Here in France they say that a foreigner who marries a French partner learns the language à l’oreiller (at the pillow). For those of us who don’t have the luxury of this teaching method, learning a new language can be daunting. The next-best way to learn French (in my view) is at the dinner table. Food satisfies the appetite, wine dispels inhibition and the ambience à table creates an environment where you relax, make friends and begin to use someone else’s language. The prerequisites are – good food, fine wine and friendly people. The owners of Château de la Mulonnière run a language school and wine-tour business that combine all three of these. Alan and Gail Baxter’s main activity here is giving residential English language courses to French corporate clients. Outside the formal training sessions, delegates meet and chat in English over aperitifs, at lunch and at dinner, enjoying the company and the superb Anjou Villages wine from the winery next-door. Erstwhile restaurateur Gail and her Vietnamese cook serve delicious meals in the grand dining room. You’ll probably end up with a large black Labrador asleep on your feet – that’s Bonnezeaux (not Bonzo), named after the divine sweet wine of the region. The Baxters also run three-day or weeklong wine tours of the Loire valley and French classes for English speaking clients. Alan’s technical and local knowledge of Loire wines is profound. He is a passionate exponent of this region whose wines are so characterised by their terroir – the combination of soil, place, weather and the intervention of man. For anyone looking to brush-up on their French whilst enjoying some of France’s best red, white, sweet and sparkling wines should enrol aussitôt.
Château de la Mulonnière, Beaulieu-sur-Layon www.chateau-mulonniere.com