rounders of in the enormous gardens. We hadn’t really made good use of them due to the mixed weather, but we had a nice afternoon for it. Despite a few minor injuries, it was good fun.

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After a cloudless afternoon, James and I went back outside after dinner to see whether the stars were visible. Before we arrived I’d been anticipating good viewing as we were in the middle of nowhere, but we’d had clouds all week.

Not tonight though. We got a couple of lawn chair cushions out to lie back on. We were slowly joined by everyone else coming out one by one and forgetting to go back in, gazing upwards at the awesome view. After your eyes had adjusted you could make out the Milky Way smeared across the sky.

James and I got a few star trail photos in, but it was so humid that the camera lenses started to fog up.

Day Eight | Final Day

We had a quick breakfast comprising all the remaining leftovers and had to bin what we couldn’t bring with us. Unsurprisingly for so many people, we had a fair bit of food that went un-eaten at the end.

We stopped off at a weekly street market in Ribérac on the way to the airport. Not much to write home about, mostly touristy.

Got to the airport in plenty of time, dropped off the rental cars, and made it to the gate with plenty of time (after some slight confusion about where it was).

Easy flight back, then the drive back to Bristol. Bring on next year!