The camping season is well and truly over. This blog was going to be and should have been written as it finished in September but someone stole our time, so here we are in December. We had a really lovely, lively, busy summer with lots of special moments. Our special corner of South West France clearly attracts very nice people, as all our campers and “giters” have been fantastic. Our wonderful long stay regulars were with us all summer and not only spread their enthusiasm for Le Poteau and The Gers amongst other campers but acted as our very own Tourist Information Office. They know the area so much better than us newbies. We had quite a few returnees and lots of new new arrivals to le Poteau. Many have promised to return and obviously, we hope that they do.
In Summer and Autumn, Le Poteau is awash with fruit and everything grows incredibly quickly – even for hopeless gardeners like us. We were determined this year to use as much of our fruit and veg as possible as we wasted loads last year through being completely disorganised. Our apple crop was down a fair bit this year but they had been subject to Alasdair’s particular style of pruning – basically a hatchet, a lot of enthusiasm and very little knowledge. Anyway, we had loads of plums and figs and therefore have jars and jars of jam and chutney. The chutney making could be described as “creative and experimental”. By that read throw stuff in a pot with vinegar and sugar and see what happens. Fortunately and unfortunately, this resulted in particularly good batches of chutney but we can’t remember we put in it apart from figs. We had a great crop of courgettes but apparently you would have to be exceptionally useless to fail with them here. Astonishingly, until a couple of weeks ago, we still had a few tomatoes ripening. We’ve had 5 months of amazing toms from these plants – just wish we had written down what kind they are. In October we had lots of sweet chestnuts. We’ve given some to friends and stuck some in the freezer. We have no idea if that will work but it’s a way to find out.
We still have quite a few guests arriving at the gites which is excellent. The weather was beautiful in Autumn and early winter – cool in the evening and early morning but rising nicely during the day. However, we’ve been told to expect a cold end to winter. Shorts are at the back of the wardrobe again. The impressive diary of local events in July and August has died down (there is an astonishing amount on during Summer months) but we’ve enjoyed some of the local festivals that run later in the year, including celebrations for Armagnac, choucroute and Remembrance Day on 11 November.
All of the grapes at Le Poteau have now been harvested, with Alasdair hitching a lift on the harvester when vigneron for Le Poteau’s vines, Jean Jacques was completing his vendage one misty November morning. Let’s hope for a good year for our fabulous, local, wine and Armagnac producers.
Talking of booze, we were really pleased when our friends Martine and Francis opened a shop in the village selling local specialities. They have hosted a number of “degustations” over the summer and are exceptionally generous with tastings of various wines, floc, gin, vodka, armagnac and local nibbles. Some of our guests have “participated” and I think they would probably describe it as both great fun and a proper French experience. We’re really passionate about supporting local businesses as many French villages are struggling. Our guests have been brilliant and have eaten, drunk and shopped in the village and enjoyed chatting to locals. We’ll try to persuade Martine and Francis to do a tasting in the campsite next year.
Castelnau D’Auzan is a great wee village. What makes it special? Well, we think it’s probably that it is a real working village, pretty and with lots of character. It’s really friendly. Some of our guests were virtually adopted by locals. La Loupiote (the restaurant next to the Mairie) does a mean €1,00 coffee and Leilou, the owner, is happy for you to bring your own patisserie from Michel, the baker. It’s a great place to sit and watch village life and get to know a few of the older residents who get together every morning to discuss the state of the world. Jeremy and Aurelie at Le Proxi grocery shop are lovely and run a great shop with some lovely fresh produce and their neighbours, Cafe du Sport is great. Sport is important with regular boules competitions, rugby and basketball matches. On a wet day a few weeks ago we were “persuaded” to sponsor the local rugby squad and are now proud season ticket holders (to be honest we still haven’t seen them win a single game this year!). Another boost to the village is that the municipal pool is getting a make-over and will be heated from next summer, making it by far the best in the area.
We decided that as we had an opening party/BBQ we should also have a closing one. The great day arrived and after weeks of glorious unbroken sunshine it absolutely poured down. Undaunted (and used to wet BBQs – we’re Scottish), we put up the bell tent, covered the BBQs and partied anyway with neighbours and friends. It was lovely to have people from the village with us, a mix of French, British and Dutch. There was a lot of eating, a fair bit of drinking, plenty of great conversation and some late night dancing – not videoed thank goodness.
Autumn means projects – lots of projects. Finishing the new toilets and showers for the campsite, replacing roofs on the old sheds and replacing some of the older plumbing. It’s all starting to come together and we think that visitors during 2019 will see a difference.
Now that the campsite is closed, our dog Logie is reclaiming his playground and loves whizzing around, dodging in and out of the trees. It also means more freedom for one of the donkeys, Noelle who is proving a great little lawnmower. We can just let her our to roam around the site. As long as there’s plenty of tasty nibbles, she won’t stray. An additional bonus is that she is quite adept at weeding, loving the long grass and nettles in our flower beds. Recently she had her hooves trimmed for the first time. Apart from nearly falling over a couple of times, she did really well and now has very neat little hooves – ideal for picking their way through the flower beds!
We’ve had quite a few friends and family out in September and October. It was lovely to see everyone and we’ve had some great sociable meals and some slightly chaotic but highly competitive boules matches. It’s a great chance/excuse to explore the area.and find more hidden gems. It means a welcome break from “Our Projects”. Following a tip from our lovely friend and camper Nancy, we headed over to Labastide D’Armagnac to find a tiny cafe called Cafe Tortore. It has been run by the same family since 1885 and is pretty much unchanged from the day it opened. It is just remarkable a piece of living history and still run by the grand daughter of the original owner. She is called Colette Tortore and is now well into her eighties. It isn’t fancy but it is authentic and quite unique. Colette herself is so welcoming and extremely chatty as you can see from this clip.
Now we are in December, the village decorations are up and we’ve just had the village Marche De Noel. It was the first for a few years and a great success. The Comite des Fetes who organised it is mainly made up of young people who have decided to liven things up in Castelnau and are being really dynamic and enthusiastic. Great stuff!
So, all that’s left for us to say is Happy Christmas to all of our guests and friends and have a wonderful New Year.
Alasdair and Fiona