The Hexagon is a vast land of opportunity, But where to look?
I like la france profonde, the areas where we Brits tend not to go because they don’t have the glamour or allure of the South, or the grandeur of the chateaux of the Loire or the majesty of the mountains where cyclists love to go and pit their wheels and lungs against the pros. I like tootling round the lanes and admiring a good woodpile and grabbing a pain rustique from the local boulangerie. Where the old paysans hang out in their blue overalls and flat caps and their wives wear housedresses unknown in chic boutiques, whose faces translate the terrain into the maps of their own facial contours.
I like the way the pace of life creeps from day to day, month to month, season to season without changing much and then erupting into life for the annual local village fete or repas where overalls and housedresses are shed and couples two step to old French songs and kids jump and slide and aeroplane across the rough wooden boards of the stage. I’ve seen road bikes from the first Tour de France and been waltzed by a patient queue of little old farmers, eaten suckling pig and cassoulet and paella and fallen over drunk in cornfields by rivers.
I remember the afternoon we sat at long trestle tables and drank rough old local red with local dairy farmers who insisted we visit their dairy herd. They showed me how the calves would suckle on your fingers with their soft, toothless gums. The females would grow and join the herd, the males – a shoulder shrug – they were for the abbatoir. I thought of the awful days when the calves were taken from the fields, the terrible keening of the cows for their lost children. I’ve never eaten veal since.
Another evening we sat in the farmyard of a local goat’s cheese producer and ate course after course that showcased every style of chevre they produced and then there was dancing – always dancing – as an accordianist played Piaf songs and the goats bleated in bewilderment. Creeping home down the darkened lanes after just a bit too much wine – again.
I love that France and itch to share it with those that bypass on the race south.
So I’m concentrating my search on Champagne/Cote d’Or, Deux-Sevres/Vienne and the Berry region. Some have suggested Languedoc – Limoux was mentioned (fond and funny memories of family holidays in Limoux – suffice to say drink was taken), others the mountains, the beauty of Annecy (that’s a lottery win). My kid is happy to move so long as we’re going to Paris (he wants to wake up with the Metro on his doorstep). I’m open to anything – all I want is warmer weather, decent wine, quiet lanes and a village fete to liven up the gentle torpor. Question is – where?