With our tiny fridge bulging with tempting English cheddar cheese and large packs of bacon, our next stop was to deliver these goodies, and others, from (Nicky’s) Mum to her former French neighbours and friends from when she lived in the Mayenne region some years ago.
After a quick explore of Chateau Gontier and a phone call for directional assistance, we found our way to their rural countryside retreat, physically just a few miles outside the town, but atmospherically a world away.
After introductions to Mark, Keith and Jan, we had the obligatory cup of tea and a chat, then a flying tour of the house and grounds. A 50m stone longhouse, there was room after sprawling room, with niches, nooks and crannies galore. Old timber beams created character and sometimes hazards for the taller amongst us, and each direction we wandered seemed to reveal another cluster of rooms. The gardens had sheds and vegetable patches alongside a raised carp pond with a built-in seat adjacent. Walnuts and figs grew unrestrained in several areas of the garden, and two large fish-laden ponds sat surrounded by an apple and peach orchard to the south. Originally bought with 46 hectares over 25 years ago, the land has since been whittled down to an almost manageable size, but still impressively difficult to maintain.
With another 50m long stone barn adjacent, the property certainly didn’t lack floor space. This was mostly an open, single storey space with large ‘A’ frame oak trusses. Currently housing only tools and garden equipment it had definite, albeit expensive, potential, although one end housed a pool table and dart board for that British pub feel, so all was well.
It was a clear, humid evening, just right to enjoy a lovely BBQ in the pleasantly warm outdoors space. We were joined briefly by Keith’s daughter Linda, who lives and works locally. A large stone built barbecue space was stacked high with wood and left to burn down to embers, before large amounts of meat was cooked, bien cuie for the foreigners. The meal also included copious amounts of red wine, flowing alongside the conversation and story-telling long into the night. There was wine and dancing and singing, Ken Dodd records and multiple spillages, so it must have been a good night.
The cockerels continued their cock-a-doodle-dooing all night, and through the next morning, as we enjoyed a hearty and leisurely breakfast with delicate heads.
All fellow Brits, and with our hosts being from ‘up north’ we were unsurprisingly extended every possible hospitality and indulgence, very much appreciated. This included taking some yummy homemade apricot jam with us, along with our delicate heads and full bellies. Thank you very kindly, to Keith, Jan and Mark, and to all the doggies who made the visit special.
After a slow French red wine hangover morning, it was then South East in the direction of Poitiers, to a small village called Moncontour to catch up with (Nicky’s) former university lecturer Vic and his wife Christine. Having kept in touch with Vic on and off since Uni days but not having caught up in person for around five years, it was lovely to see a familiar faces, and to be so welcomed into their new French home.
Bought as a tired but habitable shell several years ago, two years of work have transformed the property into a magnificent family home. The furnishings, decor, hardwood flooring throughout and wonderful views of the surrounding countryside made us feel right at home, as did the company and chat. Fellow motorhomers too, Vic and Chris also understood our key priorities. We got Benny negotiated into their yard and connected to power, to be left for the night as we enjoyed an inside bed and hot showers for a change.
Regaling tales from university, education, careers, life in France and about our trip to date over a lovely roast chicken with all the trimmings meal was a very pleasurable way to pass an evening and a great catch up. The use of laundry facilities, our first to date, was also a very much appreciated extra. Thanks ever so much to Vic and Christine, and to Heidi the dog. A wonderful two days , but it’s back on the dusty road for us. Until next time.