How about living in a French village? In the south of the country? So peaceful and relaxing. In the morning you stroll to the boulangerie for a croissant, a pain au chocolat, or a baguette. Or all three. You eat these on your terrace in the cool morning air while listening to the evocative cooing of the doves and watching the swallows swoop through the sky. How idyllic is that?
My prince and I have been enjoying summertime living in France for the last several weeks. It’s a small village where we stay, in the middle of wine country not far from the town of Béziers. The narrow streets curve and twist up and down and around, all leading to the tiny central square with its few shops, the post office and the mairie (town hall).
The first morning, a Sunday, we decide to do what the French do and go to the bakery. We step out of the main door, a huge, heavy metal affair of historic vintage, and go down the curving stone stairs being conquered by voracious vines. Across the narrow street, I notice an old woman in white flowery pajamas, long gray hair down to her shoulders, broom in hand, ready to sweep the sidewalk. The church bells chime the hour, eight, and I wonder if she’s going to make it to church or not, later.
We love wandering around, looking at the centuries-old stone houses with their wooden shutters in faded blues and greens or freshly painted lavender and turquoise. The windows and balconies are festooned with scroll work.
And everywhere the oleanders, the floral femmes fatales — flamboyant, voluptuous, poisonous. These bawdy babes strut their stuff along the pathways and in gardens, draping their heavy branches seductively over gates and walls, seducing the eye with their toxic blooms of lusty rose, passionate red, hot pink, and shameless, virginal white.
These sassy sisters are not the only vegetation tarting up the village. Vines hug the walls, strangle balconies, tumble over walls, creep along the steps of ancient stone stairs, spilling their blooms of orange and yellow and blue.
I love exploring this village with its mix of ancient and modern. Medieval streets with shiny new cars. Houses sporting ancient doors with knockers in funky shapes and open windows from which pour the sounds of pop music and young guys laughing and having fun.
A gaggle of skinny teenage girls appears from one of the narrow alleys. Short shorts, tiny tops, lots of bare skin and long shapely legs. Strolling with nowhere to go. What are they talking about? Boys, I imagine. An old man sits alone on a bench, a beret on his head, hands resting on the cane held between his knees. I wonder what he’s thinking about — how the world has changed, maybe.
The family-run butchery has beautiful meat, pretty goat cheeses, and delicious paté de campagne. The cheerful owners are friendly and patient as we struggle with our French. Also friendly is the lady in the hair salon when I come to have my hair cut. I show her a picture. Short, very short. Am I sure? Yes, I am. She gets started. The woman sitting in the chair next to me smiles. I point at my head. “Coupe de garçon,” I say. A boy cut. She laughs. “Coupe de vacances,” she says. A vacation cut. And so it is.
Such adventures. I see you rolling your eyes. Sorry, but it’s all I’ve got for now. I realize Papua New Guinea would be more exotic, but is the wine cheap?
Okay, so what are we doing here in this French village? Earlier this year we were in a town nearby for over two weeks, and although at the time the weather was not friendly we liked what we saw and decided to come back. So we’ve parked ourselves in this village in order to explore the area, discover other villages and towns and see how we enjoy the French life in the warmer weather. Maybe we’ll end up living here! Have an adventure! Quelle bonne idée!
Here’s a picture of one thing we love a lot: French markets.
It’s not just cheese, olives and vegetables they sell in these markets. Here you see a collection of tapenades, dips and spreads of an amazing variety. How could we resist? We ended up with more than we could eat, but fortunately we had friends visiting who helped us out: We took some crusty bread and made a meal of it. With a glass or two of cold rosé of course.
I could live here: The people are nice, the scenery is stunning, the food is fabulous, the wine is cheap. It’s France.
Update: Yes! We did it! We bought a house in a tiny village. Viva la France!
* * *
Where would you live if you had a choice? What places have you explored with the idea of moving there, and what did you decide? Or, just tell me any old story . . . I’m easy.
[…] I am an advocate for expat living in the UK, the experience hasn’t been only crumpets and high teas. One should always expect a […]
Great great job Sonia. You know how to travel, which is obviously why you do what you do. So many people lack your sense of adventure and ability to absorb all the joy in a place.
A place I dream of staying for a while. I guess I would have to say Mallorca. I have a friend living there permanently who travels a lot and in every email she tells me there is no other place she would rather live and she always looks forward to coming home.
Oh, this sounds as heavenly as I remember. Is your husband retired or is this only a vacation? Will you be anywhere near the Geneva area?
I am so envious. When are you inviting me over?
Off to Spain to volunteer in Rascafria next year in May. Have you been there?
I loved reading this. I love the little villages in s.France and will definitely add this to the ones to explore round here. Me and my fiancé have based ourselves in Montpellier while improving our French and working.
We love Montpellier! If you like to explore outside of town, check out the market in Clermont l’Herault on Wednesdays.
Your vivid descriptions have me packing my bags already. I had the pleasure of studying in Rouen as a college student and have thought about what it would be like to live there ever since. This article makes it all the more appealing.
There’s a lot to like! But we’ve been warned about the winters 😉
Great description….I love all those goodies in the market!
We have friends near Cahors and have been to visit them a few times in the summer. It is utterly marvelous, and we love all the things you describe, but the winters are apparently pretty rough. But who cares with all those great cheeses, olives, and breads?
Yes, the winters, we know. We were there in March/April, and it was miserable. We’ll have to take that into consideration!
Karen – as always, you make your subject come alive for your readers. It so happens that I wrote a blog-post in praise of France just a few weeks ago, which I invite you to read, at http://barlowscayman.blogspot.com/2013/05/france-love-affair.html
As I wrote, I love everything about France, pretty much. As a place to live it is close to my ideal. Not just the spots lauded by Peter Mayle and Miss Footloose, either. I could gladly settle anywhere (except Marseilles), even though I speak only basic schoolboy French. One of these days…!
Well, you never know! We might run into each other there, sipping wine, on a terrace in Montpellier maybe!
Sounds quite wonderful to me, really! I recently moved to Hamburg, but I have a very soft spot for the south of England and New Zealand. Who knows…
New Zealand, yes. Only it’s too far away for us from family and friends in the US and Holland.
True… it’s basically far away from everything…
It looks like paradise … I’m coming with you! 🙂 But then a little voice says, what does it look like in February? 🙁
(Judy- LOL! Anything has to be at least as warm as Canada in February! )
Karen, lovely post. Whether you are drinking wine from your own vineyard or someone elses, either way you are presenting an under shared view of France for many Americans. It’s a pleasure to read a positive story like this. Glad to be following you now, thanks to Judy (expatriatelife.com) and your follower, Gordon Barlow. Thanks to both for commenting and making your blog known!
Jonelle Hilleary (whattheworldtaughtme.com)
Glad you found me. We’ve had nothing but good experiences in France, and we’ve been there a number of times. People have been friendly, fun and helpful when needed. Even in Paris 😉
What does it look like in February? Not pretty, for sure! And villages like this one are probably dead in terms of social life. We’ll look for a larger, more active town.
Dead social life? Think Thoreau. I’ve never been anywhere where I haven’t met fascinating people. Larger means car, parking, reservations; a big trade-off and for most of us, what we do at home. Currently I’m house sitting in Merida, Mexico, a way too large town for me. But everything I need is in my charming neighborhood and I never leave. That being said, I already have a great group of friends (both Mexican and expats) and recently became involved with a local vets animal fostering program. It would take months just to get to know this village alone. Dinner tonight?… Read more »