The French Market Experience

IMG_4685A visit to the weekly French market is the best way to buy food. But don’t be fooled into thinking it is just about fish and meat, fruit and vegetables.  Because it’s also most certainly about the people and their passion for the produce they are selling. It is an experience not to be missed and it is also one that simply cannot be hurried.

Standing in line eyeing up local aubergines and tomatoes this week I was getting a little fidgety; I needed to get to the bakery stand next door before they sold out of my favourite “Viking” loaves but I didn’t want to lose my place in the queue.

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The lady in front of me was taking forever; I was listening as she discussed her life story from the previous week, then she moved on to talking about her extended family who were arriving next day and what she would feed them as there were young and old and she hadn’t seen them for a year.  She drew breath for a second before launching into another long story about the new baker who had just arrived in her village. Apparently he was single and desperately in need of a wife! This was getting interesting and I stopped worrying so much about my bread and the fact that I had been waiting for at least ten minutes.

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When I finally got to the front of the line, I asked Maureen which peaches were the best, she had several varieties. With a smile, she said this week it was the flat peaches – les pêches plates; these were by far the sweetest, and to prove her point she took one, sliced it into chunks with a small dull knife that had seen a hundred harvests, and handed a piece each to the children and myself. We all mumbled our immediate appreciation as they were utterly delicious, and naturally, we bought plenty.

That’s how the market works. We talked about the canicule – the heatwave, of the past week and the difficulty with vegetable growing this year; it’s been either too hot or too cold, too wet at the start of the season and now far too dry: in short it’s been a bit of a disaster, une petite catastrophe.

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It’s the same at the fromagerie, the cheese stand, where Thomas will happily offer you a taste of anything you are unsure of. He knows his stuff; his counter has over 100 cheeses on it at any time, and he will tell you not only where they come from, but how they are made, and sometimes, why they were made in the first place. This week I learnt the difference between Morbier and Fevre, two cheeses that look like twins; it was not just a free and expert lesson in the history of the production of that particular cheese, but also a glimpse into the ancient worlds of small communities tucked away below Haut-Savoie mountain pastures where cheese is still made today as it has always been, by people who can tell the difference between cheese made with the morning milk and cheese made with the evening milk, a community who cease to make cheese as the calves are weaned.

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At the fish counter Roddy will talk for ever, and the girls there now ask him questions sometimes, and advice on recipes. They are still amazed that they have a customer who can skin his own gurnard and is happy to choose his own fish. It’s a true meeting of like minds amongst the sardines and the squid!

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But it’s not just the food that takes centre stage, it’s the people;

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each individual and their different characters make the market a performance,

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a well rehearsed play in which the customer plays an important supporting role while the main cast rarely alters. The subject too remains relatively unchanged – and that subject is mainly the produce, and everything about it. Where it’s grown, how it’s grown, who picks it or plucks it, who sells it and who cooks it – all the questions and answers buzz about the market like a swarm of wasps seeking jam.

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Above all else though it’s the appreciation of food that stands out. The French are passionate about what they do with their produce, and it’s that passion that speaks to the customer; it’s why transactions simply cannot be hurried. Everything needs to be discussed. Take melons for example – you don’t just buy the first three you see; you explain when you want to eat them, and only then will Maureen select them accordingly; one ready for today, one for tomorrow and one for mid-week. And if you are unsure which olive would be best for the evening’s aperitif, then you’ll be given a few to sample; we don’t buy clothes without trying them on first and it’s the same at the market, you cannot possibly buy without first tasting.

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There is much talk about French food being the best in the world. To be honest I have eaten excellent food in many countries, whether it’s been in the U.K., the USA, New Zealand, Australia, the Far East or the Caribbean. However, what makes French food so much fun is the attitude towards it; this love of food starts at the market, and continues into dining rooms and kitchens. Much consideration is given to what is actually being eaten by all the family, young and old. It’s really nothing new, this is how I grew up, but the difference in France is that here we are not in a minority. Here it is normal to know where your food comes from, and how to cook it. Almost nowhere else in the world could you have a pair of burly truck-drivers ruminating about their respective Boeuf Wellington recipes, as happened alongside me two weeks ago. No, in France it is rare to eat something and not ask where it came from, who grew it, how it was made. La belle France truly is a place where food, and the importance of it, is given the reverence it so rightly deserves.

 

106 thoughts on “The French Market Experience

  • I love the local markets and think it is so important to support the small local producteurs whenever possible. I too know all my vendors by name and love their recipes and advice. At the local bar tabac, I too am constantly surprised by old men discussing the best way to cook fresh trout, duck confit etc.

    • Totally in agreement Nadia, we know our vendors by name and if we miss our local market one week they will remember and the next week ask if everything is ok and where were we! I love it. Our local market is very small just a handful of stands, but I wouldn’t change it for anything, its one of my favourite parts of French life! Susan x

  • I loved this, I felt as if I was there with you, now I want to visit France again more than ever, have a lovely Sunday

    • Thanks Erin, am so glad you enjoyed visiting the market with me on the blog today. I sincerely hope you do get to come here and visit again. Hope you too have had a lovely Sunday, Susan x

  • The market in Carcassonne is the highlight of my week, because it’s so fun to chat with the vendors and the other shoppers. And everything is so beautifully displayed.
    I’m not familiar with fevre cheese, but morbier is delicious. The black line in the middle is ashes, that were sprinkled back in the day to protect the day’s leftover curds overnight until the mold could be topped off with morning milk.

    • I too thoroughly look forward to our weekly market, but ours is tiny, just a handful of stands. I have learnt so much about various French cheeses from Thomas, I have tried so many varieties that I would never normally have eaten and even liked some that have quite surprised me! Susan x

  • Beautiful pictures! I love the French markets, the colors, the scents, the fresh products and the atmosphere! Thank you for sharing, I was in France for a while 🙂

  • Loved this post and the fab photos! I wish we shopped for food that way here in the states. We just rush in big cold supermarkets with our list, plop the items in our big cart, pay and go. I was lucky to visit a market in Honfleur three years ago. Besides food they were selling clothing and other wares, too.

    • Hi Kim, there are many people who shop at the large supermarkets here too, I am also guilty, but I do try and visit our local market every week, it’s a part of the French way of life that I enjoy so much. Many of the larger markets do sell many other things including clothing and live chickens! Ours has just a handful of stands and is tiny. Susan x

      • Do Americans hate food shopping in general? I hate going to the supermarket, which is still a necessity for all the boring cleaning things and household things etc. But going to the market is like a special treat, even though I do it every week, I still love it just as much as the first time I ever visited. It makes food shopping inspirational, I never know what I am going to buy or what I am going to cook that evening until I have seen what is on offer that day, for only what is in season and what is fresh and local will be sold. it’s a different way of living, a sort of back to nature simpler way, but I cannot deny I love it! susan x

  • This has made me determined to change the way we eat a little, reading this and back through your old blog posts, I can see it is such a good way of life, I envy you, but more than that, I want to follow your lead, thank you for the inspiration you have given me.

    • Hi Lisa, I do feel very lucky, it is indeed a good life, but it is also a very simple way of life, I thoroughly enjoy buying fresh local produce and knowing exactly where it comes from. I hope you can find a good local market where you are and start to get to know the vendors, it is a lot of fun. Susan x

  • I so agree about how people of all ages have such a healthy and robust interest in food. Yet it is rarely fetishised. There is an expectation that it is a pleasure and being keen on your food is seen as a good thing, not something to angst about and feel guilty about. Food is not used as a punishment. Children are expected to try stuff but it’s no biggy if they don’t like it. Food is respected, to be savoured, not scoffed at your desk or whilst doing something else. Long may it continue.

    I remember having a conversation with our plumber several years ago. I offered him a piece of fruit cake, which was something new for him. I got quizzed about what went into it, especially what spices. He was very keen to try something new and to talk about it.

    • Hi Susan, I absolutely love having French friends to lunch or dinner and adding a couple of English things into the menu. As you so rightly say, the French love trying something new and they want to know exactly how it was cooked. I also love that our children are terribly interested in their food, they will discuss where things come from and the ingredients almost as well as any adult! Susan x

  • I was in our market this morning with 30 american visitors in tow, and was talking about exactly this. I love going to my favourite stall hlders who check the fruit, and select the perfect cheese for the appropriate time of day. My cheesemonger even put all the cheeses that I talk about up on the counter for all to see – that’s what I call service. Si true, everything you say. The best part of french culture – food in all its delicious forms.

    • Definitely the best part of French culture, I love the way our children have come to love their food and talk about it so much since they moved here. The cheese stand is undoubtedly one of their favourite places at the market, that and the fishmongers! Hope you are having a good summer. The weather has been gorgeous here for a while now. Susan x

      • Oh No, It has been beautiful here again today. I understand we are due to get some rain Thursday and then back to solid sun again. I know I can’t complain, in fact I should even welcome one day of rain, we haven’t had a drop for weeks and weeks, since the end of June in fact and the garden is so brown and parched. the lawn doesn’t even look like a lawn any more! Sending you some virtual sunshine xx

      • We finally had rain here, 8 hours straight, we even enjoyed it, we had quite forgotten what it looked like! Now the skies have cleared and it’s blue again, but the garden is happy and so am I! Susan x

  • I so enjoyed your wonderful blog this morning. Thanks so much for taking us along on your shopping trip. You are so talented at telling a story. I want so badly to visit France one day. Today, you made me feel like I was there. How fortunate you are to have these markets. I hope that you have a blessed day and a wonderful week!!!

    • Hi Shannon, I am so glad you enjoyed the blog today and our visit to our local market, I look forward to it going every week and in the holidays the children love coming with me, it’s all part of growing up in France. I really do hope you get to visit one day and that you too have a wonderful week ahead. Susan x

  • Okay, I’m hungry now! The market looks so inviting and colorful. How fortunate to have such a resource nearby!

    • Hi Nancy, the market always makes me hungry, every week. No matter how long I live here I still can’t resist a good local market. Last week we were driving home from somewhere and came across a tiny one of just three stands, of course we stopped and bought some fruit! Susan x

    • Hi Julie, I promise it’s not intimidating, everyone is so terribly friendly. For anyone who doesn’t speak French, it’s easy to just point, no one is there to judge, everyone just has a common love of food. I thoroughly enjoy our trips to the market, it’s very much a way of life. Susan x

  • Your young daughter is so thoughtful, even reverent, as she contemplates the beautiful displays of the market. She probably already has your eye for color, and a gourmet’s appreciation for the raw materials of a great meal.

    • Hi Ellen, All of our children love to cook and they will happily discuss fresh ingredients like adults! Hetty, in the photos, is definitely the most passionate about food, she loves to experiment, usually successfully, but not always!!! But more importantly despite being so young she is not afraid to try new things. This is one of the things I love most about life in France. Susan x

  • Great post and wonderful photos, Susan. After reading Kim’s comment and thinking, “Exactly so,” I was inspired to go online to see if there are any fresh fruit and veggie markets nearby to where we live. I found one that looks good and has great reviews, so I’m going to try it. 🙂

    • Thanks Sylvia, this has made me so happy, I hope it turns out to be a successful, please do let me know. We are totally spoilt for choice here and no matter how long I live here I will always be enchanted by local markets, they really are very much a way of life and it is fabulous to buy only very local produce, knowing exactly where everything comes from. Susan x

  • A wonderful tribute to Les marchés and Les marchands. I think what makes France different from most other places (including Italy where I lived for 18 months in my 20s) is the universal love and respect for food, for eating and drinking and for taking time to buy, prepare and share it with love

    • For me it is definitely what makes it unique, I love that a meal can take hours. I have visited Italy several times but I have never lived there. I thought the Italians had the same relationship with food that the French do? I am intrigued to know more, is it that they do, but that it is not so widespread? Susan x

      • Italians are different in a number of ways to the French. Or at least Romans were – I lived in Rome. They do love food, they do love sharing food but it’s not quite the same as here … I need to work out what that difference is having made the statement …. I will come back to you! x

      • Firstly, thank so much for the lovely comment on your blog yesterday, I was so surprised to read it and so flattered, merci mille fois. This is becoming more and more intriguing, no rush, perhaps over a bottle of wine when we meet during the cold winter months! Because I am certainly interested. We had dinner with a French family this evening in the next door village to us. The conversation naturally moved on to the subject of food, where it comes from and how it is grown. I cannot deny I love the way the French appreciate these things and that children enjoy talking about them too. xx

      • Curiouser and curiouser is my motto 😉 …. We shall have much to talk about not least the relationship of our adopted homeland to the important things in life – after all what could possibly be more important than how and with what we fuel ourselves? xx

    • Thank you so much Judy, I am always hungry at the market! It’s the smells and the sight of so much wonderful fresh local produce, my brain goes into overdrive, conjuring up all sorts of meals I want to prepare. It is a fabulous experience. Susan x

  • I Couldn’t get to our market this week, & bought apricots from the supermarket. not one was ripe or ready to eat and I left the melons on the shelf, We went to our French friends for lunch yesterday and the conversation around the table was about food, especially the haricot vert, how it was cooked and each one even the men had their own way of preparing and cooking them, also the disaster of their ‘potager’ this year. The French certainly have their priorities right. Lovely photos.

    • Hi Barbara, isn’t it wonderful, one of my favourite parts of living here. We had Parisian friends join us for lunch here today, amazingly we talked for ages about the merits of homegrown tomatoes which in turn led to the different varieties and which were the most flavoursome. Supermarket fruit just isn’t the same, I totally agree. I wonder, having missed the market this week, will stall holders ask you where you were next week? They do with us and I love it, it really does make one feel almost a true local! Susan x

  • Marvelous article. I only wish I could be there to experience it again. When my hubby & I visited France a few years ago, it was essential that I went to visit the outdoor markets as often as I could. I am fortunate to have great Farmer’s Markets here in Santa Barbara, California – but I have never tasted cherries as delicious as those I ate in France. Delicious! Thanks for sharing this.
    Best & Bisous,
    Michelle from Simply Santa Barbara

    • Hi Michelle, I have heard that the farmers markets in California are fabulous, you are very lucky! We too are spoilt for choice here. Our local market is very small, just a handful of stands that are there all year round, rain or shine. There are much bigger markets in nearby towns too, in fact we could go to a different one every day of the week if we felt so inclined! I hope you get to visit France again and if you do make sure you visit the Charente Maritime! Susan x

  • Love this! I especially like the markets in the smaller towns where there is less touristy stuff, and more food. When I returned home to NYC last week, one of my first stops was the twice weekly farmers market not far from us and found the same passion for where the food came from and what to do with it, which makes me a little less homesick for France….just a little bit.

    IG: mybackstageopera

    • Hi Rebecca, Where were you in France? It sounds as if you had a great time. You are lucky to have some local markets in NYC, it’s wonderful to hear that people there are passionate about their produce. Our local market is tiny, just a handful of stands, nothing touristy and only food and produce which I rather like. Susan x

      • We are near Uzes, just north of Nimes. The market in Uzes is huge, and so crowded with tourists, so we go to St Quintin le Poterie on Fridays. It’s hard to buy enough for the whole week, so we suppliment at the stands by the side of the roads. I will confess that I will buy produce at Carrefour, which I feel better about now that I learned (from someone who works there) that they buy as much of their produce as possible from local farmers. Don’t know if that is just in Uzes or not.

      • Hi Rebecca, What I do love about the supermarkets around here is they do label exactly where produce comes from, some just say France or Spain, but if it is local they will always mark it as from the Department of the Charente Maritime and which farm it came from. At least it does allow us to make educated choices. The stands by the road in the summer are brilliant and the signs pointing to local sellers just down this lane or that, it’s what makes driving so much fun during these warmer months I think. Susan x

  • I am looking forward to our first morning back at the market in Sanary….and some of our favourite vendors saying…Les Canadiens sont arrivés…..

    Ali xx

    • Hi Ali, I can imagine, it makes you feel like a real local and what a welcome, I remember the market in Sanary well and also the small one in La Cadiere. Ours is tiny here, there are plenty of bigger ones in Rochefort and around, but I rather like our small local one! Susan xx

    • thanks so much, as a great food lover and cook yourself you must appreciate French markets hugely. I wonder do you ever discuss with the vendors things you are going to cook, do you describe English dishes? I find the French love eating English food, they love experimenting and hearing how we cook things. Susan x

      • I have to say I don’t talk to the vendors too much but my French neighbour always seems to be popping by when I’m cooking and having a good look! I think the main difference is that they are preoccupied with desserts and my husband would rather more protein on his plate! Amanda x

      • Hi Amanda, I talk to the vendors because I just love talking about the fresh produce, I guess I am just a chatterbox! So it’s your neighbour who is always preoccupied with deserts and she loves to see you cooking mostly meat and savoury dishes? How interesting. Our neighbour actually has taken notes on how we cook our vegetables and since eating at our house now cooks their beans and broccoli in the same manner, just lightly steamed for a couple of minutes as opposed to beans which are soggy and brown. They’ve even taken to eating vegetables such as these with their meat, at the same time, at every meal! It seems that the French really do like our English cooking after all!!! Susan x

      • My neighbour is actually a ‘he’! I have to say we have been over a few times now and have yet to have any cooked vegetables and very little protein. We do, however, always get a huge dessert which is fruit based. I guess it is how they are brought up. Amanda x

      • I think you’re right. We eat regularly with our neighbour, it used to be; crudités of raw vegetables and tomatoes, they were the vegetables, and lots or protein with cheese and a very small desert! Now, it is exactly the same but, the main course includes lots of cooked vegetables, always two and steamed to perfection, again it is a “he”!!!

      • Ha ha, it’s because they don’t snack, I have found this to be an absolute rule and also because they eat very small portions, nothing is ever excessive. x

  • We used to have the most wonderful weekly market quite close to me when we lived in New Zealand and it was something we looked forward to every week, it is so interesting to see that sort of community food culture echoed across the world!

    • Hi Lily, I too remember the most wonderful farmers market in New Zealand, it was on a Sunday and our whole family would go there and enjoy it, it was a great meeting place of friends. The French market here is much the same, it’s something I look forward to every week. Susan x

  • You have totally captured the very essence of the French market here, the very thing that I love the most about France, you took me there with your descriptive writing. I was very happy to be there with you!

    • Thank you so much Jane, I am so happy you enjoyed coming along to our local market with me on the blog today. I look forward to visiting our local market every week, it’s a part of French life! Susan x

  • French life is all about markets. It would be impossible to even contemplate life in France without them, surely? Great photos Susan, as always. Just makes me grin with enjoyment.

  • I love this whole post; from pictures, to where does your food come from, to the entire family going on this necessary adventure, to.the.people…Thank You, it was delightful to live through your experience.

    • Thanks so much Audrey, so glad you enjoyed it. It is very much a part of life here and in the holidays the children come with us, everyone always looks forward to the market! Hope you have a wonderful week, Susan x

  • A market is the only way to shop, and they do exist in the UK – you just have to find them. My girlfriend and I have been to many farmers markets too. Great fun. I think they’re probably the nearest thing you get here to a French market. Lovely post, thank you Susan.

    • Hi Simon, I have been to many English farmers markets, they are great fun and the produce is usually excellent too. The only difference here is they continue all year round, every day of the week there is a market somewhere, it’s just a way of life! Susan x

  • This was so enlightening! I did not know any of this about France, and I love learning about the unique elements of this wonderful culture. Thank you for sharing!

    • So glad you enjoyed it and welcome to the blog. I love learning about new cultures and different lifestyles, the market is very much a way of life here, it is just as I said, somewhere to pick and choose carefully, much consideration is given to food, just as it should be. Great to have you following along. Susan X

  • Hello Susan, this was a lovely walk through your market, thank you! I am longing to try those unusual-looking flat peaches…….it will be at least 5 – 6 months before our (not flat) peaches will be ready. Even though there is interesting and gorgeous food all over the world, I don’t think there is another market equal to the one you find all over France ❤

    • Hi Jeanne, so happy you enjoyed coming along with us! I had never seen the flat peaches until we moved here either, but they are the sweetest of all the varieties in my opinion, just utterly delicious, our whole family is hooked on them, which with seven of us, means we are buying a lot of peaches!!! We cut out triangles just as she showed us how to and eat them on the terrace, warm from the sun, perfection! Xx

    • Thanks so much David, the market is very much a part of French daily life, and something I look forward to every week. looking forward to showing you around France more on the blog. Susan x

  • markets, wherever they are, are always a pleasure. talking , shopping, shopping, talking,
    sometimes only tasting. what a wonderful start in the weekend

    • Oh I totally agree with you, I always head to local markets wherever I am. One of the best I have ever visited in the world was in the Andaman Islands, my senses were quite overwhelmed with so many spices and the people were so incredibly friendly, it was an experience that I will never ever forget. Perhaps this is where my love of markets began, I was in my 20’s, it was a fantastic trip and now two decades later I still love talking to the vendors wherever I am and sampling and watching and tasting and just breathing in the atmosphere. Susan x

  • oh I could almost smell the aromas of fresh fruit and veg and the rich creamy odours of cheeses – yum! I enjoyed that post. Strangely, and purely coincidentally, we went to Bath yesterday and there was a ‘French Market’ in Queens Square! Sadly we had booked a table for lunch and could not linger long, but enough to look at the cheese stall and to ask (in French no less!!) the meaning of the work Tomme in relation to the cheeses. There were the olive stall and pastries and we could have stayed there for ever and spent a lot, but we hadn’t known it was on so had to move on. However great it was though, I can imagine that to visit a French market in France must be far more exciting and much noisier! The passion must exude from each stallholder and from the customers – something which we English are not so used do doing – such a shame as I think these markets are the stuff of life really. We do of course have more Farmers Markets now in our towns than ever before and they are becoming increasingly popular but sadly not a weekly event, more monthly. One day, I hope we can come to France and linger in a village or town long enough to enjoy the feast for the senses that is the French weekly market. Thank you for sharing and for the lovely photographs.
    PS. We collected our hens today!! 3 little girls, very pretty but now snuggled up underneath the henhouse away from this nasty cold rain!! When the sun is out and they have settled, I will take some photos and email them to you if I may. I did manage some cuddles though before putting them down and they didn’t object! They are one standard Buff Orpington, one Gold Laced Orpington (so pretty!) and one Silver Lavender Laced Bantam Orpington. They have been brought up together since hatching so they are happy together, despite the size difference.Can’t wait for the first eggs, but a few weeks yet. Have a lovely week.

    • Hi Marian, I certainly hope you get the chance to come to France again and to visit the markets, to stroll around and soak up the atmosphere, although the one you briefly visited in Bath does sound as if it was great fun. Hope you had a lovely lunch. Now I am so excited that your chickens have arrived. Have you named them yet? and yes please do email some photos, I would so love to see them. I am sure you are going to so enjoy watching them, you will treat that first egg, when it arrives, as if it was made of gold!!! Have lots of fun, thanks so much for letting me know. Susan xx

  • Well put, the French markets such an important part of the community. I love the passion for food, family and joie de vivre. Great photos, they make me feel like I was right there with you!!

    • Thanks so much, there is something very special about wandering around a French market and soaking up the atmosphere, even if you don’t buy anything, although it is virtually impossible not to, it’s still great just to be there. Susan x

  • Hello, I just love your blog, your life, your passion, and your kindness in sharing all of these. I live vicariously through you in your French life. I have LOVED everything about France since I was a little girl, and since I have yet to make my trip there, I feel as if I am already there. What a great little village you live in. Thank you.

    • Thank you so much Alice, I really hope that one day you will get the chance to come and visit, it is a wonderful country with very warm and friendly people, people who have made us so welcome, that’s why I love sharing our life here. Keep dreaming, one day it will happen. Susan xx

  • Love the French markets, we have two a week, Saturday and Wednesday then a big one that takes over the town once a month. Keep well Diane

    • Hi Diane, Me too, even if I see when whilst driving through an unknown village, I have to stop! We have three a week in Rochefort which are much bigger and span the entire length of one road, plus the indoor halles. Our local one is just on Friday’s and only a handful of regular stands, the basics, but they are good basics, like you there is a much bigger one the third Monday of each month, the day that makes the school run a nightmare!!! Hope. You are having a lovely summer. Susan X

  • Oh I ‘m soooooo envious. What a delightful experience and in so many ways…….as you shared with us. Old world living. SO important and necessary to keep us all grounded to the earth and to one another!
    Thank you !

    • I think a lot can be said for the old ways, the slightly simpler way of life. But I can see how difficult it is, it is time consuming, there is nothing hurried about any of it, not everyone has this time,hence the success of the supermarket. For me, I find a combination of the two work rather well! Susan x

  • Loved the description and the black and white photos caught my interest. The French passion for produce and for living is infectious!

    • Thanks so much Jacqui, the French lifestyle is certainly very good, it’s a wonderful combination of working and also enjoying everything about life, family and great company. Susan x

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