France, France, France

I can’t deny it, I am in love with France, I always have been. This is a love affair that began when I was a young girl, a regular visitor to Paris and Northern France from our home in Belgium. It was so easy, a relatively short drive and there we were, alongside the Eiffel Tower, dining along the Seine and devouring the sights, museums and flavours of the French markets.

I grew up being spoilt for culture. How easy to drive across European borders with immediate cultural diversity in language, food, architecture, traditions. As we travelled the long autoroutes and autobahns I would observe the trucks on their long journeys and try and decipher what they might hold inside. These road trips were always learning journeys.

Living in Europe meant this diversity was always at our fingertips and perhaps gave birth to this desire to constantly push forward from the familiar and absorb new things. Naturally I have tired of this a little more recently, perhaps it is my age, or perhaps I have completed enough air mileage to become sensitive to the fragility of it all, and perhaps relish more the familiar. I must now strike the balance of creating a desire in the boys to discover, to learn, to accept and craft their own learning journeys, but at the same time to not push their lives on fast forward quite as much as I have.

To have returned to the UK has at last made access to France easy. Easier than when I was a child, the tunnel and frequency of budget airline travel makes it insanely possible to be in the South of France in just a matter of hours. Sometimes I wonder if it was France that lured as back from the Antipodes. I am not sure that is quite true, but lets go with it for now, and around 8 visits to France in the last 2 years perhaps defines our love. It helps of course that my brother has a home in the Languedoc, Le Parc de Lignieres in Trausse-Minervois, and the wandering genes in my mother who has also now been living in the same area for the past 18 months.

Summer 2015 – Brittany & Languedoc
I blogged this before, but a recap of the summer of 2015 and a first stop with family in Cancale, Brittany. If you haven’t visited Cancale I urge you to do so – close to St Malo a wonderful feast of restaurants, beaches and gastronomy. Cancale itself a seafront town famous for its oysters. Early morning walks along the clifftops are a must, as of course a laze and stroll along the beach. The magic of places like Cancale are they are busy bustling towns, both on and off the water. There is always plenty to see and to sit back with a carafe of wine and simply observe.

We continued south with an overnight in Bergerac. I must have been here during my childhood, but nothing prepared me for the sights the unfolded on my early morning stroll. Bergerac is such a pleasurable place, with all the ingredients for what epitomises the best of France. Each narrow street is steeped in history, and how easily you can imagine yourself a hundred years ago tying your house outside. I wasn’t quite expecting my reaction to come across the perfect The Vieux Pont bridge over Dordogne river. Tears streamed down my face at the utter beauty of it all, and to realise I had been untouched by the beauty of Europe for several years, I had forgotten that feeling when confronted with such history. The magic continued in a different way as I stumbled upon the morning set-up for the Bergerac market, in the heart of the town. It was exactly what a French market should be, beautiful bundles of rich coloured tomatoes, dates and dried fruits, lines of succulent fruit and baskets, linen, honey a plenty.

We were last at the house in Trausse when the boys were very young and it is so powerful to return to places and bring back memories. The magic of the house here is there is something for every age. It is a fully contained property, large, and yet in the heart of this small village.

Long gardens and secret hiding places for little ones, swimming pool, space for games for all ages, and for my boys a chance to pop up a tent. I have returned to Trausse several times over the past year or so and in many different contexts, to work remotely and give the boys a holiday, as part of our very own house party, and to just be with the wider family.

Summer 2016 – Avignon, Languedoc
We have travelled here each and every way too. Our last summer here had a sprinkling of The Sunflower Journey with travel by train and a few days road trip. Sitting aboard the Eurostar from London to Avignon felt we were back on the road, the feeling of freedom on a speeding train through France is hard to beat. We hired a car to spend a few days showing the boys a focused cultural journey to the Pont du Gard, Uzes, Nimes. All such rich, diverse examples of Roman history. We drove through the salt flats to Aigues Mortes, walked on top of the walls of the fortified city, and onto Pezenas for wonderful arts and culture.

Back in the house in Trausse and each time my fondness for both the house, and for the area continues to grow. There are so many things to see and do for all ages, with Carcassonne medieval citadel, La Cité, being an absolute must. In the heart of the summer a medieval jousting show brings together Medieval history and circus skills. The Canal du Midi has plenty to offer, villages by the river for lazy lunches, and if you are brave take a boat for a week or two through to Narbonne as the great Family Woolf continued to do.

This visit was truly a house party, locking ourselves into the grounds of Le Parc de Lignieres and progressing through nearly an entire vineyard of L’Ostales Rose. This was magic. France on a new level, all are happy, something for everyone.

Autumn 2016
The accessibility to this part of France is really hard to beat – multiple airports to choose from (Toulouse, Beziers, Perpignon), and the Spanish border less than 2 hours away. On our end of summer visit to stay with Mum we managed a night in Spain, it really is so easy to do with even Barcelona only 4 hours drive or by train. This time was a visit first to the Dali Museum in Figueres – incredible place, and incredible collection which certainly won’t appeal to all but is so diverse including a separate museum of Dali jewellery. A half hour or so on to Cadaques, and within an hour we are sitting on the beach with tapas and sangria. That is hard to beat!! The bays and clifftop paths round Cadaques are stunning and you can’t help but want to keep moving and walking to absorb it all. This is also home to Dali’s house, a complete opposite of the museum and his work itself, this is utter peace and tranquility, and really magnificence. The image of his studio will stay etched in my memory forever, to imagine such a great artist at work in such a perfect retreat.

Easter and Spring 2017
Cheap flights and we are off again via Beziers. Just a 1.5 hour journey to Trausse-Minervois. Narbonne is less than an hour away and has a great market and plenty of beaches to absorb, and incredible watersports with windsurfing a favourite in the area. Once you’ve done the tourist trail you start to explore closer to home, to enjoy the simple pleasures of a beer in the square in Ozilles, the incredible artistry of the marble carvings in Caunes-Minervois and the ancient Abbey, a gentle stroll amongst the quiet villages, a vineyard or two and a swim in the Lac de Jourarres.  And of course my first visit to the Noilly Prat distillery – you have to go!!

Mum has since found her own little space in France, a few moments drive from Trausse-Minervois and a perfect retreat for writing, observing and being part of a French community, and of course expat life when she so desires. I marvel at the ease in which she has slipped into life here, her friendships which include the baker and his wife where conversation is often accompanied with wild gestures, movement and mimes to facilitate the language barrier! This is mums “sabbatical” as he calls it, and indeed it is, a chance to move on once again and to take enjoyment from simple pleasures of pastels and a ferocious desire to write her memoirs. She is an inspiration, and I aspire to continue her lead.

Quickly France has become a favourite with the boys too. They dive into the supermarket for their favourite chocolatey treats, and stopping the bakery van for breakfast croissants. Maybe they see and feel our enjoyment, how we relax, the simple things we enjoy. Our passion for a stroll through the markets, morning baguettes, a simple omelette and of course that perfect sundowner.

France. You are my forever love. And now my boys too.

Sunflower Journey continues.

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