In the peaceful French countryside, 40 minutes drive from Poitier, is a tiny village called Saint Martin L’Ars; and if, like us, you visit in July you’ll be warmly welcomed by field upon field of beaming sunflowers. About six years ago some good friends bought an old signalman’s cottage and have spent many years of painstaking renovation. This year they invited us to share their dream and six of us enjoyed an idyllic sun-filled few days of peace, relaxation, excellent food, wine and the easy company of dear friends.
We arrived after a long drive from Calais and as we approached Poitier it was a delight to see a pageant of glorious yellow sunflowers and fields of pale wheat gilded by the early evening sunshine. As we neared our destination buildings grew sparse and the countryside broadened until we entered a leafy lane and pulled up at the house to be warmly greeted by our hosts and Lily their pretty grey tabby.
The old part of the house had been beautifully restored in calming hues; duck-egg blues, taupes and cream which blended with the natural stone floor downstairs and warm wooden floors upstairs.
The newer part of the house was typical country-style in pale grey green, and muted pinks furnished with a large farmhouse table and dresser. As we sunk into huge squashy sofas, with large glasses of velvety red wine, mouth-watering aromas drifted from the large kitchen range.
Dinner that evening started with cold meats, duck and pork rillettes (a type of meaty paté) with crusty bread and homemade tomato confit followed by succulent chicken with warm vinaigrette, long slithers of fresh buttery courgette and chunky chips cooked in goose fat; they were the best chips ever – we decided to ignore the calorific consequences… Delicious gooey french cheeses followed accompanied throughout by the all too quaffable wine.
As we chatted ‘creature of the day’ dropped by; Eucren, a gentle and impeccably behaved sheep dog from a nearby farmhouse. Tired now, we were ready for bed but not before spending time gazing at the brightest stars in the blackest sky before wending our weary way. It had been a long day.
A Rude Awakening
At least two cockerels were very pleased to be up and about way too early and didn’t care who knew about it. I pulled the curtains and as the sun streamed in I realised that our room overlooked a field of sunflowers – how much better could this get? We sipped morning tea on the verandah whilst we took in the rural surroundings; bright sunshine sparkled on two nearby lakes, cockerels strutted and hens flurried. Apple trees were beginning to bear fruit in the garden and a gnarled plum tree was laden with sweet, succulent fruits the size of cherry tomatoes. Creature of the day – a large heron fishing in the shallows.
After breakfast it was time to explore and we took a leisurely walk. In the fields swathes of honey-coloured wheat whispered in the breeze, in others large bales of harvested crops potted the landscape. Pale cream cows stared quizzically as we passed and sheep scuttled away bleating as they went – a refreshing change from our normal workaday lives.
On the menu that evening was Cassoulet, a traditional French recipe, and we all loved this rich rustic dish with Confit Duck, a real labour of love to prepare, absolutely delicous and well worth the wait. That night I slept for England.
Saturday dawned and we visited the pretty town of Confolens where we stopped at Bar La Vienne and enjoyed the gorgeous views of the river and bridge from the terrace. Here we sipped refreshing Panachee (Shandy) as the sun beat down. We explored the near deserted town – very quiet considering it was a Saturday and on the way back shopped for the evening’s meal – BBQ.
Back at the house the weather got hotter and more sultry, we took time over a late lunch of cheese, fresh bread and fruit in the shade of the verandah. Afterwards we lazed in deck chairs in the dappled shade of the apple trees where enormous globes of mistletoe were suspended from the branches and bees contentedly buzzed. I’d fallen in love with the sunflowers and wondered off to a nearby field of them and spent a lovely time snapping away – see Flickr.
Creature of the day was an industrious red squirrel – which caused great excitement. It’s the first I’ve ever seen in the wild. We sat out on the verandah until late, the evening still hot long after nine o’clock.
I can only do so much sitting around so when our hosts announced they were off to the Brocante – a French car boot/antique sale – Bob and I decided to tag along. It was a bit of an eye-opener! Everything was for sale; antiques, farm equipment, general junk, tools, furniture, bric-a-brac and even a stuffed fox.
We spent an entertaining couple of hours browsing and I even managed some haggling en Francais. We came away with some old clay preserving pots for a few Euros which will look gorgeous planted up with hot red geraniums. Bargain!
Final night tonight and farewell dinner was deliciously tender lamb avec cauliflower cheese, carrots, mange tout and naughty sautéed potatoes cooked in the ubiquitous goose fat. This was followed by a particularly smelly but scrumptious cheese. Pudding was fresh fruit Pavlova – just as well we were off home in the morning because I’d eaten enough to last a month. Creature of the day – stuffed fox!
I do hope this won’t be my last visit to the blissful French countryside where time seemed to shift down a gear to a calm, gentle pace. We took pleasure in the simple things in life; good company, delicious food and the abundance of nature. Sadly, our weekend in France was over way too fast.