Friday, 30 May 2014

Bienvenue! Welcome to French country life.

Hi, everyone! Welcome to the first in this series of posts from the Charente region of southwest France. Over the next months, I look forward to sharing with you my experience of life in a small French village, at the heart of this beautiful region. As you can see from the map to the right, the Poitou-Charentes area is divided into four separate departments. In the south of the region you have Charente-Maritime - the coastal area to the west and further inland La Charente - the gently undulating hilly area where we made our home. If you look closely at the map, to the left of the word Charente, you can just make out the name of Angouleme, the large fortress town, which is the capital of this department. The old presbytery where our story is set, is situated in a little village 30 minutes to the south of here.

Me & Murphy my dog
One of the reasons we chose this part of France was the climate. It boasts some of the mildest and sunniest weather in the country, after the Mediterranean coastal area of the south. Around our village the countryside is vast, the Poitou-Charentes region itself covering some 10,000 square miles. The main crops in the rolling fields are sunflowers and maize, with some vineyards mostly growing grapes for the famous Pineau des Charentes. This is an aperitif created almost exclusively in the Charentes. It is a fortified wine made from a blend of lightly fermented grape must and Cognac  eau-de-vie; a rich golden aperitif with quite a kick. It didn't take us long to acquire a taste for it!

Surrounded by such beautiful countryside, it is not surprising that the 'Randonnée' is the most popular form of recreation, with Petanque or Boules a close second. It is basically a cross-country hike, often organised by the village walking club or just a group of friends. We had only moved in to the presbytery about a month, when the door bell rang and I was greeted by a group of French ladies of a certain age, dressed in sturdy walking shoes and brandishing long hiking sticks. They had kindly called to ask me to join them on the weekly Randonnée, which met each Wednesday in the village square. Through their kindness, I soon got to know my neighbours and improve my French, (although I have to say, at first, walking and talking French was a tall order and I often returned exhausted). It was, however, the most wonderful way to discover the countryside.  For the first time in my life, I walked alongside sunflowers well over six feet tall, with heads the size of huge dinner plates and marvelled how they all turned towards the sun, as it journeyed across the clear blue sky.

Coming from a small country like Ireland, I soon discovered the size of France and the vast openness of the countryside would be a wonderfully liberating part of my new adventure, which was to blossom into a life long love affair with this beautiful place. In the months ahead I look forward to sharing it with you.

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