22 Jun 2008
One of the things I love about France is that, however much one becomes habituated to the part of the country in which one lives, there is so much more to explore, so much that still feels foreign.
That sense of foreignness was always part of the thrill whenever we visited our house in Normandy. Now that we have lived here full-time for more than eight years, that has worn off. To us, a house is something built from austerely grey granite, roofs are slate and the landscape is naturally crowded with dark oaks.
The average Norman farmer is squat and solid and over the centuries has built houses to match. The architecture around here is often brutal, always solid, sometimes magnificently monumental.
But drive a couple of hours and you're in another country.
Yesterday, we travelled to Saumur, on the south bank of the Loire river. Trish had read of a garden, Les Chemins de la Rose, four hectares containing 13,000 rose plants.
We left a grey Normandy, sulking under lowering clouds and stepped out of the car into 30-degree heat and blistering sun. It was as though we'd taken a plane to a Mediterranean resort. On the way, we'd watched the landscape, architecture and light change.
The landscape we found unimpressive - too flat with massive arable fields instead of Normandy's small, bocage-enclosed pastures. But there was so much light. The roofs changed to tile, the stones of the houses became paler.
The garden itself was wonderful. Some of the roses had already gone over, but there were enough in bloom to stun the senses. The grounds have been sensitively designed, enclosed on two sides by woodland with plenty of mature trees dotted among the flower beds to provide much-needed shade. Lily-covered ponds, ducks (with trailing lines of ducklings) and peacocks just add to the charm.
If the heat and sun hadn't lasted all the way back to Normandy, we might have suspected some kind of trick, as though we had, in fact, travelled to a foreign land. As it is, it has just given us a desire to see more of France. There are so many countries within the borders of l'Hexagone.