Postcards from France Summer 2018
At the end of July we spent almost two weeks nestled in the French countryside, remembering all the wonderful things that a French summer holiday entails. I got lots of questions about it so I thought I would share some of the photos from our trip, as well as some details about where we stayed and what we got up to. Like lots of Brits, we spent lots of happy family holidays in France as kids but it had been a long time since we spent the summer there as adults. This was also Nye’s first holiday with us all and it was the perfect place for him to explore and mess around to his heart’s content.
We chose the Lot-et-Garonne region for our holiday, and it suited us really well. It is a wonderfully rural and quiet area, dotted with pretty medieval villages and bustling towns, beautiful farmhouses perched atop rolling pastureland and field upon field of swaying corn and vibrant sunflowers. Basically, it was heavenly! The sheer scale and abundance of France never fails to astonish and delight me, and for someone who spends most of their time marching the pavements of Lewisham, it was such a tonic to be among the birds and wildflowers, orchards and woodland and to enjoy feeling inspired and enriched by nature.
We rented an old converted farmhouse near the sleepy village of Frespech which was practical and spacious, with a lovely pool that we spend a great deal of time lounging around. Details of the house are here in case you are interested. We knew we would be spending a lot of time at home so we opted for a villa that had plenty of space for us to chill out with a well equipped kitchen so we could cook and lots of outdoor space. Although the house wasn’t perfect (dodgy decor and no fans or AC), it was actually a good choice for us and we grew to really like it as the holiday went on. Frespech itself was pretty but didn’t have a huge amount to occupy us, but the charming town of Penne D’Agenais was about a 10 minute drive away and had several good restaurants and cafes, two or three boulangeries and a well stocked supermarket. Nearby villages of Beauville, Montaigu de Quercy and Pujols were also lovely, with good restaurants, night markets and picturesque streets for wandering along.
Our holiday coincided with a heatwave all over Europe and temperatures were in the high 30s throughout our stay (it was 39 degrees C on one day!) which a little challenging at times with a baby and meant that we had to take it quite slow and not be too ambitious about day trips and sightseeing. Our days therefore followed quite a gentle pattern of long breakfasts, leisurely lunches, reading and playing by the pool, a short trip in the cooler part of the day and dinner either out or at home. We took it in turns to cook which was actually really pleasurable as the produce was incredible and I always love shopping for food in France - both the supermarkets and weekly produce markets are so much better and more exciting than in London! The Saturday market at Montagaiu de Qercy was particularly lovely with countless fruit and veg stalls, amazing cheese vans, small scale wine sellers, house and garden plants, beautiful dried flower bouquets and the most incredible array of baskets I have ever seen!
We did eat out a fair bit and I would definitely recommend the following restaurants near where we stayed:
Hotel Restaurant du Quercy, Lauzerte. R and I had a delicious meal here last year when we drove down to France in our campervan so we returned with my family this summer. This place is really well run with lots of choice and excellent value menus. It was super hot when we went for lunch this time and Nye wasn’t really in the mood for sitting at the table which made it a less relaxing experience this time around although the food was still lovely. Lauzerte is also well worth a visit both for its pretty interior and the wonderful views you get it you climb up to the top of the village.
Le Caillau, Vir Sur Lot. This beautiful and relaxed restaurant was our favourite place we ate during our stay. The setting is lovely - the restaurant is a converted winery set among the vineyards and you eat in a shady courtyard filled with rambling roses, painted shutters and pots of geraniums. It’s owned by a British couple and they are doing a fab job. The food was really good and although it’s a little pricey, it felt carefully made with lots of attention to choice and detail.
Le Bombecul, Penne D’Agenais. This is a friendly informal restaurant with a limited but good menu and lovely outdoor seating in the old town. It was completely packed with locals and serves simply but really tasty food.
We also had lots of fun eating out at the local night markets where the whole town (and lots of tourists) turn out to eat together on long trestle tables in the central square, and a local band provides entertainment. The food was really good, especially at the Beaville one and the atmosphere was perfect - what could be better than eating moules frites and drinking cheap red wine on a balmy evening to a soundrack of 90s pop classics?! We also loved the night market at Saint Maurin which also had dancing and swallows that swooped over the main square as the sun went down and the street lamps came on. Night markets are such a brilliant idea and a cheap way to go out as a family, I wish we had something similar in the UK! A full list of them is here - there are loads of them!
As I said before, we did spend a lot of time lounging by the pool - it was so hot! But we did manage a few trips including the following:
A day at the lake at Montagaiu de Quercy - an idyllic spot to cool down and have a late picnic lunch. Last year R and I spent several lovely days relaxing by the lake outside Montcuq and there are loads of other public lakes dotted around - they’re essential if the weather is boiling and they’re usually really clean and well maintained.
A morning of bargain hunting at the flea market (Vide Grenier) at St Antoine de Ficalba. This is one of my favourite things to do when in France - honestly they do flea markets so well and you can pick up some amazing stuff for very little money. Last year I found a huge stash of vintage linen and a beautiful wool rug for about £30 and this year I came home with several antique earthenware jars, some antique wooden utensils, a picture and various other little bits and bobs. Unlike the antisocially early start you have to make to get to a car boot in the UK, in France they kick off around 10am and they’re still going on into the afternoon. They are a social event and so everyone in the village turns up to have a look what’s for sale. You can look up local flea markets happening near you here.
Exploring Chateau de Bonaguil - this amazing castle is definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area (and I’m not even a castle person). Nye absolutely loved crawling around it and exploring the hidden passageways and cavernous underground rooms. There is loads to look at and lots of information to absorb. The views are amazing and you really get a sense of what the castle used to be like.
A trip to the Musee de Fois Gras in Frespech. I’m a vegetarian and have no interest in fois gras but this museum is a bit of a landmark and every Friday during the summer it hosts a petite but gorgeous farmer’s market and a couple of lunch stalls. Visitors eat on wooden tables in the shade of plum trees and you pretty much stay all day, eating and drinking and passing the time. They also do pony and tractor rides and face painting for kids and a brass band turns up to serenade everyone. A completely genius idea.
We also visited the nearby town of Agen one evening and although we had a nice meal there I’m not sure I would rush back. There wasn’t a huge amount to see and it was so hot we didn’t really have the energy to explore very much.
One of my absolute favourite things to do was head out around 8pm during golden hour with my camera and enjoy the light softly illuminating the fields of sunflowers and wildflowers growing near our house. There is something utterly magical about summer evenings like those in hot countries, where for a brief moment just before darkness falls, the whole world seems to glow, and everything feels rich and warm and luminous. It’s the point in the day where the intense heat fades and a soft peace descends, where everything is suddenly soft and still.
It was a holiday with a baby and my whole family so naturally there were a few tensions along the way and I won’t pretend it was perfect at all times (family holidays are not a walk in the park!). But we all returned home refreshed and relaxed, we ate amazing food, drank lots of lovely wine, I read two whole books (!), and we all agreed that the area was really special and we would definitely return. In case you’re wondering, we drove down to the Lot valley, giving ourselves about a week to do the journey there and back (you could do it quicker but we were travelling with a little one and didn’t want massively long days of driving). We stayed at the comfortable Chateau d’Omiecourt for our first night and the lovely Hotel Les Orangeries on our second night. On the way back we stayed a night in the incredibly pretty village of Angles sur L’Anglin at the Relais de Lyon D’or and then we spent two nights near Giverny at the Domaine de la Corniche before heading home.
Looking back at these photos has made me want to book another holiday there next year and has got me slightly dreading the next few months of dark and cold..! What are your favourite areas of France to visit?