A Love Affair With France ?

I wonder sometimes if the world’s love-affair with France will ever end. It’s been going on with the English since most of south-west France belonged to the Crown centuries ago, and will probably continue long after Covid has been and gone too. And yet, so many people ask us why it is – what it is about this enormously varied country that appeals so much to foreigners? Is it the food, the weather, the romance, the culture? I think it’s a mix of all of these things and more, with perhaps a little magic pixie dust thrown in, too.

For so many people, travelling to France is a voyage back in time, to a land that shows how so much history over so many centuries can be adapted to, so successfully. For while it is a modern, technological country, there are parts of France in the distant countryside where people still live by candlelight – not necessarily due to financial circumstances, but because that’s the way it is. This sort of idiosyncrasy can be found throughout France, from the tip of its gilded Eiffel Tower to the muddy shallows of the beauty of the Carmargue, it is part of the extraordinary diversity of this country that not only makes it so attractive, but also so real. Throw in an area big enough to hide 65 million people with ease, along with a tradition of wine and cheese-making that has outlived a thousand battlefields and a dozen conquering civilisations — all of whom have left their mark — and you have a destination that can tug at every heart-string inside a visitor. 

For many people, the lure of France lies in the old ancient villages and towns that are scattered across the breadth of a land that has endured almost every historical passage of time known to man. From its palaeolithic past to the Second World War, there are signs and clues to its past everywhere — castles, towers, walled cities, grand chateaux, glorious palaces of sandstone and clustered houses perched along the gorges and cliffs of its limestone regions. And having lived here so long, I secretly think that France is the beating heart of Europe’s past, and the scars it loves to share are part of the enduring character of the country that makes us all love it so much. 

So if we can admire the magnificence of Versailles and still love the charm of the ancient traditional fishing carrelets of the Charente Maritime, what else quickens our pulse? Away from the six great cities of France, the countryside stretches out for 600 miles in each direction, with every region having a distinct geography, culture and history. The Calvados-distilling farmers of Normandy are a world away from the lithe sun-tanned fishermen of the Mediterranean, and here where we are in the Charente Maritime the people are a mix of genes, ranging from the salt-producers of the Marais, to the oystermen of the shallow muddy offshore flats.

As everywhere in this country, each region has its own culture, culinary adventures, and wine and beer. Here for example alongside wine we also have Cognac and Pinneau, the two liquid tastes of the west, and moules éclade, a dish of fresh mussels cooked with burning pine needles. That’s before we get to the oysters, in the ‘City of Oysters’, Marennes.

Where we live just above the marsh, amongst the ancient houses that line streets laced with hollyhocks and valerian, all roads lead to a church, often a building started sometime in the 11th or 12th century, and then sometimes embellished with a spire at a later, more financially capable date. These stolid buildings are large stoned, squat and weather-beaten, and curiously ethereal in their monotone standing. 

This close to the coast, the farmers’ fields are not yet the agricultural monotone swathes that cover much of France’s western interior. Hedgerows and stone walls still exist, a reason why we have good populations of insects, birds and small mammals compared to our neighbours further east. A half dozen pilgrimage routes snake through the region, and down in the marsh itself it is rumoured that there are small stone jetties and iron rings still lying deep amongst the copses of blackthorn and bramble. A mile from where I sit writing this, a stunning small church lies in the cradle of the land below the escarpment. Once upon a time, the salt barges could tie up a couple of pew lengths from the western door, their crews a congregation from a time when the breeze would carry the Atlantic scum-deep into the salt ponds at high tide, and the precious savoury cargo would leave on the broad flat-bottomed boats, destined for the big cities and markets of France. 

So, a brief tour through a dozen photos hardly illustrates why we love France, but we do. As do so many. There is Paris, the city of love, the alpine meadows of the Savoie, the Normandy coastline with its fearful toll of victory, the deep river valleys of the Dordogne, and the sandy scratchy south coast where the wind blows tightly off the Mediterranean — every region and department is a flavour of this wonderful country, where life always mingles with past and where the people work to live, so the weekends can be a long lunch table of memories. For one thing is sure, no war, or battle, or sound of armies on the march has ever dulled a Frenchman’s appetite for la vie en rose .

30 thoughts on “A Love Affair With France ?

  • Amazing!! Wonderful article that captures the essence of France!! Brilliant! Thank you for a wonderful Sunday evening treat. You are an excellent writer.

    fr

  • Maybe one day we will be able to travel abroad again (and when we do, I wonder how easy it will be to find flights and how expensive it will be)…in the meantime, I can enjoy your blog posts and imagine being in France.

  • PLEASE, always continue your writing and wonderful photography.. so NEEDED at this TIME! (I have been a follower for quite a long period, don’t usually comment).
    Your posts ALWAYS brings me JOY!!!
    Thank you,
    Sher
    in North Carolina

  • Truly France is my heaven on earth even if I can’t currently get there. I so love your writing. Everything is so visual for me. Thank you.

  • Bonjour Susan!

    What a gorgeous way to start a new week, reading your wonderful words on this Monday morning and dreaming a little!! Its all we Aussies can do at the moment and for a long time to come I’m sure, so please keep sending us tempting little photos of adorable villages and ancient buildings with hollyhocks snuggling into their craggy golden stones.
    Romantic, is the word that came to mind when answering your ‘why do we love France?’ There’s a romantic air about France that eclipses all others.
    Merci Beaucoup et Bon Semaine,

    Bises xox

    • Susan, this makes me cry. France is a country like no other. No trip for us this year sadly. The plane ride terrifies me. So glad we live where we do, it’s a very special place to be if we can’t spend time in France
      Love to all the Hays family!
      Ali xx

  • So beautifully put, Susan. Thank you! I’m going to share this on my Facebook page as I’m sure my friends will enjoy reading it too. Best wishes!

    • You write so beautifully! I am saving this in my bookmarks. I love the photo of the mussels on the fire. It took me back to a story you wrote about this cooking method. (Wish I could find it). My love of France is also shown in its beautiful language.
      I love this blog. Thank you for sharing your life with us!
      Nina in Michigan

  • Great inside information about western France where my historical novel takes place. I never been to France and I tried to imagine what it look likes. Your story has given me writing inspiration of writing scenes,. Thank you for your insight,

  • Your words have brought pleasure and made me think. Of my own immaturity in bygone years of coming to France almost annually but somehow believing that Paris and its environs together with the wonderful food on the Riviera somehow encapsulated the country. It was only when I became one of the two million Australians who spend three weeks every our winter up all night watching Tour de France that my eyes slowly opened . . . the oh so varied countryside, the wide fields and forests, the historic and romantic villages and townships. When . . . is in the lap of the Gods ! I just do not dare hope that I might be ‘there’ at the end of the week if the miracle of the loaves and fishes of this year’s Tour wally comes to be . . . Such a different journey not once but twice across hitherto unseen terrain . . .AND: will the whole mass of bikes and men really stay in your environs for two days of riding and a rest day ??? Close to you . . . oh, I’ll be peagreen with envy . . and so hopeful all will go well . . .

    • When you get seduced there’s no going back. There are so many fabulous things I love about France. A few you’ve mentioned. But for me the etiquette which is practised daily is what I love the most.

  • What a lovely post to read this morning. In addition to everything you mentioned, I think it is the lilting cadence of the French language, and the gracious way of living with freshness everywhere that is so appealing to me. Fresh bread everyday, shopping for fresh vegetables and fish, small markets instead of huge superstores. A slower way of life, enjoying the moments of every day.

  • What a lift for Monday morning!!! Thank you so much – have enjoyed your article & the lovely pictures that accompany! I am always fascinated by the buildings & the surroundings. Love everything!

  • Oh how you wonderfully captured the beauty of France! You took me back when we visited a few years back! Thank you for those sweet memories!
    And I would love to try those mussels.
    Happy week to you!

  • Thank you Susan for giving me a glimpse of France through this post. France is my eldest son’s dream to visit and explore. He has been preparing for this when he chose French Immersion in school. I will be showing this beautiful post to him for sure.

  • I have a love affair with France due to my French Canadian roots. When I chose a foreign language to study in middle school, I chose French because of it. I’ve never looked back.

  • I loved the way you brought living in France to life. Once all this madness is over – France will be the first place I visit.
    Thank you for bringing some sunshine to my day!
    Mo

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