Monday, May 20, 2019

Back in the Pays Basque

French Village Diaries back in the Pays Basque
On the French/Spanish border Pays Basque
Sometimes it is important to forget your worries and count your blessings, so having left our requests for post-Brexit residency with the Prefecture in Niort, and spent a good few days struggling to move around whilst keeping everything crossed, we decided enough was enough and in true Bollox to Brexit spirit hit the road. 

A four-hour drive from home and we caught our first glimpse of the Pyrénées in the distance. Light shadows of mountain peaks teasing us, there one minute, gone the next, then majestically reappearing and revealing a little more of themselves. The Pays Basque was beckoning us; Adrian with his inner mountain spirit was keen to stretch his legs, feel the burn, and crest col after col (mountain passes) and I was dreaming of reacquainting myself with the rich, buttery, moist and chewy Gateau Basque.

French Village Diaries back in the Pays Basque
St Jean de Luz

Instead of looking at (yet another) week of no work for Adrian as a sign of the possible recession the UK seems to be heading for, we made the most of it and proved we don’t just live in France, we are LIVING in France. In four days we cycled 189km, climbed three mountain cols, each one a little higher than the last, dipped from France to Spain and back again a few times (EU freedom of movement bonus) and followed the Atlantic coast from Bidart to Hendaye, taking in cosmopolitan St Jean de Luz. We were powered by stunning scenery; green rolling hills dotted with white Basquais houses, wild horses, sheep and flowering verges, as well as lots of delicious Gateau Basque cakes.

French Village Diaries back in the Pays Basque
Valcarlos in the Pays Basque

There is something about the Basque that captured our hearts five years ago, the hills are soft, not rough jagged peaks, but they are not exactly gentle either. Cycling here is a constant climb, curve, descend, climb again, pattern, but after a while it’s easy to get into a routine. There is locally produced wine to enjoy with sheep’s milk cheeses, and the warming effects of the Piment d’Espelette chili can be found in many local dishes. With a language of its own and boasting one of the oldest civilisations in Europe, it is a unique area of France (and Spain) and also home to St Jean Pied de Port, pilgrim gateway to the Pyrénées and our home for four nights. 

French Village Diaries back in the Pays Basque Camino Saint Jacques de Compostelle
The Chemin de St Jacques, St Jean Pied de Port

I have a fascination for all things to do with the pilgrim camino to Santiago de Compostela. Maybe it’s from living on the Chemin de St Jacques that passes through Tours, Poitiers and Melle, on its way to St Jean Pied de Port, or because of my namesake, Ste Jacqueline, an Italian who walked as a pilgrim to Santiago de Compostela many times in her life, but whatever it is, the pull is there. Immersing myself in St Jean Pied de Port for four days gave me the opportunity to watch the comings and goings of the pilgrims as we drank our morning coffee in the sun, spot the pilgrims from the holiday tourists (like ourselves) over dinner, and as a reward for conquering a short (but steep) section on my bike, buy myself a Camino shell trinket in the hope I can one day return.

French Village Diaries back in the Pays Basque Camino Saint Jacques de Compostelle
Walking the cobbles of St Jean Pied de Port

Not everyone is on a pilgrimage, but we are all on a journey and putting my body through the sometimes-grueling climbs of the Pyrénéan cols certainly left no room in my head for worrying about where our future will take us. The fatigue was fought off by the sense of achievement, the encouragement from seasoned local cyclists warmed me when the cold wind hit at altitude and the time Adrian and I spent sharing our adventures created special memories to cherish.

This week the blog is going Basquaise and I will be sharing some of our days on the bikes in the Pays Basque, as well as some reviews of books set in the Basque and on the Camino.

Here are a few previous posts about the Pays Basque you might like:

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Book review of Simone LaFray and the Chocolatiers' Ball by S.P. O'Farrell

French Village Diaries book review Simone LaFray and the Chocolatiers' Ball by S.P. O'Farrell
Simone LaFray and the Chocolatiers' Ball
by S.P. O'Farrell

Simone LaFray and the Chocolatiers’ Ball

This book, set in a patisserie in Paris, is aimed at 10 to 11-year old’s, but that didn’t stop me from thoroughly enjoying it, in fact, with a main character who is a little bit different, plenty of mystery and lots of chocolate; I would have loved to have read this as a child.

Simone LaFray is not your average 12-year-old girl. She prefers to blend into the crowd, to see everything, but not to be seen; for Simone is an undercover agent and a pretty good one at that. Following in her mother’s footsteps (she is a top international spy) and with the backing and assistance of the ministry, there are always plenty of mysteries for Simone to solve, as well as looking after her little sister Mia and helping her Father in his patisserie. Who is the Red Fox and why is he back in Paris? Who stole the ancient recipe books from her Father’s patisserie? What has suddenly made her Father lose his culinary perfection?

Things come to a head at the Chocolatiers’ Ball, a prestigious event that this year will be showcasing her Father’s work, but with sabotage and theft hanging over them, what must Simone do to save the day?

I loved Simone’s character and enjoyed her daily life in Paris, from strolls in the park to helping out in the patisserie, to working undercover in the art galleries. Her attention to detail, the way her eyes expertly sweep a room and mentally take everything in; calculating how many people, who is acting suspiciously and who is genuine, was matched only by the attention to detail in the author’s descriptions. There is a lot that makes Simone unusual and different, including her love of routine and precision, but these were the things I enjoyed most about her. As a children’s novel, her quirky perfection will I’m sure strike a chord with those kids who maybe don’t feel they fit in with the norm.

This first book sets the scene perfectly and left me wanting more from the extraordinary life of Simone LaFray.

Simone LaFray and the Chocolatiers’ Ball by S.P. O’Farrell will be published by Brandylane Publishers on Monday 13th May, available in hardback, paperback and ebook versions. Links to Amazon can be found below. I was kindly sent a review copy by the author.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

8th May Victory in Europe Day 2019

French Village Diaries Victory in Europe Day 2019
The grave of Fernand Prevost
8th May Victory in Europe Day and public holiday in France

8th May 2019, a damp morning where villagers, hidden under umbrellas, coats and scarves, congregated in the cemetery to stand by a plain grave, situated against the far wall. 

Fernand Prevost
Died for France
Shot by the Germans
In the woods at Bois Cambert
24thJuly 1944
At the age of 18

There was no official ceremony, or laying of flowers, just a moment of quiet reflection for the loss of a young life to war, almost 75 years ago.

The slow procession then made its way to the village war memorial outside the salle des fêtes (village hall), where the Maire read the address from the French minister in charge of the armed forces.

French Village Diaries Victory in Europe Day 2019
Ed at the village war memorial

Three years ago, our village lost its last war veteran and since then our son Ed has often been asked by the Maire to hold the flag, both at the 11th November and 8th May memorial ceremonies; where the French stand alongside the British, and the young alongside the old, united in remembrance.

Ed is 18 now, the same age as Fernand Prevost, and away at uni with a world of possibilities ahead of him. But he is home today, to do his bit once more and we are very proud of the man our village has turned him into. My mother lost her father in The Second World War, my father’s father was in northern France, possibly on 8th May 1945, so ensuring Ed remembers has always been important to us, as is the idea of a united not divided Europe, something we will never give up hope of.

To read more about the shootings in our village in 1944 see my post from last year here.
To read about my family’s history in the war see these two posts

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Book review of The Amazing Adventures of Wobblin' Wobin by Tony Rocca

French Village Diaries book review The Amazing Adventures of Wobblin' Wobin Tony Rocca
The Amazing Adventures of Wobblin' Wobin

The Amazing Adventures of Wobblin’ Wobin by Tony Rocca 


Meet Robin, or rather, Wobin: a metal garden ornament transported from England to the beautiful French Riviera. He's lonely and can't speak French. Neither can he fly, which is a bit unfortunate for a bird. This is his story about learning to fly and being brave.

My Review:

This is a sweet tale about a little bird, built in a shed in London, who finds himself at the Chelsea Flower Show where he is sold to an elegant French lady, who thinks his wobbling will be the perfect thing to deter the pigeons on her balcony in Cannes on the French Riviera. Lucky Wobin!

He soon makes friends with a blackbird and two doves and then the fun really begins. They want him to be able to fly with them and to see the sights on the Riviera, despite him being a metal ornament. With the help of his friends, lots of perseverance and a sense of adventure, Wobin takes to the skies and explores Cannes, Nice, the islands of Sainte Marguerite and Saint Honorat, and Monte Carlo, learning all about them from his knowledgeable dove guides. 

Poor Wobin has a few mishaps and run-ins along the way, with bullying pigeons and seagulls, and a gang of streetwise Magpies, but he soon learns to hold his own. There were a few topics that surprised me for a children’s book, like drinking too much wine at the monastery and feeling hungover, but I loved Wobin's determination and the power of friendship that came across. The illustrations at the beginning of each chapter were beautiful and I really enjoyed being taken along for the bird’s eye view of the Riviera too.
French Village Diaries book review The Amazing Adventures of Wobblin' Wobin Tony Rocca
Illustrations by Fulvio Testa

Information about the Book

Title: The Amazing Adventures of Wobblin’ Wobin
Author: Tony Rocca
Release Date: 30th April 2019
Genre: Middle Grade
Page Count: 182
Publisher: Clink Street Publishing

Amazon Link

French Village Diaries book review The Amazing Adventures of Wobblin' Wobin Tony Rocca
Tony Rocca and Wobin

Author Information

Tony Rocca’s writing career has spanned 30-plus years as a London journalist, notably with the Daily Mail and Sunday Times, during which time he has been a reporter, sub-editor, foreign correspondent and features editor. He has written five books and is widely travelled, having once owned a vineyard in Tuscany that brought him success as an accidental winemaker. He tells the story amusingly in his first book, Catching Fireflies (‘A welcome change in a climate of clichés’ – International Herald Tribune). A second book, Memories of Eden, concerned the Jewish community of Iraq and was equally well received. His first novel, You Send Me, followed. This new book for children, set on the French Riviera where he now lives, is a further example of his versatility as a writer.   

French Village Diaries book review The Amazing Adventures of Wobblin' Wobin Tony Rocca
Tour Schedule 

Sunday 5thMay

Monday 6thMay

Tuesday 7thMay

Wednesday 8thMay

Thursday 9thMay

Friday 10thMay

Saturday 11thMay

Saturday, May 4, 2019

World Naked Gardening Day 2019

French Village Diaries World Naked Gardening Day 2019
World Naked Gardening Day 2019, hidden in the hollyhocks

World Naked Gardening Day 2019

On the first Saturday in May, gardeners of the world are encouraged to garden a little more ‘naturally’ than they might normally to celebrate World Naked Gardening Day #WNGD which is now in its 15th year and something I have joined in with since 2013. 

French Village Diaries World Naked Gardening Day 2019
World Naked Gardening Day 2017

Why? Firstly, it is a bit of fun and by finding just the right angle I hope my pictures raise a smile rather than cause any offence. However, there are more serious messages behind the fun too. One is about body image and accepting who we are and what we look like and the other is about addressing our relationship to the natural environment. 

French Village Diaries World Naked Gardening Day 2019
World Naked Gardening Day 2016, tomato seedlings

From people obsessing about having the perfect body shape, to gardeners determined to have a weed-free lawn whatever the chemical cost and farmers penalized by supermarkets for not growing straight carrots, I think we’ve lost the plot and need a little reminder to get back to what nature intended.

French Village Diaries World Naked Gardening Day 2019
World Naked Gardening Day 2015, raining

Here are a few quotes from the WNGD website:

“Our culture needs to move toward a healthy sense of both body acceptance and our relation to the natural environment. Gardening naked is not only a simple joy, it reminds us (even if only for those few sunkissed minutes) that we can be honest with who we are as humans and as part of this planet.”

“Stay private or go public. Make it a quiet time or make a public splash. Just get naked and make your part of the botanical world a healthier and more attractive place” 

French Village Diaries World Naked Gardening Day 2019
World Naked Gardening Day 2013 and 2014, pottering

Whether you are up for baring all or maybe just taking a barefoot stroll on the lawn today, I hope you get the chance to enjoy your garden, balcony or public open space. Please don’t forget your sun cream, especially on those delicate areas that might not normally get too much exposure.