Keith Floyd had it right: be as English as possible but embrace French living.
Like the late great chef I am an unashamed francophile. Du vin, du pain, du fromage and all of that! So it was in homage that I embarked on a short week in Bordeaux, the capital of the finest wine.
Armed with a dusty wallet and two dear friends – the irascible Bob Dawson and a gentleman called the madddog – I departed the stag-do infested early morning bars of Gatwick for the wide boulevards and copious vineyards of the Gironde department in southwestern France.
I must confess, dear reader, that I ate and drank like the Prince Regent. It is a lifestyle choice that is often referred to as ‘the gout diet’, which I hear is the height of fashion in the Hollywood hills.
A bijou apartment with a long balcony overlooking the Bordeaux Cathedral was to be our home from home.
Needless to say, a French dwelling without a balcony is rather like a Frenchman without his cheese and wine. So getting in the spirit of things we noble men of England took breakfast on the balcony; and we repeated the trick for early evening nibbles of charcuterie boards and cheese, accompanied by a few bots of the red stuff.
I arrived well prepared for wine, gastronomic voyages and frivolity. However, I was not expecting to discover such endless beauty in the architecture and surroundings.
It is reminds one of Paris but is wider and less crammed, almost as if Bordeaux’s designer took a step back and decided not to make room for the rats and the artists on top of the well-dressed populous.
The wine was, as it says on the tin, marvellous. The food inevitably ticked all the boxes: Maigret de canard, foie gras, salmon and beef tartare, entrecôte, moules, escargots and boatloads of bread to boot.
It is fair to say that we ate like chaps in Breton shirts and berets, with a string of garlic around our necks.
Another splendid thing about Bordeaux is that there doesn’t appear to be an hour in the day when wine isn’t taken. I’m not suggesting the intake has people bladdered by noon like, perhaps, the Englishman in his baseball cap may do. It is sustained gentle drinking, accompanied by food and no downing of shots.
For example, one day the three musketeers set off for the St Julien region on our horse-drawn cart (a fiat punto) for a tour of a couple of Châteaux – Beaumont and Beychevelle.
By ten o’clock the first degustation of two reds were tasted and off to the next vineyard. By noon the total has risen to four.
Lunch was taken in a small town amongst the vines and the scorched fields. Lizards danced amongst the outside dining tables and the service was reassuringly French – slow.
A Château visit is a must – dripped in beauty like a lazy candlestick and, surprisingly, highly educational – especially for an alcophiliac.
Among the swirls of claret and never ending three course meals was another away day to the coastal town of Arcachon.
This venue is so far removed from Bordeaux that one feels that another holiday is on. Palm trees shade the almost 1930s Hollywood houses and the warm air hums like a Miles Davis jazz solo on a Sunday morning.
Yet all of the sudden the trees make way and the sun begins to take command, with the endless beach his worthy lieutenant.
Naturally moules and an ice bucket of bone dry Chablis was the only option at a beachfront restaurant. A long lunch shelling mussels under the beating sun is a thing of such sheer joy that a tear rolled from my eye when I called “l’addition s’il vous plait” to the waiter.
More food and wine was partnered with endless laughter from my two favourite allies – my love of the region grew with every gulp of wine from under my crumpled panama.
Alas a holiday – like a decent bottle of Bordeaux – must come to an eventual end and the long days and longer nights become but a memory of scarlet teeth and purple lips.
I’ll drink to that.