Prepare to suspend your disbelief for the time it takes to read this tale. Even I feel it has the gloss of fiction to it, reading it back.
In begins with my own love affair with France. Autumn school exchanges in damp corners of Brittany, a spring revision trip to Rennes, an unforgettable three-week language break amid the lakes and mountains of Annecy… all these combined to ensure a lifelong love of France and its people. Yet the man I fell in love with had never been to France. So we began another love affair, discovering the markets of Lille together, camping in the Arcachon dunes, scampering all over France. On most trips, we’d send a postcard to ourselves, mementoes of golden days.
Once, we intended to explore Devon, but my other half drove us to the ferry port instead, whipped out our passports and booked us on a midnight crossing. We roamed the coasts of Brittany in honeyed sunshine, uncovering coy, hidden beaches and secret coves. We slept in whatever town we came to, with the optimistic abandon of youth.
The highlight of that trip was one particular harbour town backed by ancient streets and lined with charming cafés. These led to a breathtaking beach that seemed to stretch for miles and a secluded cove where my other half tried his new surfboard while I sat sketching and writing. I saw my love of France reflected in his eyes, taking in everything from croissants to fresh scallops. We sipped ice-cold drinks on baking-hot terraces, watched fishing boats return and browsed market stalls. We lingered for two days and it was unforgettable.
And yet, a few years later, we had forgotten it. Unbelievably, neither of us could remember either the name of the town or exactly where it was. Our little idyll, our French paradise, had dissolved into a fond memory of clear turquoise waters and pale sand.
Years passed, we grew up, gained a house and a mortgage, but never entirely dismissed moving to France. Then we had a baby, a change of jobs, and the chance to move; all we needed was the courage. Unsurprisingly, we opted for the Brittany coast, no doubt influenced by our youthful escapades and happy recollections. Like so many others at the turn of the millennium, we hunted online, scoured magazines, visited estate agents and finally found a wonderful house tucked away in the countryside, with several beaches nearby. We both agreed that the area reminded us of that tour when we got lost and found our little haven, and how it felt surprisingly homely for somewhere so foreign. As we gazed from our hotel balcony, trying to imagine this French setting as our hometown, even the moonlight on the sea seemed an affirmation that we were doing the right thing. We signed the papers on a sunny July morning and set the moving date. Then we went home to pack.
It was there, methodically boxing up everything from baby blankets to sheet music, that we came across the postcards from our discovery trips to France. I pulled one out from the pack and my heart flipped: Audierne! The postcard showed a view of the very beach we’d gazed at from our hotel window. Off to the right was the Notaire’s office where we’d signed our contracts. How could a postcard of this place be sitting in our house? But of course! This was our lost paradise, and it was the very place to which we’d unthinkingly gravitated to buy our house. We suddenly put two and two together, realising that just to the other side of the moonlit beach was our paradise cove. It was the same place!
Even stranger than this was what I’d written on the back of the postcard all those years before:
‘An idyllic day. The sky is blue, the gulls are hollering. He’s surfing, I’m scribbling. This is just how life is meant to be. This feels like home.’
Ten years on, and we’re still here, with two boys in the school that overlooks the harbour. And it does feel like home.