Photo: Catherine Cat

The Lot-et-Garonne department in the Nouvelle Aquitaine region of Southwest France has been described as “the France that you always hoped existed but could never quite find”. It’s idyllic; a paradise.

Photo: Catherine Cat

I looked over at my friend as she was talking feverishly about the still, quiet beauty of the river Lot in the first morning light, and how pulling up stakes and leaving England at her age, her late fifties, to live on an old barge boat had been scary at first, like all new adventures. Yet choosing this uncommon life had brought her immense satisfaction, fulfilment and joy. I noted, too, by living the life she was called to live, her face had softened, and stress once so evident now gave way to a warm, youthful glow. Joy is, after all, the best facelift.

There were at least eight or so of us that evening sharing a table at an open air market in a traditional little hamlet called Fongrave. The live band was well underway. It was a sixties night and the lively square was filled with a good many from that era, rocking away to the Beatles. We were eating delicious mounds of fries, some even dipping them into bowls of steamy bœuf bourguignon, while others who were more daring than me tried the escargots de Bourgogne. I had yet to eat my lemon tartin. The band stopped for a break and once more a romantic breeze of softly spoken French caressed the air. I was besotted.

Photo: Anne-Elisabeth Moutet

Fongrave is a charming little 12th-century hamlet with its pretty square overlooking the river Lot, where fishing or a leisurely boat ride down the river is a daily summer occurrence. I love to take a stroll in hamlets or villages like this one, past orchards pregnant with fat, juicy violet-blue plums. Fongrave is also on a cycle route, where country roads invite you to grab a bike and meander through the countryside.

Photo: Catherine Cat

In the heart of Fongrave, clouds of petunias and geraniums hang from the stone houses lining the street. I remember marvelling at the colours of the shutters: pistachio, aubergine, coffee cream and faded blue. On summer evenings they are swung wide open and held firmly in place against mushroom coloured stone walls until the house regains its composure and breath.

Aux Délices de Fongrave is as its name suggests, one of the most delicious restaurants in the region with its outdoor garden and leafy trees. Tables are laden with scrumptious, authentic French cuisine (made from the recipes of the French grandmas of long ago). International cuisine is also offered.

Photo: Catherine Cat

You’ll find remarkably quaint bastide towns perched on the surrounding hilltops (Pujols is the most beautiful), each with a story to tell, no longer fiercely guarding their communities but instead offering quiet, sweeping views of lush green countryside. It’s this reason why I was seduced back to this part of France, eventually buying my very own French patch here. The Lot-et-Garonne is a ‘Garden of Eden’ and I relish its peace and bliss. I’m enchanted by its endless green meadows full of wildflowers that neighbour massive fields of bright, blooming, cheery faced sunflowers.

The locals think of the Lot-et-Garonne as the biggest garden bed, only interrupted by farmhouses in the distance, perhaps a moulin (windmill) or a towering chateau with generations of stories and secrets embedded within its medieval walls. No, as much as my friend protests, I can’t keep the beauty of the Lot-et-Garonne to myself. What is life without sharing? It’s a place ideal for artists and I am of the belief that there is an artist in every one of us, even it it’s just “the art of admiring”. À bientôt!

Photo: Catherine Cat
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6 COMMENTS

  1. Oh Renata! This article is a precious gift! You just transported me to a much welcome diversion, a paradise so peaceful and lovely! Your writing and the pictures are stunning, and I thank you for sharing the story of a place called Fongrave. “Joy” truly is the best face lift as you so eloquently put it!

  2. We know the region very well as we have a property in St Jean de Duras and it really is one of the most peaceful, beautiful places in France. The people are so friendly, the weather beautiful and varied and the food, out of this world. The night markets, with the old buildings subtly lit, are the best ways to spend warm, balmy nights in July and August. Roll on the summer and the yellow, bobbing heads of the sunflowers – it really is one huge garden for as far as the eye can see.

  3. Glad you are enjoying the region, too, Karen Hyams! What’s not to love? I agree x Thank you for all your lovely comments x

  4. You have reminded me about Rick Stein and his culinary adventures on board the peniche (barge) Rosa–the first leg was Bordeaux city to Toulouse on the Canal de Garonne, as documented in his “French Odyssey” BBC series. This canal joins up the Canal du Midi at Toulouse that then heads towards the Mediterranean. He pauses at Sainte-Colombe-en-Bruilhois (near Agen, Lot-et-Garonne) to visit another published chef and bargee, Kate Hill. She is the author of A Culinary Journey in Gascony: Recipes and Stories from My French Canal Boat (1995) in which she describes the journey up and down her “Long Village” on the canal in her peniche Julia Hoyt. Could almost be your friend, except it is already 24 years ago! This region is roughly in the middle between the two wonderful cities of Toulouse and Bordeaux.

    This is a great part of France, whether on water or on land. It’s a kind of heaven. And luckily France has other regions to attract the kind of tourist we wouldn’t really want here, ie. those looking for bling and excitement (and the three S’s) in the Cote d’Azur etc.

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