Winter in France
We’re calling it a slow adventure. We left Tracebridge on 31st October – All Hallows – and arrived at our home for the Winter on November 1st.
Here we are, temporarily, enjoying the hill farming countryside where the Gers meets the Haute Pyrenees, living in a once significant farmhouse set outside the hamlet of Larroque Magnoac. Local legend has it that the old kitchen is medieval – and that beside the house on an unusually flat plateau of land stood a fortified house. The house is like many farmhouses in the area – cob, timber and stone construction with honey coloured lime washed walls and open barns flanking a square, shuttered house. It’s South facing and elevated, sitting on the crest of a small wooded hill looking out toward the mountains, now crowned with the snow. The snow arrived late this year making it hard going for the ski resorts an hour away.
We are fortunate indeed to be caretakers for these Winter months of this wonderful house and the fields and woods that surround it. Our job is to give it some TLC. In September we came and gathered in wood, for it’s only wood fired. Until early January the temperature didn’t drop below 5c and we sat out in the courtyard in balmy 19c sunshine.
Winter in the Gers can be bitter, and indeed the last two weeks have been cold and wet. The wood pile is steadily decreasing and the ground is sodden. Our gardening – clearing several years of encroaching brambles is taking a back seat. indoor pursuits, planning a refurb of the kitchen and learning French are on the go. We have joined a French class in the town, and have a French friend who comes once a week for lunch and French conversation and we are improving.
We’ve understood that the most important thing is that you have a go, and indeed everyone we’ve met has been most welcoming. There are often English voices in the market on Saturday but we are the only English residents in the village. We are off the beaten track for most English tourists, although that may change as the Gers is gaining a reputation as a gastronomic centre. There are more small scale organic veg producers in the Gers than any other region and local foods like the Noir de Bigorre pig is recognised as a speciality, along with ducks and geese and of course the fois gras.
We are getting to know the local markets. They are plentiful. Every town and many villages retain a weekly produce market and several have two on different days. The supermarkets are retained resolutely on the fringes of the towns keeping the centres for local independent shops. There are empty buildings, and not as many cafes as even a few years ago, we’re told. The shoppers are generally middle aged and older. It’s difficult to stay in the countryside if you’re young and looking for work. But every Mairie and Salle de Fetes (Town or Village Hall) is well kept and active with local fetes (drinking and eating in abundance) and so it feels as if life continues much as it has done for the last 50 years. We feel settled and part of it – albeit until March.