My Village: Pays Mellois

 

Real life stories

My Village: Pays Mellois

History buff Jacqui Brown thrives in the surprisingly rich tapestry of the Pays Mellois which surrounds her family’s idyllic village home…

Where do you live in France?

We moved to the small village of Loubillé, 7km from the market town of Chef-Boutonne, in the southern Deux-Sèvres, in 2004. We chose the area for its proximity to the airports of La Rochelle, Poitiers, Limoges, and Bordeaux. Knowing that Adrian, my husband, would be travelling regularly, being in the centre of a lively village with a boulangerie, café bar, lots of young families and an active social committee ticked all our boxes.

Photo: Jacqui Brown

What aspects of village life do you enjoy?

I love it all, including the fact that everyone knows everyone else’s business. I am amazed that our young family arrived knowing no one, yet we were welcomed into the heart of the community. This is something I will always treasure. I know this may not be everyone’s idea of a plus but not only are we a rural village on mains drainage, we have a fantastic and odourless reed bed filtration system that processes the waste from the entire village.

What is there to see and do in the area?

There are hundreds of kilometres of marked cycle paths and quiet back roads that we can enjoy with friends. Most Saturday mornings you will find us and our bikes enjoying a coffee and croissant at the weekly market of Chef- Boutonne. Also, as I work at a local museum, I must give a shout out to the museums of the Pays Mellois that cover everything from the neolithic period, the Romans, a silver mine from the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Protestant stronghold during the war of religion, the French industrial revolution and 19th-century rural life.

How’s your French?

A refresher course highlighted just how basic our level was when we arrived. It’s now good enough to have been elected to the village council in 2014, welcome visitors to a local museum, and translate for other English speakers at hospital appointments or for the mairie. However, I still can’t quite express myself as well as I do in English.

What about work?

When we first arrived, Adrian was still commuting to the UK. So, with a four-year-old son and no family nearby, anything I did had to fit in around school and airport runs. I threw myself into volunteering, from children’s activities at the library, serving as treasurer of a social association, to joining the team that puts together the monthly magazine, and helping on school trips. This eventually led to a couple of paid contracts at the library in Chef-Boutonne, which in turn led to my job at Château de Javarzay. From March to November, I welcome visitors to the bilingual multi- media museum where visitors learn about the history of the château and life in rural France.

Alongside all this, for over 10 years I’ve shared our life on my blog French Village Diaries.

Photo: Jacqui Brown

Any local speciality that you’ve developed a taste for?

I wasn’t a particular fan of goat cheese before we moved, but the soft and creamy chabichou was like nothing I had ever tasted-not strong or ‘goaty”. We’re lucky enough to live just a short 5km bike ride from a farm which has won medals in Paris for its goat cheese.

What about the local architecture and history?

Where do I start? There’s the tumulus and standing stones older than the pyramids, the Romanesque churches that have welcomed pilgrims on the Chemin de St-Jacques for centuries, the medieval donjons dating from the 10th century that were home to Alienor d’Aquitaine, and the 16th-century Renaissance châteaux made from the creamy stone. This area was part of occupied France during World War II, so there are plenty of reminders from memorials to fallen Resistance fighters to Nazi graffiti carved into stonework. For a history nerd like me, there is something to explore in every town, village and field.

What has surprised you the most about living in your area?

The diversity of the landscape. Last year we spent six days on a cycling holiday, never further than 100km from home, and every day gave us something different. Rolling green farmland, through villages and past châteaux, as we followed the Sèvre Niortais river from its source to the departmental town of Niort.

Then the canals of the flat marshland of the Marais Poitevin, until we hit the muddy estuary on the Atlantic. We dined and people-watched in cosmopolitan La Rochelle, before following the coast path south to Rochefort, taking in salt marshes, carrelet fishing huts on stilts, impressive naval buildings, and France’s only remaining transporter bridge.

Back inland, we followed the Charente river to Saintes with its impressive Roman architecture, then the vineyards of Cognac before arriving in Angoulême, comic- book capital of France. Even after 19 years here, I am amazed at what is on our doorstep.

Photo: Jacqui Brown

What is your favourite French saying?

Chanter comme une casserole [a reference to the clanging of pots and pans] signalling that someone sings badly. That someone would be me!

Find out more about Jacqui’s enticing corner of France at frenchvillagediaries.com, chateau-javarzay.fr and decouvertes.paysmellois.org

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Lead photo credit : Photo: Beer Bergman/Flickr

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