A Country House in Provence, France

23 Sep

You’ve seen those French movies. There is always a point where an extended family or group of gorgeous young things gather for summer holidays in a rambling, old stone house surrounded by gardens, an orchard, or maybe vineyard, deep in the countryside. Long sunny lunches on the terrace, games of boules with glass of Pernod in hand and much love and laughter against a soaring soundtrack…..

We stepped into our version of that movie this week in Provence.

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Courtesy once again of John L and his online research, we’re renting an authentic 1832 Provencal Mas (local stone house) near the perched village of Mons, two hours into the hills from Nice airport. It’s the second home of a French-German family. We booked to stay here with John, Marg, Michel and Charles in early May but spent that week in Northwick Park Hospital instead. Their report was glowing. The house was available this week so we jumped on Easyjet and here we are!

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We have the company of Alastair, a university friend of Stuart’s and his wife Lynn, a behavioural medicine academic who live in New Jersey. Stu and Alistair have shared three motorcycling holidays in Europe in recent years but we’d not all holidayed together before. Happily the mix worked well. Hard to imagine how it wouldn’t in this wonderful family home.

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Mons, Provence is completely unspoilt. The tortuous, steep and narrow roads taken to reach it have a lot to do with that. They keep out the day trippers, tourist coaches and campervans. Cyclists pose an additional hazard but we’re inured to them. Local houses are either second homes such as ours or owned by retired Europeans who wish to live a simple, quiet life in the sun. And quiet it is. The sound of a neighbour sawing firewood for winter is the only man-made noise we hear.

Our house on three levels sleeps eight, while the small detached cottage beside it sleeps three, so we virtually have a floor each. Its large well-equipped country kitchen is a converted cow byre (the feed trough is the giveaway). The family must have some huge gatherings here. Stu counted 18 egg cups and double that number of plates. Lynn and I take our afternoon tea in delicate pink and green patterned Limoges china.

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Outside we have at least five charming spots for meals and tea/coffee depending on the time of day and our mood. The dappled shade of the wisteria bower is preferred for long lunches. Provisioning is easily done in the local markets or down the hill at Callian supermarket and we share duties amicably. Lynn is in her element in the kitchen concocting delicious meals. Sample menu – last night: Honeydew melon starter followed by a New Orleans inspired spicy prawn dish called BBQ Shrimp finished with French apple cake (see photo).

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An extra mealtime companion appears in the form of a neighbour’s sweet reddish brown and white spaniel who lies by our feet ever hopeful of tidbits from the table. We’re under strict instuctions not to feed her so we give her extra love instead.

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Much of the fruit we eat is plucked from our orchard or gathered by the roadside. Figs are especially popular. We eat them straight from the trees. Apple, quince, plum and olive trees line the terraced rear garden and on our daily walk/jog we pick blackberries for apple and blackberry compote and crumble.

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With our own swimming pool (Alastair makes the most use of it as he seems impervious to the cold), table tennis, boules, and chess ‘the boys’ have been kept busy but there’s been plenty of time to visit Mons, Callian, Fayence and St Cezaire for leisurely coffees and meanderings. Walking home from Mons we came across the studio of a glass blower who allowed us to watch him at work. He and his assistant were a study in carefully choreographed movement, silently dancing around each other, twirling the pole in the fire and applying tongs and paddles, to make the plain blob of glass blossom into a delicate, swirling pink lampshade. We bought a mesmerising deep blue-green flask to hold our memories of Mons.

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This series I call ‘Les garcons seront toujours les garcons!’

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Sadly it’s the last day of our Provencal idyll. We have a full agenda. Lunch and boules in St Cezaire then a last supper at home followed by a Baroque music concert in the Notre Dame church in Callian.

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Tomorrow we drive to Nimes for a couple of days while Alastair and Lyn head to Geneva for their flight home. Cue violins and roll credits…..

Seeking funding for the sequel.

(Final photo shot by Alastair)

Next blog: Bucolic England, the Album

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2 Responses to “A Country House in Provence, France”

  1. Linda December 13, 2012 at 4:09 pm #

    I recognise those faces!! How long has it been? And we were in Australia last Christmas and New Year. Could have met up if we had known! Hope you are all well. Love Linda Haggarty

    • Sharon Tickle December 13, 2012 at 9:32 pm #

      What a shame Linda, would have been a blast!

      Where are you based now? UK?

      Sharon

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