It has been a relatively rock and gravel free period of calm here (please see our last blog if you’re already confused!) – although we have done some more work on improving the access road to the gites.
We’re now 6 weeks into the camping season at Le Poteau. May and June are quieter times but we have already had some lovely campers-many travelling to or from Spain or Portugal. People enjoy the quiet relaxation that Le Poteau offers, away from the busy main roads. It’s always lovely meeting and greeting our guests and it’s great to see vans, tents and camper vans on the pitches again after a long closed season. We’ve had a few visits from family and friends over the past few weeks and it has been great to see everyone. Our VIP guest this month has been our grandaughter Molly who loved it here and was great fun – along with her mum and dad of course. It was lovely to spend time together and we survived several fairly competitive games of boules. There were tears shed as Molly headed off back home. However, were those tears for grandma and grandpa? It would appear not! Grandpa “Don’t be sad Molly. You can come back soon.” Molly very tearfully “But I’m going to miss Logie (dog) and the donkeys.” Ah well…….
We’re really pleased with how busy the gites are and bookings are coming in at a rate way above last year. It’s so nice to see all of the upgrading work paying off and we have had wonderful feedback so far this year and are extremely grateful for all of the kind comments. It is really important to get reviews online these days so we are really delighted when someone makes the effort to do so. Our Tripadvisor rating is still 100% 5 star. Everyone so far this year has said they will be back which is great.
For those who follow us on Facebook, you may have seen our post on our “Grand Opening”. It was a lovely evening celebrating with great friends who we know are really behind us as we find our feet (in the business and in the area). It’s really helpful when you move to a new country to have people around you who are either locals or have lived here for some time. We do seem to ask lots of questions but someone always has an answer. France is all we hoped it would be and more in some ways but the bureaucracy can be intimidating and knowing there is someone there who has been through it all really makes a difference.
We’ve been spending a lot of time walking around the site and have some favourite spots which are just a little bit away from the main upper and lower sites. They might be described as a way to test drive wild camping but with the option of all the facilities of the site at your disposal.. They have easy access to electricity but we know that not all tent users need or want an electric hook up. If it’s something you are interested in, here’s a of pics to give you an idea. Let us know when booking that you would prefer a wilder pitch (note tents only at the moment). We will be happy to help you get set up.
This is one of the loveliest and busiest times for nature. The trees are verdant and many are in blossom. Our red squirrels are very visible at the moment. In fact one has just climbed up the tree outside our french windows as we type. They bounce along the ground looking astonishingly cute and then whizz effortlessly up a tree. Fortunately, Logie, our dog, seems to understand his limitations when it comes to tree climbing and just gives them puzzled looks every now and then. He has also shown remarkably little interest in the lizards so we are all living side by side very amicably. We also have lots of nesting birds. It is so lovely going into the sheds and seeing wee heads popping up. We have wrens, stone chats, blackbirds, ring doves, woodpeckers,hoopoes and great tits that we know about but are hopeful that with the excessive rustling in the many bushes and trees around the campsite there are many more. The little one in the pic is getting training sessions on our garden fence every morning. We also have a very territorial lizard we call Stumpy as he is currently regrowing his tail. S/he “owns” the side of our house and we’ve witnessed quite a few skirmishes as s/he sees off any competition so the lizards themselves are not entirely amicable.
We are determined this year to make greater use of all the amazing fruits and berries etc that flourish on Le Poteau. We’ve planted a very small potager with some tomatoes, courgettes, peppers celery and leeks. The courgettes do indeed grow like weeds as our courgette hating friend informed me. There may have been one or two “minor” errors in planting as they have kind of taken over and we are now having to cut them back to stop the tomatoes from being swamped. However, we love courgettes and are really enjoying using them in as varied a way as possible! They are delicious. We have also been experimenting with vine leaves – our grape crop was a bit pathetic last year so using the leaves instead is quite satisfying. The dolmades we’ve made are really tasty – especially the ones with courgettes in them. We’ve also made some elderflower cordial which will be great for the summer. We need ideas of what to do with the early crop of tiny plums. Delicious but a nightmare to stone. Tips most welcome.
The local festivals are now in full swing. May was the month of flower festivals.Each weekend one of the beautiful local villages hosted one of these fabulous events. The local growers set out beautiful displays and are open to a bit of negotiating banter. Local teenagers whizz around with barrows to help you carry your purchases. There is a lovely atmosphere. The Bandas was held in Condom recently, a Basque influenced festival . We couldn’t go but it is apparently pretty lively with lots of live music, dance, food and drink. We can’t wait for the Marché Nocturnes (Evening markets) to start up again in Mezin (Mondays 2/7 – 27/8), Nerac (Tuesdays 26/6 -4/9), SOS (Wednesdays 11/7-22/8), Frechou (Fridays 6/7 -31/8). They are always bustling and are a great opportunity to sample great local food amongst new friends in a region where eating well and eating socially really matters. It is also the season for Villages en Fete. Pretty much every village, including tiny hamlets have a weekend in July or August where everyone gathers for a variety of events, always involving food and usually fireworks. Castelnau D’Auzan’s is 20th – 22nd July. Everyone is made welcome locals and visitors alike.
Last Sunday was our Repas Du Quartier. It is a lovely local tradition where neighbours gather at someones house, bringing food, plates, glasses, cutlery and most importantly friendship. Everyone eats together, sharing whatever has been brought along. It was fairly epic and our bottle of malt whisky went down extremely well and frighteningly quickly. We were made to feel so welcome and were delighted to meet one of our very sprightly 98 year old neighbours. Statistically Gers has the highest longevity in France. Its all about the duck and armagnac! Or maybe it’s the excellent air quality and slightly more relaxed pace of life.
We are really delighted that there is finally a bike hire business nearby. It happens to be owned by friends of ours and they will deliver bikes to the site. So if you fancy pottering or whizzing through the amazing Gers countryside, exploring the amazing tree lined winding lanes that burst into a field of sunflowers or the pretty villages that are scattered all over the area then you can book through us or directly with Tracey at www.gascognebikehire.com
We had the swimming pool working nicely last year – until it sprung a leak, fortunately at the end of the season. It was beginning to look a bit shabby and we felt that it wasn’t up to scratch so we decided to stop mucking about and get on with replacing it. It’s in the same great location: quiet, private, beside the vineyard and set into the hillside making it fit into the landscape more unobtrusively than most. Anyway, we set about taking down the existing pool with gusto and it was all dismantled and off to the dechetterie in no time. The new pool arrived in several very big boxes. There was some relief as we discovered that there were instructions in English. Great! Hmmmmn not so great. Most readers will have done the furniture home assembly thing – which can involve a little frustration and some choice language. This was way ahead of any instructions from IKEA in terms of complete incomprehensibility. Think engineering manual for a Boeing 737. It wasn’t helped by a coding system that didn’t match any of the codes on the components. It may have come in a box marked swimming pool but we weren’t convinced. It took a lot longer than planned but after a week of moments of mild frustration (and some significant help from Graeme, a visiting friend who foolishly thought that he was here to relax) we got there and it is now all ready for our visitors to enjoy on a hot day or after one of our highly competitive boules tournaments.
Anyway, despite the challenges and there are quite a few, we do feel incredibly lucky to be living in such a beautiful, quirky, unspoiled part of the world. If you love France we are pretty certain you will really love the Gers and, we hope, Domaine Le Poteau.