Dear Frenchly Readers,
When last I wrote, summer was at its apex of high, mid-July and I was on my way to France with my family for a road trip.
I am now back, crash landed into my life and nostalgic for the time we had. There are so many things I miss, fervently: the sweetest pêches plates I’ve ever tasted and the firm and tangy Mirabelle plums; lettuce so flavorful and fresh it needed little adornment; tomatoes as good as any I can grow, or better; road side rest stops full of maps and books, organic yogurts and little wedges of camembert for the cheese hankering driver.
My children cleaved to French culture as if it were completely natural to them and they swam across France as if they belonged.
I have so many stories to tell and places to describe—like how much we all fell in love with Lyon, for instance, or the incredible experience of the Lascaux caves. But today, this hot August day, as the crickets announce that summer is a-going, I want to tell you about swimming: Our first week we went east to the Alps and stayed in a small town called Menthon-Saint-Bernard on the lac d’Annecy. Our accommodation was La Vallombreuse, a beautiful manor built at the foot of the Menthon-Saint-Bernard castle during the sixteenth century. Reader, this place is magic. Old wooden antiques and wide rooms; secret doors and tiled passages lined with art books; portraits that peer from the walls with beneficence and louvered windows that open out to gardens that terrace up toward the castle, and, beyond that, the peaks of the magnificent Alps. There, we swam twice and, sometimes, thrice daily in the astoundingly clear, almost turquoise mineral-rich water of the lake. I’ve never swum in water like that before.
From there, we went south to the southwestern corner of the country where the Pyrenees plunge into the Mediterranean, and we swam all day and late into the night in the wavy, salty Mediterranean. We were in the town of Collioure, which many of you already know from our Rue du Soleil column, by Karen Karbo. (I got the meet the real Desmond Jones!) Forever, I will hold the image of my two boys swimming in that dark midnight sea, the golden lights of the little town sparkling like thousands of fireflies over the water.
Then we drove north to the Dordogne river valley and stayed on our friend Noelle’s massive noisette (hazelnut) farm and swam in the green water of her deep and cool reservoir until we were starving. As evening fell, we sat outside with her and two of her friends, who are both artists, talking about books and art and food whilst eating and eating.
Back in Lyon, the day before we left, we ended up at the Tony Bertrand Piscine, a pool built in 1965 as Lyon’s bid for the 1968 Olympics. Although Mexico eventually won out, this state of the art aquatic center is built right along the Rhône river and has one pool for the serious swimmers and another for the dilettante that features areas of varying depths, an umbrella which will rain on you, jets that shoot out of the water, submerged lounge chairs, a water maze to swim through and…it’s just SO MUCH FUN. Males, you will need to arrive with a speedo, as loose shorts are not allowed (if you forget, there’s a vending machine for you to purchase a bikini or boxer-style tight European suit.)
There is so much to tell—the food, the light, the people, the lamentable coffee and the love affair my seven-year-old had with road-stop comic books. But, in the meantime, as I sleepily get back to work, there’s a new Bouffe by Kate Christensen today with the perfect end-of- summer meal: A Salade Niçoise. Dan and I made it last night for our anniversary—it was light and tasty and filling. Make sure you make lots of dressing—you will want extra to sop up at the end of the meal with bread.
Also, new today, we have a “How & What to Pack” piece by Catherine for a 7-day trip to France. My two cents are these: always bring a small duffel bag rolled into your luggage that you can fill with dirty laundry and check on the way home so that you can put your new treasures, like an amazing bottle of wine you bought in Périgord, in your hard case; carry cotton bags for shopping as the French are really into keeping the trash level down; always bring only one book, because, no matter your aspirations, you are unlikely to read that much as you navigate a new language, culture, and bask in the food and sights; and buy your soap and shampoo there –indeed some of the best soaps and hair products in the word are made in France and are available at every corner pharmacy.
Ok, that’s it for now—I’ll be back next week with more stories and advice from my trip.
As summer dwindles, enjoy a few last plunges yourself—our family has decided to swim every day, no matter the weather. We’ve already had two swims this week in full-on rain and one in thick darkness.
Photo credit of the author swimming: Daniel E. Davis
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