France, a love/hate relationship

My dad first bought a house in France when I was about six years old, and frankly I hated it.  Northern France to me was exactly like the English countryside, except you can't understand a word anyone is saying and they all inexplicably hate you.  I suspect the Franco-English rivalry is a little stronger in the North, since that's where territories changed hands so many times over the centuries.  And this is Europe, where wars may have ended generations ago but neither side will let the other forget.  Added to the general coldness of the people, the house itself was always freezing (much as my dad might insist otherwise), there was no television, and a real dearth of appropriately-aged literature.  Needless to say, after several holidays France became a dreaded destination.  I'd read all the dirty books (and gained a knowledge of sex acts that would corrupt many primary-school classmates), drawn countless pictures of mermaids, and now even my overactive imagination couldn't entertain me.  When Dad sold that house and bought another in the South, I was on board - the house itself was on a narrow medieval street in the town of Gignac, a bit grubby as far as I was concerned, but the places we could visit really improved.

Celles is an abandoned village beside the Lac du Salagou, a man-made lake in Languedoc-Roussillon.  I used to imagine moving in one day with my friends and renovating all the old houses to build a kind of commune.  As well as the Lac there was a point in the river by the town of Canet where we would go swimming; the markets at Lodève or Clermont-l'Hérault; the lovely medieval village Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert nestled in the hills.  But I was still a child, and the quiet appeal of French wine country didn't really reach me. A part of me wished my dad had bought a house in Paris, or at least the more glamorous seaside town of Perpignan.  So I stopped coming to visit, for a good two or three years I would only see my dad while he was in the UK.  Dad sold the Gignac house and bought an isolated property near the Lac du Salagou, and at first I still didn't want to visit.  I'm not sure at which point I caved, but I haven't looked back.

The house is situated next to a vineyard, surrounded by hills of red earth and within walking distance to the lake.  I've been in autumn, winter, spring and summer, and come to love all the different seasonal variations - even when the wind bites your cheeks and your ears are burning, the landscape is so stunning you'll grin and bear it.  I love to see the lake at different times of day, bright blue in the midday heat, or grey and yellow reflecting a winter sunset.  Aside from the natural beauty, there are countless old towns scattered across the countryside.
Pezanas, home of 17th century playwright Molière;   Pont du Diable, built by monks in the 10th century
Languedoc is also home to some of the best wines in France, such as Picpoul de Pinet, and fantastic quality of food.  The French truly live to eat, not eat to live, and so even the local town café serves up excellent fare, including local specialties like cassoulet.  My dad and his partner actually run package trips called Taste France which allows people to stay in their gorgeous old house (with pool and games room, naturally) and sample some of the finest restaurants in the area.  Where he lives is also a short drive away from Spain, although as a non-driver I haven't yet had the opportunity to make that trip myself.

As a kid, I hated that my dad owned the house in France because it meant we would always holiday in the same place, and I wanted to go somewhere new and exciting.  Now I'm older, I've come to truly appreciate it.  Flying from Manchester costs me only about £40, and a few times this year I've taken a long weekend in the sunshine to de-stress from exams or simply catch up with my family (and dogs).  There are still so many sides of Languedoc I've not explored, or would like to return to - the medieval walled town of Carcassonne, the huge valley of the Cirque du Navacelles.  And if I one day learn to drive, maybe I can travel down to Barcelona.  In any case, I'm always happy to return and share this little gem with others.

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