Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Ardour in the Ardeche, the call I didn't want to receive

French Village Diaries Ardour in the Ardeche
Camping at the Ardechoise
There comes a time when we have to accept those around us need to step away and gain some independence. This letting go is often outside our comfort zone, but has to be done. This was how I was feeling letting Adrian head off to the Ardeche last week, with his bike and camping equipment, but without me. Having really enjoyed himself on the Ardechoise last year, when we were there together, it seemed mean to refuse to let him go this year, despite one of us needing to be at home to support Ed (and taxi him back and forth) through his first Baccalaureate exams.

French Village Diaries Ardour in the Ardeche
Ardechoise sportive
It’s not often Adrian immerses himself into an all French environment without Ed or I for (language) support and I thought it would be a good experience for him. I was also a tiny bit jealous that he was off to the Ardeche and I was stuck at home. A 130km sportive, taking in the hills and villages of the Ardeche, fully supported with food stops in villages decked out with bunting and an air of ‘fête’, what could possibly go wrong?

French Village Diaries Ardour in the Ardeche Ardechoise
Ardechoise cycle themed decorations 

Quite a bit as it happens!

French Village Diaries Ardour in the Ardeche Ardechoise
Food stop at the Ardechoise

My Saturday began with an early start to collect Ed from an over night party and take him to a pretty garden where the music school were putting on a small outdoor concert. Adrian phoned me at 8.00am to say he was off and then at 9.00am he texted me to show me his first re-fuel of saucisson and St Felicien cheese – yummy. I was then driving for about an hour and a half and then occupied with a slightly jaded teen, who was certainly tired and dehydrated, but putting on a brace face setting up his guitar and amp while the trumpets performed a sound test.

French Village Diaries Ecole de Musique Pays Mellois
Ed performing at the pigeonnier

It briefly crossed my mind about 11.00am that it was rather quiet from the Ardeche, but I wasn’t overly concerned. Halfway through Ed’s brilliant (I’m his Mum so would say that) performance of Apache my mobile rang, a UK mobile number that would have cost me a fortune to accept, so I declined it. Once Ed was done, my brain remembered the mobile number was quite possibly Adrian’s Mum’s number. A quick text, ‘did you just ring?’ was immediately answered with a ‘Yes, ring me NOW!’

This is how I found out that Adrian had fallen off his bike, injured his shoulder, was on his way to an unknown hospital and had lost his phone in the fall. All this 600km from home, alone with no back up and very little French.

It’s certainly been a busy few days, with multiple logistical problems and plenty of stress, but I’ll tell you more about that later. The important thing is that he is home, damaged and fed up, but home.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

La Vie en Rose, Champagne-Mouton

La Vie en Rose B&B, Champagne-Mouton French Village Diaries cycling Charente
La Vie en Rose, Champagne-Mouton

In my opinion there are many benefits to cycling inclucing:

Time spent outdoors, silently gliding past fields and creeping up on deer that do no more than raise their heads and watch us cycle past.

Feeling the sun on my back, the breeze on my face and listening to birdsong.

Watching my body re-shape itself from it's curvier winter swaddling, back into a slightly more sculptured form; with muscles on my legs, reduced spare tyre around my middle and more toned upper arms.

The sense of adventure; packing the bikes for a night away, setting off from home and knowing it's just my legs (with Adrian's navigation) that will power me somewhere new. This was how I found myself at La Vie en Rose B&B last week, fifty kilometres from home in Champagne-Mouton, just over the border in the Charente department. You can read my full review for FreewheelingFrance here.

La Vie en Rose B&B, Champagne-Mouton French Village Diaries cycling Charente
Chickens at La Vie en Rose

When we first started cycling, the Charente was our ‘go-to’ destination as they have a network of over 35 signed cycle routes, each route having 3 circuits of varying lengths, covering most of the department. Before Adrian invested in his Garmin and began planning our own routes, we would pick a Charente ‘boucle’, drive to the start point, park up and follow the signs for an afternoon ride. They are all well signed and well thought out, ensuring you avoid main roads, cycle through the prettiest villages and know where to find bars and restaurants along the way.

La Vie en Rose B&B, Champagne-Mouton French Village Diaries cycling Charente
Champagne-Mouton, Charente

Our route to La Vie en Rose in Champagne-Mouton took us on some familiar roads as we picked up sections of routes 31, 32 and 48 as well as places I recognised from the Flandres Charentaises Classic events we have taken part in. It really is a beautiful area to explore by bike; quiet roads, fern-floored chestnut forests offering cool shade, fields of sunflowers (not in flower just yet) and wheat that was starting to turn gold, plus villages with Romanesque churches and river valleys offering muscle stretching climbs and fast descents.

La Vie en Rose B&B, Champagne-Mouton French Village Diaries cycling Charente
Mia, La Vie en Rose

We arrived feeling tired but exhilarated and instantly fell in love with La Vie en Rose, a beautifully renovated stone cottage in a quiet hamlet where Sue and Gordon welcomed us like friends. Their dogs, Dora and Bella also seemed very pleased to have us to stay and I can't thank Taz the cat enough for curling up on my lap and purring happily, while Mia slept on the sofa by my shoulder. It's been almost two years since we lost our cat Poppy and I do miss my cat cuddles.

La Vie en Rose B&B, Champagne-Mouton French Village Diaries cycling Charente
Terrace La Vie en Rose

Sue and Gordon are keen to encourage cyclists to come and stay as, like us, they know how great the cycling in this area is, and their home was the perfect place to relax after a day on the bikes. Their large garden offers sunny or shaded seating, guests have full access to their lounge and we joined them for a delicious fish dinner. There are a few restaurants nearby, but not near enough for tired cyclists!

La Vie en Rose B&B, Champagne-Mouton French Village Diaries cycling Charente
Bedroom La Vie en Rose

I slept very well in a bedroom fit for a princess and their generous breakfast fuelled me all the way home.

La Vie en Rose is just off the Tour de Charente, a 390km route taking in most of the Charente department and I would certainly recommend using it as an overnight stop. Having toured La Sarthe by bike last year and currently busy planning a tour of the Deux-Sèvres (Tour de Rêves) for later this year, I'm convinced it's the perfect way to spend a week exploring an area of France. The 100kms we clocked up cycling to and from La Vie en Rose was also great training for our Tour de Rêves charity bike ride.

Tour de Rêves charity bike tour Deux-Sèvres French Village Diaries
Tour de Rêves

La Vie en Rose
15 Chez Pouvaraud
16350 Champagne-Mouton

33 (0)5 45 30 73 77

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Tour de Rêves - your name here

Tour de Rêves French Village Diaries Deux-Sèvres Monthly
The Tour de Rêves Four at the Marais Poitevin
At the beginning of what has been a busy week, we met up once more with Sarah and Rob to do a gentle training run for the Tour de Rêves, as well as some serious planning.

We are all beginners when it comes to organising a charity bike ride and I can’t quite believe how much there is to do, as well as getting our legs and bodies fit enough to cycle up to 80kms a day for six days in a row. On a cycling note, I’m rather proud of myself for clocking up 130kms in three days this week, but that is still quite a bit short of our target for the September ride.

Tour de Rêves French Village Diaries Deux-Sèvres Monthly
Tour de Rêves route

From the 4th to the 9th September we will be cycling a figure of eight route around the Deux-Sèvres, the department in France where we live, covering over 400kms with no rest days. Our target is to raise 2,000€ for Rêves, a charity that helps to make dreams come true for sick children. We would be very grateful for any donation no matter how small. Donations can be made securely, direct to Rêves, in our name via this link here.

Tour de Rêves French Village Diaries Deux-Sèvres Monthly
Bike check

One of the places we will be cycling through on the Tour is Coulon in the Marais Poitevin and where we met for a planning picnic last Monday. The Marais Poitevin is an area of reclaimed marshland between La Rochelle and Niort that is now a calm nature reserve of narrow canals around the Sevre Niortais River, with kilometres of safe and flat cycle paths. Whether you are walking, cycling or paddling a flat-bottomed barque on the waterways, the Marais Poitevin is perfect for a relaxing day out. Our ride from Coulon to Arcais to Damvix and back to Coulon gave our legs an easygoing 29kms, meandering past pretty stone cottages with roses, honeysuckle and hollyhocks in full bloom. It will always be one of my favourite places for a day out.

Tour de Rêves French Village Diaries Deux-Sèvres Monthly
Your name here!

To maximise the impact of our charity ride we think it is important to look like a team in September, so are currently working on our team jerseys. If you would like to see your business name emblazoned on our backs or fronts and paraded around the Deux-Sèvres, now is the time to speak up! The sooner we get the jerseys ordered, the sooner we will be wearing them on our training rides and I’m certainly planning on getting good use out of mine, before, during and after the Tour. For a one-off payment (prices start from less than 100€) your business will get quite a bit of exposure and lots of social media shout-outs, as well as our gratitude. Please contact Sarah Berry via email for more information.

We are also still looking for accommodation in Coulon or Niort on 5th September and Parthenay on 6th September. Maybe you have two spare double beds for four weary heads? If so, please contact Sarah Berry.

You can find out more about the charity Rêves via this link here, click direct to our donation page here and read my other posts about the Tour here and here.

Tour de Rêves French Village Diaries Deux-Sèvres Monthly

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Book review of Safari Ants, Baggy Pants and Elephants by Susie Kelly

French Village Diaries review Safari Ants, Baggy Pants and Elephants by Susie Kelly
Safari Ants, Baggy Pants and Elephants
by Susie Kelly

I’m geographically veering way off course today and leaving France for the exotic delights of Kenya with my review of Safari Ants, Baggy Pants and Elephants by Susie Kelly. This is the latest travel memoir from Susie and despite it not being about her adventures in France, I was captivated from chapter one. 

I have been a fan since picking up my first Susie Kelly book, Best Foot Forward, almost ten years ago. It was the first book I reviewed on my blog and Susie was the first author I reached out to on Facebook, and I was so happy when she accepted my friend request! I know many of you have also enjoyed Susie’s books over the years so I couldn’t resist the opportunity to review and share this one. For me, being back in a Susie Kelly book is comforting as well as entertaining and this one didn’t disappoint. 

If I had to describe this book in just one word, it would be thoughtful. Susie, who grew up in Kenya, returns with her husband Terry for the safari opportunity of a lifetime. She thoughtfully shares her Kenya with us; the sights and colours, the sounds and scents, as well as the fabulous meals they indulge in. While any good writer could bring a safari trip to life, Susie, who has over 50 years of love for the country, is able to add an extra dimension on top of her wide-eyed wonder and obvious joy at all they experienced. In this memoir she compares and contrasts the Kenya of her youth with what she finds today and adds her thoughts and experience when talking about the lives of the white settlers who brought such change to Kenyan life.

From Five-Star luxury, to slum schools, to elephant orphanages, every experience is described with honesty, sympathy and not forgetting Susie’s unique sense of humour. Her love for the people, the place and the life she led there came across and as her trip came to an end I could feel her ‘drinking’ Kenya; consuming as much of everything as she could to keep it within her.

Susie is a great ambassador for Kenya and through her I felt I had ‘seen’ a little slice of the real Kenya. While I’m unlikely to ever be able to follow in her footsteps, I’m sure for many readers, having read this book they will visit. For the rest of us, it’s the best safari experience you are likely to get, without going on safari! You can join Susie on Facebook here to see more from her trip to Kenya.

Safari Ants, Baggy Pants and Elephants is published by Blackbird Books and is available in ebook format. Links to Amazon for Susie's books can be found below.

You might also like to read my France et Moi interview with Susie here or my reviews of her other excellent books, see below.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Signs of summer in France

Signs of summer in France, French Village Diaries
The first Hollyhocks in bloom
May is the month of publicholidays in France, with seemingly more days off than at work, which I think leads us nicely into summer and long summer holidays. Now June has arrived I can feel a real change in the season as the signs of summer begin to appear all around me.

The first of our hollyhocks have opened this week marking the start of a riot of tall, show-offy blooms that will cheer our garden all the way through to autumn. By encouraging them to scatter their seeds, they pop up wherever they feel in our courtyard lawn in whatever colour they choose and I just love them.

Signs of summer in France, French Village Diaries
Cherries and cherry cake
The cherries are ripe, and so begins our first orchard harvest of summer. My days this week have been spent picking, washing, oven drying and freezing, baking and not forgetting eating cherries. My fingers and most of the kitchen are sticky and stained with cherry juice, but my winter breakfasts will be adorned with the dark red jewels of dried cherries; the fruits of my labour and the taste of early summer enjoyed all year.

Signs of summer in France, French Village Diaries
Squash ready to plant out in potager
The hard work in spring; weeding, rotivating and digging in the potager (vegetable garden) has been worth it and our summer produce is now finally planted out; six aubergines, six peppers, forty-seven assorted tomatoes and fifty-seven squash (pumpkin, melon, patisson, butternut, winter squash and my favourite, courgette) have joined the twenty beans that have looked rather lonely these last few weeks. I know we are late to planting out (as usual) but better late than never. I’m already looking forward to the harvesting that will follow soon; let our summer evening routine of watering now begin.

Signs of summer in France, French Village Diaries
The first moules of summer
The moules (mussels) lady returned to our village market this week selling the first of this year’s moules. They will now be our weekly treat until October, served with homemade chips and walnut bread, eaten on the terrace with a glass of chilled white wine; a true taste of summer in France.

Signs of summer in France, French Village Diaries
Tour de Rêves September 2017

The elderflowers in the hedgerows are out and smell fantastic. There is nothing quite like a warm evening bike ride accompanied by their sweet perfume to put a smile on my face. Although I have to admit it has been tricky to squeeze cycling into our busy days spent gardening, harvesting and cherry processing, but I can’t forget I have a challenge to prepare for. Cycling over 400km in six consecutive days, where some days will be over 70km in distance and others will be on quite hilly terrain can’t be pushed too far to the back of my mind, September will be here all too soon. 

If you would like to read more about our Tour de Rêves charity bike ride just click here, thank you.

Probably the scariest sign of summer is that Ed will finish school next week. There will still be revision sessions and exams to keep him busy for a few weeks, but I can’t quite believe how quickly this school year has zoomed by.

I'd love to know what things always remind you of summer and I hope that you have fond memories of summers spent in France, wherever in the world you live.

This post has been linked to Lou Messugo’s All About France link up. Click here for more posts All About France.

Lou Messugo

Here are some summer reading suggestions, set in France, just for you.