France Today sits down with Sarah Hargreaves, a PR specialist working in Languedoc-Roussillon, who first came to Montpellier when she was 21 and has stayed in the area ever since…
What was your first French experience?
Living in a chambre de bonne in Paris when I was 19. I was doing an applied arts course during the day and au-pairing in the evenings and on weekends to pay my way. The family I was staying with had an attic room across the courtyard right up under the rooftops in the Marais area in the heart of Paris. They were always having parties and friends round for dinner – especially Flamenco dancing evenings where people would roll up until all hours of the early morning, bringing bottles of wine and incredible stories. It was a very bohemian time for me. I would catch some fresh air after my late evenings, before climbing the endless flights of narrow wooden stairs, by wandering the empty cobbled streets of the beautiful Île Saint-Louis and watching the dark Seine flow silently by.
How often do you visit France?
I live here now, near Montpellier in the very south of France – I’m in a little village surrounded by vines. We bought the old butcher’s and are slowly doing it up. Sometimes people walk into our house thinking it’s a butcher’s, and are pretty embarrassed when they find themselves in the middle of our kitchen (the front of the house still has the butcher’s entrance to it).
When I was 21, I bought a one-way ticket to Montpellier, knowing that I wanted to be in France. I started working at the Mediterranean Film Festival, translating films for the jury members. Then I moved on to the Montpellier International Dance Festival, inviting journalists from around the world to attend the festival and visit Montpellier. One thing led to another and though I’m still working in PR, I now have my own company and specialise in food and wine.
What are your favourite places to visit, local or beyond, in France?
The Languedoc thrives with incredible places to see, visit and eat. I chose Montpellier because it’s a good crossroads for most things – two hours away from the ski slopes, right by the sea and a stone’s throw away from fresh windy air in the mountains.
I love going to Paris when I have to for meetings, as I’m not part of the bustle and rush of Parisian life any more and can appreciate it at a different level, taking time out to see an exhibition or wander round old haunts (such as slurping a hot chocolate at Angelina’s!). I also go once a year to Dinard in Brittany for the British Film Festival. It’s like stepping into another era or onto a Miss Marple set. Two things I unavoidably do: eat a huge platter of fresh seafood and walk along the coastal path.
Any food or drink favourites you’d like to share?
L’Ortensia up in the mountains – the food is exquisite, there are rooms above the restaurant and various hikes and walks in the mountains round about. La Maison Tarbouriech is a slice of paradise: an oyster farm on the banks of the Thau saltwater lagoon, where you can sit out on floating wood sofas and deck chairs eating oysters and sipping Picpoul de Pinet…
Tell us about a secret special place you love…
There are so many! I recently visited a goat’s cheese farm where they make the most delicious cheese and yoghurts. The goats and ewes share their hay-stacked barn with chickens and sheep, while listening to classical music and having various essential oils sprayed from the roof to cleanse them of colds and other symptoms… They looked really happy with life!
There is a special restaurant that I like, hidden in the middle of the vines and only open for three months at the height of summer. About three tonnes of sand were brought in and they put grass-topped huts here and there with huge sofas, and strung multicolored light bulbs among the trees. It’s like dining on the beach, but with acres of vines on each side… You take your shoes off for the evening when dining here.
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From France Today magazine