France’s Opal Coast

Dec 6 2010

On a cold foggy morning in mid November, I met the staff from Chateau du Broutel just outside Manchester city centre and boarded the coach to France. As we headed South we stopped at numerous service stations, picking up excited teachers looking forward to spending their half term making sure the Chateau was up to scratch for their impending school trips as well as relishing the opportunity to drink lots of cheap Cotes du Rhone.

Originally in the hands of the French Aristocracy and later occupied by German forces in WWII, the Chateau du Broutel has a chequered history complete with bullet holes to show for it. In addition to the main chateau building there are two annexes where the study groups stay. While not as imposing as the chateau itself, these still retain lots of original features and provide a good standard of accommodation in clean en-suite dorm rooms. It was one of these roomy dorms that I checked myself into. On one of the 6 bunk beds I found my itinerary for the week….  action-packed was an understatement!

Straight after the ubiquitous pain au chocolat breakfast, the second day started with a mayonnaise making class – no rest for the wicked on this trip! Our itinerary was exactly the same as on an actual school trip, so at 8.40am we were all whisking egg yolks as if our lives depended on it!

After this eye-opener it was off to nearby Etaples to visit the local market and engage in some French language practice. Carole went straight into teacher mode with aplomb and could keep the most unruly bunch of pupils in order.

After purchasing cheese, sausage and other French delights we all felt sufficiently confident with our French to order a well-deserved coffee at the local cafe. This whole exercise was a thoroughly rewarding experience.

After lunch at the chateau it was back on the road to a local Chocolate Factory for a display in the making of everybody’s favourite sweet treat. A slick sales pitch by the factory owner in English and French (he can do either depending on the level of French of the group) was followed by the inevitable trip to the factory shop to purchase some of the delights that he’d “made earlier”.

The chocolate factory was closely followed by a visit to a nearby goat farm. We were welcomed to this delightfully rustic venue – just a simple family run farm – with free tastings of the home-made galette biscuits to welcome our group. After a brief meet and greet with the cows and goats a quick tour of the farm was conducted in French. The only down side to this visit was the lack of an English speaker but teachers were happy to translate plus it’s all good practice for the students’ French listening exams.

After this action packed day it was off to the chateau for dinner. The food was canteen/buffet style as it would be for the students, although basic it was of a good quality and made all the better thanks to the free wine on offer.

The following day involved a longer coach journey to visit the battlefields of the Somme region. The site of some of the First World War’s bloodiest battles unsurprisingly meant an emotional day was in store but a grippingly interesting one nonetheless. There are many sites of interest in these parts and the first one we visited was the Albert Somme Museum. The next stop on our itinerary was the huge Thiepval Memorial built in 1932 to commemorate British and Commonwealth soldiers who died, it’s the biggest British battle memorial in the world. From there we went on to a number of battlefield sites and cemeteries, commemorating British, Irish and ANZAC troops among others. The last and most poignant site on our visit was the Newfoundland Memorial Park. The trenches, still there for all to see, give the visitor an unparalleled insight into what life must have been like all those years ago. The memorial park’s small but informative museum rounded off a truly moving experience.

The following day was our last of the trip and we made our way to Calais via the obligatory hypermarket. This was apparently included as it offers a potential language class for students. However the only French being practiced by the teachers on this trip translated roughly as “how much red wine can I fit in my suitcase?” On our way back north we all reflected on how interesting and enjoyable this trip had been. The Opal Coast and its myriad of attractions offers an ideal destination for a fun educational visit with a dash of French culture thrown in, and all just a short hop across the channel.

Rob Butt

Outgoing Study Tours

Twitter – @outgoingstudy

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