A culinary tour de France – our marketing manager checks out two of our favourite holidays

DSC00483Our Marketing and PR Manager Sally took off to France recently to try out two of our most popular holidays – French pastry and bread baking, and horse riding and wine tasting near Bordeaux. We know, it’s a tough job.

Share in her journey from mastering croissants, getting lost and befriending locals in southwest France below:

After 20 minutes sitting in Bordeaux airport car park trying to get the rental car into reverse (pull the gear stick up apparently) myself, my friend Kate and our new acquaintance and French guide Daniel set off.
Kate originates from New Zealand – this automatically means she can ride horses, milk cows and knows which wild plants are edible.  She is reduced to tears by WSPA adverts but don’t be fooled, she’s a fiery red head who can put back more cheese and wine than your average Frenchman.

Daniel was a thoughtful addition to our journey. After much deliberation at the car rental counter between a French or English guide, man or woman, we were finally handed, Daniel, our guiding star Sat-Nav.

DSC00543Driving through the picturesque Lot-et-Garonne region was surprisingly easy, and before we knew it we arrived to our beautiful 19th century French farmhouse nestled in fields of sunflowers, maize and surrounded by rolling hills, and to our host Marlene.

Marlene is a bit of a celebrity at the NotInTheGuidBooks.com office. Guests love her and her husband Marc – as you can see here, and her bubbly character is infectious.

Marlene met Marc, an Essex man (but not the orange skinned, v-neck wearing type) when she gave him a job when working as a wine buyer in Calais. They were married six months later and now have two gorgeous girls.Cookery_holiday_Bordeaux_chef_marlene

While Marlene  has been cooking since she was four and runs the courses, Marc doesn’t stand back, he’s an excellent cook and entertaining host and together they make the holiday the experience it is.

Next we met the others doing the course with us:

There was Pat, a retired magistrate from Bristol. Pat doesn’t eat red meat and loves France.  Pat came on the trip with her daughter Jacqui – an equine physiotherapist.

Jacqui loves bakiDSC00285ng – eating it anyway, she was yet to try her hand at the preparation stage.  Jacqui has two lovely teenage sons who share her passion for horses.

And finally Crystal, who was born in France, spent her teens in the UK and is now living in Australia. She is a keen baker and her French pronunciation put the rest of us to shame.

Over wine and dinner Marlene went through our baking menu for the next few days, and after adding a few new things at our request, our schedule was complete.

See day one here: Lemon meringue tarts, raspberry tarts and millefuielle.

See day two here: Bread, croissants, pain au chocolat pain aux raisins, crème brulee and eclairs.

A major highlight of this course, as I’d suspected, was Marlene. Her passion for food is hugely infectious.

“I don’t want to just be an expensive recipe book. It’s about learning why things happen in baking and taking the mystery and frustration out of it,” she says.

And it’s this knowledge and the scientific explanations that make the course so interesting.

Instead of feeling stumped why something worked and another didn’t, Marlene helped us to understand why. Every day I picked up new tips,  from the consistency dough needs to be, why pastry should never go into the oven at room temperature, why sugar should always be added to eggs not the other way around – things I can now apply to all my baking. DSC00404

Sharing the kitchen with Pat, Jacqui and Crystal added to the fun. Rejoicing over each other’s succesful millefuieulle and croissants and sharing a few too many glasses of wine, we never had a dull moment.

So on our final day, after waking to the smell of our freshly baking croissants, we were sad to say goodbye to hosts and guests alike. And we were sorely going to miss our three course dinners!

The only saving grace was that we had two more days in France to bask in their lingering summer and consume as much wine and pastries as possible. We were off to horse riding and wine tasting south of Bordeaux. Read the second part of Sally and Kate’s holiday here.