Visits to Lacapelle-Biron and Cazeneuve
The long sun-drenched days in Vanxains simply glided by, our hours filled with nothing substantial but brimmed with relaxation and rest. We rewarded every two hours of strenuous physical effort, either running, walking, swimming or cycling, with double that of lazy sitting or lying in the garden, reading and watching the burning sun slowly drift across the sky. It’s a great balance for us, the daily exercise and the deliberate rest, and this easy luxury of filling our time exactly as we wish has a wonderfully cathartic effect. The hours and days of the week have constricted in their use to hold little meaning to us, as we now live solely on the timescales of the rising and setting of the sun, and of the changing seasons.
Nicky has an old university friend with a holiday home in Lacapelle-Biron, near to Monpazier, and we organised a visit for when they were in-country. After a brief stop in Bergerac on the way, we enjoyed a flying visit to the bastide town of Villeréal, where we walked the historic streets, taking in the elaborate timber marketplace and tall stone church. Not long after, we arrived at Mandy and Simon’s villa, where we were soon splashing in their pool, sipping beers and swapping stories, all generously accompanied by birdsong and afternoon rays. We later retired to their patio for dinner and wine, eating and chatting long into the night, punctuated with earnest discussions on what music to play next. The following morning we ate a tasty late breakfast outside under the shade of a wisteria-covered pergola. We were, surprisingly and gladly, experiencing only the dull hint of the fully-expected hangover.
We said our goodbyes as we had another lunch date with Ken & Monica in Cazeneuve, which was spent relaxing by their pool, complete with much more chatting and eating. It was fascinating for us to see Cazeneuve blossoming into summer, such a different appearance from before. Every vista was now green, lush and fruitful, more opaque with dense foliage than the skinny, dormant mud-browns of the winter months we had recently spent there; it was transformed. Monica & Ken were expecting the arrival of an Australian couple later that afternoon, their guests under Home Exchange, a scheme that we hope to utilise in future years with our new French home, opening up more travel options further afield. We thanked them for lunch and left them to prepare for their far-flung visitors.
One damp Monday morning, we decided to drive to the nearby market town of Chalais. We had been informed it was one of the most worthwhile local markets to visit, but on a dull, grey day under the constant threat of rain it seemed rather small and basic. Perhaps this was because the scattering of stalls were widely spaced out along many streets, rather than clustered together in a central location, and the day’s meagre crowds didn’t stretch wide enough to offer a hearty noise or an interesting buzz. Or perhaps we had so recently been spoiled by the large markets in Issigeac and Ribérac that we were anticipating more, our personal expectations raised and dashed through no fault of Chalais. We walked up a steep hill to look at the local château before disappearing back through the wet streets.
Another day we visited the village of Saint-Aulaye, where we squeezed through a tight timber gate to access the ample parking before undertaking a self-guided walking tour of the village’s Roman highlights. We kept up our schedule of long countryside runs and quiet evening walks, punctuated with lots of down-time, disguised in our minds as ‘recovery’. We enjoyed several more swims and runs around Jemaye lake, further training sessions for our upcoming SwimRun event. On several occasions we experienced serious thunderstorms and minor flooding at the house, interspersed with momentary losses of electricity. Once these storms broke, we were usually treated to wide-reaching and spectacularly deep sunsets across the expansive valley, all visible from the bottom of the garden.
On our last Friday we cycled a beautiful cross-country route vaguely northwards, on chalky paths and tiny roads, their grassy centre-line a testament to the lack of use. We struck out a winding route into the west of Ribérac, dropping down into the edge of town via a fantastic descent through wheat fields on a stony path. We weaved through the neat suburbs before we again joined the crowds at the weekly market. The conversational buzz and bright colours of the busy centre were striking in contrast to just moments before, where only the muted colours and tweeting noises of the countryside existed. We parked up and walked a loop, enjoying the contrast with the green silence. After exhausting the market stalls, we had a quick stop at the Hôtel de Ville before cycling out of town.
We returned home by a new route, finding a quiet stretch of road alongside a small trickle of a river, it passing through woodland filled with the bending trunks of tall, graceful trees. The route was a continuous ribbon of green rolling hills, each crest offering far-reaching views of the surrounding lands, made up of expansive hectares of manicured fields with only a light scattering of stone houses and outbuildings visible. The fields were planted with barley, sweetcorn and sunflowers, still small and green, but ensuring the vista would evolve yet again, to be resplendent with brilliant yellows in the months to come. Legs tingling from our efforts, we settled back into our lazy garden life, soaking up the sun in the close company of cats, again feeling like the ones who got the crème.
We spent a large part of the day readying for leaving – we packed up all non-essentials, tidied up the house and, under a scorching sun, completed a last cut of the fast-growing garden. With everything in good shape, we decided to make a little micro-adventure for ourselves after dinner. We took our camping chairs and a bottle of single malt with us and walked up a local grassy chemin to a nearby hillside, where we took up temporary residence on a gravel plateau to enjoy the setting of the sun over the lush valley. We settled in, each poured ourselves a glass and sipped in silence as the sun slowly disappeared behind the horizon, just like the fun-filled days and weeks we’ve spent here have now vanished into the past. Here was the end of another, very different but equally wonderful, house-sit, and we felt so fortunate to have been offered the opportunity to spend such quality time in these peaceful surroundings.