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.
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!
Blustery winter walks on a damp shore wake up the soul for certain but it’s the sultry, summer sand which is the most seductive. Thirty minutes by car from our house and you can feel the warm sea kissing your toes.
Nearly on our doorstep, there really is a beach to suit everyone. If you are seeking the wild and wonderful, drive beyond the Grau de Roi and arrive at La Plage de L’Espiguette.
Six miles of unspoiled peace and never-ending sand dunes; a massive expanse of freedom. Nature at its best, or naturists at their best, at a far, discreet corner!
If you are more inclined towards beach glamour, glitz and comfort, there are numerous private beach bars and restaurants between Palavas (just south of Montpellier) and La Grande Motte.
A long strip of beach, dotted with gorgeous, private establishments which pop up for three to four months of the year. You can hire a sunbed and parasol for the day and enjoy the luxury of waiter service. An icy glass of rosé whilst gazing at the sparkling sea, truly can chase the cares of the world away, especially when the kids (if any!) happily amuse themselves on nature’s finest playground. For those who love the beach but also appreciate a proper toilet and a shower, this is the beach experience for you. When your tummy begins to rumble, whether it’s a fresh seafood lunch you are after, or a special dinner watching the sunset, you will not be disappointed.
If you don’t fancy paying for the sunbed and you’re not in the mood for food, there is plenty of space between the private beaches to park your towel and bucket and spade.
July and August are obviously the busiest time at the beach and roads can be a little formidable but if you choose your travel times carefully, you will be surprised how empty the roads are. When we need a sandy fix in peak summer, we set off by 9.00am and always have a clear ride in. We then seek the shade of a restaurant for lunch and leave before the surge. Alternatively, we head off at about 4pm/5pm, once the heat of the day has relented and go for a late swim and stay for an aperitif and even supper.
There is nothing like the sea air to make you feel you are truly on holiday, whichever beach beckons your bikini.
- In peak summer, avoid setting off for the beach after 10am and avoid returning between 4pm and 6pm.
- Make reservations for lunch and dinner at the private beaches in peak season. You can even reserve a sunbed – try and ask for the front row, for an unspoiled view of the Med. Easier to keep an eye on any little rascals too.
- Some private beaches have live bands playing early evening in time for your aperitif.
- A few of our favourite:
La Paillote Bambou, La Grande Motte – 04 67 56 73 80
La Plage de Bikinis – La Grande Motte – 04 67 56 10 40
Sun 7 Beach – La Grande Motte – 04 67 12 13 69
Yacht Club Beach – La Grande Motte – 04 67 29 29 29
Carre Mer – Villeneuve-les-Maguelone – 04 67 42 06 96
La Voile Bleu – La Grande Motte – 04 67 56 73 83
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..