Rather listen than read? Just press play...
Down by the river, where the road ends and the countryside begins, lies a little gem. La Tonnellerie sits on the banks of the Charente river, overlooking the rushing weirs and slow filling locks of Châteauneuf sur Charente.
Steeped in inevitable history, the historic building has served various purposes. Initially it was a cooperage, where barrels were made, ready to be sent down river to be filled with the local Cognac. When electricity first arrived in Châteauneuf-sur-Charente, it was even the local electrical substation for a time, with some of the antique fuses and switches still displayed on a wall to admire. Today, the maroon shuttered building hums with the lower voltage of a homely riverside bar, restaurant and small bed & breakfast.
Owned by English couple Nina and Geoff, they have built an assured reputation over the years with the discerning palates of locals and local expatriates alike. Fleeting visitors, such as our wedding party, regularly ‘discover’ their hotel and restaurant’s homely charms throughout the long Summer season.
Having hosted our wedding at nearby La Vue France, we had been unable to find an understanding with them as to what might constitute a ‘morning after’ brunch. La Vue France were offering a ‘festival style’ egg based dish served in a cardboard carton with a wooden fork. Everything is for someone, but that wasn’t for us.
Amidst the harried admin that only an overseas wedding can provide, a speculative email to La Tonnellerie received the positive and chipper ‘can do’ reply that every bride and groom wishes to receive. Might we precede your fully booked and much admired Sunday lunch service with a hot and cold buffet brunch? ‘You may,’ they replied, ‘the kitchen will enjoy this!’
As the post-wedding hangovers slowly shifted in time with the stubborn morning mists over the grapevines, those not heading straight for planes and trains mounted up and made their way the short distance to the quaint town of Châteauneuf-sur-Charente.
Our hosts sit at the end of the narrow Chemin des Quais, before the boat club and green countryside of the river valley beyond. Large windows and doors from the restaurant open out on to their terrace, with only the narrowest strip of tarmac road before the grassy verge steps down to the Charente river below. It is a quiet, restful place which ensures a cooled and soothed mind, even if your toes do not reach the refreshing waters.
Fresh pastries, quiches and tarts as well as generous selections of meats, cheeses, and fruits were laid out and replenished regularly upon a large dining table. Guests gently milled through the exposed stone wall interior, before ladening their plates with as little or as much, as savory or as a sweet, as their hearts required. Gently and occasionally, the aroma of freshly brewed coffee wafted by, spritzing up any drowsy guests.
Most sat outside on the terrace beneath the parasols or in the sun on the grassy bank. There was relaxed chatter followed by more emphatic farewells. You can’t buy good will and you can’t book atmosphere on-demand. But the family run La Tonnellerie offers the former in great measure and their historic riparian premises sets the scene very nicely for the latter.
You don’t need to take a whole wedding party but you do need to take yourself to La Tonnellerie.
The author arranged his ‘morning after’ brunch at La Tonnellerie at his own cost in June 2019 and can heartily recommend them.