My French village is not in the guidebooks. It’s not a postcard village, you know, a tourist place on steroids with balconies dripping flowering plants, with cutesy boutiques and pastry shops — a place bloated with swarms of sweaty sight seers in shabby shorts.
No, it’s just an ordinary, centuries-old village in the far south of France with mothers in yoga pants taking their kids to the small elementary school, old men sitting on benches, and breadwinners going to work every morning like the rest of the ordinary toilers in the world. This is not the Provence and tourists do not come here.
There is of course, a castle, be it not a fancy one, and a church, both very, very old. After all, this is France.
The village sports a small grocery store, a bar, a small hair salon, and a post office open only in the mornings. That’s it for commerce, except on Tuesdays a butcher comes by with a big truck, and on Fridays the coquillage guy arrives with mussels and oysters. Twice a month a mobile barber/hair salon makes an appearance. The arrival of these enterprises is announced
by the village crier via a public announcement system, managed by the mayor’s office. No matter how small, every village has a mairie
(Just for the record, this French village is not really “my” village. My family did not live here for generations and I did not grow up here. I am a foreigner from the cold north allowed to make my home here and feel welcome.)
So, what do I love about this modest French village?
1) The village ambiance
Strolling through the ancient alleys, the uneven cobblestones under my feet, I feel like I’m in a movie. The old buildings, built stone by stone centuries ago, amaze me still. People did this, stacked up stones one by one by hand! And these houses are still standing, and people are living in them! I love the weathered doors, the shutters on the windows, the vines draping over stone walls.
The ringing of the church bells ads to the charm and ambiance of the place, as does the fountain in the middle of the village square. We have a shepherd and shepherdess, really, with a flock of sheep and goats. The animals roam the fields around the village and the tinkling bells give them away. It all feels biblical, I tell you.
Spoiler alert: Do you know what you find behind those old doors in these ancient buildings? Televisions, WIFI, IKEA kitchens.
2) The locals
They come in all ages–the young, the old and the in-between. I love not living in an ‘age ghetto.’ A walk to the little shop may offer up a mother with a baby in a stroller; a toothless granny with a cane, whose face lights up when I greet her and ask how she is; a friend and her husband carrying in a new mattress (and how they’re going to get that up the narrow stairs in their old house I can’t imagine!). Everybody says bonjour, including the kids. And yes, every morning I see one of our neighbors walk by my kitchen window on his way to the shop to buy his daily baguette. No, he does not wear a beret. Most important? The locals were friendly and helpful when we first arrived a number of years ago, and they still are, and I’m truly grateful. Now we are no longer strangers, and it feels good to live here and feel at home.
3) Walking and hiking
Here I go: Two minutes out of my front door and I am in the middle of vineyards or open country with any number of routes and paths to choose from. I feel so healthy and free when I get out there, if not fashionable in my ratty shorts with paint stains on it. They’re wicked awful. What if a filming crew comes by, shooting a documentary about the joys of living in a non-touristic French village?
Never mind. I am enjoying nature, feeling very zen. In the distance I hear the tinkling of bells. Our shepherd is out with his flock. And sure enough, there they come toward me on the narrow road, swarming around me as they pass.
Spring is a symphony of color, the new green of the sprouted grape vines, and the seas of poppies — scarlet hussies fluttering seductively in the breeze.
Hard to ignore are the studly wild onions — macho purple balls, poking up high above the fray of lowly weeds, standing tall on smooth erect stalks, challenging arrogantly, “you want some?”
And everywhere along the roadside, the wild oats shimmer silvery with health and youthful energy. With adolescent fervor, their flexible stems reach out en masse as if ready to take flight toward an exciting future (but sadly not in my granola).
Enough of the anthropomorphizing.
In the summer there are figs, blackberries, pomegranates, wild asparagus, rocket, wild fennel, free for the picking. How romantic is that?
4) Getting together with the natives and expat friends
Socializing is a favorite activity, usually involving food and wine. After all, this is France. Once a week in the summer months a village BBQ party is organized in the bouledrome (the place where you play boules, or pétanque). Bring your own plates and glasses, as well as appetizers and salads if you so wish, to share. Young and old show up. On offer is either chicken, pork, paella, mussels, or sausage, as well as pitchers of wine from a local winery, baguettes, and water. For the cheese course there’s a foil-wrapped wedge of Camembert (after all, this is France), and for dessert an ice cream cone. How can you not love this?
Other gatherings are offered in the village with musical entertainment, and meals to buy at the coffee bar, or a mussel fry organized by the village social club.
Dinner parties at the houses of friends have the benefit of not having to get in your car to drive home. Instead, you stumble home through the quiet, dark alleys, past the ancient stone walls of the buildings feeling as if you’ve been time traveled to a different century.
5) It’s not isolated, this village
Get real! You think Miss Footloose would end up in a trou perdu? A lost hole, the end of the world? Certainly not. A girl needs her nails done at times, eat lushly at good restaurants. So where to go?
a) A 7-minute drive through the countryside takes us to a lovely medieval town with all the necessary amenities: restaurants, shops of all sorts, supermarkets (even a big Lidl, be still my heart) and prosaic dentists and doctors and hospitals one hopes not to need, but alas one does at times. The weekly open-air market however is more agréable. Such fun it is to stroll through the market with your basket to buy local honey, gooey cheese, vegetables, bread, mushrooms. Yes, it’s just like you see in those travel documentaries on TV. Really!
b) The Mediterranean is 25 minutes away by car, where you’ll find great beaches, restaurants, and entertainment. Do you have a sudden urge to eat oysters, mussels or other seafood? You’re in luck. A short drive and you can indulge with a view of the beach and the sea.
I took this photo just two weeks ago, before feasting upon these grilled mussels. They were delicious, although I must admit they may look like they were drowning in pond scum. It was butter, garlic and herbs, so no worries.
c) Feasts, fairs, concerts, and markets. All through the year you find different villages and towns in the area offering up entertainment. Fairs to celebrate the harvests (chestnuts, mushrooms, olives, wine, hazelnuts, apples), Christmas markets, musical events, and shows of all sorts.
d) And then there is Spain! Hello Spain! Only 1 ½ hour away by car to the border and nearby lovely seaside villages. A little over two hours in a comfy train and you’re in Barcelona. Barcelona! Enough said.
6) It’s a wine village!
How cool is that? We’re surrounded by vineyards. There’s a winery at the end of our little street, several more right here in the village. Knock on the door and you can buy your local wine. Some growers put on dinners for the locals, or organize tasting events to advertise their new vintages. Who says living in a little French village is boring? Not Miss Footloose.
7) Our French house
No, it is not a luxurious French villa, the kind you see in glossy magazines singing the praises of life in the Provence, with acres of opulent gardens and Olympic swimming pools. It’s a modest house from the 1980s complete with wooden shutters and a mimosa tree in front. It’s sitting right at the edge of the old village center with nice French neighbors right next door and across the street. It has a variety of strange issues and problems, annoying leaks, outdated tile floors, and mysterious wiring. We have a lovely garden and the terrace is my bliss place. The humble pool is as old as the house but keeps struggling along, watched over by our nymph Daphne. She is a full-sized, sexy statue that we had to adopt along with the house.
And no, we cannot get rid of her. Previous owners trafficked her all the way over from Italy, and really, where could she go now? Who would want her?
So here you have it, the seven reasons why I love my French village.
Note: Don’t ask me the name and location of this village. It’s a secret! And if you do know, please don’t tell! Don’t put it in the comments!