Tag Archives: househunting

France – Pageas and our new French home

Leaving Séreilhac we had only a few miles to travel to reach our destination.  We met the sellers, Pat and Julia, again on Monday morning to take final meter readings and inspect that all has been left as contractually required.  We had a brief master-class in how to look after the pool, hoping we have understood, alongside gaining knowledge about other more familiar aspects of how the house works.  Then we drove to the Notaire and revisited the purchase agreement, signed up and were handed the keys.

It is real.  It is ours.

Our House - (Nicky in pool)

Our House - (breakfast on terrace)

Since then, we’ve been settling into our new French home for about a month.  We are loving it, but there are so many things we want to do, to sort out, to tidy up, to change, to fix, that we need to stop ourselves occasionally and take time to smell the roses.  Each day, from waking at 8am to dinner at 8pm, we work.  We scrub the floors, the kitchen units, the fridge, the walls.  We cut hedges and bamboo and trees.  We build a compost heap to corral all the cuttings in one place.  We clear moss and ivy off old stonework.  We clean out the sheds and ready them for new concrete floors.  We remove all pots, balls, old tiles, bits of metal and discarded tools that litter the site to one busy corner, leaving an area of our garden looking like an abandoned brocante store.  We end our days grubby, tired and contented.

Our House - (Trimming the roses)

Our House - (clearing wisteria)

We replace or renew window handles.  We trim over-zealous plants to regain a semblance of control.  We scrape peeling paint and varnish off sun-bleached doors.  We remove nails and screws and hooks from walls, refiling then sanding down in preparation for upcoming re-painting.  We call all utilities and set up our accounts.  We organise to have TV and internet installed, eventually.  Our hands and arms are speckled with petty cuts and bruises from the fights we’ve had with the garden.  We unpack boxes and decide where our things should be, them looking meagre now in such large spaces.  We pot up lettuce and herbs, to hopefully be ready in a month’s time.  In the glaring heat of each day we sweat and toil, but reward ourselves with dips in our wonderfully refreshing pool at key strategic intervals.

Our House - (cottage lounge)

Our House - (barnside lounge)

We make lists and tick off jobs as we complete them, satisfyingly.  Every third day or so we drive to the outskirts of Limoges with long lists of required items, buying shears and secateurs, gardening gloves, a wheelbarrow, tins of paint, rollers and brushes, wood-stain, furniture pieces, French plugs and adaptors, kitchen cooking items, lights bulbs, large bins, extension cables, pool treatment chemicals, curtain poles, plant seeds, and all the rest.  All the things that we have not had to think about for the previous two years as we doodled around, unencumbered, in Benny.  But mostly we love it, and keep staring, amazed, that this is our space, our garden, our pool, our land.  Our home.  Each night we go to bed exhausted but happy, tired from our efforts but happy in our choices and progress.

Our House - (Benny on driveway)

Our House - (removing walls)

One afternoon we cycled to the nearby town of Pageas to visit the Mairie.  We registered that we had moved in and had many questions answered by the helpful secretary.  We registered our bin delivery (each bin is bar-coded and is weighed and charged per kg of waste) and signed up for a déchetterie card, allowing us to begin removing the discarded items we’ve uncovered.  We cycled one Thursday to Champsac to meet the local Brits at a pub night; a necessary introduction, but not something we wish to make a habit of.  We have run a few of the local paths and chemins, slowly finding our way around the local lands, excited by the variation and ease of off-road trails.  We have immediate access to some lovely running routes straight from the house, although it’s been too hot to go far.

Our House - (from the bottom of garden)

Our House - (cutting the paddock)

We’ve met many of the neighbours, getting rather drunk with them on far too many occasions, considering the short time we’ve been here.  Everyone has been fantastic, helpful and very welcoming.  The house has been measured and drawn up, in anticipation of sorting out semi-major renovations to both bathrooms and the addition of a pool surround.  The future addition of a balcony to our master suite has been sized up, designed and the only remaining item to source is the preferred guarding.  One of our small stone outbuildings has been ear-marked as a potential writing den and hideaway, once it has been tidied up and re-roofed.  One guest bedroom has been fully completed, taking three or four coats to sharpen up, after weeks of filling and sanding and rubbing.  All is going very, very well.

Our House - (weeding the garden)

Our House - (view from balcony)

When we look at what we’ve achieved already, against the time we’ve been here, we are quite amazed.  Our hands are cut and sore, we have a multitude of bites and scrapes, but already a basketful of great memories.  But we are still impatient for more, as we can clearly see the full potential of our home and wish it to be completed.  Orchards, wild meadows, a full vegetable patch, walls rebuilt, a secret garden area for the evening sun – we have plenty to keep us busy.  We are also looking at upcoming trips in Benny, keen for a short break and a new adventure in the Pyrenees or Spain.  Or the Italian Dolomites.  Or Corsica. We shall see how the fancy takes us, as whilst we love spending time in our new house, we do also miss the easy freedom of the open road.

But we have nothing but time.

A&N x

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France – Brantôme, and a flying visit home

We had, mostly, readied ourselves and the house we were tasked with looking after for our imminent departure.  Our host Eric telephoned to say he would be home a day earlier than originally expected, so we cut short our final hours of sun-worshipping to complete the last tidy-up tasks, made a cup of tea and awaited his return.  We spent the evening catching up and chatting with Eric, then on to bed.  The rain returned the next morning as we removed the final traces of our presence, we said our goodbyes and, for the first time in six weeks, we were back on the road.

Brantome - (river view)

Brantome - (bridge and weir)

We didn’t venture  too far.  We had been harbouring plans to visit the town of Brantôme for months, and the time had now arrived.  We scorned a few free aires nearby for a centrally located ACSI campsite, as a gradual stepping-stone transition from a large, comfortable house to life back in a 6m box.  Set on the banks of the river Dronne, Campsite Brantôme Peyrelevade was a very tidy, peaceful haven, complete with a lovely swimming pool and set an easy five minutes away from the heart of the historic centre.  The heavy rain had followed us here, but soon lessened to a trickle and we decided, after an obligatory cup of tea, that it was time to go explore.  By the time we left the grounds of the campsite the sky was clearing, the rain had stopped and there was a threat that the sun might break through.

Brantome - (abbey from bridge)

Brantome - (abbey gardens)

A gravel track led us easily to a large canoe centre where we could cross a small tributary of the river to enter the central streets.  Brantôme central is a circular island, surrounded by a natural moat formed by a split in the flow of the river Dronne.  Five bridges, like extended spokes on a wheel, connect the island to the surrounding mainland.  Its foremost attraction, although not itself positioned on the island, is the 8th century Benedictine Abbey, founded by Charlemagne.  The original cloister and church were joined by an 11th century Romanesque bell tower and further monastic accommodations.  But life was lived out here long before the abbey was built; there were residents in the extensive cliff caves behind, and many relics from these original troglodytes are now displayed within the church.

Brantome - (nicky at abbey)

Brantome - (abbey from bridge)

Patches of blue sky appeared overhead as we wandered through the historic streets.  We had fully expected our walk to come complete with dreary grey views and a proper drenching, but with the ever-brightening day came a similar rise in our mood and expectation, and everything felt like a welcome bonus.  We walked slowly through parks and gardens, relaxed and happy.  The city streets were busy with tourists, the restaurants spilling out into small squares.   We heard lots of English voices, more than we’d experienced in France before, but it is certainly the season for it; the summer madness was ready to explode into action.  We watched people kayaking around the river, made complicated by weirs blocking routes, and passed a wonderful rusty curved cello sculpture set up on a bridge.

Brantome - (river view of abbey)

Brantome - (nicky plays cello)

We returned to the campsite by the same path, happy to have enjoyed a break in the weather for our town visit.  Huge swathes of grey clouds began gathering again on the horizon and we expected the rain to return soon.  Before that happened, we decided to have a quick dip in the pool.  We swam a bunch of lengths in the too-hot water, showered and dressed, making it back into Benny with only seconds to spare before the deluge returned.  The rest of the night was spent with the sound of rain for company, along with never-ending tea and multiple back-to-back episodes of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’.  The morning was, thankfully, dry.  We had a quick exploratory walk around the campsite and its riverbanks before heading off north; we had organised a quick visit to (almost) our new house.

Flavignac (local lake)

Flavignac (playing at lake)

We parked at the nearby village of Gorre, in a huge empty carpark adjacent to the church.  After lunch, we got out our much under-used bikes and cycled a hilly 19km around beautiful local lanes, all soon to be forming the starting point for longer cycle trips from our new house.  We met up with Julia again and measured up a few rooms and took a few other dimensions to help us ascertain which items of furniture we should bring with us, or what new pieces we may need to consider.  After a tour of the flowering garden we said our goodbyes and cycled back to Benny to relax.  We decanted back to nearby Châlus to overnight, feeling like regulars there.  We had a brief visit over to Flavignac the following day  to check out a possible swim lake, but an outbreak of blue-green algae has closed it for now – shame.

Solignac (playing fields workout)

Solignac (riverside run)

After a quick supermarket shop and a lazy brunch, we popped into Decathlon for a few items, before stopping to overnight at a free aire in Solignac.  Here the sun reappeared and dominated our restful afternoon, lazing by a football pitch, watching the groundsman cut the grass with exacting precision and dedication.  A few guys turned up to train equally lazily on the neat football pitches.  The next morning, Thursday, we dragged ourselves out for a jaunty 7km run through the village and back along the muddy riverbank, before making our way to Limoges airport; we had work to do.  We parked Benny in Long Stay and that afternoon we caught a flight home to go through all our stuff currently stored in Nicky’s mum’s garage and decide what was going to come back with us to France.

Limoges - Airport

We deliberately organised a small removals van of 15 cubic metres, so we have to be selective with our needs.  We’ve proved we could easily live with just what little we have in Benny, but houses are different animals and demand to be filled with stuff.  We needed, as always, to be disciplined and sensible.  After 18+ months of travelling light in Benny, we had pared down our lives to a simplified palette of what was really necessary.  And even then, we have found ourselves not using or wearing many items that we brought with us, after what, at the time, was thought an extreme and difficult cut in personal possessions. We were never hoarders before, and never had a real desire for things, at least relatively compared to others we know.  But even what little we had collated over the passing years now seemed, when viewed through the hindsight of our recent existence, like an embarrassing abundance.

Packing - our worldly possessions

We had box after box of clothes, books, ornaments, crockery, kitchen utensils and stationery items, alongside rows of wardrobes stuffed with even more clothes, linen, blankets, tablecloths and towels.  We had gardening tools, bike tools, DIY tools, buckets, planters, ladders, cables, strimmers and clippers.  We had rows of bookshelves groaning with books, DVDs and magazines.  We have no idea what to do with it all, as after three days of opening, checking and repacking every box, we are taking less than a quarter of it back to our house in France.  We discarded some items, gave away a few boxes of others, but the rest, deemed too good to throw away, is simply being left behind for now.

A&N x

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

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 – Villeneuve-sur-Lot and around

Our house-sit in Allez-et-Cazeneuve continues on full of reading, learning and exercise.  And downtime – plenty of that too.  Here’s a taste of what we’ve been up to recently –

On one dry day we cycled over to see the main local town of Villeneuve-sur-Lot.  We climbed up and over a steep local hill then enjoyed a very fast but all too-brief downhill to reach the valley on the opposite side.  We found and followed a grassy, damp abandoned railway line, now a designated cycle way that ran parallel to the main road a few hundred metres distant.  This led us all the way to the centre of town where we stopped on a modern bridge to enjoy the view over to the parallel 13th century stone bridge with its very imposing 26m wide and 18m high arch.  The river was wild below.

Villeneuve-sur-Lot (bridge view)

Villeneuve-sur-Lot (town streets)

We cycled around the historic centre, impressed by the neat shopping streets and decorative squares, before reaching the Église Sainte-Catherine de Villeneuve-sur-Lot, a tall Gothic red brick church dominating the square.  After a look, we circled around past the modern Hôtel de Ville and along wide tree-lined streets before cutting back through the narrow town centre to cross the river Lot on the ancient bridge.  Here we passed under one of several gate towers before following a quiet country road back towards Allez.  We had to climb over the hill again to return to our base valley, a harder climb in this direction especially as we’re no longer bike-fit.  It was only a 22km cycle trip to the town, but felt longer by virtue of being book-ended by the same steep 2km long climb.

Cazeneuve - (nicky summits hill)

On another exploratory day out, we found ourselves visiting the local swimming baths at Pujols.  We swam a good number of lengths in their wonderful 25m pool before availing ourselves of the largest Jacuzzi bath either of us has seen, followed by a stint in the thick menthol mists of the adjacent steam room.  It is a fantastic facility that is now set to become a key part of our weekly agenda.  We occasionally undertake a short walk with the neighbour’s dog, know only as le chien noir, when he chooses to come visit us.  In our more passive downtime we are doing lots of house-hunting, and have looked on-line at hundreds of potential places over the past few weeks.  We have fired enquiries out to many agents but have yet to locate the perfect property for us.  But we now have a feel for what is available and what we want (and don’t want) so will hopefully manage to find our perfect property soon.

Cazeneuve - (walking black dog).jpg

Along with our weekly formal lesson in French, we have been reading select news articles in French to improve our vocabulary.  I’ve also taken to translating a few children’s books, them filled with many words still challenging for my fledgling French (En Route is my favourite so far, a story of a young bear making her way in the mountains).  “Le monde est plein de surprises!”  We have been watching a French movie most nights too, but the speed of the spoken French renders it practically incomprehensible, even if we know the words.  Translating words on a page to spoken sounds is the next, more challenging hurdle we face.  Still, we are giving ourselves the very best time and opportunity to improve.

Cazeneuve - (the knowledge centre)

We practise piano most days, Nicky very decently rebuilding her repertoire of tunes whilst I, having started from scratch, am struggling through a children’s Grade 1 piano book, playing scales and hand exercises until I can no longer bear the incessant noise.  I may need a silent piano to practise on first until I manage to improve.  Learning to read music is another language, another set of arcane symbols my weary mind has to translate before being able to fully utilise.  In the midst of all these efforts, I also had the strange notion to begin learning Japanese, and have spent a few weeks learning kanji symbols along with a few basic words.  By now you perhaps understand why our brains are challenged; learning anew is not a natural state for gnarly old brains constantly abused by too much wine.

Cazeneuve - (sunset)

Our brains haven’t had so much pressure to learn new things put on them since our school days.  It’s proving to be very productive, but also tiring and we can’t do much more than a few hours each day before fading out.  Little and often is said to be the key, so we break up our self-led French lessons by going for a run or playing table tennis, or a little bit of garden maintenance.  Several hours of French study followed by bracing hilly runs or cycles to clear the mind and awaken muscles works well, but also serves to wear us out.  We are feeling very tired at the end of each day and are sleeping long and soundly.  It’s a very nice life here in this very beautiful corner of South West France.

A&N x

 

 

France – Limoges & Uzerche

Limoges and Uzerche

We left the leafy aire in St. Priest Taurion to head for Limoges on roads that were empty on a bright November morning.  There was a biting chill in the air early on, around 5 or 6 degs, but the day warmed up after a few cold hours to a scorching 22 degrees, feeling even hotter under the direct sun.  Limoges was a place we knew nothing of, and were again, as in Ghent, very happily surprised.  We parked easily in a large free car-park on the riverside, only a few hundred metres from the historic centre. The river was beautifully lit in the morning sun, and was being actively used, with runners everywhere along the banks and rowers skimming silently across its calm surface.  The city had a real energy about it, even on this, a lazy Saturday morning.  The bright, crisp November day and the tree-lined river paths were both perfect for exercising, and it was great to see so many out enjoying the city as we sauntered by.

Limoges (catherdal on approach)

Limoges (river view)

We walked along the northern riverbank of the Vienne and crossed at the historic Pont Saint-Étienne, dodging runners coming from all directions as we took in the view.  The bridge was constructed in the thirteenth century to assist pilgrims reaching the town’s cathedral, an important place of pilgrimage on the extensive route leading all the way to Santiago de Compostela.  We slowly wandered along the leafy paths of the opposite bank, with views across to the high-sited historic centre and the Jardins d’Évêché that surround the cathedral.  We crossed the Vienne again on the Pont Neuf, the new bridge, and climbed a set of long steps up through the high walls to the gardens.  The historic quarter was almost empty of others, which was rather surprising considering the warm, clear day and the obvious beauty of the surrounding gardens, but we certainly weren’t complaining about having it all to ourselves.

Limoges (Fine Arts gallery)

Limoges (cathedral from garden)

The Musée des Beaux Arts was the first building we approached, fronted by colourful flowerbeds with spiral trees and a circular fountain.  The museum, a former episcopal palace, was closed when we visited, but houses a large collection of enamel sculptures and Egyptian artefacts. The backdrop of the Cathédrale Saint-Étienne was ever-present in our view, so we approached, passing the large-windowed Orangerie and the formal vegetable gardens.  There were many exceptionally pretty trees close to the cathedral, each twisted and bent into sculptural poses.  Began in 1273 CE, the cathedral has been consistently added to over the past six centuries, but has retained its balanced and unified Gothic style throughout.  The interior was all white stone, unadorned, quite cold and stark.

Limoges (cathedral gardens)

Limoges (Nicky by cathedral)

Limoges (cathedral entrance)

The historic cathedral quarter was quite compact, all together in one small corner of the city, so easy to visit.  From there we walked into the more modernised centre, with boutique cafés and stores, along with the expected presence of established international brands.  But beyond the partial standardisation, we walked along neat cobbled streets lined with neatly manicured medieval timber buildings, and through a vibrant city market in full voice.  A nearby internal covered market selling fish and meats complimented the external farmers’ market with its cheeses, vegetables, cakes and breads.  Small stone plazas had traditional cafés spilling out into them, many busy with customers enjoying rest after their shopping sprees.  Limoges was pulling off tranquil, relaxing and lively all at once.

Limoges (central streets)

Limoges (train station)

It was safe to say we fell for the easy beauty of Limoges.  The stunning river setting with the number of people we saw living life outdoors, the medieval streets lined with cafés and eateries, the busy food markets and its plentiful gathering of other pretty stores all made Limoges seem like it could be the ideal base for us.  It has an international airport served by Belfast, Birmingham, East Midlands and Stansted, so after our visit Limoges gained our coveted seal of approval and jumped into contention for the possible positioning of our future French pied-a-terre.  Early days, but anywhere within an hour of here could potentially become our new base.  With that in mind, our next move was to explore the smaller villages in the nearby hills and see what other as yet unknown delights we could uncover.

Uzerche (riverbank walks)

Uzerche (Benny parked in aire)

Uzerche (town view from aire)

With one eye on the nearby countryside and a constant vigilant consideration for the region, we drove south to the nearby mountain town of Uzerche.  We first visited a SuperU, completing laundry whilst we shopped, before continuing to the town’s free aire at an old railway station on the banks of the passing river Vienne.  We decided to leave the exploration of the town until the following day, so we spent the night relaxing around the aire, enjoying the view of the old town across the river.  Unfortunately we had chosen poorly when parking, positioning Benny underneath an overhanging tree.  When the rains begin during the night, we were bombarded with large drips and falling fragments of tree, pattering and bouncing loudly on our roof, so our night’s sleep was not all we’d hoped for.

Uzerche (az approaching church)

Uzerche (view from the church)

But the morning brought a bright, clear and still day, so with a spring in our step we set off along the river bank.  The path was deep with fallen leaves and we childishly kicked our way along.  We crossed a pedestrian bridge, hoping to find a way up into town, but turned out we had to walk all the way back on the opposite bank as all the stone steps we could see from the aire were within private gardens.  We followed the road up through the winding streets to reach the top of the town, where the tall church dominated the small central square.  There was a plaza to the front with far-reaching views out over the river and the rest of the town.  We spent a moment enjoying the vista and the sun on our faces, delighting in such great weather.  We returned to the aire, by way of a boulangerie, to eat lunch.

Uzerche (town view from river)

Uzerche (n on leafy walks)

After eating, we had hoped to complete a signed 5km walking route named for Simone de Beauvoir, but only 1km into the walk we found a bridge was closed for remedial works, so we could not progress.  With no clear option, we returned the same direction, only this time on a lower path, set between the trees right on the river’s edge. We passed a kayaking centre with a white-water course marked out with hanging poles, the opposite bank covered with sit-on kayaks, stacked high.  We decided to stay a second night in the aire, moving over a few places to ensure we didn’t have to endure another night of noisy drips. We enjoyed a lazy afternoon, with a visit from a local farmer in a small van selling his freshly grown wares our only distraction.  We had shopped recently so bought only a few pears as a token gesture for his efforts, feeling a little sorry for him as we were the only motorhome customers left in the aire today.