Have you ever considered selling up, packing your car to the rafters and moving your family to France? Well, we did! Me, my husband, our two children and my Mum bought a stunning 3 gite complex in South-West France one year ago.
Our life-changing adventure to our hamlet of La Grue, which is approximately 4km from the market town of Aigre in the sunny Charente (Department 16) began. We dreamed of long summer days by the pool, time with and for our children, time for each other and a slower pace of life; a new challenge…
…Our first year has actually been a mile-a-minute! With just four short winter months in which to make sure our gites were ready for our first bookings, we worked ten hour days and through the nights, tackling everything from the fosses septiques ‘vidange’ and new roofs to full redecoration.
Time was of the essence and shovelling and raking 8 tonnes of gravel the day before guests arrive is something we can laugh about now, thankfully!
Our guests seem to really appreciate our small touches to make their stay more enjoyable such as breakfast patisserie delivery. Croissants from our local boulangerie are honestly the best we’ve tasted, and my thighs are testament to this. Guests have their own herb gardens to use in salads and on their barbecues and we offer home-made fig jam from our tree. We have a range of child-friendly equipment for guests so that they do not have to load their cars up with baby and child paraphernalia too. Cognac and Pineau tasting sessions with our neighbour are popular too – I am now a Cognac convert after tasting a VSOP with fizzy raisin juice, there’s no going back. For me, it’s the way forward!
We find that most of our guests enjoy local day trips (there’s so much to do with Angouleme, Cognac, Jarnac, local Plan d’eau, river trips, fishing, horseriding, the beautiful beaches near La Rochelle, our local snail farm, museum and lots more) then spend their afternoons lazing by our 12 x 6 metre heated pool in its own courtyard.
All our hard work has most definitely paid off with rave reviews from families with happy children, couples who’ve had a romantic break, local workers, house hunters and many repeat bookings. We open all year round and we love to meet new people and welcome them to La Grue.
We’ve had a truly mind-blowing first year, packed-full of new experiences.
Early summer mornings, watching the sun slowly rising over the vines as we worked to prepare them ready for their annual ‘hair -cut’ into neat, boxy rows has definitely been a highlight. Although, the day I pounded down the row in my heavy wellies, screaming “RUUUUUUN!” as a massive swarm of bees buzzed by is still a source of great amusement to our French friends. “But why did you run, Carol?”
Our ‘potager’ vegetable plot has been a learning curve – we’ve seen a bumper crop of tomatoes thanks to Mum’s green fingers and, with advice from our neighbours, we jarred sauces which are lasting us throughout the year. It’s pretty tricky to kill anything here which is a major bonus for the novice gardener! However, the weeds grow like wildfire.
Returning home from the school run and seeing our neighbour’s donkeys wandering around the hamlet was a memorable experience, I saw another side to Martin, my husband, who is utterly terrified of horses. Turns out, he is a donkey whisperer – they followed him obediently into our courtyard where they proceeded to eat all our plants!
Martin’s also been truffle hunting at a nearby orchard and even though his French is very ‘petit’, he managed to learn an awful lot from the locals and come away with some black truffle butter – delicious.
Canoeing down the Charente in the home of Courvoisier at Jarnac ,en famille, was definitely unforgettable when we grounded one side of our canoe on a rock. As was our amazing speedboat ride to the island of Oleron and a day’s jet-skiing.
Quality time with friends who’ve made the effort to support us has been amazing. Special memories have been made during many days out, days by the pool and balmy evenings eating pizza cooked in our traditional bread oven whilst drinking our local Pineau and Cognac.
Martin loves to offer evening star-gazing and swimming under the stars for our guests. He always finishes his summer days with a night swim. We are living our dream at La Grue – what’s not to love?