Sunday, February 24, 2019

Lazy Sunday in France, cultural appreciation

French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance Poitiers
Hotel de Ville, Poitiers
Welcome to another #LazySundayinFrance post. It is school/university holidays here, but that doesn’t mean I have Ed back in my nest. He is away with friends, enjoying the fresh mountain air of the Massif Central and I couldn’t be happier for him, honest, sniff, sniff. 
French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance Poitiers
Place de la Liberté, Poitiers
Having been out at the village bar for a fun-filled Saturday night of good food, music and lots of laughter, today really will be a lazy Sunday for me. However, I would like to share my trip to Poitiers last weekend, where as well as doing a laundry swap, I got some treasured Mum and son time and a good dollop of culture too. 
French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance Musée Sainte-Croix Poitiers
Inside the Musée Sainte-Croix Poitiers
Following our lunch in the sun we promenaded by the river, like so many other French families enjoying the mild February weather, then I took myself to the Musée Sainte-Croix. Conveniently situated a short walk from Ed’s apartment, I thought I was off to visit an art gallery. I was wrong. 

French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance Musée Sainte-Croix Poitiers
Musée Sainte-Croix, Poitiers

Yes, there is art, but there is so much more as well. Sculptures, including some newly arrived Rodin and Camille Claudel pieces, plus some fascinating artefacts found locally, illustrating the history of our area. I had a lovely time, all for the bargain price of 2.50€, the standard Sunday entry price, and I would happily go back, although there are more museums I want to visit while Ed is studying there. It was an oasis of calm and tranquillity, even though I could hardly describe Poitiers as bustling on an off-season Sunday afternoon.
French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance Musée Sainte-Croix Poitiers
Colette at the Musée Sainte-Croix, Poitiers
All in all, it’s been quite a cultural week for me. Our local cinema was showing the film Colette, in English, but as it’s the story of one of France’s most celebrated writers Colette, I felt as though I was adding to my cultural appreciation of la belle France. Not only was it a great insight into Paris of the Belle Epoque era, but it left me feeling inspired to attempt to read one of her books, in French. I’ll let you know how that goes.
French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance Facteur Cheval Palais Idéal
Facteur Cheval film
My next cinema visit was for Facteur Cheval, a real French film, so I was a little afraid that I’d not be able to keep up with the dialogue. However, it is such an intriguing story, I couldn’t miss it and as it happened the dialogue was sparse, so I had no worries there. 
French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance Facteur Cheval Palais Idéal
Palais Idéal from our 1998 holiday album
This film tells the remarkable true story of a postman, Facteur Cheval, who built a palace by hand, using stones he collected on his rural rounds; amazingly he covered around 30km, on foot, every day, in the Drome, a beautiful but hilly region situated between the Rhone river and the Alps. This project became his passion and took him over 30 years to complete, then he spent another 8 years building his own tomb in the village cemetery.
French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance Facteur Cheval Palais Idéal
Palace Idéal 
Twenty years ago, Adrian and I visited his Palais Idéal, which is an extraordinary sight and still an open tourist attraction today. The film was beautiful mix of the stunning scenery of the Drome and his life that was filled with sadness as well as determination to complete his palace. If you get the chance to see this film, (you can watch the trailer here), or visit the Palais Idéal, I encourage you to do so. 
French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance Facteur Cheval Palais Idéal
Me in 1998 at the Palais Idéal
We’ve certainly had great fun looking through the photos from our holiday in September 1998. The perfect way to spend a lazy Sunday in France.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Inspiring Ile de Ré

French Village Diaries day out on Ile de Ré by bike
The bridge to Ile de Ré
Yesterday was an early start for me as I left home in a moonlit pre-dawn and was almost halfway to the coast before the first glimpse of sunrise peeped into my rear-view mirror. My excitement at seeing Adrian walking out from La Rochelle airport arrivals was matched by the anticipation of a day out together, with our bikes, on Ile de Ré. 
French Village Diaries day out on Ile de Ré by bike
Sand dunes Ile de Ré
From our vantage point on the bridge we waved off the Ryanair return flight and immediately we arrived on the island and noticed the umbrella pines, sand dunes and stunning sea view, combined with the fresh, salty sea air, it felt different to home. Generally speaking I am not a seaside person. I don’t do sand on skin, or swimming with waves or currents, so was surprised at how invigorating the salty sea air was and how good it felt combined with the warming sun.
French Village Diaries day out on Ile de Ré by bike
St Martin, Ile de Ré
Ile de Ré is a pretty island just off the coast from La Rochelle and a dream for cyclists, but my inspiration for a day out here had come from a new writer buddy, Karen Clarke. This March the first in her new series of three books, Escape to the Little French Café, will be released and it is set on Ile de Ré. I get excited by new books set in France, but I get very excited by books set in my corner of France and as I’ve been lucky enough to have a pre-publication read, I can ensure you, this book is delightful. I know Karen is currently stuck at her writing desk in the UK, working on book three in the series, so thought she might enjoy a few photos of the island on a sunny winter’s day. Hope this helps Karen and I can’t wait to read more.
French Village Diaries day out on Ile de Ré by bike
A bike basket filled with Mimosa blossoms, Ile de Ré

Ile de Ré has bike tracks that follow the coast, bike tracks that weave between white cottages on narrow lanes, bike tracks that meander through marshlands and salt beds and bike tracks that go past vineyards and mimosa trees. The choices are endless.
French Village Diaries day out on Ile de Ré by bike
La Flotte, Ile de Ré
Our first stop was for coffee in La Flotte, a pretty little port but sadly a little underwhelming this time due to major work being carried out. There were no boats to watch in the marina, just lots of safety fences, construction work and trucks. 
French Village Diaries day out on Ile de Ré by bike
St Martin, Ile de Ré
We continued onwards to St Martin, where more roadworks provided the soundtrack to a sneaky second coffee in the sun, this time overlooking the boats in the harbour. 
French Village Diaries day out on Ile de Ré by bike
Loix and the salt beds, Ile de Ré
Next stop was Loix for a picnic in a remote spot that felt like it was at the end of the world. Looking inland the horizon was of church spires and windmills with nothing but sea and sky when scanning the offshore horizon. There were so many more paths we could have pedalled and so many places we could have seen, including the lighthouse at the far end of the island, but getting to La Rochelle for nine in the morning had been an early start for me and a seriously early one for Adrian. 
French Village Diaries day out on Ile de Ré by bike
Homemade pizza
We still managed 50km of happy cycling and returned home with pink cheeks, tired legs and an appetite for homemade pizza. I did wonder why we have never done this before with an airport pick up. I do enjoy my morning coffee at La Rochelle’s Café de la Paix and my early evening sundowners at the beach café with sunset views on airport days, but this was something different and special. Having the Bromptons and the ability to sling them in the car in a few minutes, rather than attach the tow bar bike trailer and load up the road bikes, has made a real difference. However, Ile de Ré is not somewhere we would go to once the summer season has started. Even at this time of year it was lively, but it’s no fun jostling for space on a narrow cycle path.

Escape to the Little French Café will be released on 18thMarch when I will be posting my review and Karen will be featuring in my France et Moi interview on Friday 22ndMarch. You can pre-order from Amazon now.
French Village Diaries day out on Ile de Ré by bike
St Martin, Ile de Ré
You might also enjoy reading author Fiona Valpy’s Lazy Sunday in France guest post (set on Ile de Ré) from last March and my France et Moi interview with Louise Candlish. Both Fiona (Sea of Memories) and Louise (The Disappearance of Emily Marr) have set books on Ile de Ré. I can also recommend Judy Block’s memoir Friday in France set on neighbouring island Ile d’Oleron.
French Village Diaries day out on Ile de Ré by bike
St Martin, Ile de Ré
I hope you have enjoyed sharing our day out on Ile de Ré. If you know of any other books set on Ile de Ré, please let me know.

Friday, February 22, 2019

France et Moi interview with author Gayle Smith Padgett

Welcome to ‘France et Moi’ where this week I am talking to memoir author Gayle Smith Padgett about what France means to her. You can read my review of Passion for Provence, 22 Keys to La Belle Vie here.
French Village Diaries France et Moi interview Gayle Smith Padgett Passion for Provence
Gayle Smith Padgett

Gayle Smith Padgett, a UCLA graduate, has two master’s degrees, neither in French. After studying in Mexico and South America, she worked as a language specialist in California and Virginia and later as a management analyst and US government liaison in Heidelberg, Germany. In 2011, she and her husband moved to Provence, where they continue to crack French codes.

To find out more, visit her website here.

Firstly, I think France is a special place and is famed for many things including its cheese, wine and diverse holiday locations plus, dare I say it strikes and dog poo littered streets. What do you think makes France so very unique and ‘French’?

Gayle: The top prize in the What-Makes-France-So-Very-Unique category has to go to the high priority given to quality time with friends and family— while still being incredibly productive. But a close second goes to the reverence for food—from the place it comes from to how it’s presented. 

2) When you first arrived in France what was the best thing about being immersed in French life and the scariest thing? 

Gayle: The relatively relaxed pace—compared to the United States—is such an alluring part of life here, which leads to the also very enticing occasional extended lunch. The scariest thing was that my husband had to have an operation to replace a cervical disc. It was a tense time, but the surgeon in Marseilles was fabulous and it all worked out extremely well. 

3) Having lived in Provence and spoken French for many years do you have any top tips for my readers on how to learn French? 

Gayle: Everyone is different, but for me, it’s a combination of study and practice. For the study part, I’ve had luck with the series of materials used to prepare students for the official diplomas recognized by the French Ministry of Education. Using these materials, I passed the first level called the DILF: Diplôme Initial de Langue Française, and now I’m chugging along through the next level called the DELF: Diplôme d’Études en Langue Française. For the practice part, joining groups and clubs is a fun, no-pressure way to chat with native French speakers in real-life scenarios.   

4) With plenty of space and lovely scenery Provence is a great place to explore. If you were to take a day off where would you head to?

Gayle: Outdoor markets are a big draw for me, so I’d head to the charming village of Lourmarin for the Friday market—sunny skies permitting. Isle-sur-la-Sorgue also has a terrific market— on Sunday—but I’d avoid high season. In July and August, it’s so crowded, you’ll never get out of waddle mode after ten o’clock. (The same advice goes for visiting Saint-Remy’s exceptional Wednesday market.) My husband Ralph, who is an avid birdwatcher, would head to the Camargue, that spectacular birding area south of Arles where the Rhône feeds into the Mediterranean Sea.

5) Every region in France has its own culinary specialty, do you have a favourite regional dish? 

Gayle: Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, where we live, is a distinctly agricultural area, and the local produce is outstanding. You can’t beat a house-prepared ratatouille, made from farm-fresh veggies and local olive oil. It’s a whole new world compared to the store-bought version. Oh, and when in Marseilles, it’d have to be bouillabaisse.  

6) France has many different cheeses, a silly question, but which French cheese are you? A hard and mature Tomme, a soft, fresh and lively goat cheese, the creamy and rich Camembert or maybe the salty and serious Roquefort? 

Gayle: Since I’m immature for my age, I guess that’d make me a fresh goat cheese. Incidentally, chevre is one of my absolute favourite cheeses, especially delightful in a salade au chevre chaud.

7) What is your favourite thing to buy in a Boulangerie/Patisserie? 

Gayle: So many delectable choices. On special “carb” days, a buttery croissant is stellar, but otherwise a crusty, rustic baguette is my standard choice. But, then I can’t help lathering on butter studded with salt crystals. I guess, it’s all in moderation!
French Village Diaries France et Moi interview Gayle Smith Padgett Passion for Provence
Passion for Provence
8) Can you describe your perfect French apéro for us, including the drink, the nibbles, the location and the company?

Gayle: The location would be our terrace in nice weather, and for company, our local buddies, a mix of French neighbors and expats. We’d begin with some bubbly and then move on to crisp, pale rosé. Along with olives, (particularly les olives cassées from Mausanne or Mouriés), cherry tomatoes, nuts, cornichons (love the brand, Maison Marc), we’d have a charcuterie and cheese platter served with baguette slices. I’d also add my latest new nibble recipe, made with endive leaves. First, creamy Boursin goes on each leaf, (placed in circles on a platter), followed by walnut pieces and a slice of apple. A sprinkle of chopped fresh basil adds a colorful touch. 

9) France has some beautiful cities and there are a few that constantly battle to be my favourite, what is your favourite French city and why?

Gayle: I adore Aix-en-Provence, where we lived for eighteen months before moving to Saint-Rémy. I’ll be forever enthralled by its beauty and vibrancy. As a university town, it has a very spirited vibe. The plane tree-lined Cours Mirabeau, the charming squares, graceful fountains, stunning architecture, not to mention the fabulous art museums—the new Caumont Art Center is incredible—all combine to capture hearts easily. 

10) If money and commitments were no object where in France would you like to own a property and what sort of place would it be?

Gayle: After my Lotto win, I’d snap up a honey-colored stone mas—traditional farmhouse—with grey-blue shutters and a magnificent view of Mont Sainte-Victoire, near the plateau where Cezanne liked to paint in Aix. From there, it’d be an easy twenty-minute stroll downhill to town, but a tougher climb coming home, which is a distinct drawback to this location. But, since resources are no object, I could simply call my driver!

Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about France and you.

If you’d like to read more about Gayle you can visit her website here and her fun memoir is available in ebook and paperback format. Links to Amazon can be found below. You can read my review here.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Book review of It Started with a Note by Victoria Cooke

French Village Diaries book review It Started with a Note Victoria Cooke
It Started with a Note by Victoria Cooke

It Started With A Note

One lost letter. A chance to change her life!
Superhero single mum Cath always puts other people first. But now that she’s seen her son safely off to university (phew!), life seems a little, well…empty.

So when Cath unexpectedly discovers some letters written by her great-grandfather during the First World War, she decides to take herself on an adventure to France to retrace his footsteps.

Cath expects to spend her holiday visiting famous battlefields and testing out her French phrase book. What she doesn’t anticipate is that her tour guide, the handsome Olivier, will be quite so charming! Soon Cath isn’t simply unearthing the stories of the past – she’s writing a brand new one of her own, which might end up taking her in a very unexpected direction…

French Village Diaries book review It Started with a Note Victoria Cooke

My Review
This book is a great mix of feel-good romance and history brought to life; an unusual combination, but one that I thought worked well.

Cath, a single mum whose son has just left for uni, stuck in a job she has had for years just to pay the bills and with a brother who deserves a kick up the backside, needs a change from the norm. With the discovery of a collection of letters written from the trenches by her great-grandfather, plus a bonus from work and a pushy younger colleague, and before she realises it Cath is on holiday in France, tracing her great-grandfather’s war journey.

Travel isn’t something Cath has much experience in, so travelling alone is a bit daunting at first, until she meets two older American couples in the hotel bar. This great fun group take her under their wing and invite her along on the battlefield tours they have booked. Tour guide Olivier is keen to share his local knowledge, especially with someone so interested in the history of the area and a friendship begins to develop. Despite enjoying being around Olivier, Cath knows that for two independent people with lives in two different countries, anything more than friendship would be impossible.

This is an emotional read, both as we follow Cath’s journey learning about life in the trenches for the young soldiers, and also as we witness her journey to discover what she wants out of life now her family are less reliant on her. Having visited many of the battlefield locations described in the book, I enjoyed going back, and having the personal letters interspersed throughout the book added an extra something. I also enjoyed the undeniable chemistry between Cath and Olivier that simmers away gently throughout the book. Despite quite a bit of encouragement from those around them, taking the required leap of faith to follow happiness, always seemed that one step too far. I became equally as convinced as they were that the happy every after we might all have wanted, was never going to be theirs. 

Author Bio
French Village Diaries book review It Started with a Note Victoria Cooke
Victoria Cooke
Victoria Cooke grew up in the city of Manchester before crossing the Pennines in pursuit of her career in education. She now lives in Huddersfield with her husband and two young daughters and when she’s not at home writing by the fire with a cup of coffee in her hand, she loves working out in the gym and travelling. Victoria was first published at the tender age of eight by her classroom teacher who saw potential in a six-page story about an invisible man. Since then she’s always had a passion for reading and writing, undertaking several writers’ courses before completing her first romantic comedy novel, 'The Secret to Falling in Love,' in 2016. 

Cooke's third novel, Who Needs Men Anyway? became a digital bestseller in 2018.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Book review of Passion for Provence by Gayle Smith Padgett

French Village Diaries book review Passion for Provence Gayle Smith Padgett
Passion for Provence 22 keys to la belle vie
Gayle Smith Padgett

Review of Passion for Provence: 22 keys to la belle vie

Today I am reviewing Passion for Provence by Gayle Smith Padgett, a memoir of a new life in Provence for US retirees Gayle and Ralph.

A honeymoon in France and many years spent working in Germany sowed the seed of a retirement in Provence, and this book tells their story of how they made it happen. From the beginning I realized that the one thing Gayle and Ralph don’t seem to do is retire lazily into a sedentary Provencal life, although they are not averse to a lie-in or relaxing on their terrace and enjoying a view of the mountains. These two super-fit outdoorsy people regularly enjoy walking, hiking and playing tennis. I loved the energy they gave off and felt their hobbies truly enabled them to make most of all Provence has to offer. Expertly packing their days, there was still room for plenty of leisurely lunches, excursions further afield and a spot of bird watching too. They are an inspiration. 

Their dedication to getting it right, from using pet-sitting assignments to establish their ideal location, to ensuring they ticked the correct boxes of French bureaucracy came across clearly. Gayle was not merely content to learn the language but obtained an official qualification in it too – chapeau ! As a soon to be ex-EU citizen, I hung on her every word when she described the antics (and costs) involved in renewing the annual residency permit and the nail-biting wait to see if the golden ticket of a ten-year card would be forthcoming. 
French Village Diaries book review Passion for Provence Gayle Smith Padgett
Passion for Provence 22 keys to la belle vie
Gayle Smith Padgett
Gayle’s humorous writing style often made me smile and made following their journey very enjoyable. This book has something a bit different to other memoirs as added to the end of each chapter is a little key to make settling into French life easier. These often made me laugh, or nod in agreement, and I always looked forward to discovering the next one. 

If you love to read memoirs about life in France, take this one on your holiday this year, you won’t be disappointed.

Many thanks to Gayle for sending me a copy of her book. Links to Amazon can be found below.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Spring once again

French Village Diaries signs of spring
Golden hazel catkins in the orchard
The change in the weather from winter to spring makes me very happy, so imagine my delight when this week all the signs of spring I eagerly look out for seem to have come at once. 

The wind and rain of last week have become frosty mornings that have given way to blue sky and warm sunshine, meaning wash load after wash load, day after day, have dried outside. This along with my super new washing machine, (who knew they had become so big, so fast and so quiet in the last 14 years) means I finally cleared the heap of non-essentials that have been festering in the laundry room since autumn. 

This week the goose, the ducks and the chickens have all started laying again, which for birds who are past their prime, (Brucie the goose will be ten this spring), is more than I could have expected at the first sign of warmer weather. Now I am flush with eggs once more, I’ve made my first quiche that I enjoyed with salad, on a little bistro table that I dusted off and set up outside the kitchen door.

The orchard is also coming to life; the hazel catkins are dangling like gold in the sun and the wild orchids are pushing through the grass. The first daffodils have ripe buds that will be in flower very soon and our resident Little Owls are busy (and noisy) day and night, preparing for the breeding season, I assume. Every trip out there reminds me of the work that needs tackling now the earth is warming up.

French Village Diaries signs of spring
From a dog walk
Whenever I am outside, in the garden, walking the dog or out on my bike, my eyes are drawn up to the sky and my ears are listening for unmistakable sound of the migrating cranes. Yesterday, although not close enough to photograph, I heard and then spotted my first V of birds heading north, a sure sign spring really will be here soon.

French Village Diaries signs of spring
Open skies on a bike ride
There is energy and new life to be felt everywhere making me feel more alive and that I must get out and enjoy it. I have now completed 300kms of my 2019kms cycling challenge, including 50kms this week out by myself. This might not seem like much, but to me it is a huge achievement. Not since 2014, when my epilepsy came back to kick me in the teeth, have I got on my bike without Adrian by my side (or rather somewhere out in front, but with me none the less). I’m not taking unnecessary risks, but I'm becoming bolder and refuse to let it beat me. 

French Village Diaries signs of spring cycling the canal de la Garonne Bordeaux to Toulouse
Planning - cycling the canal de la Garonne
We are also busy planning (and training for) the first of our 2019 adventures that will not only give me an overnight stop in Bordeaux, something I have wanted for a long time, but also another cycling touring holiday and at last, my first visit to the city of Toulouse. I can’t wait, but I do hope the weather will be kind to us as everything seems so much easier to cope with if served with a generous helping of sunshine.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Book review of The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff

French Village Diaries book review The Lost Girls of Paris Pam Jenoff
The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff

As part of the TLC Tour, my review today is for The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff, you can read an excerpt here.

From the author of the runaway bestseller The Orphan’s Tale comes a remarkable story of friendship and courage centered around three women and a ring of female secret agents during World War II.

1946, Manhattan

One morning while passing through Grand Central Terminal on her way to work, Grace Healey finds an abandoned suitcase tucked beneath a bench. Unable to resist her own curiosity, Grace opens the suitcase, where she discovers a dozen photographs—each of a different woman. In a moment of impulse, Grace takes the photographs and quickly leaves the station.

Grace soon learns that the suitcase belonged to a woman named Eleanor Trigg, leader of a network of female secret agents who were deployed out of London during the war. Twelve of these women were sent to Occupied Europe as couriers and radio operators to aid the resistance, but they never returned home, their fates a mystery. Setting out to learn the truth behind the women in the photographs, Grace finds herself drawn to a young mother turned agent named Marie, whose daring mission overseas reveals a remarkable story of friendship, valor and betrayal.

Vividly rendered and inspired by true events, New York Times bestselling author Pam Jenoff shines a light on the incredible heroics of the brave women of the war and weaves a mesmerizing tale of courage, sisterhood and the great strength of women to survive in the hardest of circumstances.

Based on the real-life female agents sent into Occupied France to assist the underground network in the sabotage of German supply lines, this is a complex work of fiction that follows the incredible stories of three women; the mysterious London based Eleanor Trigg, SOE agent Marie, and Grace, who stumbles upon a snippet of their lives and is determined to uncover the truth.

These three women, while all very different, were all strong characters who had faced loss and sadness in their pasts, that served to give them the grit and determination to rise up to the challenges the war presented. Fighting for the right to be heard in an all-male environment, the fear of being sent into the unknown, the comradery between the agents and the dreadful situations they found themselves in, plus the grief at their losses, all came through in the detailed descriptions in this book.

With the three storylines running simultaneously, there is always something left hanging as we switch back and forth from New York to London to Occupied France, and while this can cause confusion, I found it added to the suspense and kept my interest as the book unfolded. In places, I struggled with the plausibility of the plot and one too many convenient coincidences, but as the author reminded me at the end of the novel, it is a work of fiction and I did enjoy discovering the final piece of the jigsaw at the end. 

This book will appeal to those who enjoy historical novels set during The Occupation, where the female characters show their many strengths in face of adversity.
French Village Diaries book review The Lost Girls of Paris Pam Jenoff
Pam Jenoff

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