Bonjour mes amis, je l’espere vous etes bien et profiter de la vie…….. as promised this blog comes from the tiny picturesque town of Saint Antonin Noble Val in the heart of The Pyrenees and in the area of Tarn. The town was featured in the 2014 film ‘100 Foot Journey’ starring Helen Mirren and telling the amusing story of an Indian family setting up a Restaurant opposite the very grand Michelin Star restaurant which has been run by Helen Mirren for years and reputedly has the best food for miles around…..you can imagine what happens next!!!!!
This town is medieval and dates back to the 1100’s…… …the buildings are beautiful, all built to last from the most gorgeous stone, with doors and windows that are unbelievably shaped in fascinating designs. Thank goodness, everything here is being preserved and newcomers to the town are unable to change the basic design and shape of their houses. The streets are cobbled, not the most comfortable to walk on but look so unique you forget your aching feet.
In the centre of the town a square is still being used for the community to gather around in the various eateries and shops that exist there. It is in this square that children play together and allow the adults to eat and chat and relax. Everyone looks out for the children and tears can be wiped by any of the people grouped around, an idyllic place for children to be as they can run free without fear of harm (a rare commodity these days). We have just completed a big chess tournament here which was held in the square.
There are around 2,000 inhabitants in the town at any one time and this number is swelled during the Summer months by the tourists and part timers who own houses here but visit during holiday season. I am pretty sure that the inhabitants breathe a sigh of relief as the last tourist leaves and they have their town back to themselves.
To get here from England it is possible to drive through the Chunnel (The English Channel Tunnel) but we chose to fly due to the French strikes taking place at the ports at the moment and causing huge backlogs of cars. Flight time is only 1 hour 15 minutes and 40 minutes from Toulouse Airport where we landed.
We have had huge fun as you can imagine and have spent our time sampling French food and wine at every turn. The French are renowned for sitting at the dinner table for hours with course after course of food being washed down with wine which is like no other. The river runs alongside the town and boasts a bar/café next to the canoe shack Canoeing on this river is fabulous and the course runs for 60m but you can stop at any point and bet a lift back with canoe to the starting point. The river is surrounded by greenery and a sheer backdrop of granite through which cars drive up and up to reach the top, the road is hidden from view by the trees and every so often you catch a glimpse of car headlights climbing higher and higher…..quite magical.
It is wonderful to meet up with Carol and Kate, we waved goodbye in July thinking we would not meet again until our return in October, but here we are, sharing the adventure.
The fascinating thing for me in this town are the narrow winding streets that can be found everywhere and are a surprise as you turn corners or enter a street. The houses are generally 3 storey and stairs wind up and up, I imagine that as you get older you are confined to the lower floor. Of course it keeps you healthy too because you have no alternative but to walk and there are many older people doing just that albeit at a much slower pace than everyone else.
There is an incredibly large English community here all ‘living the dream’ having bought properties which were in disrepair at a very reasonable price and transformed them into beautiful homes which they never want to leave, even in the Winter.
As in Lake Worth, there is a big artist community here creating the most amazing art, anything from weaving to ceramics to painting to fabric dying to wood sculptures to jewellery……totally beautiful, all of it!
The other film that was shot in this town was Charlotte Gray, adapted from the Sebastian Faulks book of the same name. This film shows even more of the town and we met one of the young men who was an understudy for one of the boys in the film, he is now 24 and was only 10 at the time of filming.
Of course, the great thing about small towns even when you only live in them for a short time, is that you begin to feel a sense of familiarity and belonging as you recognize the same people each day and ‘Bonjour’ resounds as you walk to what becomes your favourite coffee shop and order the hot chocolate and croissant in the best French that you can muster.
Sunday sees the place treble in size as the market fills every available space in streets which are already so narrow it is difficult to pass. The noise, smells and colours are amazing, I love it!
And the donkeys……delight the children as they take them for walks in a line roped together, children shrieking with laughter and gripping on tightly as the donkeys sway from side to side along the cobbles being gently coaxed by their master. During breaks they wit quietly together eating the surround leaves from the plants and being hugged by the children and patted by passing adults, they no doubt love the Winter months when all they have to do is roam free in the fields.
We have attempted to eat at a many of the restaurants and bars as we could during our time here in order to both meet as many people as we could and also to sample the variety of food on offer, they did not disappoint. Tonight our last night we ate at Entre Nous, a restaurant only opened in June of this year and already making a name for itself. Owned by an English family living here for many years and a new venture, it would be nice to see it become a success….
And so our adventure has come to an end and we have enjoyed every second of it all, new towns, new people, new food…………..if you get a chance, do watch the films and get a look at this wonderful town that has so enthralled us for the past week. Until next week……….prendre soin!