It’s hard to believe we’ve been back in Wellington for nearly 4 weeks. Mostly the weather has been dismal but yesterday when the sun came out I spent all day in the garden pruning and weeding. It took me right back to our recent sojourn in France where gardening is quite a different experience.
We always stay in the same area – in the countryside, roughly between the towns of Nontron and Brantome – and we usually rent a very rustic old farmhouse owned by friends who live in Paris for most of the year. This time we stayed with some other friends in their recently renovated farmhouse in the same hamlet.
Built in 1867, their house has a courtyard surrounded by herbs, lavender and a few hardy roses. Gardening mostly involves dead-heading the flowers and weeding the cracks in the terrace but this year I also undertook the daily job of hand watering a sorry looking artichoke plant that was suffering from the drought. (I’m happy to say that by the time I left, the carefully nurtured plant had indeed born fruit).
Gardening at Laumède in the drought was easy, the artichoke was the only thing that showed signs of life. In Wellington it’s hard work because everything grows madly all year round and a good deal of it can only be accessed with crampons. The view is different too. At home, when I take a break from cutting back the jungle that covers my vertical slope, I look down on the Karori wildlife sanctuary with its colonial pumphouse. In France, we looked out over a sunny meadow with a neatly stacked woodpile and a couple of apple trees. It’s very rural. Not that long age we were sitting on the terrace enjoying an aperetif when a wild boar trotted across the lawn in front of us and disappeared into the trees that grow by the river.
Boar and roe deer roam quite freely in this part of France and that’s why I like it. People who have moved here for the lifestyle say it’s one of the last untouched parts of Europe. That’s not entirely true but you do feel that little has changed. The old-timers farm in much the same way they always have. A herd of cows is more accurately described as a ‘group’ – never more than twenty and mostly lying down on the grass in a sociable circle. I realise this sort of farming is supported by subsidies but I like the way the farmers here keep a few rabbits and ducks and mix pasture with small crops of sunflowers, maize and wheat. Everyone who lives here has a potager and a few fruit trees from which they make confiture and eau de vie, and if they have walnuts they’ll be pressed to produce oil at one of the water mills that still offer the service.
It’s for all these reasons that I much prefer staying in la France profunde than in the cities or towns. And that, in a very round about way, brings me to the point of this blog post. I’ve written quite a lot about this area, particularly during the year we lived here as a family, and because I’ve given it such a good press people often ask me where they can stay if they happen to be passing through on a road trip. Most definitely look for a gite. The advantage of booking a self-catering holiday home is that you can go mad at the markets and cook the most wonderful food. There are lots on the internet – you can google a gite – but there’s nothing like a personal recommendation so I’m posting photos of two rural gites that are owned and run by good friends of ours in the Dordogne. Both are charmingly renovated farm buildings – very comfortable and beautifully situated – but best of all they are hosted by owners who are très sympathique, know their areas really well and speak fluent English.
The first is near the town of Ribérac, east of Périgeux.
It’s owned by Ib and Marie, both Danish architects who lived here for several years with their children and now divide their time between France and Copenhagen. The gite is connected to their own home and has a gorgeous courtyard and a private terrace with a swimming pool. It sleeps 8-10. We’ve had some wonderful times here with Ib and Marie and shared some great conversations about the local architecture. A few weeks ago we joined them for a concert at a church in one of the local villages and then a very long lunch under the trees in their courtyard.
Gite number two is a short bicycle ride from our ‘own’ hamlet at Laumède. I used to cycle up to Gilles and Jean-Françoises’ home most afternoons for French lessons with the ever-so-patient Gilles. The couple have lived here for several years during which time they’ve restored their house and converted their barn into two four-person gites with a shared terrace. The property, which dates back to the 1500s, was a farmhouse when they bought it but it has also been used as a military post on account of its strategic position with views across the whole valley. Their home is House and Garden gorgeous with lovely little out-buildings including a porcherie and a tiny bakery with a bread oven where Jean-François (a fabulous cook) makes pizzas. The most recent addition to their ongoing rennovation, is a very glamorous swimming pool sited at the back of the house in front of a small forest where you’ll find chanterelles popping up in the autumn.
If anyone is interested in either of these gites, let me know and I’ll put you in touch. (And no, I’m not taking a commission!)