We talk to Amanda Garnham, Press Attaché for the Armagnac bureau, who’s lived with her family in the Gers département of Gascony since 1997… Tell us about your first experience of France…
My first memory of France that really sticks in my mind is being in love and driving down to the Côte d’Azur in a purple Triumph Spitfire for a holiday – I was about 19 years old. It felt so ‘abroad’ with its beautiful tree lined roads, cafés with tables on the pavement, purring coffee machines, delicious hot chocolate and exotic citron pressé making you feel like a local when you ordered it.
It was so exciting to work out a route heading south along the ‘Autoroute du Soleil’. We arrived in Le Lavandou at an ungodly hour and parked up next to the promenade, only to be woken by a blazing hot sun bearing down. To go and buy croissants and ‘une baguette’ in a boulangerie – that tasted so good. Carefree days camping, getting brown as berries, lying on the beach, being natives, eating crêpes with Chantilly cream and purée de marrons, and gaufres (waffles) and fabulous bouillabaisse in little restaurants along the seafront.
Why did you move to France?
It had always been a bit of a pipe dream, as we felt that the French enjoyed a certain art de vivre that seemed unobtainable where we were. We’d certainly discussed it, though we never really gave it a great deal of serious thought. We lived in a beautiful old working watermill near to Tunbridge Wells and it just started to feel like commuter land. One day we tentatively starting investigating buying a property in France, possibly another watermill so that we could continue to make and sell flour. Wheels were set in motion, we contacted some estate agents and planned our first trip.
Where and how?
The first area that seemed very appealing was the Charente, but I was keen to discover the lands a little further south and that’s how we came to find the Gers department in the Midi-Pyrénées, a truly magical place in France’s southwest corner.
We rented a house for seven months, during which time we scoured the area for a home – preferably one with some type of business attached. It was a very trying time as we had four small children and three dogs! Our French was pretty appalling and we struggled to understand everything. I was often alone with the children as my husband needed to work in England and, naturally, there were times when I thought that we’d made a terrible mistake.
What are your favourite places to visit?
Luckily, my favourite place is where we live, in the Gers, near the town of Condom. We’re incredibly lucky to have so many fabulous places practically on our doorstep and I’m fortunate to be able to invite journalists from around the world to discover the wonders of this area as the Attachée de Presse for the Armagnac bureau. The Armagnac cellars are high on my list of places to visit, particularly at distillation time during the autumn.
Tell us about a secret place you love…
You’ll just have to visit the area with me and Glamour and Gumboots!
What are your favourite aspects of living in France?
There’s a particular feeling of peace and wellbeing here. I love the light, shadows, sunshine, my neighbours, embracing the traditions, the Armagnac and, of course, the wines and local gastronomy. Although we are tucked away in a bucolic idyll, the Gers is only two hours from the Pyrénées and the same from the Atlantic.
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