Last weekend, I escaped Paris to visit my friend Laura's horse farm in the south of France. It was a weekend of muddy wellies, Earl Grey, good friends and big laughs.
Laura, who hails from the north of England, has an English mother and French father who run a horse-riding school near Limoges. And even though I was staying in the heart of French horse country, I honestly felt like I was in England, from the endless cuppas to the delightful colloquialisms of the north.
Here are my favorite moments from my weekend away.
Exploring little French towns
The nearest village, Confolens, has all the trappings of a typical French town: the church steeple rising above the buildings, the oh-so-French shutters, the little specialized shops like the boulangerie and charcutier.
But was truly makes Confolens special is the beautiful bridge across the riverfront which I photographed incessantly. One thing I'll miss about France is stumbling upon such picturesque towns that no one else has ever heard of. How can this not be a tourist destination?
My Very First Fish and Chips
After a bit of sight-seeing we stopped by the local chip shop which stuck out like a sore Anglo thumb in such a French town. Though I was iffy about trying a dish I had previously deemed “grease on grease”, I was strongly urged to taste the cod. “Here they do a real northern crust,” said Laura's mother.
Evidently I was very excited to try fish and chips…
The verdict? Delicious. As a seafood lover with a hot-fries-and-Heinz guilty pleasure, I really enjoyed it, though afterwards all I wanted a long nap and a shower.
During the meal we started talking about the comfort of eating food from your home country after a long trip away. When asked what I most missed from the states, I admitted, “I know this is a total cliché but sometimes I would just really like a good burger.” True dat, y'all.
One of my French bucket list items was to buy a set of old-fashioned champagne glasses. But due to budgeting concerns for my up-coming trip and the fact that I don't technically have a residence, I decided not to purchase the beautiful set pictured below. Saving up sucks.
But we did stumble upon some other treasures like a Mad Hatter top hat…
and fashion magazines from the 1920s. And even though we didn't buy anything, it was still fun to come across treasures and trinkets from another era.
Getting a Taste of Farm Life
Laura's farm is a veritable menagerie with chickens, ponies, horses, donkeys, pigs, doves, dogs and cats. I loved being able to spend a few days getting some one-on-one time with the animals and breathing some fresh country air into my lungs.
Hearing the War Stories of a 90-Year Old French WWII Vet
One of the highlights of the trip was chatting with Laura's surrogate grandfather, Georges, over pineau and madeleines. After offering us a drink, Georges told us about the tribulations he had faced as a young soldier fighting the Germans, or as he called them, the “Boschs.”
The most horrific thing Georges told us about was the massacre in the nearby village Oradour-sur-Glane. On June 10th, 1944, four days after D-Day, a German Waffen-SS company locked up several hundred women and children in the town church and burned it to the ground. Any who tried to escape the church were then met with machine gun fire. The men were brutally murdered in several nearby barns and then burned as well.
“I could smell the burning bodies from my house,” George told us.
When my friends told Georges that I was American, he gasped. “Une vraie americaine?” A real American? He then proceeded to tell me how grateful he was for the Americans because they had “dropped parachutes full of chickens and supplies” during the war.
And though he told us that he had seen many miseries in his life, it amazed me that Georges was such a jovial person, laughing and drinking with such a broad smile on his face.
Before we left, he gave my two English friends many kisses, “Mes petites anglaises ! Vous m'avez sauvé la vie.” My little English girls! You saved my life.
Home-cooked, Farm-fresh Meals
Over the weekend we demolished lots of goodies, like a large jar of homemade strawberry-rhubarb jam and lord knows how much baguette. And while I'm lucky to enjoy lots of home-cooked meals here in France, it was wonderful dining on home-cooked food straight from the farm.
And never in my life have I looked up from washing dishes and seen five horses galloping past- country life at its finest.
One of my favorite adrenaline rushes in the world is the one you get from galloping on a horse, so it was such a joy to be able to ride all weekend! But I must say I have never felt like such a Yankee as when I grabbed the reins with one hand, as you do with a Western saddle.
Laura has been riding since she was a little girl and has competed for years, so it was fun to finally she her jump. And by the end of the weekend I was finally getting the hang of riding with an English saddle.
Good Times with Good Friends.
Over the year I've spent in Paris, I've made some absolutely incredible friends. And though it pains me to admit, I only have a few weeks left with them. (At least until we cross paths again!)
So it was wonderful to spend some quality time together without watching the clock: rocking out to Dizzee Rascal in the car, strolling the countryside with the dogs and munching on orange-flavored biscuits and tea while watching Spice World on VHS.
In more ways than one, this weekend was a breath of fresh air. It was exactly what I needed.
Have you ever visited the French countryside?