Friday, August 26, 2016

Book review of Return to the Little French Guesthouse by Helen Pollard

French Village Diaries book review Return to the Little French Guesthouse by Helen Pollard
Return to the Little French Guesthouse
By Helen Pollard

My review today is for The Return to the Little French Guesthouse, the second in the La Cour des Roses series by Helen Pollard.

This book continues on immediately from book one and with only minimal memory jogging, so I’d definitely recommend starting from the beginning of the series and not reading this as a stand-alone. You can read my review of book one here.

Emmy returns to France to start a new life as Rupert’s manager at La Cour des Roses and hopefully a new relationship with a sexy Frenchman too. Despite realising it will take time to settle in, she soon finds her new life throwing up some rather unexpected issues with guests, bookings and relationships, that test her resolve and make her wonder whether she has made the right decision. Her new life is certainly more about the hard work of running a guesthouse in France than relaxing in the French sunshine. Then again, she also finds fun, friendship, lots of laughter and good coffee too, which prove to be the perfect combination of things to soothe the rollercoaster of emotions she is going through.

Helen writes in a relaxed, easy reading style that made me feel very at home at the guesthouse and her characters are strong and real. I enjoyed feeling like I was in France and learning more about some of the other characters we were introduced to in the first book. It was great to be back and I was again sad at having to leave Emmy and her friends when I finished the book. Helen has left us poised for more and I hope we do get another book in this series.

This book has everything you need to take a late summer break in the Loire. There will be markets and festivals, laughter and tears, sunshine and music and I’m sure that you will have a great time.

The La Cour des Roses series is published by Bookoutre and available on Amazon in paperback and ebook format.


You can read my France et Moi interview with Helen here.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Tour du Poitou Charentes #TPC2016

French Village Diaries Tour du Poitou Charentes #TPC2016
King of the Mountain in Boutiers-St-Trojan

Today was the first day of the 2016 Tour du Poitou-Charentes, a four-day, five stage professional cycling tour that just happens to be (almost) on our doorstep.

French Village Diaries Tour du Poitou Charentes #TPC2016
The #TPC2016 cow car

We had planned a morning drive to Angouleme, the town hosting the depart, and were looking forward to a coffee before watching the action; the team coaches arriving, the crowds gathering, the cyclists alighting, chatting and signing autographs before cycling off to the team presentations. We have done it before and it is great fun. However, while Angouleme is lovely, the ‘Grand Depart’ was being held out of town, tucked away by a lycée, a college and a supermarket and nowhere near the Angouleme we know and love. Parking looked to be impossible, coffee probably non-existent and stress levels were rising.

Over a coffee at home we decided our best bet would be to catch some action along the route towards La Rochelle, as the race passed through the Cognac vineyards, somewhere we love cycling in summer. We picked the top of the second hill climb of the stage, by the church in Boutiers-St-Trojan. A half-hour drive from home, followed by an 18km cycle ride and we were in place at the top of the ‘mountain’. To make it more authentic we had cycled up too and although it is quite short it’s certainly sharp (300m at 8%) and in 38 degrees it took some effort. Thankfully we had time to refuel on a spicy vegetable and chickpea pasta salad before cheering on the riders.

French Village Diaries Tour du Poitou Charentes #TPC2016
The breakaway at the top of the hill climb

The great thing about catching them climbing is that they are slightly slower (although no one looked as red in the face as I was) so it’s easier to spot team colours and even individual riders. It was worth the effort and even in the heat our little 38km tour of the vineyards was a lovely ride.

French Village Diaries Tour du Poitou Charentes #TPC2016
Team Sky and the peloton

If you are in the area and want to see some live cycling this week you can find out more at the Tour duPoitou-Charentes website. Tomorrow they will leave from La Rochelle at about midday and make their way inland, through the lovely Marais Poitevin, to finish in Niort around about 16h30.

French Village Diaries Tour du Poitou Charentes #TPC2016
Cognac vineyards in summer




Monday, August 22, 2016

Book review of But you are in France, Madame by Catherine Berry

French Village Diaries book review But you are in France, Madame Catherine Berry
But you are in France, Madame
Catherine Berry

My review today is for But you are in France, Madame by Catherine Berry, a memoir about an Australian family who spent a few years living in the French Alps.

Right from the start this truly was a mega-move from one side of the world to the other, with three children and very little luggage. Add in the extreme change in weather, from Australian summertime to Alpine winter weather, school life, social life and sports activities for the children, which in turn led to adult inauguration with all things bureaucratic and Catherine certainly had a story to tell.

Theirs was never meant to be a forever move, but the original time they gave themselves kept growing as they became more settled and the children loved their new routine and activities, despite living in France being Mum’s dream to begin with. Rather than buying, they rented places to stay, often term-time lets, but that meant they regularly had to move out during the holidays. Instead of this being a hassle, it gave them the perfect excuse to travel around France and beyond as a family.

As always, life in France wasn’t all ski-ing lessons, coffee shops, markets and family road trips, they also had to battle medical issues, culture frustrations, coordinating visitors and a very long distance commuting dad/husband. However, I was quite jealous of the flexibility their lifestyle gave them and loved the way they embraced the good and the bad and got the most out of their French adventure. Catherine’s love of France and spending time with her family comes across very clearly.

This well written memoir certainly portrayed everything I would expect from a move to France and for anyone thinking of doing something similar it is an interesting and detailed account of everything they experienced while here.

But you are in France, Madame is available in ebook format from Amazon.



Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Moving in to our new home in France

French Village Diaries moving to France
The furniture arrives

Here is the final part of our moving to France story. If you have missed any previous posts you can find part one here, part two here and part three here.

French Village Diaries moving to France
Ed gets a ride in the removal lorry
The next few days were a blur of arrivals and departures, and that included the sunshine. The removal men arrived on 10th August, unloaded and left, but with our familiar things around us we were able to make up our beds, reunite Ed with his toys and start to make our new house a home. Ed’s little green and yellow bike that he hadn’t seen for a month was the first item to come off the lorry. This simple and unexpected gesture made such a difference to him and showed us the removal men were not only experienced movers, but good parents too.

The first night brought with it the realization that we were not alone. We might have moved into a small village but there was life and lots of it; the screech of the barn owl was both wonderful and terrifying and the mustard yellow carpet in Ed’s new bedroom (the only carpet in the house) was alive with fleas that were delighted to feast on fresh young blood.

We soon realised that shutters were the most wonderful things that enabled anyone (even a three year old) to sleep through dawn and wake up refreshed from a good night. The morning church bells at somewhere close to (but never exactly) eight o’clock were the perfect reminder that if we didn’t get up soon the boulangerie would have run out of croissants and I still love the fact that we can sit in bed with the windows wide open, listening to the birds, with the smell of freshly baked bread drifting in on the breeze.

French Village Diaries moving to France
The cats arrive 

We welcomed our first guests that week, Adrian’s parents, who had bravely made the noisy drive down with our two cats, Poppy and Willow. Their arrival meant we now had plenty of manpower to rip up the carpet and discover the local déchetterie.

French Village Diaries moving to France
Heading to the park in the sunshine

The weather and our moods often swung from stormy to sunny during that first week that ended with Adrian making the first of many trips back to the UK for work. I soon found myself alone with a three year old in a house whose creaks and grumbles were still unfamiliar, but I have fond memories of walks to the village park on sunny afternoons and big messy painting sessions held indoors as the rain and thunder played outside.

Things might not have gone quite to plan to begin with, but we were in France and had survived our first week and we learned that sometimes the best thing to do is to carry on without a plan. Things were new and unexpected then and everyday was an adventure and experience. We have since slipped into a routine, which is comforting, if not fresh and exciting but we both still pinch ourselves with the realisation that we took the huge leap to live our dream. We have a large house in France, with land and a privileged lifestyle that gives us plenty of family time together and we are very happy.

However changes are afoot once more. The Brexit vote has shaken the foundations of our life in France to the core and I can’t help but worry. I get that the EU wasn’t working for everyone. I get that it is a bold and exciting step to take, to put all that is wrong with the past behind you and step into a new future and the possibilities that holds. I was that brave person who set off to a new and unknown future. I embraced all the EU had to offer with my heart. Now my heart is broken.

We are EU migrants, given the chance to widen our horizons and experience life somewhere other than where we were born. We made the leap into the unknown because we had the right to do so. No one knows what the future will hold for migrants like us, from the UK who are now living in other EU states or those who have made the UK home. No one knows and so no one can reassure my worries or fears. The future in no-man’s land looks bleak, all we know is that our lives and rights will form part of the Brexit negotiations, which doesn’t do much to inspire a promising future.

I can only hope that we will have many more years here, being active members of our village and sharing our life in France on the blog.


Thank you for reading, liking, commenting and sharing these posts on social media. It has been great fun reliving those early days and sharing our adventure with you. Knowing you have been enjoying it too makes me very happy.


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

At the Notaires, 9th August 2004

French Village Diaries new life in France orchard grow your own
Our orchard in France

Here is the third part of our moving to France adventure. You can read part one here and part two here, if you have missed them.

9th August 2004. 

A new day dawned and with it came a new weather system with cooler temperatures and lots of rain. We sat in the Notaire’s office with the couple selling the home that had been in her family for over fifty years, listening to the rhythmic drumming of the rain and crossing our fingers our money had arrived. As well as the issues that had plagued our journey to France, there was something much more serious on our minds. The day before we left and only one working day before signing, we discovered our thousands of pounds had left our bank account, but had not reached the Notaire in France. The transfer company took full responsibility for the admin hiccup that left them sitting on our money and assured us a speedy transfer would be made, but we had no way of checking this en route.

It was there and everyone was happy to proceed. Each page of the contract of sale had to be read aloud, initialled by both selling and purchasing parties and signed in full at the end. This took quite some time and as we put pen to paper for the final signature there was a huge clap of thunder directly overhead. We exchanged one of those ‘what have we done’ glances but there was no going back now. The house with the orchard hidden behind an old, green gate in the back wall of a barn was ours.

French Village Diaries new life in France orchard grow your own
A damp picnic on day one

The vendors accompanied us back afterwards to point out a few quirky features, like the upside down gate lock, badly fitting back door key and the 10,000 litre water storage tank concealed under the barn floor, but the house looked rather bare with room after room empty of life and furniture. Even an energetic three year old racing in one door, running through the house and out another door singing the Hokey Cokey, didn’t make it feel like home. The rain was still falling and the thunder was rumbling but that didn’t stop us having a picnic in the courtyard with a fresh baguette from the boulangerie situated only two doors away.

We had no phone line, no internet and no mobile phone signal either, so despite the excitement of the house being ours we felt rather cut off from our family we had left behind. We also needed to go shopping and sooner rather than later. Our furniture was due to arrive the following day, but we needed to buy a new cooker, fridge and washing machine, so we set off to our local big town for an exciting afternoon of white good shopping. By the time we arrived, Ed was fast asleep in the car and as most parents will remember, waking a small child can make them rather miserable. We needed him on his best behavior to allow us to concentrate on making our first important purchases in French, so we all sat in the car and dozed while the rain continued to pour. So far living in France wasn’t as exciting as I had imagined.

Once back at the house, with deliveries promised for later in the week, we couldn’t help popping a Champagne cork in celebration to accompany another picnic, even though the rain soaked walls on the terrace looked rather grim now they were dark with damp. The excitement of having our own orchard was still as strong as the first time we had stepped through the gate into the wilderness that had been untended for a couple of years. It was magical and like entering a secret garden. A little bit of rain couldn’t dampen our enthusiasm even if it meant the waist high grass stuck to our skin as we bravely waded in to discover what fruits were ready to pick for our first homegrown meal in France.

We could have camped that first night, but decided to close the shutters and return to the B&B for a final time. Tomorrow the removal men would bring our furniture and it seemed important for Ed to spend his first night in his new room with his familiar toys and bedding around him.


Tonight we will be feasting on homegrown produce and popping the Champagne corks once more, celebrating twelve fantastic years in France. Please join me tomorrow for the final installment of our journey to France.