Holiday in South-West France

In Australia and most other English speaking countries, people refer to their partner’s parents as the “in-laws.”  To me, the term “in-law” conjures up all sorts of fearsome images.  Perhaps it’s just because when I hear “in-law” my brain links the term “out-law” and into my head pops a bearded man in a metal helmet robbing a train. I hear “mother in-law” and I see an apron-wearing bearer of weapons (insert what you will here, I’m imagining a bread knife, or some kind of heavy duty whisk - something that looks innocent but can cause a lot damage if the intent is there). The term “father in-law” is worse, thanks to movies like Meet the Parents and Robert DeNiro’s impenetrable “circle of trust.”

Of course these perceptions do not necessarily correlate with real live parents in-laws. If you have a decent set, people say “oh how nice for you” (as if it really is quite out of the ordinary) to not be beaten with whisks by wearers of rusty metal suits. I guess what I’m saying is that I believe the term “in-law” is not, by it’s own construction (and possibly the influence of certain modern day comedies) an endearing term. 

I won’t go as far as saying the perception of in-laws in France is different.  I don’t quite know enough French people and their extended families to get a feel for this yet. But here’s the thing. The term they use for their partner’s parents is “beau parents”. As in beautiful parents. One’s mother in-law is “une belle mere” and the father in-law is “un beau pere”. Now I’m sure in some families the term “beau” is ill-fitting and therefore used either sarcastically or not at all, like, on occasions where le beau pere accidentally drinks too much and throws punches at Christmas or la belle mere criticises the crunch in your pavlova and consequently whips it with a rolled up tea-towel in front of a room full of guests.  If anything like that happens, I’m sure the terms “beau” and “belle” can be replaced by terms such as pissed pere, miserable mere or simply, les wholly unattractive parents.  But, by the very nature of the term, French in-laws are given the benefit of the doubt. Pretty until proven ugly. And that, I believe is very good thing, particularly as daughters and sons in-laws automatically become belles and beaus. Everyone wins. Take note English speakers. 

For the purposes of this post I shall refer to my in-laws as the beau parents because:

  1. we are in France;
  2. they are highly likely to read this and;
  3. they organised a beautiful family holiday for us all in the south-west of France and we had a really lovely time!

So it went like this. 

Les beau parents booked a house in a little village called La Fouillard in the mid-Pyrenees region of Aveyron.  Chris, the kids and I left a few days earlier to break up the 6-7 hour drive. 

We stayed 2 nights in Ambazac, a small town in the Limousin region (known for it’s foie gras and porcelain). Our accommodation was an onsite mobil home at a camping ground by a lake. It was kind of like a big kid’s cubby house which suited us to a tea. We were just so glad to be surrounded by open space and country air - a welcome change from the closeness of Paris. 

 Ambazac

Ambazac

From our base in Ambazac were explored some nearby villages. The most memorable was Oradour-sur-Glane, once a traditional French village that was terrorised by Nazi soldiers back in 1944. The ravaged town was left exactly as it was on the day (fallen down, burned) to serve as a memorial for the 642 inhabitants that were either shot, burned, or both. Wow. This is hard to comprehend. Apparently the memorial is very interesting. We wanted to look closer than from our car window but the kids were asleep. Wake them, don’t wake them. Don’t you dare wake the kids we can read about the atrocities in the good ol’ Lonely Planet I repeat do not wake them. Sigh. 

Moving on to La Fouillard, where we stayed with les beau parents in une tres belle maison. It was straight out of a storybook. A grassy sloping garden out the back splattered with buttercups, bluebells and dandelions. The roof was tiled and mossy, the house made of stone.  The local churchtower stood tall and near, looking down over the garden.  It’s bells were to remind us of every passing hour for the next 5 days. Inside, a comfy lounge-room with a wood-fire, three bedrooms with ensuites,  all simply and elegantly decorated. The kitchen window opened out to a quiet country road, buzzing bees and an expanse of vivid green hills.  

There was lots to see around La Fouillard. We went to Najac, a medieval village with an impressive castle, the Royal Fortress of Najac. The origins of this castle date back to the year 1100. On another day, we took the kids for their first “bushwalk” along the river Aveyron. We stopped for a picnic on a rock and admired the size of the massive trout swimming by. These little excursions led me to realise the sudden disappearance of the “baby years” already. Bush walks and castle treks? Pram free, bottle free and nearly nappy free? It’s great but a worrying reminder that time. Goes. Too. Fast. My babieeeeeees. 

 Bushwalking with the occasional shoulder ride or piggy-back 

Bushwalking with the occasional shoulder ride or piggy-back 

 Off for a walk to a castle

Off for a walk to a castle

 Najac view

Najac view

 Najac door

Najac door

 First castle

First castle

Another thing about time. What is with these ancient towns? I mean one minute it’s 1100 and something where kings are getting their heads chopped off and messages are sent via crow’s beak. Now it’s 2016 and we’re lugging smartphones around like a 5th limb and the leaders of the world’s heads remain firmly intact (toupees not-so-much).  These are the things I pondered as I walked through the dark narrow corridors of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val (the location of Cate Blanchett’s 2001 film Charlotte Gray).  I wondered about the lives of the townsfolk who walked the same street albeit a very different time.  Did their toddlers carry on like pork chops too? Did they reference the humble pork chop or some other dinner staple? “Stop carrying on like a blood sausage or you will go straight to your chambers!” “If you don’t stop carrying on like a sheep’s testicle you are banned from watching the next public beheading!” I’d love to know. 

 Triple story townhouse, Najac

Triple story townhouse, Najac

 Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val

Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val

 Big ol' building, tiny little peeps, Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val

Big ol' building, tiny little peeps, Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val

All in all it was a wonderful petite pause (little break), especially for the kids. They loved exploring the garden and spending time with their grandparents.  It was nice for them to have time just to sit, to talk as talk came, to notice things around them. Euan became fascinated with sticks, snails and ants. Hazel remained fascinated with whatever Euan was fascinated in. They were gluttons for the extra cuddles and attention, which gave Chris and I time to sit in the sun, read a bit and enjoy the quiet. So thanks beautiful in-laws.  

Our first French holiday done and dusted. Have you had a good holiday recently? Leave a comment!

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