Her (French) husband’s family thought they were mad when they moved to Charente 30 years ago, but just like Édith Piaf, Heidi Fuller-love has no regrets

 

Where do you live in France and why did you choose that village?

Thirty years ago, while travelling in Greece, I met a Frenchman travelling by motorbike. A year later, I moved to Versailles where he then lived and persuaded him to leave his job in the Château de Versailles, and move to his family home in Mouzon, in the heart of the Charente countryside. His father, who grew up there, was horrified. “Are you mad? What on earth will you do there?” he said.

 

What aspects of rural life do you enjoy?

Right from the start I loved long walks in the forest looking for mushrooms and going to the local farmers to buy milk ‘straight from the cow’. I loved the climate – the hot sunny spring days and long summers swimming at first in Clargourt lake, and later in Lavaud lake when it was created in the 1990s.

 

How was your French when you arrived?

I’d worked as an au pair in Paris for a year, so it was OK. We had to decide which language we’d use to communicate with each other. Because my French was better than my husband’s English, we chose his.

 

And how about now?

For many years I’d regularly get a headache at having to communicate every single thought and emotion in another language. Now it is sometimes easier for me to communicate in French than in English. My English friends tell me that I’m a completely different person (different body language, different mannerisms) when I speak French.

 

How was interacting with the locals?

We moved to my husband’s family house – a big old two-storey building that used to be a coaching inn – in the centre of Mouzon. My husband had gone to school with the younger villagers and cut his first teeth sitting on the knees of the older villagers, so it was like being part of a family.

Later, when we opened a chambre d’hôtes in another village, things were rather more complicated. I wrote a (humorous) book about the experience called Crossing the Loire. Even though it’s 20 years ago now, my husband still reads passages of that book from time to time and laughs out loud.

 

Any local produce you’ve taken a particular shine to?

When I first moved to Mouzon, I really loathed tomatoes and never ate them. One day our neighbour gave us her coeur de boeuf big juicy tomatoes and they were so delicious I was instantly converted. I also love some of my husband’s food quirks: eating olive-oil-toasted bread with raw garlic, and chabrot – pouring red wine into the dregs of your soup, then soaking it up with a fresh baguette.

 

What about the local architecture and history?

We no longer live here all year, but we are still both passionate about the local architecture (I wrote a guidebook to the region). We love seeking out old churches, like the glorious Knights Templar church in Yvrac-et-Malleyrand.

 

What has surprised you most about living in that part of France?

Learning the patois was certainly a surprise. Words like beurchu (someone without teeth) or cagouille (snail) which is also the nickname for les Charentais.

 

What is your favourite saying?

A common saying for kids who don’t finish their dinner (and something my husband’s father used to say to him): “Mange! Tu sais pas qui te mangeras”. Eat! You don’t know who will eat you.

 

Heidi Fuller-love is a travel, food and lifestyle journalist and blogger. She is also a radio presenter and photographer. IMAGES© HEIDI FULLERLOVE

 

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