Why I love France even more in the summer
With the arrival of summer, Gillian Harvey takes time to appreciate what’s on her doorstep in the Limousin
“Wow, you’re so lucky,” gushes my fifth house guest in as many weeks as she takes in the view from the café terrace. “I know, it is beautiful,” I say, taking a sip of my spritzer and boasting about sometimes bringing my laptop here to write while I nurse a café crème and look out over Lac de Vassivière, the largest lake in Limousin.
I don’t mention that it’s partly because my office was claimed as a bedroom when my fifth child was born, meaning the alternative is working from home at the dining room table surrounded by ‘child debris’.
The lake, with its sparkling, sapphire-blue waters, shimmers in the sunlight, intersected here and there by a meandering sailboat. On the beach, children run, carefree, on the warm sand, build castles or frolic at the water’s edge. I breathe in the clear, unpolluted air and smile.
In summer, it’s hard not to feel just a little bit smug.
Most of the year, of course, we’re just getting on with everyday life; albeit in a different language. Kids have to go to school, supermarkets need to be raided, and if I made a habit of consuming the amount of ice cream I guzzle when guests are around, I’d need a crane to lift me out of bed in the morning. So admittedly, summer visitors get a positively skewed snapshot of our French life.
During the busy July and August months, café tables spill into the street; local markets buzz with life and the Île de Vassivière – a tiny island at the lake’s centre – plays hosts to a wonderful range of mostly musical events. Best of all, watching tourists take pictures of views and backdrops that I often barely acknowledge makes me see with new eyes how lucky I am to live here.
Being an expat means that whatever holiday money we may have is usually spent on trips to see family in Bedfordshire. These days a trip costs us in the region of £2,000 and I sometimes feel slightly begrudging when I consider the sun-drenched, cocktail-fuelled holidays we could afford if we headed south instead of to the home counties with our hard-earned cash.
Then again, the transformation of our own area during the summer months means that, to all intents and purposes, we are suddenly ‘on holiday’ at home, with very little of the expense and none of the packing. And my very British mentality means that I feel obliged to make the most of every ray of sunshine, heading for the garden with my laptop, taking a notebook to the beach or, when possible, downing tools altogether in favour of a bucket and spade, beach ball or ice cream cone.
After all, there’s little point living in a tourist destination if you don’t make the most of it; and it’s bonkers to live somewhere beautiful if you never glance up to drink in the view.
Read more of Gillian Harvey’s life in France:
Why do shops in France shut on a Sunday?
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