Author Archives: Aaron Hill

About Aaron Hill

My wife Nicky and I have swapped our static desk-bound working lives for a more adventure-filled open-air existence on the road. We are currently travelling around Europe by motorhome. You can read all about our recent travels here: https://aaronandnickytravels.wordpress.com/about-us/

France – Périgueux, St Yrieix & our house search

France – St Yrieix, Périgueux & our house search

NOTE: This blog is slightly out of chronological order as we wished to see what conspired from our house viewings before writing anything specific about them.  We posted our latest Workaway synopsis first, as we awaited news.

Before leaving the UK back in early April, we had arranged several house viewings in our chosen region of Limousin.  We had looked at thousands of properties on-line, spending many hours discussing our budget, accommodation needs and wishes, rural vs village, trying to nail down precisely what we wanted.  We ran circles in our minds from simple, tiny 2-bed cottages to large barn conversions with gîtes, pools and hectares of land, covering every other possible option in between.  All various types had specific advantages and disadvantages; financial, spatial, practical, aspirational.  It took us a long time to finally settle on the type of property that would suit us, and then try to find it.

We saw two houses in quick succession, the first deeply disappointing and over-priced, the second intriguing as it was large (a four bed main house with attached two bed gîte and two acres) but the arrangement of rooms really didn’t work for us and it needed  lot of work to bring it back to a liveable state.  They were both discounted.  A third viewing brought a different house, a perfectly presented two-bed cottage with immaculate views and an exceptional garden. It was owned by a lovely British couple who were heading back to the UK in the hope of spending more time with grandchildren, a common story we’d heard on our visits.  This house remained our favourite for a while as we definitely contemplated converting the floored loft space to a third master suite, creating internal accommodation that worked for us.

We later viewed a small gîte complex high in the hills, near Villac, with no near neighbours and far from anywhere. It was a very rural site, accessed by a tiny single-track road, set in utter peacefulness.  There were three stone-built one-bed cottages set around a pool, with a large garage, outbuildings and potager, and offered the most spectacular views either of us could remember seeing in a long time.  We thought long and hard about how we could make the quirky accommodation work for us, mainly so we could retain that view, but we just couldn’t find a way to justify it; it was all just too immutable without major renovations, and a tad too far from civilisation, even for us.  Our previous favourite, small and perfectly formed, remained with its nose ahead, but it was our final organised viewing of the week that brought us to the one property that, on entry, immediately captured both our imaginations and hearts.

Rouffiac swim lake - nicky at beach

En route we stopped off to have a look at the full set-up at the base de loisirs de Rouffiac, a swim and activity lake we were passing.  We were curious how well they were provisioned, and it didn’t disappoint – It looked fantastic, despite the weather, with dedicated motorhome parking, a beach-side café and plenty of woodland walks.  Limousin is known as the region of 1000 lakes, and we planned to be utilising these as often as possible.  We then visited the market town of Saint-Yrieix-la-Perche, to wander around and take in the sights, but it was rainy and our minds were full of recently viewed houses.  The town was founded in the 6th century and forms a part of the Route Richard Coeur de Lion.  The streets were beautiful and historic, replete with medieval buildings, and even in the dreary rain it had a powerful presence that appealed to us.  It would definitely be somewhere we would return to, hopefully under sunnier skies.

St Yrieix - (square and castle)

Our viewing didn’t start auspiciously.  We had a sneaky drive-by the day before our scheduled viewing, under grey skies and bucketloads of rain, and everything looked damp, sodden and sad.  We were again prepared to be disappointed the next day, with moody dark skies overhead, but once we were on the grounds and then inside the house that feeling evaporated into one of quiet excitement and a joint, massively positive vibe.  This was exactly what we wanted in terms of accommodation; flow, openness, lightness and character, along with a distinct separation between a two-bed and a one-bed portion of the house.  It had a vegetable garden, a well, an in-ground pool and a half-acre adjoining paddock, and although the pool is a welcome addition, with us having no intention of keeping horses or chickens, we had no clue what we’d do with the latter. We’re now considering a wild flower meadow, but time will tell.

Pageas house - (gardens)

We returned to nearby Châlus to park up and reflect.  Our minds were full of details about the house – is it the right one?  Does it provide all that we need?  Is it in the correct location?  Yes, we think so, but don’t be so hasty.  But several others are viewing today and more viewings are planned later in the week.  After so much searching on-line, so many viewings, so many previous disappointments, to find a house that suits us and to potentially lose it to another offer (asking price offers must be accepted in France) we were desperately eager to move quickly, but also trying to be wary and controlled, tempered, sensible.  We organised a second viewing for the following day, to check out a long list of things we came up with overnight, and to ask a lot more more questions.  We had a good chat, a walk around the boundaries of the property and a closer look at the pool and out-buildings, galvanising our initial opinions into solid, reasonable surety – yes, this was right for us, and we should be confident enough to move quickly.

Perigueux - (river approach)

Perigueux - (bridge to centre)

Later that afternoon, after a bit of figure juggling, we nervously made an offer, our first on a French property.  We left it with the agent, and with wide smiles and nervous knots in our stomachs, we departed Limousin and headed south into Dordogne.  We had a short city visit to Périgueux on our way south to our previously mentioned Workaway, stopping in one of the free spaces outside the barrier of the neat and spacious paid aire as we were only staying for an hour or so.  It was bright and sunny as we wandered the short distance to the centre, in the deep shade of the tree-lined banks of the river Isle.  We crossed over the Pont des Barris which offered immediate views of the domineering and unmissable Cathédrale Saint-Front, the most prominent visual aspect of the city’s skyline.

Perigueux - (view from park)

Perigueux - (selfie in streets)

We sat in a small park, in the shadow of the domed cathedral, surrounded by pollarded plane trees and ate snacks, looking out over the sun-lit valley below.  The light was ever-changing from a dull uniform grey to a bright white, the latter throwing the stone buildings into deep contrast of shadows and light.  We walked up the main street and visited the cathedral, before winding through the smaller backstreets, twisting and turning as we spotted each hidden square, each beautifully neat and speckled with happy, lunching locals. It was here, on a small side-street, that we received a call informing us our offer had been accepted, the house secured and all future viewings cancelled as it was now removed from the market.  We continued walking the shaded back streets of Périgueux, but now with huge smiles and not a small amount of trepidation on our faces.  What had we done?!  It was all so quick, but still, it felt right.

A&N x

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WorkAway in the Dordogne (with Kate & Dave)

During three days of house-viewings (more on this later), where we mostly over-nighted in the surprisingly quiet aire in Châlus next to a popular lorry park, we were contacted by Kate and Dave, registered WorkAway hosts.  They were a well-travelled British couple who now run a large gîte complex in the Dordogne, offering high end lettings.  We had had no specific intention of undertaking WorkAway projects at this time due to being busy with our house search, but as they had been let down at short notice by other WorkAwayers who unfortunately had to cancel due to a family emergency, they proactively contacted us via the WorkAway website to ask if we could possibly step in and help.  We were not too far from where they were, only a couple of hours’ drive, so after discussion we decided that we could.

Workaway Dordogne (our cottage)

Workaway Dordogne (pool cleaning)

We finalised arrangements with Kate and the next morning we were off, heading south to find them in the wilds of the Dordogne, near to Bourniquel. We were greeted with grateful smiles and first given a tour of the extensive properties and grounds.  We were offered the opportunity to enjoy staying in one of their luxury couples studios, a nice break from Benny, and to enjoy their home cooking in exchange for our help.  The site was set on the edge of rolling countryside, overlooking Dordogne meadows with beautiful Limousin cows and their very young calves roaming nearby.  It was a very peaceful, tranquil place.  We enjoyed exchanging stories with our fellow Brits, learning from their experiences of living in France, before settling into our spacious studio to rest up before the work began.

Workaway Dordogne (tub planting)

On this Workaway we would be tasked with mostly gardening and maintenance tasks around the two hectare site. For our first project, we started with the group activity of planting up 160 separate geraniums into many, many pots.  On a large sheet of tarpaulin, we mixed batches of the old, exhausted soil with bags of new compost and re-potted the multitude of containers and hanging baskets.  Varied mixtures of different coloured geraniums were added to each container for maximum effect then all were repositioned under the covered verandah ready for setting out round the complex.  Nicky then redressed and positioned several scarecrows (or more accurately in this context, scaredeers), utilising her innate fashion sense and artistic skills to make them look as scary and as French as possible.

Workaway Dordogne (scare deers)

Workaway Dordogne (sunset scarecrow)

Over the course of the week we learnt more about our amiable hosts.  Kate and Dave had both been involved in high end sports, sports training and teaching sports ethics for most of their lives, Kate a gymnast, Dave a Judo champion. They had travelled all over Eastern Europe and beyond with their training camps, and had lived in Zimbabwe, building a centre of excellence and helping setting up the international sports structures there.  We enjoyed the wild and colourful stories of their trials and tribulations during their varied working lives.  After the constant rains of our first day, the weather backed off and we were lucky enough to enjoy some hot and sunny weather for the next few days.  We had a hot run one night in the evening heat, finding a loop of around 6km through the local woodland.

Workaway Dordogne (shutter sanding)

Workaway Dordogne (shutter painting)

Over the coming days I rescreened two gates with mesh, constructed some makeshift anti-deer fencing to protect young trees and organised and re-covered the woodshed piles.  I cut and collected grass as Nicky weeded borders and planted out additional lavender plants.  I helped construct a sun shelter on the end of the cottage and stained an area of decking, readying it to receive an outdoor hot-tub.  Nicky & I sanded, filled and painted (twice) the external timber window shutters to the exposed façade of the main house.  We scraped, cleaned, filled & painted a curved garden wall, before cleaning and repainting the adjacent decking, creating a neat, peaceful corner to watch the sunset.  We strung solar lights between the creeping plants on an arched structure defining a well-worn garden path.

Workaway Dordogne (deck staining)

Workaway Dordogne (n painting)

But it certainly wasn’t all work.  One evening we visited Couze-et-Saint-Front, a local village, to see an old mill and ancient caves, before enjoying apéro in a local, friendly tabac with a wonderful view of the slowly meandering river.  We briefly met the owners as we swapped stories.  Another, we had an early evening visit to the nearby beau village of Limeuil, set beautifully above a slow, curved bank of the Dordogne river where the Vezère joins. We sat on a terrace outside and enjoyed waiter service drinks as we watched kids play in the river shallows.  The hot day had tempered to a delightfully comfortable temperature and we stretched out and relaxed, chatting and sipping as we soaked up the stunning view.  It was exactly moments such as these that prompted our decision to move to France.

Workaway Dordogne (Limeuil view)

Workaway Dordogne (Limeuil drinks)

One bright morning we were driven to Issigeac Sunday market, one of the largest in the entire Dordogne region.  We walked the streets soaking up the quintessential Frenchness of the morning, snails included, even if there were more than a few English accents scattered throughout the busy streets – it is Dordogneshire after all.  The white stone of the circular bastide town was thrown into contrast by the colourful stalls stacked high with produce and colour.  The buzzing streets were filled with a happy liveliness, with the many wares of local artisans proving to be a very popular draw.  We stepped away from the crowds and into narrow backstreets, learning a little of the town’s history and of prominent local characters from informative plaques positioned on select medieval buildings; a wonderful morning’s distraction.

Workaway Dordogne (Issigeac market)

Workaway Dordogne (Issigeac square)

We completed a few outstanding jobs then spent our last afternoon relaxing in one of their two swimming pools, in welcome sunshine.  We slid back the pool cover to allow views of the surrounding countryside and bring the outside light pouring in as we splashed around and cooled off. It was a fitting, relaxing way to end our days in such a tranquil spot.  A family of hoopoes were nesting in the grounds and we could occasionally hear their distinctive calls, but unfortunately never managed to photograph their colourful crowns, an ornithological challenge given to us by a friend at home.

Workaway Dordogne (us in pool)

We packed up the following morning, said our sad goodbyes to Dave & Kate, before heading off back up north to sort out more than a few things about a property we had recently viewed.  Before arriving at the Workaway we had had an offer on a house accepted; times they were, as Dylan would say, about to be a-changing.  (more to follow)

A&N x

 

France – Orléans & the road south

We rolled away from the pleasant beach boulevard in Seaford to catch our uneventful four-hour ferry to Dieppe.  We doodled only a short way south before deciding we deserved a lazy afternoon and evening, so we pulled into a tidy, and surprisingly somewhat busy, free aire at Clères.  It was a nice aire, set between rows of hedges with each large division each accommodating two motorhomes.  We had a short walk around the adjacent local football fields whilst some young players trained reluctantly, and we had a play on their climbing frames and slides as we went.

Cleres - view of aire

We drove a few more hours south, initially on roads familiar from our recent trip north, with our next stop being Orléans for a short city break.  We arrived just before lunch and found an easy park just a few kilometres out of the city centre and followed the river in on foot.  It was a cracking day, hot and clear, and produced our first outing of the year in shorts; it was a wonderfully comfortable and budding spring-like day in all ways. The contrast to the past chilly weeks in the north of England was stark and clear, and we thought on how well we had successfully dodged the worst of the winter weather as we enjoyed our makeshift picnic overlooking the river Loire in the gloriously hot sunshine.  It was the first proper sun we’ve experienced in a long while, and felt like we were finally warming up, mentally and physically.

Orleans - (riverside walk)

Orleans - (main street)

As the birthplace of Jean of Arc, we expected to have this historical fact hailed from the rooftops and be drowning in constant references to her life and exploits.  Yes, her childhood home is now a museum, the main street is named for her and a large statue of Joan on horseback sits proudly in the main square.  But there was little other mention, not even visible in the ubiquitous postcards or souvenirs, where the gothic cathedral seemed to be the dominant local feature. The city, built with clean white limestone, had the feel of quiet elegance, restrained and classy, and it maintained an ambience of understated opulence, confidence and openness.  It would be a difficult place not to like, especially lit up in the gloriously bright sunshine we were experiencing, and we were happy to oblige the mood.

Orleans - (Jean of Arc's house)

Orleans - (Square and statue)

We passed by the childhood home of Jean D’Arc and easily found the main square where her statue dominated.  Golden-coloured trams glided almost silently along wide avenues, with a casual ease that typified our first impressions of the city.  A festival celebrating street activities, from street dance to music to BMX tricks to spray-painting, was in full swing in the main square.  Groups of young girls danced while skateboarders rolled by and BMXers jumped and flipped, with music blasting all round.  We continued through the narrower, much quieter, medieval streets to find another festival focus, this one on junior rugby skills, set up outside the cathedral.  Players from a local club ran drills with the participating kids, with a Top 14 match projected on a huge screen behind.

Orleans - (festival in square)

After a lazy loop round the centre and the obligatory look inside the cathedral to cool off, we returned back to the riverside to slowly walk back to Benny.  We stopped for a while to watch a couple of kayakers on the river, or pedantically-speaking one kayaker and one canoeist, twisting and playing in the bubbling rapids formed by the stone arches of the King George V bridge breaking up the fast flow of the Loire.  As we reached Benny the blue skies darkened overhead and the now grey weather threatened a deluge, but we made it safely back before the inevitable happened.  After a short while we headed off to a nearby aire, to park up early and enjoy a little bit of the afternoon.  The sun soon returned with a welcoming smile and was back on full brightness as we reached our overnight stop.

Orleans - (kayakers in Loire)

We overnighted about a half-hour on from Orléans, at the small town of La-Ferte-Saint-Aubin, on a patch of land outside a currently closed campsite that doubles as a free aire, available until 1st May.  The weather had cleared again so we went for a short run along a trickling river bank, studiously avoiding rogue brambles and nettles, on sodden ground that occasionally squirted liquid mud up our legs.  On our return we passed by the aire and beyond to have a closer look at a large château set behind a moat on the other side of the main road through the village.  We had a brief look around the impressive exterior but didn’t visit inside as it was closing.  We returned to the aire and explored a little of the external artwork, a joint venture between French and Australian artists, scattered around the woodland; it reminded us of art installations we visited in Skovsnogen in Denmark but this was, if it is even possible, worse.

Orelans - main street trams

The following morning we doodled off again early, heading south this time with intent, as we had a number of house viewings lined up.  After a few more hours of driving and we arrived back in the Limousin region, readied for a few days, or weeks, of serious house-hunting in our chosen area.  We were viewing five very different houses in varied settings over the next three days, to get a feel for what we’d like.  Unfortunately one house that we were very keen on (on paper) was, we were informed only a few days before our scheduled viewing, seen by another couple who made their excited offer the same day, was subsequently accepted and the house immediately taken off the market.  This was a reminder to us that if you see the house that feels right for you, snap it up.  We were geared up and ready to pounce.  Watch this space…

A&N x

 

UK – Last days & prep for return to France

We’d been busy in our first days back in the UK.  After a few more days of relaxing, eating too much, drinking far too much and rarely exercising, we waddled off southwards.  We had a flying visit with Nicky’s dad, enjoying a nice catch-up with him and happily helping out with several jobs around his house and garden. Then on to park Benny at Stansted, in a huge, entirely empty parking lot, before catching a flight to Dublin, Ireland.  We had more family and friends to visit on the other side of the pond.

Stansted - empty parking

We were met by Mary at Dublin airport and driven north to their home in Co. Meath to catch up with Andy and their two girls, all bounce and noise and smiles.  A late night and a few drinks then followed, us all trying hard to capture our highlights of the past year in easily-digested sound bites. Saturday morning took us all out for a steady run around some very pretty woodland near the town of Virginia (no, not that one) before finishing with a short walk with the girls to locate all the pretty fairy doors built into trees around the park.  On Sunday we had a lazy morning playing around the house then, with the weather clearing up and looking brighter, we enjoyed a cycle trip around a nearby lake, followed by a park walk and an ice-cream with their extended family. It was a wonderful, relaxing few days catching up, something we only manage to do once a year or so now that our lives are taking different paths.

Meath - lakeside cycle

But Monday morning brought with it the requirement for our friends to return to work.  With a very early start and bleary eyes, we drove with Andy to a local station then caught a train into Dublin Connolly, before saying our goodbyes and us catching the Enterprise up to the north, where we were smoothly met by my sister around 10am.  From there we had a quick pit-stop at hers before driving on northwards, back into the Republic, to visit Buncrana. From there we drove to Malin Point to be the most northerly people on the island of Ireland, at least for a brief moment, walking along the cliff path and enjoying the views out over the wild, foaming ocean.  A raucous family dinner out completed our visit then a long drive back to my sister’s home for a well-deserved long night’s sleep.

Malin Point - Panorama

The next morning we awoke to visit my mum, and headed out for a lovely lunch at the local golf club.  Later we played family games; chess, Monopoly, Texas Hold’em, talking nonsense and having lots of fun.  Our few days in where I still refer to as home, passed quickly, as always, and soon we had to again say goodbyes.  Hopefully we can all meet up soon in our new place in France, should we ever find this illusive home we have been searching for.  We returned from Belfast international to a patiently-waiting Benny at Stansted and drove north, back to the wilds of Lincolnshire for our final days of packing and organising.  In one dry-weather window we managed to fit in a windy beach walk on Mablethorpe strand and afterwards a muddy and wet 10km run home cross-country, passing by all manner of water management installations and huge, stalking wind turbines, spinning furiously in stormy skies.

Lisburn - games night

So, packed up and ready to go, we said sad goodbyes to our host Mummy Finch and headed south.  We still had a few friends to see.  First we called in to see Jannette & Paddy in Market Harborough for dinner and drinks, then we briefly called with Cathy in Northampton for tea, cake and a catch-up chat, before reaching Louise & Nigel in St. Albans where we enjoyed lamb curry, prosecco and whisky.  The night was a tamer, more civilised affair than many other nights spent in their gregarious company but it was mid-week school night for them, so excuses were readily available. Our love to all, great to have seen you and thanks for fitting us in. We had then hoped to visit Brighton, but it all seemed to be quite anti-motorhome, so we skipped on and parked on the expansive seafront in Seaford, a much more welcoming place for larger vehicles and also much closer to our next morning’s goal – the ferry terminal in Newhaven.

Walking the seafront, we passed through the ruins of Tile Mills, the foundations of an almost entirely lost mill complex that has slowly been eroded either by the encroaching sea or the changing flows of tides.  We continued our meandering beach walk to a fishing pier right by Newhaven harbour and later we enjoyed proper chip-shop fish & chips as we watched the sun set over the still sea and pebble beach.  Our last meal in good ol’ Blighty was a tasty one, and we felt contented with our jobs and whistle-stop tour of the UK, feeling we saw and fitted in as much as we realistically could.  We quietly overnighted in a curved area of the seafront that was set back a little from the main road; the signs suggested we could stay for 12 hours, and we overstayed this a little, but were gone before 9am to catch our ferry to Dieppe; the opening gambit in our next exploratory chapter back in the heartland of France.

A&N x

France – Château de Chenonceau & home

Our very lovely house-sit in Cazeneuve finally came to an end, as all things must do. We had a final dinner and beers with our returned hosts, hearing tales of their travels and sharing our experiences of our time in their beautiful home.  A final clean up and packing up session after breakfast the next morning and we were off, sad to be leaving our cosy nest but also eager to be back on the road in Benny, our first real trip out in several months.

New House-sit - Riberac

We headed north, our first stop a call in to meet the host of our next house-sit, beginning in mid-April. After a missed turn and then a rather wild trip through managed forests on single track lanes with tall grass growing up the middle, we finally arrived.  We spent an hour with our host Eric, a fellow Brit who has lived near Ribérac for many years but who now splits his time between it and Montenegro.  We had a tour and a tea, and got an initial feel for the house, the immediate area and the neighbours.  We also met our new masters, two proud cats who we will dote on for our six week stay, if they are predisposed to let us.  We are also hopeful of some good, warming spring weather for our long days there, as they would bring our first experience of perfect summer days we hear tales of.

House-hunting - (Limousin)
From Eric’s, we continued north and then east at a leisurely pace, stopping to visit Hautefort château and town, along with other places that caught our interest. We had arranged to meet various agents who would show us select properties, arranged over two days of viewings.  It was raining for most of the time, but at least we were seeing them at their worst, and not being seduced by glorious sunshine. We ended up viewing five very different properties as we passed through Limousin, giving us a feel for what we can get, or more importantly what we want to get, for our money.  Nothing yet pinged our ‘must have’ urges, but some interesting possibilities arose and we came away with a bit more clarity on our expectations and desires.  We’ll return to the house-hunting in April with gusto.

Chatreau Chenonceau (approach)

Chatreau Chenonceau (panorama)

Chatreau Chenonceau (selfie)

With persistent rain and grey skies following us as we made our way north, we had only one dry, clear day on our route home. Happily, this bright but still chilly day coincided with when we were passing through the Loire valley, so with minimal diversion we called in to visit the impressive Château de Chenonceau.  After a false start dashed our plans to picnic in the grounds (no food allowed, bags thoroughly checked) we ate outside then made our way under the arched canopy of trees towards the formal gardens.  To delay the big reveal, we cut left into a small maze and, after a short loop through pretty woodland, we arrived at the north bank of the river Cher, at the back-left corner of the formal gardens, allowing wonderful views of the tall château as it spanned out across the river on stone arches.

Chatreau Chenonceau (river bank view)

We skirted the edges of the gardens as we approached the château, admiring the setting framed by a deep blue sky streaked with white cotton clouds.  Our Wild Swim France book lists a curious swim here, starting from the publicly accessible south bank of the river Cher – the river was flowing wild on our visit, but we may partake on our way back south.  We continued our tour inside, visiting most of the bedrooms, state rooms and kitchens on our route.  We wandered back into the gardens, passing rows of many heavily pollarded trees coated with thick moss, to visit the 16th century farm buildings.  These once housed the extensive staff required to tend the grounds and produce all necessary food for château guests.  There were large barns filled with buggies, carriages and old farm implements.

Two days and a very early ferry journey later, we were deposited back in the UK at Newhaven for a busy month of visiting, shopping and servicing.  These are always the few hectic, expensive but wonderful weeks that refresh, renew and exhaust us in equal measure, but also allow us to enjoy the simple freedom during the rest of our year.  It is also great to catch up with friends and family, with multiple stops this time all over England and Ireland, in between all the pre-organised events – Benny’s service and habitation check, fitting of new tyres, attending birthday parties, visiting dentists & opticians, training runs and much needed shopping trips to replace worn out gear.

We’ve also had to deal with some proper Blighty weather since our return, braving snowy storms and wild rainy weather when out on walks and runs.  It’s been a good reminder of the weather we are hoping to avoid in future years with our proposed move to France.

A&N x

France – Penne d’Agenais and around

With very few good weather days over the past few weeks, we have had to be ready to jump when the mists lift or the clouds depart enough to allow a little sun through.  One morning we rushed out to cycle to the nearby village of Castelmoron-sur-Lot, taking advantage of a bright, clear start to the day.  We first cut across tiny country roads with absolutely no traffic to join a dedicated voie verte in the settlement of Temple-sur-Lot, stopping briefly to take in the church and the eponymous castle, now seemingly made into residential apartments with shops and restaurants on the ground floor.  From here we rolled on into Castelmoron, crossing the iron bridge and circling the central sights.

Cazeneuve - spring approaches

We left the town hugging the north bank of the river, following the voie verte back towards Sainte-Liverade.  The sun was bouncing off the still water, creating beautiful reflections of the opposite bank. We stopped off in the centre of Fongrave, where we found a small cantilevered viewpoint behind the church, looking out over the river and beyond.  We paused a while to soak up the view, feeling so pleased we’d made the effort to get out and see this stretch of the cycle-path.  We watched a van with a trailer awkwardly launch a small rib-boat into the river via a concrete slip, before continuing happily along the sunny, tree-lined banks.  We closed out our loop just before Sainte-Liverade and returned over the steep hill to Cazeneuve, contented with our morning activity.

Fongrave - viewpoint

Fongrave - riverside view

One later morning we awoke to similar bright skies, yet with a deep cold in the air.  The air temperature was stable around 3degs C, but could feel much colder when the wind blew strong, or very much hotter when the radiant sun directly reached your skin.  We headed off in the opposite direction to our previous cycle, over to the next valley hills to join the voie verte near to Villeneuve-sur-Lot, heading east. We lost the path on the outskirts of town, so made our own way along quiet country roads in the general direction, bending round woodland and up some steep, forested inclines to catch our first glimpse of the hilltop town of Penne d’Agenais, standing proudly on the far horizon.  The cycle and final climb was reminiscent of a long cycle back in Portugal, heading to Monsanto, where we could see our target from miles away.

Penne dAagenais - (our destination awaits)

We made our way onwards and upwards, ever upwards, snaking around the sides of the hill as we climbed to the town. We slowly closed the distance to nudge ourselves to the very top, with the expectation of the upcoming view acting as a welcome reward.  Penne d’Agenais, a fortified medieval village set high on a steep hill with outstanding panoramic views, was topped off in grand style by the metal-domed Notre-Dame de Peyraguade.  This was a huge basilica that had been positioned on the site of a 13th century castle built by Richard the Lionheart, itself on the site of an original 11th century chapel.  The sanctuary forms, as many similar places do, another key stopping point on the pilgrimage route of Santiago de Compostela.  The myriad routes leading to northern Spain dominate the European landscape and the historic built environment, shaping so much of what we have seen on our travels.

Penne dAagenais - (nearing the top)

Penne dAagenais - (town square)

After a brief look around the town, we scrambled up the cobblestones to the plaza around the front of the sanctuary building.  It was worth the sweat.  The expansive view over the shining, silver domes of the basilica and the nearby river was exceptional, and made all the better by us being the only people who had chosen to visit the village, and the sanctuary, this glorious day.  We soaked up the view as we wandered around the grounds, before heading off to fully enjoy a super-fast descent down to the nearby town of Saint-Sylvestre-Sur-Lot where we stopped on a park bench to top up on snacks as we watched over the glistening river and the shining dome of the recently left basilica. Then it was back onto the voie verte, north of the river and eventually into Villeneuve, before heading home again.

Penne dAagenais - (the view out)

Penne dAagenais - (at the top)

Penne dAagenais - (cycling streets)

We’ve been busy on other fronts too.  Alongside our daily French language practise and training runs, we have been improving our table tennis, archery and pétanque, and more importantly, planning out the months ahead.  We have secured another French house-sit in May near to Riberac, a little closer to the area where we hope to settle.  We have a few upcoming house viewings to try to get a feel for what we ultimately want to buy.  We have entered our first Swim-Run event in Lake Vassivière near Limoges, in June.  We have organised to walk the Tour de Mont Blanc circuit in early July, eleven days and 109 miles of glorious hiking in the high Alps, through France, Italy and Switzerland.

Penne dAagenais - (panorama)

Afterwards, we have vague plans for a quick scoot around northern Italy before returning to France to, hopefully, finalise the purchase of our chosen house.  We have lots to look forward to, and surprisingly, this year will be our very first summer spent in France, so we will see it lit up in the full glory of summer sun for the very first time; we’re excited.

A&N x