As clichéd as it is, there is a certain je ne sais quoi about the French way of living. It is very definitely European, very definitely French and whole heartedly focussed around the love and appreciation of good food, good wine and good company – as I was to find out on my recent return to the Lot et Garonne.
It had been 10 years since my last visit, and everything had both changed and yet remained familiar. Then, the gravelled drive-way to my grandfather’s house had not been lined with huge and looming blooms of fennel but home to some rather vicious looking praying mantis clinging to the dry branches of garden shrubs. The letter box we’d painted as children was then not faded and cracked but shone with the joie de vive that only a (very artistic) child’s painting could have. The stairs were in a different place, which made no difference, but when fumbling for a light switch now hidden in a cupboard – I came to think – maybe some things have changed a bit!
In the shadows of Monflanquin, a Bastille town, which by nature is on top of a very hilly hill, was where we would spend the next few days immersing ourselves in the French way of living. Mornings started with hot chocolate (orange), croissants and baguette, exactly the same as they would’ve been 10 years ago on the terrace of La Jardin Gourmound – a little café in nearby Villeneuve-sur-Lot still owned by the same gentleman who was delighted to learn that I’d asked to come back!
There was a lovely market on that day – and Saturday markets are not to be missed. Trips to the local bakery aplenty – this was not a trip for tight trousers – but thankfully we’d packed light (and loose) in knowledge that when in Rome wine would be drank, cheese devoured and all manner of French delicacies tried and tested.
First on the list – snails – my haute-cuisine appetizer at La Dolce Vita in Villereal. An interesting experience (for a Brit) and not completely unpleasant… though definitely not my favourite starter of the whole trip. Saying that, the meal and ambiance were lovely – and the wine superb.
Next – oysters – yes, the so-called food of love had never made it past my lips so we sought out the best fish restaurant in Villeneuve and readied our napkins in place for a delicious meal at Restaurant de la Cale. The seafood linguine was so decadent, I couldn’t even finish it!
Le Bistrot de Prince Noir, a local favourite in Monflanquin, was a must during our stay and in fact, our only real excursion to Monflanquin’s pleasant market square.
On our last day, taking in the full glory of the French sunshine we headed to Cancon to dine in the beautiful garden courtyard of La Tet d’Ail – named aptly for the proper use of garlic in every dish. The setting, the wine, the flavour – this was the best meal yet as we dined on the leafy terrace of what turned out to be an extremely popular little independent – clearly the word was spreading among expats and French alike.
Our appetites satisfied, nights in front of the fireplace were a welcome chance to unwind and reminisce, and with the chill of spring still in the air we staved off the threat of rain with many long afternoons, evenings, mornings and nights with a drink in hand and logs on the fire. Local wine was a must!
I’ll admit – in recent years I had been swept away by the bright lights of the United States but there is nothing quite like delving into your childhood memories, and spending some long-overdue time with much loved family in the heart of the French countryside – it had definitely been time for a little TLC much closer to home.