There’s just something about small towns in France…

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… 😉

A summer in French heaven, part two… or six.

I am soon to be homesick for a place I just discovered. 

The summer is quickly turning into autumn, and with two weeks left in L’Isle Jourdain, I switched locations (a 2 minute stroll down the street) to Barbie and Andy’s house.  They are good friends of Corinne and Gilles, and they needed a little help with some home renos.


Their house has a huge yard (complete with fig tree overloaded with much-to-my-chagrin-just-not-yet-ripe figs), a view of the valley and the church and town across the river, loads of beautiful hydrangea and hibiscus bushes, and a lovely terrace that was excellent for morning tea, stargazing, and card games and wine.


The yards on all sides are full of fruit and olive trees, chicken coops, vegetable garden so, grape vines, and a big sweet grey donkey two gardens over. 


Their next door neighbor, an older gentleman named De-De (nickname for André), has a lovely large garden as well as chickens and rabbits, and several times during my stay with them he came over with a bucket of tomatoes and a dozen eggs; sometimes he just leaves them on the front step. He also gives them loads of green beans, potatoes, and onions throughout the summer. One afternoon he even came to the door with a freshly-made jar of plum jam, still warm! The sweetest!

Captured on a morning walk over by the church.


We always started our mornings with a walk over to Café de la Paix or to Le Dix, the bar next door (and it definitely it should be noted that they have the most delicious cakes; my good friend Victor can vouch for every single flavour 😊).

The owner Fanfan has our usual orders memorized and brings us ‘un petit café et deux grandes crèmes’, and we eat pain au chocolat and chat with all the regulars/neighbors. 🙂 A lovely ritual. 

Back at the house I started with some small jobs like painting window frames and installing curtain rods and baseboards upstairs, and one afternoon we had the adventures of cutting a hole into the wall under the stairs in order to make use of the possible storage space. The hope was that we would not find anything too scary, or dangerous, or complicated to remove. Luck was on our side as all that was inside was rocks and earth. AND a century-old whistle! Oh yeah, and part of a sheep leg bone. (Yes, I am sure. I checked. It was just a sheep bone.)
The bigger jobs of my stay were re-varnishing their living room floor (only because we had to move all the furniture around) and I cut and installed (and started the painting process) of a new wood floor and baseboards in their kitchen. 

The kitchen floor was definitely the trickiest as it is the very centre of their home. They access the rest of the house (including the stairs up to the bedrooms) from there, and they have two dogs. 😁😳

the old tile floor is in great condition but is absolutely freezing in the winter.


Practically everyone has dogs here, and my new friends’ pups are two other hilarious personalities. 

This face.

 

Pedro is the little shaggy sausage dog with freckles across his nose and a growl-purr when he is playing or getting attention. He loves to be cuddled and often falls asleep in Barbie’s arms.

Lottie has the colouring of a Rottweiler, and is the look and somewhat size of a slender German Shepherd. She is the sweetest, sneakies, cheekiest dog ever, and I absolutely adore her. 


In my last week much to my delight: Another invitation came for a delicious dinner at the Chateau Jourdain!

Six countries represented at this table! (New Zealand, Hungary, Iran, Iraq, Canada, Great Britain)

 

We were invited for homemade falafel and hummus and chips, and yet again had weather right out of a storybook. 

The most beautiful skies of the entire summer, without a doubt. 


That night I met two more workawayers (from Leeds, and one of them has family IN CALGARY 😃). What are the odds??

Moyad was holding Dolly up so she could see a paddleboat go by.

 

One Friday night I drove to the nearby village of Queaux with a couple friends, Zara and Kane (both from the UK), to have dinner and watch a jazz concert down by the river. 

Queaux has fresh spring water running through the village and there is an old clothes washing station still intact on the main road. 

The water is freezing, but clean enough to drink! 

The wooden washboards used to scrub clothing.

This village also has an incredible view of the river valley.


 It was a gorgeous night and there were still people swimming in the rive at 8pm as we ate our picnic dinner. We should have know the 8pm “start” was just a loose guideline, and the show began around 9. 🙂

It was brilliant- they just set up everything under some trees in the park area and people brought their own chairs or pulled up benches from the picnic area. 

There was a keyboard, guitar, saxophone, drum set, bass, and trombone. (The bass player also played the trombone, because, of course she did). 

Of course you never remember to take photos while it is still light out!


It was excellent music and we had the best time! They were a talented group and when the drummer started playing with brushes, that was it for me: I was in heaven. (My dad would have just loved it.) Found another happy place!
Barbie and Andy are real estate agents so they have gotten to know our region of Poitou-Charentes quite well. They have been enthusiastic tour guides and have taken me to some beautiful spots (there are just so many!) in our area.

The first weekend I was staying with them Andy and Barbie took me to Lake Pardoux, about an 80-minute drive away. They had never been there but had heard it was nice, so I was a great excuse for them to be touristy and go.
The lake is absolutely huge and clearly a popular spot. There is camping nearby and you can rent paddle boats (“pédalos”), go sailing, boating, fishing, and enjoy swimming off a lifeguard-supervised beach.

We packed a picnic and found a spot in the grass facing the lake. It was a beautiful day and just hot enough to warrant a swim!! 

This Canadian girl was the only one to go take the plunge, and it was glorious. There was a great floating dock to dive off and the water gets to a nice depth pretty quick and is very refreshing.

After coffees and chocolate ice cream at the little restaurant just up from the water, we went further down the shoreline for a walk along part of the hiking trail that circles the lake, and decided you could easily make a day out of hiking the area here. I will remember that for next time. 🙂


Poitiers Day Trip!


We spent one Saturday in Poitiers  exploring the city.  This was fantastic as I had only really seen the airport and the train station!

Nôtre Dame du Poitiers.


Saturdays they have a street market going, and we wandered past stalls of clothing, food, and some artisan items, and while stopping for coffees on a patio a travelling band walked by playing fantastic music on tuba, trumpet, sax, banjo, and drums. 


We wandered around from the Nôtre Dame Du Poitiers in the Old Town area, and enjoyed the tall old buildings and architecture, turning up and down tiny side streets to finally arrive at Francois Frères.  

There are only 5 places in France that hand-make umbrellas anymore, and one is in Poitiers! Barbie and Andy have one beautiful umbrella already and wanted to show me the store. We were so happy to find it open we practically skipped into this shop filled with a full rainbow of parasols and umbrellas of every design and shape you can imagine, and even each wooden handle is  gorgeous. 


The owner came right out of the back room (where he makes them all himself) to talk to us. He clearly takes pride in his work, as well he should. His family has been making umbrellas since 1882! 

I want a newsprint umbrella. 🙂

If I could have fit a full-size umbrella in my backpack, I would have splurged and bought one right there! 

After my first croissant amande of the trip 😁, we headed to see the majestic Cathedral de Poitiers, which was absolutely gigantic and a definite must-see if you visit Poitiers. 


Gorgeous and vastly tall ceilings, beautiful frescos, stained glass windows for days, and crazy cool/creepy gargoyles outside.

On to Confolens!


The second weekend we went to Confolens, and this city is absolutely darling, and even more romantic on a grey and cloudy day.

Many medieval aspects to the old buildings reminded me of Carcassone that we visited 2 years ago on our Viking Cruise tour. 



On the way back home we stopped into Confolens-St-Germain and the old castle ruins up on the hill. 


It’s absolutely beautiful, and felt well-timed, as my friend Leslie was travelling in Ireland at this point and posting all these beautiful photos of Irish castles and I felt due for some castle time. 🙂

There was also a fantastic gift shop at the bottom filled with local artists’ work, from jewelry to soap to ornaments to honey. Absolutely beautiful things. 🙂

We ended up going for pizza in the charming river town of Availles-Limozine the next night with clients/friends of Barbie and Andy. I immediately liked these three friendly Brits: Gary, who is selling his vacation property home, and Jarvis and Lindsay, who are buying it! The sale was complete this week, so we went out to dinner to celebrate. 

Side note: Real estate is a good example of how nothing happens quickly in France. The sale of a house in the countryside takes anywhere from 5 months -and that’s speedy/optimistic- to 5 years.



The pizza was absolutely excellent (I had le Trois Fromages), the company was entertaining (stories of Jarvis and Lindsay from when they were stationed in Saudi Arabia, and hilariously bad jokes by Andy and Gary), and we even got in a walk down to the gorgeous Vienne River to see the early start of fall and some of the most beautiful reflections in the river I have seen so far on this trip.

They tell me that in the winter the river is much faster flowing and they say looks quite dynamic and different than the summer, as in the winter they open the dams all along. 
Maybe one day I will buy an apartment here and find out. 🙂
On Friday night my friends Jamshid and Jo cooked up a big dinner to send me off, and Gilles and Viktor came over to join us and we had a perfect evening of food and great company, complete with favourite music video sharing and star gazing in their fantastic back garden. (It was here we had a fabulous ‘sky-watching party’ back in August when the Perseid meteor shower was happening.)

On my last day I even (finally) got in a swim in the river down by the island. Viktor paddled us out in Moyad’s row boat and we swam in the middle of the river near the chateau. It was fantastic! It made me wish I ventured down there more often when we had our crazy few weeks of 33+ degree weather!

Thus ends my incredible time in L’Isle Jourdain. I have never felt more at home in a different country. Luckily, now I have numerous friends to come back and visit…. And if I’m looking to buy a small French countryside apartment, I know these fabulous real estate agents…. 🤔😎

Up next: a weekend in Lyon and 5 days visiting my friend Chinatzu in Switzerland!