Last week was VE day – Victory in Europe – and it is always a public holiday in France. We were invited to dinner at a friends’ house and to stay the night. The children were excited when they knew they were going for a sleepover altogether but it seemed that the invite had caused confusion, for one afternoon the week before we left, Gigi looked at me with a very serious expression on her face and asked “Are you and Papa staying the night in Pons too?”. I told her that of course we were! The serious face turned into an incredibly big smile, “Mama and Papa are having a sleepover too, that’s so cool!”, she said. She and her siblings are always having sleepovers at friends’ houses or have friends coming to our house, but the idea of her parents doing the same at a friends’ house had not occurred to her at all!
The day of the big sleepover arrived – you would really have thought we were going away for a month, not a night. Our fabulous neighbour was left in charge of the ducks and chickens, the kittens had plenty of food and Bentley was coming with us. All the shutters throughout the house had to be closed, a job in itself which seems to take forever and then there is the actual reality of ushering five children out of the door with all their “stuff” – of course we were running late! It was the most perfect day, hot and sunny with clear blue skies. As we headed east our coastal landscape slowly gave way to the gently undulating hills of inland Charente Maritime, with rows and rows of vines as far as the eye could see.
In the late afternoon after we arrived we walked for miles, through the vineyards as is so typical in France; no cars, no noise, no-one to be seen apart from a solitary tractor working in the vines and the chatter and laughter of the children.
The most delicious dinner followed and for once no need to worry about driving home, what a treat that was. Several glasses of wine, much laughter and hours of talking. The children went to bed far too late, only to be woken along with everyone else and a very nervous Bentley at 5am by the roar of overhead thunder and much flashing of lightning.
The storm brought with it cooler air and a stiff breeze but amazingly the rain held off for the annual VE day Brocante and plant fair in Avy the next day. Beer tents were overflowing with friends enjoying their day off; dogs on leads; children running here and there amidst so many people carrying their purchases – flowers, zinc pots, copper pans, pieces of furniture – for anyone wanting to experience the “real” France, a visit to a Brocante during the spring has to be very high up on the agenda.
For once we were in no rush, time was on our side and later we took the opportunity to explore the beautiful town of Pons.
Perched on a rock, this Cité Médiévale is very much worth a visit. In the centre there is the remaining vestige of the old fortified castle and its magnificent keep. It was destroyed in 1179 by Richard the Lionheart and then rebuilt again later. We were careful to speak in undertones and remain very un-British!
All around are small streets full of history, adorned with turrets, arches, stairways and fabulous private houses.
Alleys join the lower town where pilgrims on their way to the town of Santiago de Compostela stopped at the Hôpital Neuf (New Hospital) founded in 1160 by Geoffroy III of Pons.
On the other side, a walk in the park is an occasion to see a typical French public garden with carefully manicured shrubbery and glorious avenues of huge green trees à la Française – chestnuts, oak and plane (sycamore for our American friends) trees are typically planted for this purpose.
Our little sojourn away has thoroughly recharged our batteries and is good proof of the saying, “A change is as good as a rest” !