Radio and television broadcaster Sir Terry Wogan has had a home in France for almost two decades. He talks to Zoë McIntyre about the benefits of French life and being able to shop in peace
How did you come to own a house in France?
We [Sir Terry and his wife Helen] have had a house in the Gers département in the south-west for about 17 years. We had previously had a house in Spain and decided we needed a change. I happened to pick up The Sunday Times and read an article that said the previous area for Brits was the Dordogne, but to keep an eye on Gers. I actually followed it up – which is very unlike me – and we found our way from Toulouse Airport to Auch, the département’s capital. We stayed in a very nice chambre d’hôte and went to look at a number of places; the sun was shining and it was all very beautiful. Then we found out the chambre d’hôte itself was for sale, so we eventually ended up buying it.
Can you describe the place for us?
The house has lots of bedrooms, which are all en suite, and a very nice swimming pool. It is set in parkland surrounded by vines and sunflowers.
What makes Gers so special?
It’s the peace and tranquillity that are really lovely – it must be the quietest place in Europe. There is no industry, no major roads, very little tourist traffic and the food is excellent. Actually, I don’t want you to publicise Gers. It’s a rubbish place. If you ruin it for me I’ll have to come and find you [he chuckles].
What are the locals like?
They are very friendly. Everyone says hello when we come into a restaurant and goodbye when we leave. People greet you on the street. The French are meant to be stand-offish but I think that only holds true for Paris.
Do the French recognise you?
No, they’ve no idea who I am. One of the great benefits for me is to go shopping – because it is something I can’t do here [in the UK]. So I’m the supermarket shopper over there. I love going to the fish counters in French supermarkets; they are sensational.
What do you think of the local cuisine?
I am a fan up to a point. If they could perhaps think of something other than duck to serve us, that would be great. I wish that somehow they would cook a rabbit or a chicken. I don’t want to knock it though – I’m still a great fan of duck in all its forms.
Can you recommend any good restaurants?
A place that we frequent a lot is La Table des Cordeliers in Condom, and in Agen there is the Mariottat, which is a lovely restaurant. The village of Puymirol has Michel Trama’s hotel and Michelin-two-star restaurant. So there are various nice places where we go to eat.
Have you explored other parts of France?
Once I arrive there, I don’t tend to get into a car and drive for miles, but we have been to the Bay of Biscay, which is about an hour and a half away, and to the Pyrénées. We’ve been around places such as Saint-Jean-de-Luz and Lourdes, as well as Toulouse, of course, which is a fantastic city. We are very fond of it.
How is your French?
I like to communicate and it irritates me if I can’t find the correct French word, so I do my best. I get by, particularly in a restaurant, but the hardest thing is to converse with a plumber or electrician. My vocabulary may not be much, or indeed my grammar, but my accent is all right, so I sound as if I can speak it. The French have a very short fuse with those who cannot pronounce their language. We are the same [in the UK] if people don’t pronounce English properly.
How do you get a taste of France back home?
You can’t bring France back with you! I may return with a bottle of armagnac and my wife considers the day is lost in Gers if she does not have the local aperitif Pousse Rapière [an orange-flavoured armagnac-based liqueur], which is fantastic with sparkling wine and a slice of orange. But it’s always a mistake to think you can bring that back here. We are big fans and great friends of the Roux brothers, so we eat out quite a lot at the Waterside Inn in Bray and Le Gavroche in London.
When do you next plan to visit France?
We’ll try to get down there at Easter. Now I’m a retired old geezer we have a little more time and the weather will be lovely.
We were very sorry to hear the news about Terry Wogan. We had the privlege of running a column written by him in the magazine last year. You can read his bi-monthly column here:
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