March 29, 2009

DESTINY LOOMS

The story continues.......


Jean and Nick have had far too exciting a time in Italy and are now back in France.


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On our way back home through France we stayed at Le Puy en Velay, the funny town with the two pinnacles in the middle, one with the Madonna on top and the other with a church. From there we went to Nevers and then back to Chinon for our last couple of nights.

Already it felt very familiar and as if I was coming home.






Every year after that, we went to France for all our major holidays, often 2 or 3 times a year, usually by mototcycle but sometimes in the car if the weather was too grim. We toured the Dordogne, the Auvergne, the Drome, Province, Alsace, Brittany............

We went to La Rochelle for Easter several years in succession. No matter how early in the year Easter fell, or how grotty the weather was at home, we were always able to have breakfast outdoors at a pavement cafe on Easter Sunday. La Rochelle has one of those lovely micro climates with way above average days of sunshine per year. Except the year it hailed - but that's another blog.






In the summer of 1998 we discovered champagne !!

Acting on a friend's recommendation, we stayed at a B&B in Avize, just south of Epernay. Run by Didier and Imogen, the two halves of Pierson Whitaker, it is actually a small champagne house. They make a few thousand bottles each year - then it was virtually by hand but now that the business has grown it is more mechanised. They are now in the Guide Hachette.



Every year we would stay in the Chinon area at least once. Sometimes it was only for a night or two. Other times it would be for a week. Sometimes we would camp, other times hire a gite, occasionally we would stay in a hotel. We never tired of the place and we gradually got to know the whole area very well. We loved the chateaux, the food, the wine and the weather.

Inevitably, we began peering into estate agents' windows. We were just dreaming. We had friends who had bought dilapidated properties in other parts of France and they seemed to spend all their time working on them, something that didn't appeal to us. In any case, Nick especially didn't want to be committed to taking his holidays in one part of France and enjoyed being forever on the move.

I was not so sure.......

March 28, 2009

FAWLTY TOWERS ??

In mid-July in 1994, in a heat wave, we arrived at Forcalquier at about 6 pm. We had ridden a long way on difficult roads in tremendous heat and even at that time of day it was 35 degrees. As we rode into town we looked briefly at the campsite. There were no pitches visible in the shady bits and it was just TOO HOT. So a hotel it had to be. There seemed to be only one hotel in town - the Lion d'Or.


Inside the Lion d'Or

We parked just around the corner from the hotel and as we approached I thought "we've no chance of getting in here". Standing outside I could see into the restaurant with crisp white tablecloths, sparkling wineglasses and rows of cutlery. We exchanged glances and strode up the steps into the foyer. Basil Fawlty came out from the back of the hotel, took one look at us, did a swift about turn and disappeared!


His wife then came out to greet us. Of course they had a room (even for a pair of dusty, completely exhausted, leather-clad mad people from England).


The Lion d'Or was one of those lovely old fashioned French hotels with husband and wife running everything, creaky stairs, dodgy plumbing and oodles of charm. A porter (or maybe kitchen hand - he was wearing a pinny) offered to take our bags. BAGS !! We gratefully accepted and asked for a secure parking place for the motorcycles. He showed us round to the back of the hotel and we rode the bikes into the old barn and hid them amongst haywagons, barrels and assorted other agricultural machinery. We then unloaded our luggage - tent, paniers and various baggage bungied on to the bikes and loaded him up. Well he did ask !


We had a superb dinner in the hotel - may dedicate a whole blog to that later. The room was cool, comfy and very cheap. The next day was market day and what a delight that was - my first taste of the French market that takes over the whole village. In the hot afternoon we watched the Tour de France on TV and I enjoyed every moment of our stay in Forcalquier.





The view from the church at the top of Forcalquier


A pretty little corner of the town.

March 26, 2009

THE ITALIAN JOB




THE STORY SO FAR.....


Jean and Nick have set off on their adventures by motorcycle and so far have discovered Chinon.



Flushed with the success of their trip to Belgium and France in the spring, they decide to go even further in the summer - to Italy.


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In the 1980's I had had a fairly intense love affair with Italy and for 7 years on the trot camped for 3 weeks each summer near Siena. The campsite was brilliant - dappled shade under the trees to keep the fierce sun off the tents, a beautiful swimming pool with bar and restaurant on site, and breathtaking views over the Tuscan landscape.



In 1994 I persuaded Nick that we should go to Siena on our bikes so he could see for himself what a wonderful place it was.



The trip down through France was great and we camped at Chalons en Champagne, St Amour, and Corps in the Alps, the little town where pommes dauphinois were invented. As we went over the top to the Italian side, the road deteriorated dramatically with potholes and gravel adding to the difficulty of the hairpin bends. I was terrified, always a sheer drop to one side of me and having to avoid huge tractors and lorries chugging up the hairpins and hogging all the road. My little Virago 535 was not the best motorcycle for such terrain - the handling was dreadful and the brakes not very effective.



We camped near Genoa on a dirty, overcrowded site with dire facilities. We had a very nervous and uncomfortable night with the tent pitched on a minute patch of ground on a precarious slope. Worst of all, we could not get the bikes near enough to the tent to keep an eye on them and the Italians were not at all sympathetic.



Glad to get away from the place, we set off next morning to continue our adventures but all in all we had a rough time in Italy. Nick was not impressed.



All motorcyclists know that it is difficult to look well-groomed when all you have is a small tent and a few clean but crumpled t-shirts in your paniers. This was not good enough for the Italians. We struggled to get served in shops and restaurants. Also, riding on Italian roads was just sheer hell. We had more near-misses in 2 days than in whole year at home. We did make it to Siena but by then we'd had enough so we decided to pack up early the next day and head back to France where we felt both safe and welcome.






We ended up at Forcalquier.








March 23, 2009

PRE-HISTORY


(Le Grand Pressigny is after all, the French centre for pre-history.)

I was born in 1951 in a very ordinary family. Money was tight for everybody in those days so if, when I was a child, teenager or young woman, you had told me I would eventually own a little house in France, I would have never thought it possible. A trip to the moon would have been more likely.


Once I had left home and started to earn a living, I was slightly better off but never felt the need for a passport. I had no desire to go on package holidays to Spain and had no idea how to go about anything more exotic. Holidays were spent camping in Scotland, Wales or Cornwall.


At the age of 28 I got a British Visitors Passport (remember those?) in order to go to Paris for a long weekend with a boyfriend. We went in his beaten-up MGB GT and camped in the Bois du Boulogne. (Can you still do that, I wonder?) He didn't last but I developed a taste for France that has lasted and grown.

In September 1993, on the steps of our local theatre, I bumped into Nick. The things we had in common were: we had both just passed our motorcycle tests; we were both single; we loved riding our bikes and were ready for some adventure.

We started riding together and did huge mileages. In spring 1994 we set off on our first adventure and went to a motorcycle rally in Belgium. After the rally we spent the rest of the week in France and our first stop was at Chinon. There I fell in love for the second time in 9 months. It was magic. The camp site at Chinon is across the river from the chateau. Going to the ladies loo at night is a magnificent experience - as you turn to leave the building and descend the steps the view of the chateau all lit up, with the boulevard and river in front of it and all the twinkly lights from the tents, is just wonderful. Chinon campsite is my favourite of all.



Chinon chateau and the bridge at night.


We pitched the tent and walked, exhausted, across the river into town. We had dinner and a bottle of wine in a small restaurant, which is now the Cafe des Arts, in Chinon's famous square with the fountain. We both had coq au vin. We have relived that meal many times since, although the restaurant is now somewhat more upmarket. In those days it was basic enough for the scruffy, smelly bikers that we were.

IN THE NEXT BLOG.......





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One of the lovely squares in the old town of Forcalquier the capital of Hautes-Province.

IT'S NOW OR NEVER

Nick was just browsing the net one day and came across several blogs about the Loire Valley. He thought that blogging seemed like a fun idea so he started one himself. Then I decided it might be fun for me too and that I might have something interesting to say that other people might even want to read. So here we go.......


Lots of people have already written about their dream of owning a house in France and the process of actually doing it. Each story is similar but different and I thought ours was worth writing too, so it was time I had a go myself. It's now or never.
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None of these houses is ours - but they're very near.







I will start at the beginning of our adventures in France and gradually bring the story up to date.
This has been my very first blog/post/page of the story. There will be more to follow soon.

If each one takes as long as this, I'll never finish the ironing !!