More Comfortable West Wing

After yesterday’s news of an improvement to the comfort of our visitors to Sandboys Dune, comes further news of improvements – this time at The West Wing.

New Leather Sofa for The West Wing

New Leather Sofa for The West Wing

Readers familiar with the West Wing apartment might have already noticed that the new sofa at Dune is, in fact, none other than the comfortable 2 seater that used to be in the living room at The West Wing.  So, you are probably asking yourselves, what is going to replace that nice rattan framed 2 seater, with the elephant pattern upholstery, that previously provided guests in The West Wing with such a comfy place to chill out?

Well, here it is!  It’s a very soft and luxurious, cream leather upholstered, 3 seater sofa!  And even though it’s obviously wider and deeper than the previous 2 seater, it still leaves plenty of room for the unusual armchair rocker, with matching gliding action footstool, that many of our guests have found so super-relaxing in the past.

PS.  We are also installing a brand new luxurious mattress.  How can you be sure it will be comfortable and of good quality?  Because it’s the same specification as the mattress we bought last year for our own bed – and if it works well for us, then our clients are entitled to enjoy the same comfort!



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Free Ferry crossings for cyclists and motor bikers!

Cyclists travel for free on MyFerryLink: The 13th– 21st June 2015 is National Bike Week in the UK, and on 6th -7th June it’s Fete du Velo in France so MyFerryLink have come up with a very special offer for all cyclists.

france bikingFor two weeks from 6 – 21 June, they’re offering FREE travel on any MyFerryLink Dover-Calais crossing to cyclists. Sounds too good to be true doesn’t it – but this time, it’s not, it really is a special offer to encourage cyclists to get more enjoyment from their wheels.

They also want to encourage enjoyment of the fantastic routes available just over the Channel.  Here’s just one suggested route – though there are some equally fascinating, but much easier routes, on flatter terrain, around the Baie de Somme and the southern part of the Cote d’Opale – in the area between Le Touquet and Abbeville.  Put your bikes on a train from Calais to Rang Du Fliers to get there easily, or cycle the spectacular coastal route taking in Cap Griz Nez and Boulogne on the way

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New Sports Event in the Pas De Calais

The Pas de Calais region of France is determined not to be put in the shade by the forthcoming Olympic Games just across the Channel in London, and has come up with a new Non-Olympic Games event of its own.

By the look of it the Pas De Calais event will be far more spectacular and entertaining than the London one which mostly involves running round in circles.

Here is a team training for the Anti-Gravity Marathon.  (photos: Pas De Calais Tourisme)

And some competitors training for the difficult Extreme Skydiving (Freestyle) which is like Skydiving but without parachutes.


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Gite guestbook comments ~ and some chocolates

Gite cleaned, prepared, and ready for guests

It was a busy Saturday yesterday, as all three of our gites changed over on the same day.

This happens from time to time every year, of course, but not so often as you might imagine. Although our changeover day for the houses in the summer season is Saturday, we frequently have families staying two weeks in one or other of the gites. This tends to reduce the number of 3-way changeover days.

Gite cleaned, prepared, and ready for guests

This gite is ready for guests arriving!

Another factor is that the Garden Studio gite is let by the night at all times of year. Guests can arrive and leave on any day of the week and stay for anything from 2 or 3 nights up to 2 or 3 weeks, so the majority of arrivals and departures there are not on Saturdays.

But every now and then we have the whole lot to do on one day. This time, though, our guests did make it a lot easier for us. The Van De Rijts who were in the Garden Studio left at about 0830 to travel to Holland, so we were able to get into the apartment and have it thoroughly cleaned and prepared by soon after 1000.

Mr and Mrs Van De Rijt had left us a very kind comment in the Garden Studio gite guestbook, saying they had enjoyed a wonderful time and would be returning for another holiday. On top of that they left us a lovely gift of some rather special chocolates from the local patissier/chocolatier.

Then it was off to Fort Mahon, where although the De Boeck family weren’t quite ready to leave Sandboys Pearl, the Taylors had already left Dune and we got of to a prompt start with our cleaning, maintenance and gite preparation.

The Taylor family had clearly enjoyed their stay and left some kind comments in the guestbook, as well as a very nice letter – from which we would like to quote:

Dear Patrick & Sue

Sorry we didn’t get to meet you but we had to leave just ater 9 to get our shuttle – and a long drive to Cornwall!

Had a great time though and everything in the house worked really well – extremely well equipped compared to many holiday properties we have stayed in.

Lovely area – we usually go to Brittany but the cheap tunnel crossing makes this a really good alternative.

Many thanks,
The Taylor Family

Our thanks to the Taylors for such a glowing reference!

Finally we got to Sandboys Pearl at about 1230 and were sufficiently ahead of schedule to stop for a sandwich (we made them before we started work in the morning) and a drink. The De Boecks, too, had left a very kind comment in the gite guest book – although as it was in Dutch I could only guess at some of the words. However, what was clear was that they loved the house and they had had a good time in Fort Mahon. Their final sentence translates, “Thank you for this nice house which made our holiday”.

So this week the gite housework wasn’t as hard as it could have been, and the rewards, the comments, the letter and the chocolates, were even kinder than expected.

There was still the laundry, ironing and office work to do, of course.

Owning and running gites in France – that’s the life!

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A Good Place To Eat At The French Seaside

Families staying at the Sandboys seaside gites or at our Garden Studio apartment will never lack for choice when it comes to places to eat.  Fort Mahon and its surrounding countryside, towns and villages are packed with good restaurants, brasseries and cafes.

Exterior view of Les Pieds dans l'Eau restaurant

A good seaside place to eat - Les Pieds dans l'Eau at Berck

The other night we were planning to eat out before going to the cinema in Montreuil.  The film (The Company Men, with Ben Affleck and Tommy Lee Jones, in English with French sub-titles) was not scheduled to start until 9pm, so we had plenty of time to enjoy a leisurely meal beforehand.  We had a place in mind, too – somewhere we hadn’t been before – the Brasserie “Les Pieds dans l’Eau”, aptly named as it is on the beach at the seaside resort of Berck (about 12 miles drive from Fort Mahon).   This is the restaurant at Berck’s Agora Leisure Centre which I had noticed while attending swimming club training sessions in the excellent pool there.

Brasserie Les Pieds dans l’Eau, Agora, Berck-sur-Mer, Tel. 03 21 89 87 10

The restaurant is very comfortably furnished and nicely decorated in a modern style.  It is accessed either through the basement level of the Leisure Centre (the restaurant is actually underneath the seaside promenade) or by steps down to the beach from the promenade.

Appropriate seafood specialities for a seaside restaurant

Seafood specialities and wines by the glass.

Appropriately for a seaside restaurant, the kitchen at Les Pieds dans l’Eau leans towards seafood, though salad and meat eaters are certainly not forgotten and will find plenty of choices on the extensive menu.  There are some spectacular-sounding specialities as well as a sensible children’s menu.  You’ll find almost all seaside restaurants in France are well prepared for families with small children – we noticed that Les Pieds dans l’Eau had a good supply of high-chairs available to cope with the summertime family seaside holiday rush.

Comfort and fresh decor at this seaside reastaurant

The comfortable interior of Les Pieds dans l'Eau

We chose to eat inside, although it was a lovely sunny evening, and there was plenty of room at the open-air beachside tables.  We both chose the same cold starter, Tartare de tomates fraîches et confites, copeaux de Parmesan, a delightfully fresh and zingy dish.  Sue had Moules Frites for her main course – it’s virtually this seaside region’s signature dish – while I tested the kitchen with a more demanding Turbot rôti, sauce vierge, escalivade de légumes.  I was very happy with my excellent fish, though I personally found the dressing on the vegetables a little too oily for my taste (most people will probably disagree with me)

There is an excellent choice of wines, including a range of wines you can order by the glass.  Unusually you don’t pay any extra for the “by the glass” option.  A 12.5 centilitre glass is priced at one-sixth of the bottle price.  We chose a very acceptable French Chardonnay from the Pays d’Oc, and since we had 3 glasses between us (only one for me, the driver), we paid for exactly half a bottle.

We had to leave it there without trying any of the interesting range of desserts so that we could make it to the cinema in time, but we’ll be back on another occasion to see what they’re like.

All in all, Les Pieds dans l’Eau gets our Sandboys stamp of approval as a very decent, comfortable and superbly positioned French seaside restaurant.

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Holiday comfort: it’s all in the detail

Last week we took a break from our Sandboys gites and went to Brussels for a short stay.

Scanning the last-minute booking sites on the internet for a decent city centre hotel, we came across the Hotel du Grand Sablon, one of the NH Hotels group, 4 star rated, conveniently situated in the centre of Brussels and offering a bargain discount rate for the period we wanted. “Grand Sablon” sounded an ideal place for the sandboys, so we booked it.

4 star hotel not as comfortable as Sandboys Gites

The NH Hotel du Grand Sablon in Brussels - it needs a bedroom re-design

You would expect a hotel in a major group to offer pretty much everything its guests wanted, and at first glance our room seemed adequately roomy, comfortable and well equipped. It should be, after all, they probably have a whole design department that exists only to ensure that their rooms appeal to their clients. But it wasn’t long before we started to notice the errors and omissions.

First, the TV didn’t work – a maintenance worker was sent for and dicovered a loose aerial connection. The WiFi didn’t work, either, but that wasn’t of much interest to us so we didn’t make a fuss. The room’s major drawback, however, was a basic design error – something the corporate design department should have identified before investing group money in thousands of identical rooms, in dozens of their hotels all over Europe. The problem was one of a serious lack of mirrors.

Exterior of European Parliament building, Brussels

The European Parliament building

Now, we had been invited to Brussels to attend an event at the European Parliament building, so obviously a reasonable standard of turnout was required. Since the only mirror was in the bathroom, it wasn’t possible for Sue to put on her makeup or do her hair while I was in the shower creating lots of steam and condensation. After the shower, and an interval to clear the steam from the mirror, Sue could start to get her face on. Meanwhile I was choosing my suit (yes, I have more than one!) and trying on shirts but I couldn’t get to the mirror to see the effect, because the space in front of the mirror was now occupied.

Things got worse when Sue started to do her hair. Although there was a hairdryer fixed to the bathroom wall, her hair styling gizmo could only be plugged in in the bedroom, so she couldn’t get it closer than about 10 ft from the mirror. While she cursed, squinting through the bathroom door at her distant reflection, I dodged backwards and forwards in different suit/shirt combinations, trying to check my appearance without getting in her way.

Interior of Sandboys Pearl, one of our luxury seaside gites in Northern France

Inside one of our Sandboys gites

So, to come to the point, a little forethought in the NH Hotel Group design department would have led to the realisation that a full length mirror and a dressing table mirror, with an electrical socket nearby, would be absolutely essential to guests’ comfort. A little routine maintenance would have solved the TV problem before it became a problem, and if you advertise WiFi, you should make sure it works.

Now, we may not be running 4 star hotels at Sandboys, but we’re not charging 4 star hotel prices, either, so our bedrooms ALL have full length mirrors and, though there may not be space for a dressing table, there is somewhere for you to plug in your gizmos (safely) within reach of the bathroom mirror.

And our TVs are checked every week.

By the way, Brussels is about 3 hours easy driving time and Paris only 2 hours, from the Sandboys gites in Fort Mahon.

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A Bit of Local Tourism

Originally posted at 1:00 am, March 9th 2011.

We’ve lived and worked in the Pas De Calais region of France for almost 10 years now, and it’s perhaps because we feel so much at home here that we haven’t explored all the tourism possibilities as much as we should have. Or maybe we’ve just been too busy.

Well, today we decided all that’s going to change.

As it was my birthday today we decided to take a day off work. Well, not completely off, as we had to go to the post to send our business mail off, and then to the shops to pick up supplies for the great gardening offensive that’s going to kick-off any time now. Anyway, for this day of relaxation we thought we would investigate a place called St Joseph Village, a sort of open-air museum in the form of a 1930’s French country village. It’s at a place called Guines, not far from Calais, and very close to the site of the Field Of The Cloth Of Gold, where Henry VIII did a bit of tourism and showing off about 500 years ago.

It turned out to be an excellent choice. The village is full of interest – you can see the inner workings of a windmill, a water-wheel powered sawmill, a smithy and many other disappearing country sights and crafts. There are replica shops of the period, a garage, bicycle shop, printing works and a huge collection of old farm machinery. There’s also a decent gift shop and an authentic estaminet bar/restaurant where you can get a meal or some refreshment.

However, the star of the show for me was a modest display in a faraway corner of the agricultural machinery sheds. A glass display case contained some fascinating and uniquely personal souvenirs of the life and career of the great Bernard Hinault. Hinault is considered the greatest cycle racer of his generation, and arguably one of the 2 or 3 greatest of all time. He won the Tour De France no less than 5 times, which makes him a God in the eyes of most frenchmen. His other cycling victories, stage wins and podium placings are just too numerous to mention – look them up on Wikipaedia if you want to find out just how great he was.

Hinault retired from racing in 1986 and donated two of his bikes, several of his Tour jerseys and other memorabilia to his great friend M. Baclez, the founder of the St Joseph Village museum.

This little display of items so personal and important to the great champion was the big surprise of the day.

We rounded off the day out with lunch in Ardres, at the restaurant La Griotte which we can heartily recommend, and a leisurely drive home through the beautiful scenery of the Pas De Calais countryside, which is so varied it ranges from flat marshy fenland to roads of Alpine steepness with tortuous hairpins. I wouldn’t recommend a fast cycle ride on the back roads from, say, Desvres to St Omer – unless you happen to have the stamina and hill-climbing ability of Bernard Hinault, that is.

This won’t be the last of our tourism days out. We’re scheduling one day every couple of months to find out more about the local tourist opportunities in our part of Northern France

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