My French Village: Les Grandes-Ventes in Normandy
Real life stories
George Pitman found his little slice of heaven in the spellbinding Pays de Bray, just inland from the bracing shores of Normandy…
What do you enjoy about your village?
We live just outside Les Grandes-Ventes, which feels like a large village although it is in reality a small town, located about 25km inland from Dieppe. The name refers back to the auctions, when they would sell wood from the nearby forest for the local monastery, hence its name that translates into ‘The Big Sales’. It’s a sizeable community of around 1,800 people, well run with a dynamic maire and active and efficient the administration, which counts for a lot. We have the essentials you need for daily life here, such as a small market, banks, post office, supermarkets, cafés and bakeries.
How did you discover Les Grandes-Ventes?
My wife Liz and I had always wanted to live in the French countryside. We particularly love the forests as we didn’t have many of those where we used to live in Colchester. We visited the area on holiday about four times, staying in a gite in the magical Eawy forest. By a sheer stroke of luck one day, Liz spotted a ‘for sale’ sign on a small empty house in the very area that we loved so much, so we didn’t hesitate and jumped at the chance to own a tiny piece of heaven. After three years as a holiday home, it is now our permanent residence.
What is there to do in the area?
We are located between the forest and the sea, surrounded on three sides by more than 7,000 hectares of the forêt d’Eawy, a huge attraction for wildlife and nature lovers with fantastic marked footpaths and bike circuits. Just 25 minutes away is the city of Dieppe, with its old fishing port and its many seafood restaurants, ferries to England, beach, lots of history, and a truly exceptional market. A little further afield, Rouen has a breathtaking historic centre, with the seven or eight storeys-high medieval colombage structures that somehow escaped being burned down by war or history. I had never really heard of anybody raving about Rouen until we went, and now I don’t understand why everybody isn’t. It is truly exceptional.
How was your French when you arrived?
Liz is from Luxembourg and lived in Belgium for many years, so her French is excellent. I’ve lived and worked in Paris, so my French is reasonable, but I want it to be much better, so I follow a heavy diet of podcasts, press articles, and French radio. What surprised you the most about local life? Perhaps the most pleasant surprise was how light, welcoming and friendly everyone is. I can think of so many examples. They encourage you to tutoyer (use the familiar form of ‘tu’ instead of the formal “vous”) much more quickly than anticipated. I do a lot of biking and I’ll be going up a steep hill when a car will slow down, roll down the window and shout bon courage! It happens all the time. It’s lovely. Also, as we are both retired, we looked for options to volunteer and weren’t sure how much scope there would be for that here. We were amazed. Liz volunteers actively at the local clothes bank, and helped clear scrub from an 11th-century château that was ransacked by the English – for which I’ve apologised.
What about the food?
That was another pleasant surprise because, as we are both vegetarians, we were a little apprehensive as to whether we’d find food that we could enjoy. We needn’t have worried; we were absolutely bowled over by the quality and range of food you can get in shops and markets.
What is your favourite French phrase?
Besides loving to hear bon courage when I’m cycling, one of my favourite French expressions has to be pas des souci (no problem, nothing to worry about). That phrase is always welcome to hear.
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Lead photo credit : Wikimedia Commons
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