STANDING in front of three classes of teenagers, talking about my work, isn’t usually my idea of a holiday.
Especially when the pupils are in France, a country whose language I have never mastered.
Fortunately for me, these pupils were studying English.
I had been invited to speak to them by my friend Claire, an English teacher in Montguyon, around 37 miles from Bordeaux.
Her high school, Collège de la Tour, was doing a week-long project on ‘the Press’ and she wanted her pupils to speak to a real journalist.
For me, it was a perfect excuse to jet off to France!
The pupils were bright and asked plenty of probing questions before producing reports of the visit, destined for mock front pages and the school website.
In exchange for a day’s ‘work’, I got chance to explore the delights of the Charente-Maritime district.
My friend’s homes is in Montendre, a few miles from Montguyon.
It’s a picturesque place, with typical French charm and situated near some beautiful pine forests. It even boasts a medieval tower.
Many towns had these towers, so inhabitants could spot invaders, but few survive today.
Blessed with a sunny day, we enjoyed the panoramic view from the tower across the forest, towns and vineyards.
By the tower, there is also an older arena ruin, used for concerts and plays in summer.
Montendre benefits from hot summers and mild winters, thanks to being in the path of the Gulf Stream.
Another Montendre attraction is the lake, which in Spring is a tranquil place, but in summer it comes alive, with night-time entertainment and, by day, kayaking, fishing and swimming.
There’s a beach area for volleyball and a nearby campsite.
While the landscape is stunning, the cities of the region also have plenty to offer.
They include Cognac – famous for its brandy – and the Roman city of Saintes.
Saintes is unusual. It boasts good shops and attracts plenty of tourists, yet it retains a peaceful calm, making it a pleasure to walk around, shop and enjoy the attractive architecture.
Among the notable buildings are the Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Saintes, St Eutrope church and the Abbaye aux dames.
Near St Eutrope is an amphitheatre, which you can view all the time, but can only enter for specific events such as concerts.
Saintes also has a large public park and, if you’re feeling active, you can ride a special cycle route alongside the Charente river.
We finally tore ourselves away to explore a bigger city – Bordeaux.
A 40-minute train ride from Montendre takes you to this city, which is across the border in the Aquitaine region.
Bordeaux is a beautiful city, the fifth largest in France, with ornate public buildings and lots of charming, well-preserved side streets.
It’s architecture may be old, but this is a modern city with something for everyone.
There’s a place to relax near the docks, with floral gardens and a mirror-like water fountain and there’s vibrant nightlife.
But we were there to shop. Bordeaux has the longest pedestrian shopping street in Europe – Rue Ste-Catherine – which stretches for half a mile.
After all the shopping, we were ready for French gutee, or afternoon tea to us Brits.
It involves going to a patisserie and tucking into calorific cakes or pastries including canelés, caramel cakes unique to Bordeaux.
France is famed for good wine and good food, so naturally I tested this claim thoroughly.
Claire, her friends and family were keen to introduce me to local specialities – including pineau, a blend of wine and cognac.
On the food front, I was treated to crêpes – sweet pancakes which originate in Brittany. With a savoury filling, they are known as galettes.
I also experienced tarte au maroilles, a cheese flan from Lille.
Like the English, the French enjoy a family roast dinner on Sundays – known as a rôti.
Another traditional family dish is Blanquette de Veau – veal and vegetables in a delicious white sauce.
I’m not saying there are no vegetarians in France, but meat is definitely big on the menu!
After almost a week of good weather and sight-seeing, I went home full of excellent French wine and food. The only downside I could find to this break was the journey back!
Travel Information on next page
THERE are few direct flights from northern UK airports to Bordeaux-Mérignac.
I flew with British Airways from Manchester to Gatwick, then on to Bordeaux – the total trip took three-and-a-half hours. It took just over five hours return, due to a long wait at Gatwick.
The total cost through Opodo.co.uk was £208, including taxes.
For more on Bordeaux, visit www.bordeaux-tourisme.com
For more on Poitou-Charente region and the Charente-Maritime district, visit www.http://www.frenchentree.com/france-poitou-charentes-holidays-leisure