6 weeks today, that is the amount of time that we have now been living in the Dordogne, one of the most beautiful regions of France. We live about 1km (0.4 miles) outside a small village of about 450 people.
Our home is up a small unpaved lane under walnut trees and oaks, passing by a hazelnut orchard and being careful to avoid the many chickens belonging to a neighboring farm that wander around pecking at the ground. At night we have to watch out for hedgehogs on the road. And in the evenings, we often see small roe deer in the garden coming to eat the mirabelles, peaches and pears that have fallen on the ground.
Occasionally a little rabbit hops around with the squirrels. Sounds idyllic, no? It is. We are loving every minute of it. The long evenings on the patio savoring a cold rose or champagne with assorted hors d’oeuvres for aperitif are simply perfect. I cannot get over the quality of the produce and am really enjoying cooking delicious meals for lunch and dinner.
Although I must admit that a chunk of fresh bread with pâté, cheese and cold meats with crunchy cornichons, juicy olives, succulent tomatoes can be equally delicious. I am trying different pates and cheeses every time I go to the market and have yet to work through them all. I have also not yet found one that did not taste better than the previous one. I might have to try them all several times to find a favorite but with over 400 kinds of cheeses, this is going to be a long and tough job. But, someone has to do it so it might as well be me. The choice of pâtés is quite amazing: pâté de campagne, pâté maison, pâté aux onions confits, pâté de tête, pâté de canard, pâté d’oie, foie gras, pâté en croute, to name just a few. Dordogne is well-known as the world capital for foie gras and duck. I have never seen as many ways to serve foie gras, hot, cold, in terrines, in pâtés, raw, mi-cuit (half-cooked) or fully cooked. As they say in French, un vrai delice!
But, I think one of the most surprising and best parts of living here are the people. I have never met such friendly people. Everyone is so genuine and seem to go out of their way happily to lend a helping hand or advice. Having lived in Paris for 5 years, which I loved and think it is the most beautiful city in the world, I was expecting the locals to be a bit stand offish and not necessarily overly friendly. Boy, was I in for a big surprise. From the mayor who came to meet us personally and welcome us to the area, and is coming for an aperitif in the next few weeks, to our neighbors who invited us over for dinner on our third night, to the butcher who loves cracking jokes while giving advice on the best cut of meat to buy for the recipe I have in mind, to the olive seller who always throws in a little something extra for free, to the friendliest and incredibly knowledgeable young lady that advises us with our wine purchases at Julien de Savignac, the wine store, to the plumber that delayed his vacation by a few hours to come see to a problem with our hot water, to the M. Teulet, the nicest man who came to cut all out hay for us and bundle it up, all for free. I, of course, did give him a good bottle of cognac for his trouble.
Every time we go to a Marché Nocturne, we seem to make new friends and come away with scribbled names and an address on a napkin or piece of paper and an invitation to stop by and visit. Just last night we went to the night market in Audrix and came home several hours later having met two lovely couples, both live nearby in neighboring villages, one born and bred in Saint Alvere and the other couple having moved from Paris two years ago to les Eyzies. We now have new friends to visit.
Now, as you must be thinking, things cannot possibly be all that rosy. Well, almost. They really are in our minds close to idyllic. But, in order to be able to enjoy all these wonderful aspects of life in the country, one must be prepared to put in a bit of work. The house was in a great condition when we moved in but with any large property, dating to the 18th century, there is a lot to do. Maybe more than we expected. Luckily, Stuart is very handy and loves fixing things, pottering in the workshop etc. Our pool has turned a nice shade of luminous green twice, the fountain stopped working after the first lightning strike and , the tower spot light does not switch on, Stuart made numerous mosquito screens, rewired lamps, painted the entry room, did cabinetry to fit a TV in an antique piece, got to know our very complicated boiler and is now wiring the house for sound and installing a satellite dish on the roof, (out of sight, obviously). In between all that, he made himself comfortable with the two tractors, mowed the property, trimmed and shaped bushes in the courtyard. And still has about 9 bushes to trim and shape!
We are eagerly awaiting the arrival of a chainsaw that we purchased online, (never thought I would ever need one), to trim tree branches around the property so that we can mend the electric fence. The electric fence is needed to keep wild boar out. They are a big nuisance and very common in the area. They can destroy a lawn in minutes. Luckily we have not seen any since we arrived but it is just a matter of time as everyone keeps warning us. We need to get that electric fence operational asap. Oh dear, I just noticed that the tiles on the outside cellar and laundry and starting to crumble, they look like they are from the 18th century. More internet research needed, thank goodness for Google. We would be lost without it. And the weeds are again beginning to overrun my herb garden – off to work.
It is worth every bit of work to be able to live in this magnificent environment.