Don’t know why we always say French France but it has become a bit of a family tradition. We were heading to St Antoine in South West French France to see my Mum and Alan, who was once my “Uncle Alan“. That is a long story but in no way as incestuous as it may sound.
St Antoine de Pont d’ Arratz
Mum and Alan live in St Antoine de Pont d’Arratz although it is know locally as St Antoine and is about an hour west of Toulouse. It takes its name from the Antonine monks who settled there. The monks ran a hospital which operated for hundreds of years until it was closed when the Pope closed the Antonine order of monks in 1776 and seized all their assets. The building still remains with a large round tower at one end and a square entrance tower at the other end.
The monk’s namesake, St Antoine, was a christian monk from Egypt who had a variety of other names Anthony the Great, Anthony of Egypt, Anthony the Abbot, Anthony of the Desert, Anthony the Anchorite, and Anthony of Thebes. In the church in the centre of the village is an illuminated glass cage with what is supposedly the arm of St Antoine coated in silver. There is a rather ugly modern statue of St Antoine at the opposite end of the main street to the hospital (which is now referred to as a chateau)
St Antoine lays on one of the many pilgrim routes through Europe to Santiago d’Compostella and many a weary, back pack carrying walker is seen in the village. Unfortunately at the moment both the large gite and village restaurant are closed and looking for new proprietors, although there is a B&B run by an English couple, Pearl and John. So if you fancy a new venture in a small French France village with a large footfall of clients, I will happily pass on the details.
The French Family Connection
My Mum and Alan moved to this village around 12 years ago and has recently moved from her large farmhouse on the edge of the village to a smaller property in the centre of the village. It needed a fair amount of internal work but it is ideal being all on one floor and large loft area for storage. Alan has a very large garage/workshop, there are two bedrooms and an office/sewing room. There is a terrace for al fresco dining and then a small lower garden that they hope to turn into an easy-to-maintain paved area with a few small beds. It has everything they need and they have enjoyed setting up their new home and have managed it all in record time, despite a lot of skeptics about their timescales.
Valence d’Argen is the nearest large town to Mum and Alan and has a large farmers market twice a week. We headed into Valence for a pizza one evening and then had a good tour around the market a few days later. It has a traditional French France feel and is a hive of activity. Stalls range from large producers with three or four long trestle tables to little old ladies with three lettuces on a picnic table. C’est la vie.
Mini Tour de France
Alan kindly gave their bikes a quick power wash and some tyre attention for us to take a lap around the lanes. First lane was “memory” lane to take a look at Mum and Alan’s old house.
We had a great ride passing fields and fields of sunflowers that were dying off. They looked like sad soldiers with their heads hung down.
Our trip this was a combination of sightseeing and helping in the garden. Temperatures were in the high twenties and early thirties but we managed an hour or two each day but waiting until the evening. The mission was to clear the weeds, old rose stumps, a rampant passion flower and not get eaten alive by the mosquitoes that seemed to have taken up residence. Serious skin protection was required with long trousers tucked in socks and arms that were left exposed squirted liberally with the insect repellent.
We enjoy this type of work when you can really see a difference. Mum kept us supplied with drinks and gourmet meals while Alan came out with the tools. He even had one called Big Bertha which tacked many a stubborn root. For their early 80s these two put us to shame and I only hope that I am as agile, keen and happy as they both are. For this trip it is au revoir French France and we will leave Alan (aka Titchmarsh) and Mum (aka Delia) the task of making the decimated garden look pretty. Bon chance!
30/08 – 05/09/2018