This Easter we arrived in St Come, our corner of the south of France, just in time to see our terrace wisteria in full, glorious bloom. Never will I tire of their pungent, purple plumes, growing in confidence year on year. Within a few days, the petals were dancing in the breeze and by day six, the wind had transformed our terrace tiles into a magical, soft, lilac carpet. Pretty but pesky, so with the help of my not so little people, we swept the petals up and set them free in the field.
I think these photos tell the story more beautifully than my words…
Back in 2005, when we caught our first glimpse of Mas de Mahystre, never did we imagine it would become a second home, a home we would rent to guests. After nearly a year of hunting for homes within one hours drive of Montpellier, we arrived in St Come, a village in the Languedoc, on a sunny day in early Spring. Edge of the village – tick. Old, charming and spacious – tick. Enough garden to make as much noise as needed for our growing family and friends – tick. We allowed ourselves to feel curious and secretly excited but refused to let our imaginations fly.
Six months earlier we had signed a ‘compromis’ or a ‘promise to buy’ accompanied by a 10% deposit on a rambling house north of Montpellier. Within the ten days grace period fortunately, our surveyor discovered plans were afoot to build a sewage works on the land. Perhaps it was simply a rumour initiated by the xenophobic mayor but irrespective of the truth, we retracted the offer and fled relieved and unscathed.
In June 2005, we collected our very own set of keys for Mas de Mahystre, a much more gorgeous and sweeter smelling option. Neil and I, with our two tiny rascals, both covered tip to toe in chicken pox, could not have been happier.
Many joyful times followed until seven years later, and with an extra rascal in tow, it was time to pack our bags once again for a new adventure in Canada. How could we leave our hideaway in France, a home which had captured our hearts and souls? We couldn’t, not forever anyway. We cleared the clutter, locked up precious possessions and purchased beautiful white linen and stripy pool towels, ready for the first guests. If Darwin is right and “it is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change,” our family are survivors.
We now live back in the Uk and even if we still need the rental income from Mas de Mahystre to pay boring bills and endless French taxes, we know how fortunate we are. We want to share the luck. During our first few years of renting Mas de Mahystre, we offered an off-season week to be auctioned off to raise funds for the unbelievably brilliant Royal Brompton Hospital. More recently, the potential possibility of having to sell, put a stop to our ‘charity week’. Through determination and pure love, our hideaway in France is now firmly in our future and we want to offer an off-season week every year to charity once again.
As we’ve moved down to the English seaside, we will now choose more local Brighton & Hove charities. The research is underway and I’ll keep you posted about which charity we will support this year. All suggestions most welcome.
Here’s to an enjoyable and memorable summer everyone.
As Autumn creeps in and the heat of the summer sun fades into memory, our 2016 season in the south of france draws to a close. Many happy guests enjoyed hours relaxing by the pool and whiled away many more in the shade of the terrace, so conducive to long, rosé fuelled lunches and cooler, candlelit dinners.
Happy guests is our greatest aim for Mas de Mahystre and this year, from all the lovely emails we received, I think we have been successful.
Thank you to all our guests who looked after our house so well and a huge thank you to our great team, without whom our aim for happy guests would never be realised:
Laurence, our super cleaner extraordinaire,
Alain, our fantastic gardener,
Marc, our brilliant pool man
and of course our incredibly special, patient and kind neighbours Oriana and Giovanni, who manage our home in our absence. Can’t wait to see you soon…
Only a couple of weeks before we head off for Christmas in the south of France and excitement is mounting fast. By the time we arrive, Christmas Eve will be almost tangible, so first on the list will be finding a tree and enjoying the sweet scent of a Norwegian forest. Unravelling our treasured Christmas decorations never fails to create some delightful nostalgia and once the fire is lit, the Christmas tunes blaring, the fairy lights sparkling and a glass of something special in hand, the festive scene is set. Catching up with our local friends is always a big treat during the Christmas season. We are also lucky to have my older sister, brother-in-law and their three bonkers, little, blond girls, who live in the Luberon and run Provence Guru, joining us for the grand day. I do wish though that we could gather up the whole extended family and conjure them over to our secret corner in the south of France.
As a child on holiday in France, I could never understand the French families who nibbled greedily on warm baguettes straight from the boulangerie. Not to wait for some salty butter and sweet, apricot jam seemed ridiculous. They must have been ravenous or simply ignorant. A pain au chocolate, or a pain au raisin could easily be scoffed before stepping out of the shop but plain, old baguette – nope, I never understood.
Until that is, we moved to the south of France in 2002. Perhaps it was my increased appetite due to pregnancy or toddlers, more pregnancies and again more toddlers, or perhaps I just wanted to fit in to a foreign land but before the first month was up, the smell of a fresh baguette heating my hand was utterly irresistible.
You don’t just ask for a baguette in France. Like with their meat, it’s all in the cooking – ‘Bien cuite’, ‘Pas trop cuite’ or ‘Blanche’. (Translated roughly as well cooked, medium or rare). It’s always ‘Blanche’ for me but never forget that no two bakeries are alike and everyone living in France will have their unshakeable favourite. For our family, it’s l’Amandine in Calvisson every time but Aux 13 Desserts in Caveirac is a close second, especially for their scrumptious tarts.
Now we live in London for the majority of the year, I am on a quest to find my perfect baguette on this side of the Channel. Despite some excellent local bakeries, the ‘desperate to stuff it in your mouth’ baguette, has so far eluded me. This is the beginning of my quest, so I will keep you posted but if anyone has any hot tips, I will happily go hunting. We are in North London but I am eager to travel all over the big smoke for that satisfying stick of bread which promises happiness, holidays and to me, tantalising food to come.
We were incredibly fortunate to spend two weeks in France over Easter. Thanks to Philip Pullman‘s brilliant audiobook ‘The Subtle Knife’, the drive from London was completely gripping for all the family. Despite the rather soggy Spring before our arrival, the sun broke through and warmed our bodies and souls for the whole holiday – we were truly lucky. Last Easter, we arrived as the wisteria was fading but this year we appreciated the beginning of the bloom. Rather charming, we thought…
We descended on our hideaway in France for the Easter holidays, filled with the joyful anticipation of ten days of freedom. Our welcoming and bountiful terrace greeted us with the best wisteria display yet.
It is undeniably relaxing to gaze at a southern french blue sky, through the wisps of deliciously scented, tumbling wisteria, buzzing a happy hum.
We exploited the unusually warm April weather and spent the majority of our days right here, on our terrace where the outside world stops for a while and anything is possible. Under a wisteria sky, it is easy to pause and ponder.
Under a wisteria sky, solutions will be found.
Even in London this summer, I have spotted many butterflies since we arrived here at the end of June. My Dad was an enthusiastic butterfly collector as a boy and still loves butterflies today, so maybe his passion is contagious. For me, butterflies are entrancing works of art; fragile and free, they add dazzling delight to our gardens and lives as they flutter by.
Here is a butterfly who rather likes our lavender.
Sanglier or Wild Boar. Marcassin is the specific name for the boar piglet.
These fascinating and secretive animals are the subject of myth, legend, stories and several recipes. The hunting of wild boar, once the preserve of warrior chieftains and kings, is widely practised in France but carefully regulated to allow the population of boars to remain healthy. Once the hunting season is over, they return to our valley, La Vaunage (as it is known locally). If you are lucky enough, you will see them early in the morning or perhaps more likely, spot their trotter prints left in the mud after some rain. After 8 years, we have only seen them a couple of times whilst driving late at night, so there is nothing to fear.
Apparently, according to Wikipedia the natural predator for the wild boar is the tiger. Not many of those spotted recently in the neighbourhood. Failing that, the wolf. Again, rare, which leaves humans as the main predator, continuing the tradition established long ago by Asterix and Obelix.
From an early age, I have always associated France with Asterix and Obelix (written and illustrated by René Goscinny and Albert Uerzo*). The Indomitable Gauls who defied the Roman Empire and loved Wild Boar and Magic Potion.
The descendants of the Gauls haven’t changed so much, in that wild boar is still firmly on the menu and magic potion could be loosely translated into the general love of Wine, Cognac and Whisky.
Now our children are enjoying the books (if not the boar and potion) and the irreverent national stereotypes that they describe in the stories. If you come and stay, you will see an Asterix/Obelix picture on our kitchen wall that shows Gauls, Belgians, Goths, Greeks and Egyptians all despising the army food dished out by the Roman legion kitchen, with one exception. There is a Brit with a wistful look in his eye licking his chops.
In fact Asterix and Obelix were probably just following old Celtic traditions. The boar in Celtic belief, not only embodies the skills of hunting and war but also those of hospitality and feasting (at its own expense I suspect). So a natural pastime for two Gaulish warriors would be to eat and hunt boar.
So if you should see boar early one misty morning in La Vaunage spare a thought for its noble past. Be reassured that despite being fierce adversaries (not to be provoked or cornered) they are very shy creatures which is not surprising bearing in mind the French love of feasting.
Written and illustrated by Partner in Crime (the Wild Life Correspondent)
* note on BDs: BD stands for Bande Dessinée. The BD in France is a revered art form that all ages enjoy and can be found in all big book shops (Cultura in Nimes or Sauramps and FNAC in Montpellier) and speciality shops exist like Album in Montpellier. Asterix and Obelix is perhaps the best known but there are thousands of titles including Corto Maltese, Lucky Luke etc..