We are marching at full speed towards July and August, those sixty days of summer when the coast is packed with holidaymakers and visitors outnumber locals. It is the time when anyone in the tourist industry works at 100% capacity while still coping with a home life – typically this means shopping at 8.00am, before the masses stir. And yet, somehow, a sense of calm still prevails; there is still that wonderful feeling that life should not be hurried, and the little pleasures should be enjoyed to the full, complete with sunsets, sand on the kitchen floor, and the perfume of suncream in the air.
The number of vehicles on the roads have multiplied, it takes longer to get anywhere. Foreign cars and those from different départements far outweigh local ones and we all dread the multi-campervan convoy down a seaside lane. Fortunately we know the back routes and short cuts. But beware! These roads where seemingly nothing passes become race tracks at dusk and dawn and midday as the locals run them at speed to fulfil their tasks or get home for lunch.
Houses have their shutters semi-closed against the sun, to me these are the eyes of the building, their lids half-shut and snoozing, enjoying an afternoon siesta. At their feet in the streets, the hollyhocks – in full seasonal glory – nod sympathetically in the warm sea-breezes.
On one hand the pace of life gathers speed. The sheer number of residents in the locality multiplies ten fold, dwellings that have remained closed for months on end suddenly come to life once more as their owners arrive to make the most of our Charente Maritime summer sun. Many Parisians have their second homes here, personally I rather like it that they do, it gives the area a slightly more cosmopolitan feel.
Flip the coin though and life slows down, the school holidays have begun for our children, no more early morning runs back and forth. Teenagers slumber, waking late, they are on vacation, they amble bare footed through the house and out onto the terrace. An afternoon swim and then a siesta in the shade, friends drift in and out, it’s just as it should be.
A trip into town is equally relaxing. Perhaps it is the heat, it is too hot to do anything at any speed right now. During the afternoon most people I suspect prefer the beach to an urban setting. So it actually makes it a good time to stroll around. A couple of guys were enjoying a beer in the shade of a local café
but other than that all was quiet. I love the way the heat radiates off the old stone walls of these town houses in Marennes, as I said, it’s bakingly hot outside and yet you just know that if you entered through the front doors it would be cool, the thick stone walls cutting out the heat. Inside they will be calm, serene and peaceful. Very rarely are they a statement for modern interior design, and yet it is nearly always utterly perfect. Usually a builder would find a multitude of problems, but they have stood for centuries overlooking the streets and will continue to do so for many more to come and I hope, never changing.
The 85 meters high spire of the church of Saint-Pierre de Sales overlooks not only the town but the entire Marennes basin and can be seen from miles around.
The beauty of exploring on foot is that you can wander down a tiny alley, never knowing quite what will be at the end. I find hidden doorways rather enchanting.
As are houses wrapped in their summer clothes.
And cars parked under the shade of the plane trees including my current favourite, the tiny Fiat 500. Perfect for negotiating impossibly narrow streets!
But Roddy and I are not on holiday, we are working flat out! So how do we somehow enjoy the summer at the same time. The answer is simple, we stick to our adopted French routine. No matter how busy and how rushed we are, we slow down in the evening. We enjoy an aperitif on the terrace with some simple nibbles, a bowl of olives, some cherry tomatoes, slices of melon, perhaps a little thinly sliced saucisson.
Somehow sitting outside, letting the sounds of nature wash over us works its magic.
I also find that making the most of the smallest of things makes all the difference. Shopping at the local épicerie where we know the owner, they always seem to have a local piece of gossip that they cannot wait to share!
and stopping at one of my favourite roadside stalls. They only open for six months of the year and are enormously popular, but it beats hands down the anonymity of the supermarket. People chat to one another as they consider which salad item, fruit or vegetable to buy. It’s almost a social occasion in itself and it forces one to slow down, nothing is every hurried, the selection of food is a serious business and one must take one’s time.
There is no need to close the car windows or lock the doors.
The produce is proud to be of local origin and the carrots are unwashed.
Pesticide free tomatoes, well that was the first time I have seen a sign like this when not shopping in an organic store. People are becoming more and more aware and that can only be a very good thing.
If you do want to feel the sand between your toes and have the taste of salt on your lips the entire coastline is at your disposal. Broken up into different areas, but it is still possible to find a few hidden gems,
where you will not be packed in side by side like sun baked sardines! You won’t find deck chairs or sun loungers to rent, but you will find complete tranquility with just a handful of like minded souls.
And finally, anyone coming to France this summer and driving, be warned. The speed-limit on two-lane roads will drop from 90km/h to 80km/h as of the 1st July. This new reduced speed will be on trial for two years, after which its effectiveness will be reassessed. Despite much opposition the government have pushed this through and are determined to give this a fair trail in an effort to reduce the alarming number of road deaths, of which 55% occurred on country roads. Other speed-limits on motorways and in urban areas will remain the same. The signposts will no doubt still read 90, so you do need to be aware. Even if you know, you can be assured there will be many who will pretend they do not!