Ask anyone what they love about France and a few themes would crop up over and over. Weather, Food, Culture being up there in the first few no doubt. There is pretty much ‘something for everyone’ just a short hop across the channel from the UK.
Ask anyone what they love about France and a few themes would crop up over and over. Weather, Food, Culture being up there in the first few no doubt. There is pretty much ‘something for everyone’ just a short hop across the channel from the UK. France is such a diverse country and each region has something unique to offer. Those of you who travel regularly to France will know this of course and those who have yet to discover her delights, have a real treat in store!
Everyone will have a different story to tell but here is mine. Having made our mind up to buy a French property and join the growing band of Brits with a property abroad (well France anyway, is there anywhere else?), we rented a house in the middle-of-nowhere in the Tarn-et-Garonne countryside (courtesy of a French Connections owner) arriving late one wet and windy October evening in a torrential downpour. Not a good start, particular since we found the next morning, we had missed falling into the swimming pool by inches as we had no torch to guide us - still, at least we missed it! At that moment we learnt the first of many lessons, that without street lights, a torch is vital for night-time manoevres to avoid potential problems! And that lack of light pollution in the countryside makes the stars of the night sky take on a whole new meaning.
The next morning broke with clear skies and sunshine and we surveyed the scene before us with growing satisfaction. Surrounded by acres of green fields and only cows for neighbours, we savoured every moment of the peace and tranquility that came from taking time-out of the hustle and bustle of any town anywhere, whilst we conducted a property search in the neighbouring Lot department for our dream holiday home. We were delighted too, to find a local boulangerie (a delight that is sadly fading as more villages are losing their local boulangerie and other small shops to the major town supermarkets) selling warm, mouthwatering croissants and pain-chocolate.
Why the Lot? Well for one, we knew we wanted reliable weather. By the time you get down as far as Cahors you can really feel the southern warmth deep in your bones, smell the glorious pines and honeysuckle and soak up those full bodied red wines that Cahors is famous for………
We had considered several different departments from the Dordogne to the Aude, but finally settled on the Lot as its rolling roads, patchwork fields and leisurely pace of life reminded us very much of an England 30 years ago…..but with a much better climate and vineyards on tap!
We were not disappointed and quickly found a property just north of the Lot Valley that ticked all the boxes, including opportunity of gites, lending themselves beautifully to ‘letting’. On our doorstep, the River Lot has some of the most spectacular scenery with it’s limestone cliffs rising out from the water. Each time we rounded a bend on that winding river, I half expected to see a giant prehistoric dinosaur foot crash down in front of us, so unspoilt with time is the valley. The troglodyte caves found so prolifically in the area, bear testament to the early human and animal life that roamed the Lot valley and the caves at Grotte du Peche Merle and Rocamadour never cease to amaze .
Those marvelous little medieval ‘perched villages’ such as St. Cirque La Popie, all who seem to profess to be ‘one of the prettiest villages in France’ with good reason, are littered along the river’s meandering route. Even in the height of the tourist season, it was not difficult to imagine life in the village of a bygone age with their fascinating buildings and their narrow alley ways almost totally obscured from the sun in some cases – Medieval is all well and good, although for me these villages work as a backdrop for the little artisan shops selling everything from jewellery to leather goods, local yummy produce to works of art. And as for the restaurants……..
But my ‘love affair’ with France started way before then; a little time after the medieval period. In fact, sometime in the early ‘60’s. I used travel through France in the car on holiday with my parents. This was back in the day when seat-belts were unheard of and all ‘GB’ cars would peep their horn and wave frantically at each other in British solidarity, as we passed. Perhaps you were in one of those cars at that time? As a small child I would sit on the leather pull-down arm of the back seat and gaze out of the window at the typical northern French scenery shooting by. Long, straight, tree-lined roads with sunshine dappling through the trees and very little traffic except perhaps the odd tractor meandering between fields. Frenchman on bicycles with the much clichéd but oh-so-true sight of onions draped around their person. Dog’s sleeping on the road-side in half inhabitated villages. We would stop off at a roadside vendor and buy brown paper bags (not nasty eco-unfriendly plastic bags) full of fat, juicy peaches which tasted all the yummier straight out of the bag; no washing, no uniform euro-sized roundness with a sell-by date, just soft, delicious ripe flesh to bite into causing sticky juice to run down the mouth and chin. There on that seat arm I would perch in seventh heaven, savouring a taste that floods back to me 40 odd years later as I recall it. Now of course I have added more foodie memories with delights such as delicious ripe goats cheese, pate and French bread and my fruit juice ‘fix’ comes preferably in bottles, of white, red and rose. But it is still all there to be found if you know where to look for it.
So what do I love about France?…..Well the years have passed and in that time I have taken great pleasure in introducing my children and more recently my grand-children to France. Times change but France still has what it takes with its sights, tastes and smells to evoke old memories and make wonderful new memories, and never, never disappoint.