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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