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.
We snatched a week for ourselves at our hideaway in France a few weeks ago. Oh a week is not enough! We are thrilled with the new terrace around the pool and we love the difference a salt water pool makes.
And the new sun loungers are very comfy and go flat for those who want a bronzed back!
I love the early morning stillness by the pool, when the world is silently preparing for the day.
And the pool terrace looks pretty from upstairs too.
We’ll be back soon but in the meantime, I hope everyone enjoys their summer at our hideaway.
I have finally realized that certain things in life cannot be changed. My legs will never be long and beautiful and much to my chagrin, they will always be a touch more footballer than model but life goes on regardless.
The weather equally escapes our control. Most of the time we grimace and bear it but on holiday we want to be grinning……Nobody wants rain during a treasured break, particularly if you are venturing somewhere with a sunny reputation. Who wastes precious bag space on Ryan Air or Easy Jet to bring their rain coat and wellies when you are heading to the south of France?
We can’t change the weather but we can change our reaction to it. Let’s be honest, moaning does not make you feel better and for most people, it won’t improve your holiday. When guests rent our house, I obsess about the weather, desperate for their holiday to be perfect but there’s nothing I can do to influence the power of the skies.
After a wet Spring in the south of France, the flowers are brimming with happiness, the heat is on and I’m sure the sun will beat down for the rest of the summer but if on the rare occasion the sky has a little cry, here are my top five tips to beat the grey sky blues in our area:
1. Go and find a delicious indoor market, or food hall. In Nimes, Les Halles, is sensational. Go wild and try some local delicacies you’ve never tried before. Once you have filled your baskets with tasty local produce, zoom back in the car and cook up a feast. Equally delicious inside or out.
2. Find a fantastic restaurant, order several bottles of grown up grape juice and solve the world’s problems. Maybe the sun will be shining after the coffee and cognac, even only metaphorically.
3. Seek out the local Aquarium or Planetarium. Kids love them and at least you know you won’t be missing out on precious sunbathing time. Montpellier has a fantastic newish development called Odysseum. Great rainy day, family entertainment all in one place – Aquarium, Planetarium. Ice-rink, Climbing centre, Cinema – just thank your lucky stars it’s raining!
4. Both Montpellier and Nimes have some wonderful museums but there are many more museums in the Languedoc. Inspiring places to hide from a deluge. You are spoilt for choice.
5. Ignore the rain and carry on regardless. Unless there’s a storm overhead, the rain needn’t stop you. One rainy summer day, we went canoeing with friends near St Guilhem le Desert, a magical medieval town in the Cevennes. I have no doubt if the sun had appeared it would have seemed even prettier but we didn’t let the clouds ruin our fun.
At least the weather changes daily, where as I am stuck with my little legs for life!
In the Languedoc, nearly every village has a summer fete or Fete Votive as they are called, where the beautiful white Camargue horses play a starring role and small, angry bulls charge through the streets, lined with testosterone fuelled young lads, desperate to prove their machismo. Mad music pumps up frantic four day parties and all generations are united in their desire to let their wild locks down and have frivolous fun. More on these village fetes soon from our Wild Life correspondent but now I want to tell you about the king of these tauro festivals.
The Feria de Nimes began life in 1952 and now attracts over one million visitors annually. Nimes offers two of these flamboyant ferias every year, the Feria de Pentecote (Whitsun festival 15th -20th May 2013) and the Feria de Vendanges (Wine festival 13th – 15th September 2013), which is more of a local, family affair. Both Ferias are extravagant, entertaining parties celebrating bulls, music, dancing and food.
The Feria begins with a Pegoulade or giant procession bursting with dazzling dancers, marvelous music and illuminated floats, which wind through the boulevards of Nimes before arriving in the great Roman amphitheatre. It culminates with a spectacular fireworks display, fun for all the family.
Although typically associated with Spain, bullfighting has taken place in Nimes since the early 19th century and still plays a major role on the bullfighting circuit. Even if bullfighting is not to your taste, the festival is still an eclectic experience not to be missed. Grab a glass of sangria and soak in the celebration of art. Take the kids and watch the impressive horse show in the glorious Jardins de la Fontaine. Wherever you turn, the streets and squares are bursting with bodegas, (temporary outdoor bars and clubs) and music and merriment resound around this rich Roman city. It is a fascinating and intoxicating glimpse of a passionate culture.
So, if you have time to play in May and September, get thee gone to the south of France, where these glorious months are made even more colourful by the Feria de Nimes.
For more information, click here for the fantastic Nimes Tourist Office website.
Every year a local artist is commissioned to design the official poster for the Feria. You can buy current and past posters in many different sizes from the Tourist Office – a perfect piece of memorabilia and light enough to take home on the plane.
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..
Much to our delight and good fortune, in the middle of April 2010, my Partner in Crime was put on ‘Gardening Leave’ for two and a half months. A more perfect time of year for a couple of months off in the south of France, one could not have wished for…. April, May and June come exceedingly close to perfection. Warm days full of hope, cooler nights with only a hint of the summer heat to come.
It would have been oh too easy for my Partner in Crime to lie in the hammock all day long, listening to the astounding changes of Spring, smug in the shade of a burgeoning tree. Yet no, for plans were afoot…..
So first of all, this happened:
And then, after a little more excellent local vino, some fine french cheese and of course a slice or two of saucisson, this appeared:
Once early June arrived at our hideaway in france, so too did this:
After much consultation with the three Rascals, it was decided that a terrace was needed for tree top dining and of course a pulley system and basket, for hauling up the afternoon tea. It is amazing what can be born from contemplation in a hammock and the encouragement of three little Rascals. Certainly a perfect spot for firing the imagination, for the young and young at heart.
The rudely healthy looking Partner in Crime was clearly content and the garden was peaceful once more. No drilling and deliberating, no banging and bashing. Just delightful, lingering thoughts of more creations for future years. Perhaps a fantastical fort for the field? I’ll keep you posted.
A charming Roman city oozing sophistication, beauty and culture.
I love the tiny, twirling, twisting pedestrian streets filled with boutiques eager to be discovered; I love the cafés piled onto pavements; the shady squares pulsing with restaurants hidden around each corner. I adore the dramatic fountains which dispel the summer heat.
Remarkably preserved Roman buildings suitably bewilder at every turn and I especially love sitting in the shade, with a glass of chilled rosé in hand, gazing in awe at Les Arènes, one of the best preserved Roman amphitheaters in the world – just like being on a film set, yet better because it’s the real deal. I love gaping at the beautiful Maison Carré (above) while devouring ice-cream in the adjacent café. Strolling, exploring in the Jardin de la Fontaine.
The music of the city. The vibe, the elegance, the way of life……..
The indoor food market, Les Halles, is bursting with irresistible local food and atmosphere – better than Harrods food hall any day.
The Ferias of Nimes held in May and September every year, are unique parties celebrating bulls, music and food – not to be missed.
Forget the ghastly tower blocks on the outskirts and head straight for the pedestrian old town with lots of underground parking – easy.
Here is a new App about monuments in Nimes for when you are strolling around.
Where is Nimes?
25 minutes by car from our house via a stunning cross country route – worth the trip for the views alone.
Like most people in this world, we need to find the money to pay the boring bills and especially with an 18th Century house, there is always something desperate for a cash injection. As soon as we decided to return to the UK, we realised that if we wanted to keep our hideaway in the south of France, we would need to rent it out. It isn’t an easy path we’ve chosen and I’m sure that we will encounter many bumps along the way but we feel it is worth it.
Worries are an inevitable part of life but we do appreciate how lucky we are. At the end of 2011, Rascal 1 fell ill with severe pneumonia and had to stay in hospital for two weeks. After many miraculous drips, frightening chest drains, incessant injections, pockets stuffed full of courage, she made a full recovery but for many children, life deals a much tougher hand.
We have decided to give away a week at our hideaway in France every year to a charity auction, to help raise money for special causes. This year we have chosen the charity Make-A-Wish to help those brave children who sadly need so much courage. Make-A-Wish will auction a week at our hideaway at The Valentine’s Ball at the Dorchester Hotel in London in February.
Here’s to a happy, healthy and exciting 2013. Carpe Diem everyone.