This week our lives turned upside down – we have a new puppy! We drove inland and chose her from a litter of six in the neighboring department of the Deux Sevres at the weekend and she was delivered to us on Tuesday afternoon amidst much excitement. A gorgeous little short legged, broken-coated Jack Russell whom we have named Evie. She is 9 weeks old and a playmate for Bentley; or at least, that is the plan. So far he has tolerated her! As have the chickens, the ducks and the cats, up to a point. Evie thinks everyone and everything is a playmate and is rather surprised when she is given short change by most of the other residents of the property, with the exception of the humans, who she has quickly come to realize dote on her hand and foot! I am sure you will get pretty bored with photos of her over the coming weeks and months, but at the moment Evie is incredibly difficult to photograph. She doesn’t understand the command ‘sit’, and she doesn’t stay still long enough for me to take a decent photo. One minute she is playing and the next she has collapsed in an exhausted heap, instantly sound asleep, as puppies are prone to do. As you may be able to tell I am quite smitten with our latest addition, and I just adore the fact she has black eyelashes on her left eye and white eyelashes on the right one!
Evie has arrived in August, of course; the busiest holiday month of the year. As a result, the roads are crowded and the resorts are bursting with people. Where we live, a mere fifteen minutes from the sea, is very different to the coastline where everyone is drawn to the vast flat Charente Maritime beaches like bees to a honeypot; the long glittering washes of sand are magnetic strips for jaded Parisians and others. There is much action on the water; be it surfing, or bodyboarding, or boating, or fishing, or swimming, and then one can also hire jet-skis, boats and windsurfers; the action is there for all to see and do. However the beaches are packed and as our son pointed out, they are just a sea of colour at this time of year, pimpled with colourful umbrellas and spots of extravagant bikinis; this is after all a major holiday destination which boasts the second highest levels of sunshine in France after the Mediterranean and it appears that this summer it is certainly living up to its reputation.
There are still beaches and tiny secret coves to be found where the crowds don’t go and the locals keep a closely guarded secret, even if some of them do involve a slight trek through vast sandunes and past ruined WWII bunkers subsiding softly into the coastline they were once built to protect.
But if you really don’t feel up to battling the traffic and the masses, it’s a great time to turn the other way and head inland! France is quite a big country and parts of it are very sparsely populated; something that is a part of it’s immense charm and a feature we simply adore. Turning away from the coast and driving in the opposite direction along a good selection of different routes soon brings you to beautiful countryside, where fields of maize ripen under the same sultry sun that wilts sunflowers in the heat. It’s amazing, even during France’s busiest holiday month there are really very few cars on the inland narrow country roads; one sees the odd local, the occasional tourist and some foreign cars, usually with either Dutch or British license plates. We pass houses that look neglected with their shutters firmly closed but they’re just going about that age old tradition, shutting out the sun and keeping the interior cool.
Locals sit in the shade, nothing is hurried, in such heat it cannot be; a game of boules under the coolness of trees, a quiet afternoon fishing by the river. In the country time passes slowly for locals who know how precious their summer is. Far from the maddening crowds the water flows slowly….
There are still plenty of watersports available on the River Charente, albeit with a slightly more relaxed atmosphere. Kayaking is very popular in France and it’s easy to find a spot to hire some for the day.
Without so many people it is possible to really enjoy the beauty of France. This is inland Charente Maritime, still only 30 to 40 minutes from the coast, but a world apart. Here restaurants still enjoy their summer visitors, but they’re not groaning with hordes of tourists; as a result, everyone is charming and everywhere looks so perfect – so perfectly French!
While enjoying a little bit of casual culture it’s also a good time to visit one of the many châteaux of the region. Château de Crazannes is well worth a visit, nestled amongst the trees just outside the village of the same name. Built in the XIVth and XVth centuries and classified as a listed historic monument in 1913, it was one of the first private castles to receive this classification in France. Both Edward lll’s son, the “Black Prince” and the King of France, Francois 1st, stayed here. It is here that the tale Puss in Boots is also based – this goes back to the XVIIth century when the Marquis of Carabas owned the Château and he is indeed the master in Charles Perrault’s tale.
In the grounds, the Roman chapel, the keep, the moat and the dovecote are the remains of an ancient medieval fortress, which used to be a place for the pilgrims to stay for the night on their way to St Jaques de Compostelle in Spain.
The best bit of all for us, of course, is that wonderful stretch of countryside between land and sea right on our doorstep – the Marais de Brouage; where cattle and horses roam and where there is wildlife in abundance. For us it seems untouched by tourism and ignored by most people as they speed past it on the way to their coastal resort.
On the one hand I am glad it is largely ignored, but on the other I am sad that so few people take the time to appreciate it; it’s somewhere where one can walk and cycle for hours on end and not see a soul. It’s a land where one can reflect, a place so near to everything and yet so far from it all; a place full of discovery and a place I will never forget. It’s a good place to call home.