Sunday, June 28, 2020

Lou Messugo on the Côte d'Azur



French Village Diaries Lou Messugo mini break Côte d'Azur

 Lou Messugo, Côte d'Azur 



The Côte d’Azur

 

Two weeks ago, we arrived at Lou Messugo in Roquefort-les-Pins on the Côte d’Azur. Following three months where life had stood still and plans were impossible to make, winning a three-night stay at Phoebe and Jeff’s gîte, Lou Messugo, gave us the opportunity to escape, spread our wings and enjoy being tourists in France once again. I didn’t realise how much we needed this, until we got there.


 

French Village Diaries Montpellier MyBrompton

Montpellier, much quieter on the Sunday morning


We had, obviously, packed the Bromptons into the car, along with our Covid-19 security pack, or lots of bags containing all our bedding, towels, tea-towels, dish cloths etc that we would need for our week away. I am never one to leave home without an emergency food parcel, but this time I had added lots of extras including pasta and tins of fish, beans and vegetables. This proved to be a good idea from the off, as our first overnight stop in Montpellier, where the streets were full of people and every bar and restaurant terrace packed out in the Saturday evening sunshine, meant we quickly retreated back to our accommodation to make an easy pasta dinner in isolation. 


 

French Village Diaries Lou Messugo mini break Côte d'Azur

Lou Messugo 

We arrived at Lou Messugo on the Sunday afternoon, parked up, unloaded the bags and didn’t touch the car again until it was time to reluctantly leave on the Wednesday morning. Meeting Phoebe for the first time, despite being social media friends for many years, was lovely, but restrained, due to the current pandemic precautions. I’m sure if we’d met a year ago there would have been cheek kisses and enthusiastic embraces all round, instead of the no-touch, sensible distanced greeting we had on their driveway. It was almost surreal to see for myself the reality of Lou Messugo having read and liked Phoebe’s blog posts and photos for so many years. It more than met my expectations as I’d certainly not appreciated quite how stunning the garden was and the house really is as vibrant and colourful as it looks in the photos. The accommodation is superb, and Phoebe and Jeff have thought of everything, including making sensible changes in light of the current virus situation. I can’t recommend it enough. It is clean, comfortable, quiet and with easy access to everywhere you would want to visit for a coast and mountain holiday on the Côte d’Azur.

 

French Village Diaries Lou Messugo mini break Côte d'Azur Tourrettes-sur-Loup MyBrompton

Tourrettes-sur-Loup

The first afternoon we set off on the bikes for a 28km loop that Phoebe had shared on her blog (see here) promising us a taste of the cycling in the area. As we followed the Gorges du Loup, with big smiles on our faces, we couldn’t resist adding on a trip to Tourrettes-sur-Loup, meaning we clocked up an impressive 46km before we’d unpacked the suitcases. 



French Village Diaries Lou Messugo mini break Côte d'Azur Col de l'Ecre MyBrompton

Col de l'Ecre Alt 1120m


This set the pace for the following few days and whether for the daily croissant run to the local boulangerie, conquering a mountain col above the hilltop village of Gourdon, or day trips down to Nice and Antibes, we did it all by bike, cycling 207km in two and half days. It was fun, exciting, challenging and always accompanied by stunning views.


 

French Village Diaries Lou Messugo mini break Côte d'Azur Baie des Anges MyBrompton

Baie des Anges, Côte d'Azur


The cycling here is full-on for the senses. The colours, from the vibrant wildflowers that caught my eye as I cycled up gorges and hillsides to the terracotta and pastels of the houses and shutters, to the blue of the Mediterranean in the Baie des Anges. The scents, of gorse when in the hills, jasmine when cycling down winding residential streets and the flowering tilleul (linden) trees that line the roads, all enhanced by the warm Mediterranean sunshine. The sights, perched hilltop villages, craggy rocks and mountains, butterflies on wildflowers, spires of dark green Cyprus trees, narrow streets, tall houses with balconies, flowering window boxes and contrasting shutters. We didn’t rush anywhere, as we constantly stopped to check out a view, take a photo or just pinch ourselves that we were there experiencing it all and making memories.


 

French Village Diaries Lou Messugo mini break Côte d'Azur Nice MyBrompton

Shutters and colours of Nice old town

We revisited some old favourites from our Mini Cooper road trips in 2008 and 2010, like the hilltop village of Gourdon and the old town in Nice, but we also discovered Tourrettes-sur-Loup and Antibes that have become new favourites. I was able to begin ticking off some of my 2020 cycling challenges, climbing my first mountain pass, Col de l’Ecre at 1120m, and cycling my first 100km in a day, on the same day as it happened. It was a perfect break in an ideal location, but three days was nowhere near enough to see and do everything this area has to offer. It was difficult to leave, but our legs were nicely warmed up for bigger challenges that were waiting for us on the next part of our holiday.

 

Thank you, Phoebe, for allowing us to be the first guests in post lockdown.

If you want to check out the accommodation at Lou Messugo you can visit Phoebe’s website and book direct by clicking here.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Book review of What have we got Toulouse? by Nikki McArthur

French Village Diaries review What have we got Toulouse Nikki McArthur
What have we got Toulouse? Nikki McArthur


What have we got Toulouse by Nikki McArthur

 

It seems to have been a while since I read a moving to France memoir, but it was good to be back nosing into someone else’s life and enjoying someone else’s experience of their early days in France.

 

Nikki and her family arrived just after we did in 2004, so many of her experiences were familiar to me, except the biggies of giving birth here and having (lots of) young children to cope with alongside settling in and renovating. Theirs really is quite an extraordinary story. Their family is bigger than most of us who pack up our belongings and move here. The watermill they purchased is a considerably bigger property than your average rural dwelling and they took on the challenge of renovating and running holiday accommodation alongside a gardening business and nursery, that in the early days often saw Nikki alone with the children while husband Gary worked in the UK. Chapeau Nikki, and you had time to write a book too, I’m most impressed.

 

This book is an account of their first years in France, including house-hunting, moving, finding schools, the medical system and more, but it isn’t written chronologically, and I thought the flow between the topics she covers worked really well. As well as their experiences of family life in France Nikki has also included helpful hints as to what to do or what to expect if you are planning a move here in the future. 

 

This very readable account will appeal to all those who dream of moving to France as well as being a useful guide for those who are hoping to make that dream a reality.



Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Book review of Sunshine and Second Chances by Kim Nash


French Village Diaries book review Sunshine and Second Chances Kim Nash
Sunshine and Second Chances by Kim Nash

Sunshine and Second Chances by Kim Nash


It’s never too late to be offered a second chance at life.

Debs is newly single, Fiona is caring for her mum, Samantha is grieving, and Liv has the perfect life – or so she’d like her friends to think…

This year, these four life-long friends are turning fifty, and Liv is determined they will honour their promise to each other – made on a beach at sunrise twenty-nine years before – to celebrate this milestone together.

And what better place than a gorgeous villa where they will be spoiled and enjoy the stunning beaches, picturesque fishing towns and glorious climate of the Algarve?

But time away from home doesn’t always make the heart grow fonder. Sometimes it makes the thought of returning to your life too hard to bear. Especially with more than one gorgeous Portuguese man making hearts unexpectedly flutter...

It begins as a reunion in the sunshine, but little do the four friends know what life-changing decisions they’ll all be making before their flight home.

A heart-warming, feel-good summer read about friendship, love and second chances.


French Village Diaries book review Sunshine and Second Chances Kim Nash
Sunshine and Second Chances Kim Nash

My review

I have been side-tracked from France once more, sorry, but having enjoyed Kim Nash’s previous novels and then discovering that this book is written about women of a similar age to me, who have all reached a sticking point in their lives, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity of a quick break to Portugal with them.

Four friends from university, who on a holiday to celebrate their 21st birthdays, promised themselves they would get together to celebrate their 50th birthdays too. Life has obscured their friendship over the years, but when Liv reconnects them all and plans a holiday to a villa in Portugal, they are all up for the adventure.

It doesn’t take them long to forget about their lives back home and slip into the familiar friendship they had once enjoyed. Life has taken them all on different paths, Liv is a busy mum to demanding sons and a successful husband. She may want for nothing materially, but there is a lot she is not happy with in her life. Debs isn’t happy either, with her ex-husband for leaving her for a younger, fitter model or with herself for eating and drinking too much. Samantha is lonely now her son has forgotten her in favour of his uni friends and Fiona is having a tough time caring for her mum who has dementia.

As they relax into holiday mode, and the barriers come down, they all realise things need to change and it’s up to them to make the changes. As they begin to make plans for their futures, they see ways in which they can help each other, and their friendship bonds grow. Kim has a real skill in making her characters feel like my best friends and in this book she made me believe anything in life is possible. 

This book is a perfect escape from our current covid-mad life. You won’t be disappointed with this on your kindle this summer.






French Village Diaries book review Sunshine and Second Chances Kim Nash
Kim Nash

Author bio

Kim Nash is an author of uplifting, funny, heartwarming, feel-good, romantic fiction.

She lives in Staffordshire with son Ollie and English Setter Roni, is Head of Publicity for Bookouture and is a book blogger at www.kimthebookworm.co.uk.

Kim won the Romantic Novelists Association's Media Star of the Year in 2016, which she still can't quite believe. She is now quite delighted to be a member of the RNA.

When she's not working or writing, Kim can be found walking her dog, reading, standing on the sidelines of a football pitch cheering on Ollie and binge watching box sets on the TV. She's also quite partial to a spa day and a gin and tonic (not at the same time!) Kim also runs a book club in Cannock, Staffs.

Sign up to be the first to hear about new releases. Your e-mail will not be shared with anyone else and you will only contacted about Kim's books.
https://www.kimthebookworm.co.uk/

Amazing Grace was her debut novel with Hera Books and came out in April 2019.

Escape to Giddywell Grange is Kim's second novel and was published in September 2019.

Sunshine and Second Chances is Kim's third novel and will be published on June 4th 2020.

You can read Kim's Blog here

Connect with Kim on Social Media here:


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Sunday, June 7, 2020

The start of Team Kharma's ride to Istanbul

French Village Diaries Team Kharma sets off for Istanbul
Team Kharma cycling #ForBen


Team Kharma is on its way

Yesterday saw the start of the cycle leg of the challenge For Ben; To Turkey and back, with seven teams setting off to cover the 7500kms from Loughborough in the UK to Istanbul and back again. 


French Village Diaries Team Kharma sets off for Istanbul
Ben's bike

Adrian and I are heading up Team Kharma, named after Ben’s beloved Kouta Kharma road bike that he got great pleasure in riding. There aren’t many of our family who share our passion for cycling, but Ben did, and we are looking forward to doing our bit in this challenge, that has now raised over £27,000.


French Village Diaries Team Kharma sets off for Istanbul
Team Kharma [Brompton Unit]

We got such a great response from friends with bikes keen to help us out, that we have split Team Kharma into two, creating a Brompton Unit for our fellow friends with smaller wheels. The plan is for Adrian and me to log our kilometres in whichever team needs us the most at the end of the day, oh, yes, we are hoping to be out on the bikes every day.

By yesterday evening, Team Kharma were just crossing the Thames at the QE2 Bridge and Team Kharma [Brompton Unit] were hot on their heels in Ashford, Kent, which was a fantastic effort for both teams. 


French Village Diaries Team Kharma sets off for Istanbul
My first 31km for Team Kharma

I must stress this isn’t a race and while some of our friends clocked up pretty impressive distances on solo rides, others were from family rides, shopping trips or pre-apéro runs with friends (that was us!). Every kilometre helps so thank you all for a great first day.


French Village Diaries Team Kharma sets off for Istanbul
Kharma the flamingo, team mascot

You may notice a new friend in all of my pictures; Kharma the flamingo, bought to sit in our garden to remind of us Ben. I have decided she will be the Team Kharma mascot and accompany us on all our rides on this challenge. I think after that she will deserve a rest and will live out her days in the garden, as planned.


French Village Diaries Team Kharma sets off for Istanbul
Team Kharma apéro cycle

My small contribution to the first day was 31km for Team Kharma [Brompton Unit], with Adrian in the morning. A gentle ride into the westerly wind, through quiet villages and fields of wheat, just beginning to turn yellow. Then a 26km ride for Team Kharma with Adrian, Ed and our friends in the afternoon, which was a fun and chatty ride that finished with shared apéros in our friends back garden.


Thank you to everyone who has supported us so far.



Friday, June 5, 2020

Life after confinement, normal, but not normal

French Village Diaries. life after confinement normal, but not normal
First coffee at the village bar


Normal, not normal

On paper yesterday seemed to be a perfectly normal day. Get up, have breakfast, join friends for coffee at the village bar, home for a yoga class, lunch, head to Niort for big shopping, dinner and then a council meeting. In reality, it was a long way from normal.

The village awakes 

At 08h30 the bar opened its doors for the first time since the middle of March and whilst we weren’t queueing up waiting for the key to turn in the lock, we certainly made sure we were there for a morning coffee with friends, like normal. What wasn’t normal was the lack of hugs or kisses to say hello and our smiles were hidden by our masks, that also did a great job at muffling our greetings. The owners were wearing full visors and although masks were removed when we sat at the outside terrace, where the drinks and conversation flowed, it all felt a bit strange. It was also rather disturbing to see local French friends arrive, remove their masks and say hello in the normal French (cheek kissing) way. I know I am not ready for that level of intimacy outside of immediate family just yet.

Yoga

Yoga was as normal as it has been since March, a log in to an online class where Marc the teacher fills the screen of my laptop, the others are tiny thumbnails at the edge of the picture and the only other thing in my yoga nook with me is Mini the dog, snoring on the bed. There is now the possibility of starting real life classes once more, but on a restricted basis that will involve a lot more work and effort from Marc and Kate who run Phoenix Yoga. From discussions after class, it seems most of us are agreed, for now, online is still the way to go.

Niort

I’m not really a fan of days out shopping at the best of times, but every now and then, needs must. Post Covid-19 confinement shopping takes things to a whole new level of stress and unpleasantness. Some people are wearing masks, some are not, some shops insist on masks, some do not. Some people respect the distances expected between others, some do not. Everywhere seemed busy and slow, with queues to get in as people stopped to apply hand gel, queues at the checkouts and traffic queues all over town. I was tired, grumpy and so glad to get home, which if I’m honest is my normal reaction to having to go shopping.

Council meeting

Under normal circumstances, I would not still be on the village council, but as the confinement meant the cancellation of the second round of elections, back in March, it is the old council who are still in control. The second round is now scheduled for 28th June and it will be just after that, when the Maire and deputies are voted in by the new council that they take over. Last night’s meeting to agree a provisional budget for 2020 was a very different meeting to normal. Rather than being held in the normal small meeting room in the Mairie, we were vastly spread out, at our own tables, in the salle des fetes, with adequate distances between us at all times. Even the attendees were not the same as normal as this was an extraordinary mix of old and newly elected councillors, the vote being ours, but in reality, it will be the new team who have to work with the budget we voted for. We normally end each meeting with a chilled glass of something and more informal conversations than the meeting itself allows. Last night, we finished, we said goodbye, we left and it all seemed rather flat.


French Village Diaries. life after confinement normal, but not normal
Wearing pink for Ben


A very un-normal day

Today is not going to be a normal day either. It is not normal to lose your 22-year-old nephew. It is not normal to be prevented from attending the funeral of a close family member and it’s certainly not what I think of as normal to be given a log-in to watch a live stream from the crematorium. 

Ben was a bright and sparkly character, who lit up a room with his smile and also his collection of colourful shirts. We are dressed in our finest bright clothes for him today, as requested. One of the things we bought in Niort yesterday was a bright pink flamingo for our garden, in memory of Ben, who was often photographed with a pink flamingo. Rest in peace, Ben.


French Village Diaries. life after confinement normal, but not normal
Ben

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Book review of The Day Henry Died by Lynda Renham

French Village Diaries book review The Day Henry Died Lynda Renham
The Day Henry Died by Lynda Renham

Synopsis

Suppose you wake up one morning to find yourself dead. You can see yourself clearly in the mirror, and feel the same as you did the day before. But today is the day of your funeral. What do you do?

This was Henry’s dilemma. Henry decides he can’t possibly be dead, so he sets out to prove he is alive. Then, he discovers that Rita, a product demonstrator at the supermarket, can see him. 

Even with the help of Rita, proving you’re not dead was harder than Henry imagined, but when Henry discovered that he was murdered, the question was why and by whom?

My review

This was one of those books with a synopsis so intriguing I couldn’t turn it down, despite it having no link to France. 

We meet Henry, his wife Imogen and his friend Rita in the most unusual circumstances. Henry wakes up to find nothing in his normal routine is the same and this makes him feel out of sorts, a feeling that only gets worse when he reads his own obituary in the newspaper over breakfast.

Henry is not one to be deterred, so he arrives at work as usual, to find no one can see or hear him and someone else is working from his desk. He tries to find his wife Imogen, but she isn’t at the greengrocers where she works, and at the back of the shop he finds her colleague preparing the flowers for his funeral, that afternoon. Desperate to find out what has gone wrong and why everyone thinks he’s dead, Henry needs a plan. Popping into the supermarket he is surprised to find that Rita, who he often chats to as he samples the products she is demonstrating, can see him and hear him.

Together they take the bus, in the rain, to Henry’s funeral. It is not at all what Henry had imagined, it’s in a church for starters and most of the small congregation he hardly knows. He needs Rita’s help to put right this mistake of being dead and let Imogen know he’s OK. Rita is frightened of death, but not of Henry, in fact the more she gets to know him, the more she enjoys his company and having someone in her life, even if he is dead.

Henry is a precise man, has a well-ordered and perfect life, but being dead makes him see that under the surface maybe things weren’t so perfect after all. He revisits major moments in his married life and gets to see things he never noticed at the time. Can he find a way to get back to Imogen and can what he now knows make a difference to his future? 

This book is certainly something different and stretches what we think of as normal in life and death. I like different and enjoyed Henry’s after death journey, and despite my best efforts to work out where it was leading, had no idea what would happen.

Author bio

Lynda Renham is author to many popular romantic comedy and gripping psychological thriller novels. She lives in Oxford, UK. She has appeared on BBC radio discussion programs and is a prolific blogger, Twitter and when not writing can usually be found wasting her time on Facebook. Lynda lives in Oxfordshire with her second husband and two cats. 


Buy links 




This book is available in kindle and paperback versions from 1st June 2020 and the kindle price is currently only 99p / $1.21   
US 
UK  

Monday, June 1, 2020

Covid-19 Deconfinement in France, phase two

French Village Diaries hello June, hello normal cycling Charente Chateau
Cycling in the Charente


Hello June, hello normal


Welcome to June, a month that seems a long way from March when everything went a bit crazy in the world. We have just spent a lovely weekend doing things like cycling and meeting our friends, and there is a real feeling in the air that life is slowly returning to normal once more.

The second phase of deconfinement in France begins this week and will see bars, restaurants and holiday accommodation opening up again, as well as the lifting of the 100kms from home restriction. We are free to roam, to stay away and to stop for refreshments once more although sensible social distancing and wearing of masks will be our new normal. The bar in our village has a sign up saying it will be open from 8h30 on Thursday 4th June and we already have plans to meet friends there for a drink. It might still be a while before we can experience one of our legendary soirees with a packed restaurant, generous buffet and live music that slips into raucous karaoke as the clock ticks by and the night becomes morning, but I’m just happy it will be open again soon.

I have now cycled my first 1000km of 2020, including over 150kms this week, discovering new places even though we’ve not been more than forty kilometres from home. On Saturday evening we cycled to friends and enjoyed an outdoor curry and games night, with wine, music, laughter and real-time, face to face conversation. It was fantastic fun and social distances were maintained throughout the evening. 


French Village Diaries hello June, hello normal cycling Charente Chateau des Chevaliers de Londigny
Chateau des Chevaliers de Londigny, Charente

On Sunday Adrian planned a bike loop of 57km that quite by chance took us past the Chateau des Chevaliers de Londigny, a beautiful fairy tale castle with towers and turrets, almost hidden in the gently rolling hills of the Charente countryside. It has been there since the 15th Century and we have lived here for over 15 years, but this was the first time I’d so much as glimpsed it. A little bit of research has shown me that it is a B&B as well as having a gatehouse cottage to rent.


French Village Diaries hello June, hello normal Lou Messugo Côte d'Azur
Photo ©LouMessugo website

We have even been starting to think about a week’s holiday with the bikes, on the Côte d’Azur, thanks to some brilliant news on Friday. I was the lucky winner of a Facebook giveaway; three nights at Lou Messugo on the Côte d’Azur, just a 26km bike ride from Nice. Owner Phoebe and I have been blogging friends for years, but have never met, so I really can’t wait get down there, especially as they have been busy decorating the accommodation during lockdown. Maybe 2020 is going to redeem itself a little having already hit us with Brexit, Covid-19, Adrian’s isolated 50th birthday, losing our nephew Ben and no work for over two months. A bit of south of France sunshine and a new area to explore by bike is just what we need.


French Village Diaries hello June, hello normal Team Kharma cycling #forBen
JustGiving #ForBen


Team Kharma update

Team Kharma, our virtual cycling team is gaining strength, even though we still have a week to go until we are off. As a team we will be logging the 7500km that represents the distance from Loughborough to Istanbul and back as we raise money for charities helping young people with mental health issues, in memory of our nephew Ben. As well as our local friends, who we will hopefully be clocking up the kilometres with, thanks to the power of social media, we have reconnected with friends in the UK from our corporate lives over twenty years ago, who are also keen to get on their bikes and help us. The For Ben; To Turkey and Back, Facebook page is the place to go to see how big this event has become, including video messages of support from celebrities and sports personalities, encouraging over 800 people who are taking part and who have already raised over £25,000. We can’t wait to start our part of this challenge.