Cognac and the Atlantic Coast

Price

£2,095.00 per person*

($2,702.55 USD or $3,582.45 AUD)

£200.00 deposit

£450.00 single room supplement

Dates

27th Aug to 2nd Sep 2017

3rd Jun to 9th Jun 2018

1st Jul to 7th Jul 2018

26th Aug to 1st Sep 2018

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"Dear Mike , Thank you for the excellent photos. The whole tour was a great deal of fun and we enjoyed it tremendously. We are definitely on for Brittany next year. We hope to be bringing more friends. With very best wishes."

-- Michael and Kimberly, Hong Kong

Highlights

  • Historic Rochefort
  • Guided visit and tasting at the Courvoisier distillery
  • Cycling along the gently meandering Charente
  • Boat trip round the Ile d'Aix and Fort Boyard
  • The beautiful old port of La Rochelle
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Join us for a cycling adventure. All you have to do is pedal


Joining the tour

Start

Angoulême Rail and TGV station and Angoulême airport

Finish

La Rochelle Rail and TGV station and La Rochelle airpor

Collection is from Angoulême TGV rail station (direct trains from Paris Montparnasse). Departures from La Rochelle TGV rail station (direct trains to Paris Montparnasse) and La Rochelle airport.

Cycling level

2 out of 10

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The Atlantic coast of France is an incredibly diverse landscape – sandy beaches, rocky promontories gazing out to scattered islands, fishing villages and oyster beds. Inland, marshes criss-crossed with waterways provide home to a myriad of bird species, pastures for cattle jostle with medieval forests and the vineyards of the wines that go to make cognac.

Set amongst these varied panoramas are some wonderful historic towns, La Rochelle, granted its charter in 1199 by Eleanor of Aquitaine, was a centre of medieval trade in wool, wine and salt between France, England and Flanders. The old harbour, wonderfully preserved, is witness to its history. Rochefort, 15km from the mouth of the Charente estuary, was the stronghold of Louis XIV’s navy and the Arsenal and Corderie Royale (rope factory) have been painstakingly restored, together with L’Hermione, the frigate in which Lafayette sailed to help Washington in the Revolutionary War.

Further inland and on the banks of the Charente, Saintes has a ridiculous number of historical sites for a town of its modest size! As the Roman capital of the region, the vestiges of their occupation are widespread, but notable are the Arch of Germanicus built in 19AD, and the open-air Amphitheatre, which held audiences of 20,000. From a later period, the magnificent Abbaye aux Dames (Ladies’ Abbey), consecrated in 1047, stands on the banks of the river.

Upstream, Cognac is of course famous for the brandy that bears its name, and the great producers like Hennessy, Martell and Rémy-Martin built magnificent mansions along the river banks in the 19th century, but behind these is a well preserved old quarter dating from the 15th Century.

With the sea so close, it’s no surprise that beautifully fresh fish and shellfish should be on most menus, but lamb from the salt marshes and beef from the creamy Charentais cattle that graze the inland pastures also make welcome appearances. Charentais melons with their striped skin and perfumed orange flesh, and cherries and plums grow in abundance.

Although the region’s most famous drink is Cognac, there are local wines and a speciality known as Pineau des Charentes, which is a fortified sweet wine – marvellous chilled as an aperitif!

Our tour is an easy ride through these pastoral landscapes which will show you the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of this fascinating part of France.

To view a map of the Cognac and Atlantic Coast tour route click here

Day 1

After collection from Angoulême Rail station, we’ll head back to our hotel in the Charentais countryside to set up bikes; once everybody is correctly fitted, we take a short tour of the surrounding countryside to familiarise ourselves with gears and controls, and to make any fine adjustments.

Back at the hotel, have a dip in the pool, take a sauna or relax on the terrace with a cold drink before the first of many memorable meals.

Day 2

We leave the hotel heading north across quiet farmland to pick up the gently meandering River Charente. We follow the banks of the river for the morning, with riverside villages offering cafés for a coffee break.

Our first stop today is the Abbaye de Bassac, a beautifully preserved Abbey, dating from the 12th to 15th centuries. The grounds and cloisters make for a serene stroll, with a medicinal garden revealing the secrets of medieval healing.

Continuing along the river after lunch we arrive at the picturesque riverside village of Jarnac. The birthplace of Francois Mitterand, it is home to a museum in his honour, and a museum to wine making. However, the main attraction of the town are the handsome 18th century riverside buildings, including that of the headquarters of the Courvoisier brandy company, which we will visit for a fascinating tour and tasting.

After this it is luckily just a few kilometres to our Chateau hotel in Cognac itself. Take a dip in the pool or grab your bike and pedal into the old centre of the town to see the majestic mansions built with the proceeds of the brandy industry, with such famous names as Hennessy, Martel, and Rémy- Martin over their ornate gates. At the hotel a gourmet meal awaits!

Ride distance: 43km / 27 miles

Day 3

Leaving the Charente for a spell, we travel north across gently undulating countryside of vines and sunflowers. After stopping for coffee, we continue to the day's first visit.

Its just a few kilometres of rolling countryside before lunch – which, weather allowing (as it nearly always does!) will be a picnic in the grounds of the Abbaye de Fontdouce – a stroll around the landscaped park of the abbey will sharpen the appetite while the guides prepare one of French Cycling Holidays’ famous picnics.

The afternoon ride takes into Saintes, our resting place for the night. On the way we visit the site for which Saintes is most famous, the Roman Amphitheatre. Built in the 1st Century BC, the arena is one of the oldest in the old Roman province of Gaul, and one of the best preserved.

Another fine meal awaits us at our hotel 5 minutes from the Arena.

Ride distance: 46km / 28 miles

Day 4

From Saintes we head northwest, with our first visit of the day being the magnificent Chateau of La Roche Courbon, built in 1475. With its ornamental gardens and lake it is a secret treasure of this corner of France. Rooms have been restored to the state they were at various points in the chateau’s history, so you will see the sumptuous furnishings of the 17th and 18th century, and the late medieval kitchens.

A flat ride in the afternoon, including some peaceful canal towpaths, brings us to the historic town of Rochefort which will be our home for the next two evenings. Rochefort has a long and prod history as a naval base, which is reflected in the many places of interest in the town; amongst these are the Corderie Royale, the rope-making factory and arsenal of Louis XIV, the Sun King, at 374m long the longest building of its age in the world; and the frigate Hermione, an exact replica of the vessel in which General Lafayette brought help to the Americans fighting the British in the War of Independence, which has recently made the Atlantic crossing and return.

The old quarters and gardens by the Charente have been magnificently restored and there should be plenty of time before dinner to take in the sights.

Ride distance: 47km / 29 miles

Day 5

As we are staying in Rochefort tonight, no bothersome packing! On the way out of Rochefort, we will take advantage of another of the town’s historical assets, and it’s most fun – Le Pont Transbordeur, a ‘transporter’ bridge, where a pontoon carrying passengers crosses the river suspended between two enormous gantries on either side. Built in the 19th Century, it is now one of only eight working transporter bridges in the world (three in the UK, two in Germany, Buenos Aires and Bilbao being home to the others).

On the other side of the Charente, we head through the flat countryside of marshes towards the Gironde estuary. En route we arrive at the amazing village of Hiers-Brouage. In the early middle ages, the village was an island in the shallow waters of the Bay of Biscay, but over the centuries the spread of the salt marshes resulted in the village becoming a port on the bay. In the 16th century, it was fortified to keep at bay the bands of mercenary soldiers released from fighting in the Wars of Religion. These days it is full of craft shops and boutiques, and is a wonderful place to visit, with star shaped curtain walls being intact.

We head back to Rochefort in time to leave the afternoon free for visiting the many museums and sites, or taking an aperitif in the elegant town square.  

In the evening we have a night off from the fine dining and sample the more relaxed atmosphere of a harbourside bistro.

Ride distance: 48km / 30 miles

Day 6

Our route heads out towards the Atlantic Ocean at the Pointe de Fumée, with spectacular views to the Isle d’Aix. After a coffee break, we hug the coast, stopping for lunch in one of the seaside resorts that dot this section of the Atlantic shore.

In the afternoon we reach our hotel in the historic port of La Rochelle. With its lovely old port guarded by two 15th Century towers at the harbour entrance, the cobbled and arcaded dtreets of the old quarter, and myriad cafés and bars La Rochelle is one of France’s favourite destinations. We take to the water in order to get the best views of the old city, with a boat ride from the old harbour famous for the twin medieval towers that guard its entrance.

Back on dry land, there is plenty of time to explore the narrow streets of the old town and the famous 16th Century clock tower. The Friday evening market in Place Verdun will be a delight to lovers of bric-a-brac. The final dinner of the trip is one of the best, at an atmospheric harbour restaurant.

Ride distance: 44km / 27 miles

Day 7

After breakfast (and maybe a quick trip to the weekly food market to stock up for the journey!), we transfer to the local TGV train station for onward journeys. Alternatively, although our tour is over you may want to stay on an extra day to take full advantage of this wonderful town!

Not all cycle vacations are the same. Compare what is included in a French Cycling Holidays bike tour:

  • Flexible collection from local airport or train station
  • Quality Trek bicycles
  • Quality helmets (if required)
  • Water bottles (to take home as souvenirs)
  • Detailed riding instructions and colour route maps
  • Charming 3* (occasionally 4*) auberges, inns and hotels
  • Buffet style breakfasts with croissants, pastries, meats, cheeses and cereals
  • Gourmet dinners for all 6 nights of your holiday
  • Fine wine (or soft drink alternative) with all evening meals and coffee to follow
  • 2 experienced bilingual guides with each tour
  • Delivery of your luggage to your hotel room each day
  • Entry fees to attractions and historical sites
  • Flexible onward transfers
  • An unforgettable experience!

We try to include as much as we can within the price, while keeping things as flexible as possible. With the explosion of low cost airlines and the easy access to the TGV rail system from the UK, we believe that it is more economical and convenient for customers to arrange their own travel to the region. Links to the airlines and railway companies can be found in frequently asked questions.

Transfers

We provide the transfers to and from the local airports and the nearest TGV stations, and other locations by arrangement. If you have driven down, we arrange secure parking for your car and return you to it after the tour.

Hotels

We stay in very comfortable hotels, mostly 3*, occasionally 4*, and very occasionally superior 2* hotels which we choose if they have charm and comfort above their rating. All rooms have en-suite shower or bath facilities.

We select our hotels for their character as well as their facilities, and avoid chains in favour of independent privately run hotels.

Prices are based on two sharing in twin or double rooms. Singles are available on request. Where possible, we choose hotels with swimming pools as there is nothing quite like a dip after a day in the saddle!

It is sometimes necessary to change accommodation for reasons of room availability, minor adjustments to the route or upgrading the hotels. We will always endeavour to use hotels of an equal or higher level of comfort/facilities to those shown – please contact us to check for the most up-to-date information regarding your particular tour.

Meals

All evening meals are included, and we carefully select the restaurants for cuisine and ambience, and favour those with a strong regional flavour.

All meals include a starter, main course and dessert, some will have an additional cheese course. We are happy to arrange for our restaurants to cater for specific dietary requirements and allergies etc.

Bikes & Equipment

We provide lightweight alloy framed Trek ‘hybrid’ touring bicycles with 24 indexed gears, fully equipped with lock, pump and toolkit (although our guides will generally be on hand to fix punctures and minor mechanical problems).

For carrying the items you might need during the day (camera, wallet, windbreaker etc.) we fit a capacious handlebar bag which also features a large map pocket. These clip on and off the bike in a flash so that you can always take your valuables with you when off the bike.

The bikes are meticulously maintained and we keep a wide range of sizes; female specific saddles are also available. We do not provide helmets automatically, as we find people prefer their own if they want to wear one, and sizing and fit is quite personal; however we always have helmets available for use. We also carry rain-capes should they be required (but hopefully not!). For certain tours we also have available 27 speed drop-handlebar race-style bikes, and tandems may also be available on certain tours by special request. We hire these locally, and charge on the additional cost. 

For nearly all of our tours an e-bike - electrically assisted bicycle - is an extra-cost option. These bikes apply a 'multiplier' to the level of input provided by the rider, the level of assistance can be adjusted for the terrain. This can be useful if there are members of your party have very different levels of bike-fitness and experience, as hills that look daunting suddenly become easy with an e-bike.

Please contact us for details.

Jerseys

Our complimentary French Cycling Holidays jerseys are the ideal garments for cycling in the sunshine.

The high tech Coolmax™ fabric is engineered to keep users dry and comfortable especially during exercise. We have abandoned women's specific sizing as the difference in measurements expected for different parts of the anatomy meant that the womens specific fit rarely suited our customers. The fabric is stretchy so we have found that the mens' cut is normally fine!

             
Men's (Women's equivalent) XS (6)  S (8-10) M (12-14) L (16) XL (18) XXL
Chest (cm/in)

 90cm

 

98cm
38.5"
102cm
40"
108cm
42.5"
110cm
43.5"
117cm
46"

Please specify the sizes you require on the full Booking Form or by contacting us.

These are the armpit-to-armpit measurement of the unstretched jerseys. The women’s jerseys are fitted, while the men’s are a straighter cut. Both styles are quite close/slim-fitting so if you prefer looser clothing, you may wish to go one up from your regular clothes size. However being made from CoolMax technical fabric which stretches, they do have room if you find yourself halfway between a size – e.g. a women’s 12 would fit a 36” chest, or a men’s M a 41”/42” chest etc.

They also have silicon gripper strips around the waist to stop the jersey riding up the back when you are on the bike, and three standard rear pockets.

For more information on what to wear visit our FAQ page.

Guides and Backup

There will be two guides on every tour; one cycling with the group and one in the minibus which will follow the group. The bus carries all luggage not required for the day's ride and will always be available for anyone at any point during the day. If for instance you want to take a day off the bike, or if a particular day seems a little hard, the bus will take you for as long or as little as you wish it to.

Everybody is provided with detailed route maps for each day, and both guides are easily contactable by mobile phone. The guides are enthusiastic experts on the local area and will be able to sort out any problems or special requests that you might have.

La Vieille Etable Roullet Saint-Estephe 

Originally a farm dating from the 17th Century, the 3 star hotel is situated in open countryside allowing easy access to traffic free roads. Boasting a huge swimming pool, tennis court and a small lake within its spacious grounds, the comfortable rooms are situated in modern annexes.

Phillippe Mandon, the chef and proprietor, uses local ingredients in his menus, so expect seafood from the coast, local specialities like asparagus and Charentaise melon, and game, to be served up in imaginative and elegant recipes.

Vieille Etable

Château de l'Yeuse, Cognac

The 4*  Château de l'Yeuse was built in the Italianate Louis Phillippe style in the 1850’s. Sitting in a 20 acre park with views overlooking the valley of the Charente and the vineyards of Cognac, the hotel also boasts a large swimming pool. A few minutes from the centre of Cognac, the situation is ideal.The gardens are notable as they have been left 'wild' to encourage wildlife and biodiversity.  

Dinner is eaten in the elegant contemporary dining room, or on the terrace overlooking the valley on fine days.

yeuse

Relais du Bois Saint-Georges, Saintes

The Relais is a modern 4 star hotel not far from the historic centre of Saintes, set in an exceptional park with a huge lake – wake up to the sound of ducks and geese! With a huge indoor swimming pool, the pride of the Relais is its restaurant. Award-winning chef Stéphane Gautier uses herbs and vegetables from the hotel’s kitchen garden and foraged in the local woods to create a menu that attracts diners from all over the region.

relais bois saint georges

Hotel La Corderie Royale, Rochefort

Situated in the grounds of the Corderie – the centre for rope making for Louis XIV’s imperial navies – the hotel dates back to the 17th century and sits on the banks of the River Charente close to the historic dockyards.

The elegant façade houses modern and comfortable rooms and hidden in a courtyard is a swimming pool; in the basement is a fully equipped fitness centre if the day’s cycling hasn’t been sufficient exercise!

The restaurant looks out onto the river and the Corderie – a perfect setting for local oysters or lobster, or venison from the local forests!

Corderie Royale

Central Park Hotel and Spa, La Rochelle

 

In a change to our normal style of hotel, the luxurious 4* Central Park opened in 2016. Whilst it may not have the history of other hotels on the tour, its location on the edge of the ancient port district means that you won't be short of history and atmosphere - with the added advantage of a well equipped spa with hammam, sauna, jacuzzi and wellness centre! Its position close to the harbour means that a wealth of superb restaurants are in easy walking distance. 

central park view

Note: Hotels are subject to change as circumstances may dictate the use of different accommodations. We will always endeavour to use hotels of a similar standard to our regular hotels should this be the case.

Below we answer all the most common questions that you might ask before choosing a French Cycling Holidays tour. If you have any further questions then please get in touch. We look forward to hearing from you.

How fit do I need to be?

Anybody who is reasonably active should be able to take part and enjoy our tours.

The tours have different levels of physical exertion — whilst the Loire Valley tours and Bordeaux tour are easy going; the Normandy, Provence Roman Heritage, and Burgundy tours are a little more strenuous, whilst and the Provence Lubéron, Dordogne and Languedoc tours require a reasonable level of fitness.

For nearly all of our tours an e-bike - electrically assisted bicycle - is an extra-cost option. These bikes apply a 'multiplier' to the level of input provided by the rider, the level of assistance can be adjusted for the terrain. This can be useful if there are members of your party have very different levels of bike-fitness and experience, as hills that look daunting suddenly become easy with an e-bike. Contact us via the contact page if you would like more details.   

The Sports tours are aimed at enthusiast cyclists who might want to bring their own road bikes. However, the rides are not races and there is no time limit - and there is always the minibus if things get too tough!

We would nevertheless recommend that anyone who has not taken any regular exercise for some time to consult their doctor before considering any activity based holiday. Bear in mind that a little regular riding before coming on a cycling vacation will always be a benefit to the experience.

How do I get there?

We pick up and drop off from the nearest international airports and TGV/railway stations to the start of each tour. (We can drop at a nearer airport or station by arrangement if more convenient for you and logistically possible). This gives everyone the option of making their way by the most economical or convenient means. The major options are:

Flying from the UK

Ryanair flies into following airports:

Nimes (for the Provence tours and Languedoc tours; Ryanair also fly out of Beziers and Montpellier for the Languedoc tour); Bergerac (for the Bordeaux tour), Dinard for the Normandy tour, Grenoble for Alpine trips and Pau (for the Classic Cols tour)

Ryanair operates out of Liverpool, London Stansted and London Luton Airports amongst others.

Easyjet flies into Montpellier (for the Provence tours) and out of Bordeaux (for the Bordeaux tour); it flys into Geneva and Lyon for Alpine tours and also out of Nice for the Alpine Raid.

British Airways prices can be reasonable if booked in advance — BA fly into Bordeaux for train transfers to Bergerac (Bordeaux tour), and Marseilles (Provence tours).

If we do not pick up from the airport itself, we will advise on rail connections from the airport to our pick-up points.

Rail for visitors from outside Europe / those already in France

The TGV can be an exceptionally quick way of reaching many French destinations from the UK and from Paris for those flying from overseas or UK regions.

The Eurostar SNCF (French National Railways) TGV websites may be useful. As a guide, London St Pancras to Avignon via TGV takes approximately 6½ hours; Tours takes 4 hours. From Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, the point of arrival for most intercontinental flights, Tours is 1½ hours by TGV, Avignon (for Provence) just over 3 hours.

Brive-la-Gaillarde is 4 hours from Paris by rail for the Dordogne tour. We are more than happy to advise on rail options — please contact us. Internet sales from the French SNCF site ( www.voyages-sncf.com sites are possible but are in French; the approved agency for the US and Canada is RailEurope ; however we are happy to advise and help with the French website.

Driving

This may be a good choice if your French Cycling Holiday is part of a longer stay. We will arrange secure parking for your car at or near our first hotel, and return you to your car at the end of the trip. (Note - this service may not be available on certain long distance sports tours - please check with us). The major ferry and crossing companies from the UK are Eurotunnel, P&O, Brittany Ferries, LD Lines, Speedferries and SeaFrance.

If it is more convenient for you to hire a car Europcar in our experience have the best rates for rentals where the drop-off is at a different location to the pickup.

However you choose to travel, we are very happy to help you sort out your itinerary.

What kind of pedals do you use?

Pedals are obviously fairly important on a cycling tour! We stock the following kinds:

Flat – i.e. no special cleats or grips, these pedals can be used with any kind of footwear. If you do not regularly use special pedals or cycling shoes, we recommend standard trainers/sneakers to wear while riding.

SPD/flat – we also have pedals with one side flat and one side an SPD cleat. This is the standard Shimano SPD compatible system; two bolts and the small cleat pictured on the shoe with the yellow sole. These cleats are ideal for cycling tours as the cleat is usually recessed into the bottom of the shoe. The pedals are visible to the right of the picture.

SPD/flat style pedals

Flats with cages – we have a small number of flat pedals with cages & straps – again if you are not used to this, we wouldn’t recommend starting a tour with them!

Other – we do NOT stock any other pedal systems. If you use any other kind of pedal, you are very welcome to bring your own and our guides can fit them to your bike for the week. However, we would advise against racing-style pedals such as the Look Keo, Shimano SPD-SL or similar, as these tend to have a large, protruding cleat on the sole of the shoe which makes walking around visits or lunch stops (or even nipping into a public toilet!) quite uncomfortable and dangerous. Sports tours are a little different as there are much longer days and less off-the-bike walking – a choice is ultimately up to you though!

Can I use my own bike?

We are happy for anyone to bring their own bikes. However, the budget airlines charge around £50 each way and packing and carriage can be a hassle. Our Trek bikes are of a high standard, and our customers usually express pleasant surprise at the quality of the machines, so it might be a better option to bring your saddle and/or pedals which we will be very happy to fit. In any case there will always be a backup bike should you have a mechanical problem. Please feel free to call us for advice on bike transportation.

What should I wear?

The main thing that people who are not regular distance cyclists worry about is a sore behind. This is not as is popularly thought due to too-hard saddles, but friction between skin and garments. This is why professional cyclists wear skin-tight lycra shorts with padded inserts. Many people feel a bit self-conscious in this sort of gear and your local cycle shop will have a range of padded undershorts which can be worn under normal clothing, or regularly styled shorts with sewn-in padded liners. Otherwise, lightweight comfortable clothing (tee-shirts, shorts, trainers) is ideal, with something warmer like a fleece just in case. As we will be dining well, you might like to take something presentable (but not formal — no-one on a French Cycling Holiday stands on ceremony!) for the evening meal.

How many people on each tour?

As well as being an active holiday, sampling the best that France has to offer, we believe that our trips should be an opportunity to meet people and make new friends. Our groups are limited to a maximum of 16, which is the largest number that we can give a personal service to, and a minimum of 6 people, which we feel is the number needed to achieve a group spirit. If we cannot achieve this number, we may cancel the tour giving a minimum of five weeks notice.

What weather are we likely to encounter?

We time our tours so that the weather should be ideal for cycling for each tour. For that reason we have our Provence and Languedoc tours in the late spring and early autumn, rather than in high summer when it can be too hot to cycle comfortably after 10 a.m. The Loire Valley, Dordogne, Bordeaux and Burgundy tours are more temperate, which is why we concentrate these tours in July and August. We cannot guarantee the weather, but it would be very unlucky to have more than one wet day on any of the tours.

Are there any age limits?

There is no specific upper age limit — the only constraint is a reasonable level of fitness. Children between 10 and 16 are welcome as part of family groups. We do not recommend these tours for children under 10.

Do I need travel insurance?

We require all participants to have travel insurance with full medical cover. It is part of the conditions of our tours that participant should provide evidence of suitable cover. If you have any questions about the cover required please contact us for advice.

What financial protection is in place for my booking?

In accordance with “The Package Travel, Package Tours Regulations 1992” customers of French Cycling Holidays Limited will be indemnified in respect of their net ascertained financial loss sustained arising from the cancellation or curtailment of the declared trip travel arrangements arising solely from the event of the financial failure of French Cycling Holidays Limited.

This insurance has been arranged by Towergate Chapman Stevens through Hiscox Insurance Company Limited.

“Alan and Roger should be commended for their flexibility – you couldn’t ask for better guides. I plan on booking another trip with FCH!”

Scott, Alberta, Canada


 “Everything we dreamed about, expected and more – simply incredible! The company of the guides and our fellow riders was fantastic.”

John & Margie, Nevada, USA


  “Would enthusiastically recommend it to other cycling nuts who have a taste for the better things in life – fine wine, good food & company; in all, a very indulgent holiday! Thanks for all the meticulous planning & preparation that made our holiday a breeze.”

Jeffrey & Elisabeth, Brighton, Victoria, Australia

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