It has just dawned on me that this time last year Andy was frantically packing the car, filling every possible space with bits we wanted to take with us to France ahead of setting off in the early hours to drive to Provence to complete the purchase of our long dreamed-for little house.
We always expected it to be an adventure and of course anticipated that there would be many hurdles to be jumped and of course that we’d have understandable worries on the way, but to be honest these have not been as many or as difficult as we had thought and the last 12 months has been everything (if not more) that we had hoped it would be.
We always said that if we bought a house we wouldn’t want to just use it for a couple of weeks a year and wanted to view it much more as a second home than a holiday home, until we can make the leap to live there permanently once the boys have moved on to their own lives (although as things stand the eldest is keen to do that in France himself!). As such we have spent a lot of the year apart, with one of us in Provence whilst the other has been back in the UK, which has been hard, even with Skype (often on just in the background so we can chat as we would at home) it’s not the same as being there together, but it’s certainly better than nothing!
Part of the house feeling like home is having our pets around and we’ve found that we can happily transport ‘Pusscat’ down with us & she easily flips from hunting voles in our garden on Dartmoor to chasing Lizards on the terrace in Provence. She is now so comfortable there that she immediately goes for a wander around outside as soon as we arrive, before coming straight back in for food, relishing the heat of the summer when she stretches out in any shade she can find, as much as the chance to curl up on a knee in front of the wood-burner in the winter.
We’ve yet to take our dog Millie, who skips off to stay with a friend to play on the beach in Cornwall whenever we visit Provence. She will come down eventually, but struggles with the car and so we don’t want to put her through a long journey until it’s absolutely necessary. We do miss a dog though & have got to know ‘Enna’ our neighbour’s French Bulldog, which seems to think she is about 5 times her actual size. She’s a regular visitor with a retriever called ‘Nemo’ & seems especially fond of us now we have bought a little box of dog-treats for when she pops across to say hello!
We’ve started to fill the house with wonderful bits that we’ve found at the local Brocante Markets, Vide Greniers & local recycling centre and have delighted in being able to ‘start from scratch’. Having been married nearly 30 years our home in the UK is full of an eclectic mix of bits that we’ve gathered over the years and feel we have to take with us whenever we move. Our house in France though has been a blank canvas and we’ve had so much fun starting to find bits that just take our eye (even if they’re slightly bashed) – it’s great having the chance to set up home for the first time again. I can’t imagine that I would ever contemplate having a bright pink 1970’s road bike on the wall of our Victorian House in Devon, but for some reason it just looks great in France!
Our Sunday morning forays to Brocante Fairs & Vide Greniers have become a firm part of life in France for us now & the http://www.vide-greniers.org is a great source of information on what is on every weekend. Not only have we found bits for the house, but also some great containers to act as planters on the terrace, which looked wonderful last year filled with geraniums, lavender & petunias. We also found a lovely old container that would have been used to store lavender oil – the great thing is that when you unscrew the lid the scent of the lavender oil is still incredibly strong and scents the air beautifully.
Needless to say last summer we spent a huge amount of time on the terrace and quite quickly realised we needed a pool of some sort. Long term we have thoughts of installing a purpose built stone basin, complete with antique water spout, but that is still some way (and a considerable amount of money) off so this year we plumped for the 35 euro blue plastic pool from Leclerc. OK it’s not exactly pleasing on the eye and doesn’t really conjure up the image we would really hope when we say we have a ‘pool’ at our house in Provence, but it proved to be money well-spent (even when we invested in a pump for it too). The insulated cover meant that it heated up beautifully and by mid-summer there was no ‘oooh-factor’ when getting in and it was lovely just to sit in it easing the legs after returning from a long day’s cycle ride.
Over the last year we’ve seen all the seasons in Provence & to be honest have loved them all – each having its own particular colour. Of course Summer was perfect for the long hot days with the markets filled with ripe fruit and the fields purple with lavender…….
There was also a great selection of festivals taking place – from the incredibly bright & animated Avignon Festival…..
To the more local town & village produce Fairs, including the Lavender Festivals in Sault & Apt….
Autumn brought with it (only slightly) cooler weather and the landscape took the colours of red and gold with the turning of the leaves, giving great opportunities for cycling & walking along quiet routes and trails and of course the joys of watching the grapes being harvested to begin the process of making the local wines.
The markets were still filled with stalls, but on the whole were generally quieter than in the height of summer, making a visit a slightly slower & more relaxing experience.
Winter also had its charms, with easy access to the hiking trails that criss-cross the area (many inaccessible in summer after noon due to the increased fire-risk) and the opportunity to settle down in front of a blazing fire in the evening, with a glass of wine.
Some of the markets (including the Farmers’ Market at Coustellet) close, but the big ones continue, offering great winter veg, perfect for roasting or hearty soups.
We spent our first family Christmas there this year & we all agreed it was the best one we could remember, with a cycle ride in the morning, followed by traditional Christmas dinner & board games in the evening. Sometimes the simplest things are often the best!
Then back to Spring, the season that has really caught my imagination and my heart, with the lengthening days, the quiet roads and the ‘gentle’ weather that bring the plants back to life & fill the fields and verges with colour. Near Apt the hillside is spotted with vivid purple from the flowers on the Judas trees that seem to thrive there.
The Wisterias bloom, scrambling across the front of houses or hedgerows………
And the poppies start to reappear, turning the fields red …..
To be honest there hasn’t been a time we haven’t liked. We have cycled all year round, finding new routes and tackling some of the great rides that people dream of doing …….
We’ve also had the chance to explore a bit further afield than we have managed previously, when we’ve been limited to our 2 weeks there.
The really nice thing though is that over the last year we feel we’ve managed to set down some roots in the area, meeting our lovely neighbours, who have really taken us under their wing and finding Marina who has become a good friend, helping us out in so many ways. It hasn’t been without its occasional problems, but we have been living our dream & it has lived up to and in fact exceeded everything we could ever have hoped for.
It’s hard to believe that we’ve already had it a year and all we’re doing now is looking forward to the next one, continuing to live our dream!