I first went to France in about 1994. I was so excited and I remember arriving at Charles de Gaulle airport one cold November morning. It was a clear day and there was a brilliant sunrise. Even driving through the rather dull areas enroute from airport to city I could feel a certain ‘something’ about the place. I was capivated from the moment I stepped off the plane (in reality, long before), and have been ever since. Two distinct things I remember from that visit are the most amazing tarte aux framboises bought from a little bakery just near the Arc de Triomphe, and seeing the city from the top of the Eiffel Tower.
Since that first visit I have returned to Paris many times (I tried to count and it is more than 10) and I lived in the country for 6 months in 1998. I manage a trip back there every two years or so, and am planning one definately for next year, if not this year.
I’ve never understood the opinion of my foreign visitors to France, when they say that the French are rude and unfriendly. I have always found the opposite. A smile takes you miles, is my opinion. And a sense of humour, rather than a sense of fear, will ensure an enjoyable experience in any foreign country.
The French love of food is something to behold. My time living in central France and visits to the south of France saw me going to many food festivals – the boudin festival, the foie gras festival, the vindange (when we harvest the grapes for wine), days spent roaming the forests for mushrooms…
Many people visit England for its castle. I think the castles in France are so much more interesting. Not far from where I lived in the Monts du Forez was the Chateau de Chalmazel. It was not occupied when I was living in the area but has since been turned into an amazing B&B.
Religion is also very important in France and religious art and architecture is some of the most beautiful you can find. One thing I remember vividly is at a very remote church in the Auvergne region (can’t remember the name now). There was the ‘new’ church, built in abouu the 1600s, and the ‘old’ chapel, built long before then.
Inside the church in a very unassuming alcove off to the side was this delightful wooden carving.
It was made in about the 1300s and with the outbreak of the French Revolution in the late 1800s, it was taken from the church and kept by families in the forest for 200 years. During the Revolution many churches were sacked and religious treasures destroyed or stolen. This humble wooden statue was protected by devoted families, being passed from family to family until around 1979 when it was safely returned to the ‘new’ church. What an amazing and special story.