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‘My steak frites is soggy’: how I holidayed within the Dordogne – with out leaving East Anglia | United Kingdom holidays

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In the midst of the summer season washout, ideas inevitably flip to hotter evenings overseas. My final journey away pre-Covid was to Bergerac in south-west France, and reminiscences of it saved me going by many a darkish day of lockdown. I’ve since moved to rural south Norfolk, the place recreating a French vacation really feels very achievable: we now have regionally produced meals, hot-air balloons and brocantes (flea markets). Sussex has been in comparison with Provence, so certainly the Waveney Valley is the brand new Dordogne. Why hassle with queues at Dover when every part you want is on the doorstep?

Go to a winery for a spot of mid-morning wine tasting

My first cease is Flint winery in Earsham. In contrast to among the extra historic wineries within the south-west of France, Flint has been going since simply 2016. In that point it has constructed up a popularity for producing glorious English wines – however is it any match for its French rivals? The founder, Ben Witchell, pours out their 2022 Charmat Rosé whereas explaining that French and English wines are incomparable – “we don’t have any guidelines right here”, he says. He ought to know: he labored in Beaujolais earlier than establishing the winery in (usually) sunny East Anglia. Wine tasting shortly after breakfast feels très Francais. “It actually doesn’t really feel like you might be in Norfolk typically,” says Flint’s Dan Kirby as we examine the vines, a bumper crop because of 2022’s scorching summer season. Right here’s hoping the solar makes a reappearance so subsequent yr’s grapes aren’t a disappointment.

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Sarah Phillips drinking wine at Flint Vineyeard in Earsham
Cheers from Flint winery in Earsham. {Photograph}: David Levene/The Guardian

Hit the city in quest of native produce

Crossing over into Suffolk, I head to the market city of Bungay, which has a quiet appeal to rival any picturesque French village. Earsham Avenue Deli shares baguettes and loads of regionally sourced goodies, resembling charcuterie from Marsh Pig and Fen Farm’s award-winning tackle a brie de Meaux, Baron Bigod. The deli’s proprietor, Michelle Steele, says she gained a lot inspiration from French fromageries and boulangeries. “We’re very stylish right here,” she says of the realm. “Very laid-back. We’re into easy issues. It’s a mini south of France – aside from the climate.”

Sarah Phillips at a deli in Suffolk
Impressed by France’s most interesting fare. {Photograph}: David Levene/The Guardian

It isn’t market day so I go to a traditional-style greengrocer. Does the shopkeeper, Nicola Milne-Malone, really feel as if she resides the French dream? “No! However I vacation in Italy and Greece,” she says. The final consensus appears to be that Bungay can really feel just like the Dordogne when the solar is shining and the streets are stuffed with locals and holidaymakers, however proper now it simply looks like a disappointing summer season in England. I sip on a restaurant au lait considering life’s large questions till a really English dustbin lorry drives previous and ruins the second. To cheer myself up, I pop right into a boutique and purchase a Norfolk-made cleaning soap and a bag as souvenirs.

Absorb some historical past and tradition

Unable to go to a chateau or stare upon cave artwork, I’ve to make do with Bungay Fortress. It was constructed by the Normans (bonjour!) in 1165 and the ruins will be present in a nice park on the town. Sadly it’s closed for pressing repairs, so I’ve to admire it from behind bunting-adorned gates. A number of locals fill me in on some barely extra intriguing historical past, that of a Sixteenth-century black canine (AKA Black Shuck) who allegedly bumped into Bungay church and killed a number of individuals. A pageant takes place to commemorate the legend days after I go to. This explains all of the references to canines (Black Canine Working Membership, for one), which beforehand made no sense to me.

Sarah Phillips at Bungay Castle in Suffolk.
Revelling in historical lore … Bungay Fortress in Suffolk. {Photograph}: David Levene/The Guardian

Have a paddle on the river

The River Waveney straddles the county border and there appears no higher place to go in quest of Dordogne vibes. My husband, Will, comes to assist with rowing duties and we borrow a canoe from Three Rivers close to Beccles, which is straight out of the Eurocamp journeys of my childhood, with campers nodding stoically as we paddle by. Traversing a small tributary in direction of the principle river, we instantly collide with one other boat and find yourself in some stinging nettles, then virtually capsize making an attempt to moor up. Barely soggy, there’s nothing for it however to have a dip: the water is surprisingly heat and welcoming, if weedy. Again within the vessel, we progress additional alongside the river’s bends. The Dordogne it’s not, however the overhanging willows, butterflies and dragonflies are all fairly magical. If solely I wasn’t so chilly.

Sarah Phillips paddling on the River Waveney.
Surprisingly heat … the River Waveney. {Photograph}: David Levene/The Guardian

Flounce about in a sunflower discipline

What says “French vacation” greater than a selfie in a discipline of golden blooms? Frogs Farm close to Eye in Suffolk has a sunflower maze and gives flower crown-making workshops and extra. Bekkie Hatwell, who helps handle the location, tells me concerning the Friday night time soirees they host the place the solar units within the large East Anglian skies behind the sunflowers. “That’s your French vacation proper there,” she laughs, as she shelters from the wind. There are sufficient flowers open to {photograph} young children popping up amongst them, however the ubiquity of such photos makes me really feel a bit like a low-grade influencer.

Sunflower in a field
Brilliant because the solar … Frogs Farm close to Eye in Suffolk. {Photograph}: David Levene/The Guardian

Exit for a French

A key element of any journey throughout the pond is bistro tradition. My funds received’t stretch to the one genuine restaurant within the space, so I’ve to accept some French-ish fare in a pub again in Norfolk. I ought to have caught to bread and cheese. My steak frites is soggy and comes with a tragic fried egg; the French pink I go for is decidedly plonky. After a day of making an attempt to recreate a vacation at residence, I’m frankly exhausted and in want of a vacation. However I do assume there’s something Dordogne-esque about this sleepy nook of East Anglia. I really feel fortunate to have discovered it and to name it mine – regardless of the climate.

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