Tag: France

A Week In the Sun For Charity

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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.

The Rascals on the terrace

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.

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South of France 2016

Welcome to our Summer Season 2016…

Front Door

The season has kicked off to a wonderful start and with the sunshine just around the corner, it can only be the south of France. Welcome to our lovely guests and we hope you all have a memorable holiday.

Summer Pool

The Quest For A Perfect Baguette

baguette

Baguettes from L’Amandine

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.

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Breakfast from L’Amandine

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.

#perfectbaguettelondon

A new pool terrace

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.

Pool

Pool

And the new sun loungers are very comfy and go flat for those who want a bronzed back!

Pool and terrace

Pool and terrace

I love the early morning stillness by the pool, when the world is silently preparing for the day.

Early morning stillness

Early morning stillness

Early morning by the pool

Early morning by the pool

Morning pool 7

And the pool terrace looks pretty from upstairs too.

View from upstairs

View from upstairs

View of pool from a bedroom

View of pool from a bedroom

We’ll be back soon but in the meantime, I hope everyone enjoys their summer at our hideaway.

 

Wild Boar – it’s a wild life in the Languedoc part 1

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.

Marcassin

Marcassin snuffling

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.

Sanglier

Sanglier

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.

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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..

A treehouse in the south of France

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:

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And then, after a little more excellent local vino, some fine french cheese and of course a slice or two of saucisson, this appeared:

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Once early June arrived at our hideaway in france, so too did this:

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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.

The Creator

Nimes…….a favourite place nearly on our doorstep.

La Maison Carré

La Maison Carré

Why Nimes?

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……..

Top Tips

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.

Read more about Nimes here.

Make a Wish

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.

 

Be a cicada – metamorphose in the South of France

To hibernate in winter is natural, in fact many people do stay underground during the winter months. Numerous places in North America have fabulous underground cities to cower from the cold. Eagerly embrace it is my feeling but I can understand that winter is a tricky season, especially once the hopeful Christmas lights are pulled down.

I think we must be inspired by the ingenious, summer musician – the Cicada.

Do you ever feel like this after the winter months?

On reflection, I’m not sure that winter coat really was that flattering…..

Are you ever itching to  shed your skin and start afresh?

A positive outlook

Sorry to invade your privacy Mr. Cicada

Do you ever dream of such a transformation?

Splendid

Miracles really do happen at the bottom of the garden at our hideaway in France.

Enjoy the jingle bells now but once the razzle dazzle of Christmas is over, take heart from the impressive Cicada.

P.S. According to Wikipedia, the female cicada is meatier. Nothing wrong with that.

Just Imagine

Living in Montreal is exciting, invigorating and refreshing as most adventures are. Since moving here in February 2012 I think we have adapted brilliantly but we do miss our hideaway in France. One of the biggest changes for us was moving from a house in the country into an urban apartment with no garden. The Rascals were brought up with the room to roam and they spent most of their precious hours in France dressing up and running around making noise.

There was space both inside and outside to create the cacophony that children love to do, to run riot and dance up a storm. The freedom to let their imaginations fly. Although our apartment in Montreal is a good size, we are on the first floor with some rather unlucky neighbours beneath us. I cannot help wincing at every little leap and thunderous thump which is probably every second of every day. They are simply not used to noise restraint and neither are we.

When friends used to visit us in France, they waxed lyrical about the space which I took for granted then but can finally now appreciate. Maybe I should be more of a Tiger Mum but what I really want to do is give them the luxury of being imaginative, curious and carefree. We could all do with a few of those ingredients in our lives. Roll on holidays, I can’t wait to let my Rascals loose at our hideaway in France.

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old;

we grow old because we stop playing.”

George Bernard Shaw

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