Discover our newest French hideaways
Growing up in South Africa I never dreamt that I would one day live in a village in the Languedoc region of the south of France running painting holidays. I hadn’t studied French at school and apart from looking enviously at the French fashions that graced the pages of Vogue all those years ago, I knew almost nothing about France.
But after living in the UK for 15 years and one wet English summer too many, my English husband and I really felt that it was time for a change. Italy was where we were initially planning to move to, but after a road trip through France on our way back from Italy one summer we fell in love with the Mediterranean landscape of southern France.
The final move all happened rather spontaneously the following year, in fact about five years earlier than we had initially planned. Our road trip the previous summer had taken us through Provence but before we moved to France we had never actually visited the Languedoc.
After I worked out a three-month notice period, we packed our car and headed south. Once we passed over the hills just north of where we now live, we just knew that we had found home. Lush green vineyards stretched out in front of us towards the distant glint of the Mediterranean. Grey slate roofs made way for the warm tones of the terracotta tiles that are so synonymous of architecture in the Mediterranean region.
We had chosen to move over at the start of autumn into a typical French stone townhouse with blue shutters in the ridiculously pretty town of Pézenas. Which, though quieter than it would have been in summer, still had plenty going on, including a regular Saturday market where I bought vegetables for the week and prayed that I would not be required to say more than ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, the sum total of my French language skills.
France is all about the seasons. If you walk into a market you will immediately be able to tell exactly what the season is by checking out the fruit and veg are on offer on the laden stalls. When we arrived in autumn, the markets were awash with chestnuts, walnuts, wild mushrooms and pumpkins of all shapes, sizes and colours.
Apart from what is on offer in the local markets the produce of the season is celebrated with festivals in towns and villages throughout the region. A festival we love to visit each year is the Chestnut and New Wine Festival held in Orlargue, a typical French village clinging to the hillside in the Haut Languedoc. The aroma of roasting chestnuts follows you around as you meander up through the lanes deciding what to buy from the many market stalls that line the street. We tend to opt for roasted chestnuts, quickly followed by freshly made crêpes filled with delicious crème de marron (a sweet chestnut paste).
As we drive around at this time of the year we also notice cars pulled up in the lay-by and look on in envy as the owners return with baskets laden with mushrooms. The Haut Languedoc is a treasure chest of various fungi if you are fortunate enough to be in the know, firstly of where this golden treasure is to be found, but also what varieties are safe, poisonous or fatal!
In days gone by you could take your day’s find into the local pharmacy for identification, but sadly the younger pharmacists are no longer trained in mushroom identification. So, when we want our fungi fix we take a drive to the Pézenas market on a Saturday or the St Chinian market on a Sunday for a mooch around, where if you cross a hand with silver you have your pick from a myriad of different mushrooms to choose from.
As the warm, lazy days of summer are replaced by the slightly crisper ones of late autumn, we are reminded that winter and with it, the wonder of a European Christmas is on its way. Colourful Christmas lights are strung up in all the villages and from late November lampposts are festooned with posters for villages Christmas markets.
One of our favourites is the Cracker Fair at the Abbey de Valmagne (only about 10 minutes from Belle Vallée) The grounds and ancient abbey, founded in 1139, is transformed into a magical Christmas wonderland filled with artisan stalls selling arts, crafts and local produce. As well as finding gifts and stocking fillers galore, you can indulge in all the tasty treats on offer. And please don’t think of leaving without indulging in at least one hot mug of vin chaud or mulled wine… the taste of Christmas!
– Monica Roberts
“My friendship with Monica spans nearly three decades, and despite the continents between us we have consistently stayed in touch all that time. Whenever we get together we have that lovely, easy connection which makes it feel as if we saw each other just yesterday. It’s a friendship that runs deep, an understanding of our individual paths through life, always with plenty of belly laughs and a whole lot of respect and love for each other. I really enjoy the way Monica is brimming with curiosity. She has a zest for life and adventure which is utterly infectious, plus more knowledge than Google!
So it is a great joy to find Perfect Hideaways working in her neck of the woods and having a reason to collaborate.”
– Helen Untiedt
As part of our European expansion at Perfect Hideaways, we’ve just launched two new properties in France:
La Cruezette is hidden in the heart of the Boussac village – an idyllic spot situated in the Nouvelle Aquitaine region of central France.
Belle Vallée is situated in the South of France, half an hour from Montpellier – the city known as the Paris of the South.
If you’d like to stay in one of these gems, contact us on [email protected] or +27 21 790 0972 so that we can help you find your perfect hideaway.
Bonjour! Did you know we have a fabulous French-speaking hideaway consultant, Gilda? Envoyez vos demandes à [email protected]