You may have noticed that it’s been very quiet on here of late. No new blog posts for a long time.
We’ve been so busy out doing stuff, enjoying the sunshine and living the life that we haven’t really felt like sitting down for hours on a computer writing about it all (sorry dear readers). Hopefully you’ve seen a bit of what we’re up to if you follow us on Instagram and Facebook, we try and put a photo on there once a day of what we’ve been up to.
So here’s a little update. We’ve driven halfway across Europe through France, Italy with a stop off in Venice, Slovenia and Croatia and we’re currently by the sea in the Dalmatia region of Croatia for 3 weeks, which is the last major stop of our trip. In less than a month we’ll be back home again which we’re both happy and sad about.
We absolutely adored our time in the Dordogne region of France. 10 weeks in one place was just perfect – we were getting tired of moving around so much, but it also allowed us to immerse ourselves a tiny bit into the community and get to know people more in-depth than just a fleeting visit over a day or two.
We’ve got some (hopefully) good stuff to share in the coming weeks on some of the little gems we unearthed there, what a fantastic place it is for a family holiday, what you need to know when going to the different types of markets, the lovely towns and villages in the area, the different types of wine and food from the Dordogne region. We loved every minute of it and here’s a bit of a summary of why:
The landscape and history
This part of France goes back to pre-historic times. It’s the land of cave men drawing on the walls, the first farmers, criss-crossed by the ancient Roman road, pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela, medieval towns and villages. And you can feel it in the air.
When you drive and walk around here, you can imagine what it would have been like through the passage of history. This has affected Sophie so much that her latest career ambition is that she wants to be a historian when she grows up!
Connection to the land
The landscape is stunning and we got to see a part of the growing cycle that happens year after year and has done for hundreds of years. When we first arrived the farmers’ fields were green and lush with growing grass, the first small sunflower seedlings were planted out in rows and the wheat was growing. We watched as the sunflowers grew and opened, and turned the fields golden, like big yellow skirts around the buildings they surround.
The farmers have been incredibly industrious making hay and the landscape went from green and lush, to to bare and golden with giant stacks of 4 storey high hay bales, or little bundles dotted across the fields. It looks like a giant Vincent van Gogh painting come to life.
We were living next to a farm so the kids have got to watch first hand the haymaking process and daily rhythm of the cows in the fields. Not bad for two city slickers.
The wheat has been gobbled up by (in the words of our 4 year old) “humungus” combine harvesters that look like a prehistoric dinosaur come to life. They drive on the little rural roads and take up three quarters of it they are that huge. Watch out if you come around a corner a bit fast and come across one of them!
The endless vineyards in the area were constantly changing too. When we first arrived the grapes were tiny little bobbles on the vines. They’ve grown into big fat juicy globes, ready to make delicious wine. Even that is a slow process. We’ve learnt that some of the varieties take 20 years to grow before they produce their first vintage.
Of course this was always going to feature! We absolutely loved wandering through the different markets of the region and bringing home amazing purchases. But there are two things that stood out for us – the seasonal and regional nature of food in France. Our first week we did what we do at home and bought our fruit and vegetables to last for the week. By mid-week we were making a big fruit tart because it was all starting to spoil!
We quickly learned that the produce is so fresh and brought to market at the peak of ripeness because it is meant to be consumed within a day or two. And that is how you get the most amazing flavours. It doesn’t get picked before its time so it will last a week, or packed into bulk coolers for weeks on end like we have at home. It is literally farm to table. And you only buy what is in season. No air freighted USA asparagus in the market here. It absolutely makes sense and has made me appreciate that concept so much more.
The regional nature of food is wonderful too. We’ve learnt a lot about the food of the Perigord region – duck served 101 different ways of course, stunning goat’s cheese / chevre made with raw milk (lait cru) vs pasteurised and 1, 5 and 14 day old cheese and the differences between them, beautiful plump walnuts, sweet honey, different varieties of Perigord strawberries that you try one after the other and can actually taste the difference and on it goes.
We also had our fair share of amazing restaurant meals too, food that was a work of art and almost looked to good to eat!
All of the above was wonderful, but it was the people we met that made all the difference to our stay. Everyone both ex-pat and French was so lovely and welcoming to us that we felt like we were a little bit a part of the community in our short stay.
The defining thing we have noticed about people here is how in general they are relaxed, happy and how much they are enjoying life. No-one is on a treadmill or particularly worried about keeping up with the Joneses. We have spent some wonderful times over the past few weeks at people’s homes, sitting under trees in the shade while the kids have been on playdates, or watching a fireworks display with the neighbours while enjoying wine and cake.
Our hosts John and Lesley have been so wonderful to us, we can’t thank them enough for helping to make our time there special. We really lucked out when we decided to rent Le Pigeonnier for our stay.
A big shout out to the wonderful team at L’Ancienne Ecole (The Old School) where the kids attended Wordy Wednesday English language classes and junior performing arts during term times, and Sophie attended art classes during the school holidays. This is a lovely little school that has been set up predominantly for ex-pat children to give them a bi-lingual education in both English and French. The teachers are amazing and the kids that attend the school seem very special too. We had such a fun time at the end of term production and BBQ afterwards, again we were made to feel so welcome.
Being in France while history is being made
While we were in France Brexit happened and more terror attacks took place in France. With Brexit it was interesting to see the shock affects of it on the ex-pat community at first, and then the realisation that everything will probably settle down at some stage and it will be ok. I think they will be ok too. The Brits we have met are genuinely integrated into their community, they genuinely love living there, they make such an effort with the language and without them it wouldn’t be the same.
Worse was what happened in Nice on Bastille Day. We went to our local fireworks celebration in Bergerac which was reasonably crowded but we felt safe as we have done so far in France, apart from the end when it was a tight squeeze as everyone was leaving. We both thought hmmm this isn’t a great place to be at that time, but 15 minutes later when we got home and saw the news of Nice it was quite shocking and terrifying that people are capable of such horror.
We were very sad to leave, but we know for certainty that we will absolutely be back. If you’re considering taking a family sabbatical then we can highly recommend staying in this very special part of the world.