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 .

Finding Something Special in Normandy

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A picture tells a thousand words. I could stare at this for hours there is something so peaceful about the old stone and water. This past week I have been in Normandy, in many ways very different to our part of France, but in others just the same. Read more

Inside A French Country Cottage

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I think we probably all have general ideas of what the interior of any dwelling will look like based on the exterior. We imagine inside a chateau to be one thing and inside a country cottage to be another. But things aren’t always quite so black and white and a few surprises are a treat.  Today I want to take you inside what would appear to be a classic low slung French cottage. I can imagine you’re already thinking, greys and neutrals and very little colour, right? Well come and have a look around with me, you might be in for a bit of a surprise! Read more

Summers In France

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Summer this close to the coast is a time to chase the shade. The gentle warmth of May and June has transcended into a season of heat, when days are warm at each end but a glare to bare eyes at midday, burning unwary shoulders. Time passes slowly as insects drone among thirsty plants, and any traces of life are a shuffle of noise behind shutters ajar to block the sun. Lunches last a long time… Read more

Five Go To The Market

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Sundays are slow here. In a super fast paced world, being able to walk to our Sunday morning village market is a real treat. And when our teenage children also appreciate how special this is I just know something is right. Read more

The Brunch Bunch

img_2416Brunch is just as popular in France as it is throughout the rest of the world. For me it is one of those fabulous meals associated with the weekend and free time. A simple mention of the word and I am dreaming of hot languid summer days and holidays. Staycations work just fine right now! It’s a meal that evokes contentment and friends and family. Brunch for me is always informal and relaxed. It is also always in my mind very much a warm weather affair on the terrace under the shade of the linden trees. A time when the internet and phones are forgotten. It’s a time of simplicity in pretty surroundings. Read more

Turning the Dream into Reality – Paul & Louise

IMG_0218_1593274002426Today I am really happy to be starting a new series here on the blog, introducing you to people from around the world who have made France their permanent home. I’ll be talking to individuals, couples and families. People from all walks of life, people who have come here to retire and those who need to still earn a living. Having started our property search service I have come to realise that people love hearing how others have coped with life in a foreign country.
So this is going to be ongoing for a long time. When people move here they frequently don’t speak French, they often have no idea quite how things will work out or what the future holds for them but they all have one thing in common: A passion for France and a determination to make it work.

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French Village Life

IMG_0931The village has a new bakery. Well, almost. We heard the news back in February, when it was scheduled to open three months later. But Coronavirus put a stop to that, and it’s only in the past month that we’ve seen the trucks of the maçons outside the property again, and the local carpenters working hard, giving the old building a facelift. Like so many in the village, I’m excited that we will be able to walk and buy fresh croissants and a baguette just down the road again. It’s been closed for two years and its reopening is scheduled to be quite a celebration!IMG_0920

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Our French Lifestyle

What is it that gives a home character? What makes it a place where we feel at ease and want to linger, a space that defines the character of the people who live there?

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When I think back to my childhood on a farm in England, I can close my eyes and remember certain things; the ticking of the grandfather clock, a vase of fresh flowers, well-worn rugs on the stone floor, solid furniture and unique ornaments. Woodsmoke in winter and open windows in summer, the scent of the countryside, good and bad. An orphaned lamb in a box by the Aga in the spring, and milk straight from our ‘house cow’ being poured from the heavy metal pail through a muslin cloth into a jug, ready to go into the kitchen. It wasn’t perfect, nor staged in any way, it was just an old farmhouse, that was an integral part of our farm life. Read more

The Return of The Great Picnic

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With social gathering restrictions in place around the world, there has never been a better time to have a picnic. But forget the days of old with a packet of chips and soggy sandwiches wrapped in plastic. Picnics have grown up and we should put as much thought and effort into them as we do when entertaining around the dining table. I think this might be the new norm for meals with friends this summer. Read more