A major highlight of my trip this summer was knowing I was able to visit friends in a heavenly place that feels like a second home, and looking back I could have spent the majority of my trip with these wonderful people in this wonderful place in the world.
I picked up my first ever European car rental at the CDG airport, and then whipped around the outskirts of the city to head to the countryside southwest of Paris, where I had last been a whopping 6 (how is it 6??) years ago!
I was ecstatic to be able to visit many friends in the heaven that is the small town, countryside villages in France.
I rented the car at the CDG airport, and was grateful to not have to drive anywhere within the city limits of Paris.
In Europe, the standard rental vehicle is manual, and it was fun to zip along (130 km/hour on the highway!!) to my first stop: L’Isle Jourdain & Bourpeuil along the glorious river that is the Vienne, an area about equidistant from Poitiers and Limoges (or about an hour drive from either).
It’s shortly less than a five hour drive from Paris, and the roads get smaller and more winding, and you drive past rolling hills, farmers fields, forests, small ponds, and winding rivers. Signs get more specific, and you pass through many small villages with red clay roofs and climbing vine-covered stone walls, hanging flower baskets at town squares, and occasionally a small cafe with two or three tables, usually occupied by a couple locals sipping espresso and smoking cigarettes.
I also loved the blackberry bush fencing used all over this region in France. I made sure to stop for a few (or a handful!) of sweet, juicy blackberries every single day.
(On one particular morning while enthusiastically going for a particularly large bunch of berries in a slightly overgrown side road, I did encounter some stinging nettle, which I do not recommend discovering in shorts and sandals. 😳)
The most remarkable and chance sighting of my friends Barbie and Andy at the local restaurant in L’Isle Jourdain moments after arriving in the town started things off with a bang.
I don’t know if it’s the magic of France or the fact that everyone’s lives felt paused for two years of pandemic, but I swear my friends all look EXACTLY the same as the last time I saw them.
Barbie and Andy used to live in town but have moved to Availles-Limouzine where Barbie runs a beautiful Bed & Breakfast called Le Source. They had just happened to stop at Le Dix for a glass of rosé on their way home, so we had a bonus early visit before I stayed with them, fortunate to stay in one of their B&B guest rooms and felt like I was at a five-star hotel. But more on that later.
After a lovely chat over the local wine, I headed across the bridge to my friends Jo and Jamshid, who have a Gîte and Bed & Breakfast themselves called Maison La Roche Gîte. The last time I was here they had only just purchased the property and were starting to renovate. Well, to say they have created a beautiful space is an understatement.
Jo and Jamshid had guests staying in their beautiful units when I arrived, so I got to “glamp” it up in their cute camper in their neighbouring garden, complete with an outdoor jacuzzi tub! When I arrived a barbecue was in full swing with several of their friends enjoying snacks and drinks in the private camper garden. I got reacquainted with their sweet dog Amber and was introduced to the newest member of their family, Twiglet the cat. It was a relaxing and entertaining evening after a day of driving, and they even had turned the jacuzzi tub on for me to have a soak before heading to bed!
The rooms and amenities for their guests are so lovely- a perfect combination of French and country chic, combining classic style and cozy, unique accents. Jo gave me a tour and I think I was gushing at ever room we stepped into. (I also loved the playful wallpaper choices on a couple accent walls, and the kitchen designs particularly.)
The real coup in my opinion was their glorious courtyard that had everything you could want; comfortable seating for visiting or eating, a hanging basket chair, a hammock, a flower garden and both Ivy and grape vines framing the space. A quiet, shady place to enjoy the outdoors but out of the direct sun on the +30-34 degree days we were having while I was there!
Just when I thought they had everything I could possibly need, they showed me the finished guest garden (the last time I’d been here, this space was simply a grass yard and a few lawn chairs!), now complete with multiple fruit trees, a sunning deck, a sweet dining area draped in wisteria vines, and a fabulous, fabulous above-ground pool! The pool was almost a necessity with the heat we were having and I floated around for well over an hour every time I got in.
In my opinion, all this place needs is a hammock between the walnut trees for another shady lounging spot, and I would never want to leave…
The town and surrounding area has gotten quieter overall (which I did not believe was possible), with several more shops and restaurants now closed, but the beauty of the area remains and I enjoyed a couple of long walks around the beautiful church, across the viaduct, and past silent houses and gardens that already look closed up for winter.
We also went to a house warming party of friends of theirs who had recently bought a house and had just moved in earlier that summer. There was a good number of friendly people, both Francophone and Anglophone, delicious food and wine, and a sweet dog who would casually try to sneak into the living room where the food was set out while we were all out on the balcony every time someone went inside to top up their glass or their plate. Our hosts also gave us a tour of the historical building, including the long and dark unfinished attic that one of the guests was certain was haunted. The community of friends in these smaller towns feels like it has extra value, particularly when there aren’t the usual amenities/entertainment of bigger cities.
After a wonderful weekend, I bid au revoir to Jo and Jamshid to drive about fifteen minutes further south to the town of Availles-Limouzine to see Barbie and Andy!
Like Jo and Jamshid, they had dogs that I had spent a good deal of time with 6 long years ago, so it was exciting to see shaggy little Pedro and the feisty Lottie when I arrived to meet Barbie at their front gate.
Barbie and Andy have a spacious property with a tall and elegant house that includes two beautiful ensuite rooms they use for a Bed & Breakfast that Barbie runs. The rooms feel like they were frozen in time as luxurious, classic French style, without being lugubrious. My room not only had a gorgeous big bed, classic wallpaper and furniture, a lovely bathroom (with the best water pressure I’ve possibly ever experienced), but also a balcony with a great view of their front garden and the nearby rooftops.
Side note/cool little tidbit of history: this house was the first one in the town to have a toilet installed inside! It’s on this side of the house but is more of a talking point than a functional toilet these days.
Their back garden is hundreds of vibrant shades of green, and includes a greenhouse packed with green grapes, a sweet little patio, fruit trees, and lots of space. There’s also a comfortable outdoor seating area facing the front of the property that to me feels a bit like the edge of the fictional Secret Garden with cascading flowers, intertwined vines, and a lovely canopy of tree branches creating a cool shaded centre.
Pedro especially enjoyed this part of the yard and likes to stay cool under the bushes.
Barbie and Andy took me for dinner at a wonderful riverside restaurant in Saint-Germain de Confolons that roasts chicken and cooks pizza in a wood oven. It feels like a big community or family picnic with various types of seating under the trees along the water, kids running around, and the restaurant dog making the rounds, casually guarding the live chickens that strut around the riverside.
Before long I was off to visit my friend Corinne in her new home in Montmorillon. Corinne was the reason I discovered this part of the country when I found her posting looking for volunteers with Workaway way back in 2016, when she was renovating a 100-year-old house to make it an artist retreat. I had taken a train out to Poitiers where Corinne picked me up and we truly only began to get to know each other as we drove the 60 minutes to L’Isle Jourdain. We were originally going to play it by ear that first week and see how things went before my stay was extended, but we hit it off so well I ended up spending 2 months working on the house with her and it was a dream of a summer (a couple posts about that here and here)! She has since then got married, had a beautiful little boy, and moved the artist retreat to Montmorillon.
Compared to the last two towns, Montmorillon feels like a bustling metropolis with its one small movie theatre, multiple shops and grocery stores and restaurants, and it’s almost 6000 residents.
Well, when I arrived in my room at Casa Jufa I felt like I was being embraced in a warm hug. The rich wallpaper and bedding made me want to move in. I also had a charming balcony if I stepped out the window with more wisteria curling around the railing and a view of the Saint Martial church tower a stone’s throw away.
Handmade dishes in the kitchen topped the homey-ness of this place, and it felt so personal to Corinne, a blend of warmth and artistry.
Our reunion was simply wonderful and it felt like no time had passed since we’d seen each other, despite our crazy adventures over the last half decade.
Meeting her husband Diego and son Ari were a clear explanation of how incredibly full of joy and contentment Corinne’s life is these days. Diego made me feel right at home, and Ari was quick to share his love of trucks and stickers and monopoly game pieces with me. A multilingual family reminded me of my double-down decision to get back into practicing and improving my French.
We went for a walk up to Chappelle-Saint-Laurent to get a great view of the city, and had crepes at Le Brouard that were just as memorable as they were my last visit here! These are not just any crepes; they are luxurious, hearty meals wrapped in a buckwheat galette. Many have superstar names like The Elvis or The David Guetta.
I’m sure the dessert offerings are fantabulous as well but honestly, I don’t know how I’d ever have the appetite to eat a loaded sweet version of what we ate for dinner after that!
An early morning stroll along the walking trail beside the river here made for a few snack blackberries, some further garden envy, and photos capturing the morning sunshine.
We met up to check out the local market that happens every Wednesday, with fresh produce, cheeses, coffee, textiles, leather goods, soap, jewelry, …and mattresses. (I am so curious as to who goes to a market to buy aubergines, eggs, strawberries, cheese, …and a mattress before heading home for lunch… but hey, I’m still learning how to live like a local. 😉)
There simply wasn’t enough time to spend the time with these incredible humans, so I of course have plans to come back and visit again soon. I absolutely love it here.
Even more than *gasp* …Paris ?!
And who knows, maybe next time the trip could include some house hunting… 😉