My wonderful friend Ginnie has often talked about her mother’s life in France. Having just returned from a visit there, this is what she had to say:
My mother took early retirement from her teaching career in London, and moved to a beautiful, old farmhouse in South-West France’s Anglars Nozac commune (in the Lot region) about seven years ago. My first thoughts on learning of her intended relocation were:
- a) Oh no… one grandparent less to fulfil regular babysitting duties for my then toddler son, Oscar!
- b) Fantastic! Oscar and I will benefit from cheap and glorious holidays with a granny/mother who having always been somewhat of a Francophile, would soon be in her element; happy, relaxed, surrounded by gorgeous countryside and enjoying a language and culture she has always loved.
- c) I must learn French!
The following is a list of some of the activities Oscar and I will most
miss until our next visit to see her:
Picking, cooking and eating local produce
This region of France is heaven for foodies like us. There appear to be as many ducks and geese as local inhabitants!
These form the basis for the luxuriously rich confits and magrets I adore eating, and also provide beautifully rich foie gras. The trees drip with jewel-like plums (and many other fruits) which are used in delicious tarts and aperitifs. Oscar’s granny assisted him in making plum crumbles using those that grow in abundance on her land. These were made even more scrumptious by a generous sprinkling of cracked walnuts – also grown locally, and featuring in local aperitifs, cheeses, salads, oils, cakes, breads, pates and mousses.
There are many pretty settings in the region in which an hour or two may be happily idled away by adults and children alike catching trout which may be taken away for cooking at a reasonable price. Alternatively, Au Milinnou at Masclat (Tel. 05 65 37 66 45, open evenings Mon. to Fri. and lunchtime and evenings at the weekend) offers the most idyllic of lilly-covered, trout-filled lake setting where locals and visitors enjoy a simple and cheap, but delicious set menu comprising hearty tomato soup, tomato, salad, cheese, trout and wine with coffee and ices costing extra.
For a more sophisticated experience, the Henri Giron Musee at Le Vigan (Tel. 05 65 41 33 78) offers weekend diners the chance to peruse its namesake’s appealing artwork before being seated for an exquisite multiple course lunch served by the most charming staff, and enjoying some unobtrusive entertainment (we enjoyed a delightful husband and wife duet – he seated with acoustic guitar, she standing to sing).
Canoeing and other sporting activities
The Dordogne provides a divine setting for working off some of the weight gained enjoying the local fayre! Oscar and I joined friends to canoe from Grolejac to Vitrac, which took just under two hours allowing for a half hour swimming break during which the children squealed with delight as they were carried along in the clear water’s surprisingly strong currents. The effort of paddling is pleasingly diminished by the stunning and entertaining scenery; chateaux precariously perched atop cliff edges, cafes and restaurants set amid cool glades and other paddlers capsizing!
Oscar and I also adore cycling past the region’s verdant crops of maize and tobacco, lapping up the cool showers from their sprinklers.
Exploring the local caves and pretty villages and towns
The Gouffre de Padirac are underground, part-traversed by gondola and have lifts for those who are unable or unwilling to ascend or descend the steep stairways in order to admire stunning stalactites, eerily and beautifully lit green/blue pools, and an amazing dome.
Nearby is the breathtakingly beautiful Rocamadour, a village set in a gorge above a tributary of the Dordogne, whose churches, hotels and restaurants rise magisterially from the gorge’s sides. Most famous as a pilgrimage site, it is also acclaimed for its award-winning cabecou (goat’s cheese) and also offers an array of boutiques and shops. The Lot is packed with picturesque villages and towns offering visitors glorious buildings, vibrant markets and galleries and boutiques to browse.
Spectacles and shows
Oscar particularly enjoyed ‘Le Rocher des Aigles’ spectacle where various birds of prey have been trained to swoop over and in front of spectators (some of whom are invited to interact with these spectacular creatures) performing deftly executed tricks and showing off their preying skills.
We also enjoyed viewing some of the many local free shows to be found in the area during the summer months. This year we admired some Spanish show men and women in traditional attire performing on magnificently groomed and conditioned horses in Gourdon’s centre whilst slurping sumptuous ice creams.
Unfortunately, career-related studies have taken precedence over my learning French. However, I have been thrilled to note that any efforts I have made to communicate with my mother’s French friends and neighbours in French or even ‘Franglais’ have been enthusiastically responded to and encouraged -especially when they involve proclamations of delight and gratitude as I gorge myself on scrumptious local fayre, as has been the case in many of their homes and at the Salle de Fetes where the locals are happy to receive guests who purchase tickets and drinks in order to be a part of their summer village festivities.
By Ginnie and Megan Oliver