In the fifth of our series of interviews with holiday homeowners from around the world, Martin and Christine Drew talk about how they fell in love with a less known spot in France, the Lot et Garonne.
When Martin and Christine Drew finished a self-build project for their own home in the UK, they decided to look for a renovation project in France; an old barn, farmhouse, or other ruin that they could slowly bring back to life and restore to its former glory. Little did they know that they would end up buying a ‘little piece of France’, a building plot in Lot et Garonne with stunning views over a gently sloping valley and build Valmar Gite a beautiful 2-bedroom house with swimming pool that was completely different to what they had anticipated and which they now love to share with holidaymakers.
1. What first made you fall in love with Lot et Garonne and why should people come here?
We had holidayed in various parts of France, the Riviera, the North Coast, Languedoc, but we found the North to be a little too much like home back in the UK and the South to be a little too hot and arid for our liking. So, when we visited the Lot et Garonne and discovered the beautiful green rolling hills, quiet country lanes, almost free of traffic, vineyard after vineyard and fields full of cheerful sunflowers, we really did fall in love with the area.
2. What's the â€˜best kept secret' you would tell any visitors not to miss?
One of the best kept secrets of the Lot et Garonne is found at the nearby village of Le Temple-sur-lot. Just 10 minutes' drive from Valmar Gite, the ‘Jardin des NÃ©nuphars' (Garden of Water Lilies) was created by Joseph Latour-Marliac in 1875 and is said to contain the oldest and the most prestigious nursery of water lilies in the world. The gardens are most famous for their association with the artist Claude Monet who visited the nursery many times and it was from here that the inspiration sprang for his creation â€œLes NymphÃ©asâ€, a series of approximately 250 paintings, devoted to water lilies. There is a cafÃ© perched on the side of the lake where you can sit and relax and partake in a snack and a beverage, or favourite tipple.
3. Where's the place to go to just hang out, people watch and generally soak up the atmosphere?
There are 152 villages classed as â€˜Les Plus Beaux Villages de France' (the most beautiful villages of France) and two of them are in the Lot et Garonne. One is called Pujols and is an ancient village perched high on a hilltop. Once occupied by the Romans who fortified it, Pujols has superb views towards Villeneuve-sur-lot. It is only a 15 minute drive from Valmar Gite and a favourite of ours to visit for either lunch or the fantastic weekly â€˜Night Market'. By day you can stroll around the quirky little side streets and alleys, before sitting down for a spot of lunch and to take in the superb views. Then by night you can bring along your own food, or buy at the night market in the central square and experience great live entertainment and join in the fun family atmosphere, whilst experiencing a taste of the ‘real France’.
4. What would you recommend visitors either treat themselves to or take home as a souvenir?
One of our favourite pastimes is, of course, eating out. Whether it’s dropping in at a cafÃ© or brasserie, to grab a bite to eat at lunchtime, or going for an evening meal at a nice restaurant, we love eating out in France. And you mustn’t visit the Lot et Garonne without experiencing at least one of the local culinary delicacies. For starters Martin enjoys his chevre chaud (melted goats cheese on toast) and Christine loves her escargots (snails). Magret de Canard (duck breast) is also a great favourite and for something to take home as a souvenir, the area's main town, Agen, is world famous for its ‘Pruneaux D’Agen’. You are unlikely to find prunes as tasty as these anywhere else.
5. Finally, what are the most â€˜quirky' things to do, see, eat, visit or experience in this place?
If you're looking to do something a little unusual, then how about a bit of prune stone spitting. There is an annual event that takes place in a nearby small town, Sainte Livrade-sur-lot. Each year, normally the last Saturday in July, the 6,000+ inhabitants of the town, along with entrants from just about anywhere, gather together to compete in the prune stone spitting world championship. Around 100 participants take part and there are separate competitions for adults and children. If you don’t fancy having a go at this somewhat quirky event, you could always just join in the fun as a spectator!
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I’ve never stayed in a gite but it looks lovely – and the prune-spitting festival is definitely quirky!
I’ve not tried the prune-spitting myself yet ZoÃ« :-), probably because there are so many other things to do in the area and the Lot et Garonne really is a beautiful part of the world to visit !
Southern France is indeed a great area for holidays with such a lot to offer, and self-catering in a gite or villa gives you the freedom to relax and come and go as you please. Martin’s place looks delightful, and magret de canard and chevre chaud are my favourites too!
I have been lucky enough to holiday in a friend’s house in Lot et Garonne six times now and I agree – the countryside is stunning – so wonderfully green and uncrowded. This is the ‘real’ France. I expect you have a chestnut festival in the Autumn?
The Lot-et-Garonne is truly one of France’s largely undiscovered gems. Great climate, beautiful countrysidee,steeped in history and famous for it’s local food and wines. We ran gites here for 10 years and now are restoring another property for our retirement. Martin’s property is beautifully situated to appreciate the best of this lovely region – and that pool is to die for!
This looks like a perfect part of the world to escape off our island to. Your descriptions of the culinary delights have my taste buds tingling.
I never realised my childhood habit of prune pip spitting would actually come in handy one day 🙂
What a fabulous place to visit. I would love to see the water lilies and the prune stone spitting sounds fun. The kids would love it.
The Valmar Gite looks absolutely gorgeous.
WOW – this is clearly a VERY popular place! What wonderful accolades from you all. Clearly Martin & Christine knew what they were doing when they chose this special hideaway to build their dream home 🙂
Lovely area and super cottage. Wish I was there. I hope nobody has ever choked on the prune stones!
Felicity, I’m not sure about the Chestnut festival in the Autumn, but I think we may need to plant a Chestnut tree in the garden now. We planted cherry, peach and Almond trees a couple of years ago and they’re doing brilliantly.
Heather, if you’ve been spitting prune pips since you were a child, I think you need to get yourself down to Ste Livrade in July – we could have a potential ‘world champion’ in our midst folks 🙂
Be great to instigate a gallic conker competition Martin – and hopefully no-one would choke on those Alison 😉
What a pretty vacation rental!
The view and surrounding looks so peaceful and welcoming
Stunning views, gorgeous property & always great to hear about an area from someone who has first hand experience! Sounds a great place to holiday!!
Sounds like a wonderful destination = it’s been years since I holiday’d in France as a child, but I do remember the fabulous food!
Fantastic looking villa too – inspirational!
This area is our favourite stopping off point when travelling South from our home in the Charente Maritime; well chosen!
Certainly a very popular choice and great to see one of the lesser known areas of France inspiring such affection 🙂
one of the most beautiful regions of France & largely unspoilt like so much of South West France – looks a great place for guests to just chill out & relax.
What wonderful views!
Thanks so much for your comments Penny & Eugenie. So many people dash off to the other side of the world when we have some lovely places on our doorstep. Of course, I’m sure they would love to have some visitors coming from Asai, Africa, the USA too 😉
What a stunning property, the best of luck with your venture from another overseas’s owner.
Great article and beautiful location!
It is lovely isn’t it Lianne. I haven’t visited that part of France but hope to go one day :-0