We were still finding our way around the Gers. It’s a little known part of France without the glamour of Côte d’Azur or quaint picture postcard lavender fields of Provence. And as we’d bought the house without any advance planning or investigations we really had no idea what we would do for every holiday, for the rest of our lives in this part of France. Drink wine? Eat cheese? We did by now have French versions of trivial pursuit and scrabble but this alone could not fill four, two week holidays a year. We had a striped hammock for lazy day, book reading and we had explored a host of local eateries (in the early weeks with no heating or water, we ate out just to keep warm and use a nice toilet) our nearest restaurant is called Les 3Bs and serves everything with a nouvelle cuisine style whipped sweet potato mousse. Hake, pork or beef all with sweet potato mousse. And aguilettes de canard for the kids. But after almost a year in the house we could barely utter the words sweet potato without feeling billious. Besides, eating and drinking could not fill our days (well it could but we’d all be the size of pavarotti by the end of the holidays) so we began some local explorations. Here are our some of our favourite finds should you ever find yourself in the Haute Pyrenees or Gers.
1. The Maison des Chamaux
As I’ve already blogged, our friends Paul and Sarah Bird run a fabulous animal park only fifteen minutes drive away. And as we were now friends we could see camels and drink wine concurrently. This is not the same experience for paying visitors. But go anyway as its fun. Camels can be stroked, goats are jumped through hoops and wool is spun. My personal fave are the pigs. In mud. Happy as.
My craving for a slice of old school glamour led us on a day trip to Biarritz. A two hour drive but a place that makes me feel like I am actually on holiday. Chic people, posh restaurants and a faded glamour. The beach is big and if not directly in season, not too busy. We built sand castles, ate salad nicoise and wished we had more time to rent boogie boards.
3. Le petit train d’artouste
Discovered when our friends Ian and Alice came to stay. A good, almost two hour drive into the mountains, this is a cable car ride to a tiny train which then takes you on an hour long ride around the edge of a mountain. Best of all, along the way are dozens of beavers which being the only English people on the train we took great delight in shouting each time we saw one. Leslie nielson eat your heart out. At the end of the route is a great walk to the top of a mountain lake and a great sense of satisfaction that we had lung fulls of mountain air to flush out the night before’s peach schnapps marathon. Then, as bad fortune would have it, but giving us something to remember the day by, on the way back the train tombe en panne. We had to walk the final kilometre to the car park, dodging beavers as we went. But as we trudged wearily back to our car, we agreed that Beavers and Breakdowns would be the perfect title should Ian ever write an autobiography.
4. The Marciac Jazz Festival
For which Uncle Ricard came to stay and did his best akerbilk impressions. The one thing guaranteed to send the children into spasms of embarrassment is uncle richard’s singing. Made worse only if I join in sonny and Cher style. Made even worse if the song in question can be sung ‘club singer style’. So imagine their horror and our joy to discover the local jazz festival which runs through the month of August features not only real, snare drum and trumpet style jazz, but also, New Orleans style jazz bands in the town square where you can all sing and dance along. The village of Marciac is taken over each night for a month by tented restaurants, bars, ice cream vendors and jazz bands so you can sit outside, eat amazing food and sing as you eat to ‘when the saints come marching in’. And on a balmy summers evening tHere really is nothing nicer, even when uncle Richard insists on conducting himself throughout the meal in his ‘dobby the free elf’ voice (dobby LOVES Harry Potter….) and Sebastian danced for a crowd, and we all had massive ice creams and Arthur prayed for a replacement family.
I could go on, but suffice to say, we had found plenty to do in our funny little, unfashionable part of France. And when all else fails, there IS French trivial pursuit where you can answer Charles de Gaulle or Vanessa Paradise for everything!