It’s funny the places you make friends isn’t it? Many moons ago, I spent a few summers typing letters to earn some cash for my global adventures. If you told me back then that one of the secretaries I met there would end up being such a dear friend, I’d never have believed you. She already knew my Mum well and not only did she rescue me from clerical oblivion but she also kept in touch long after I left.When she retired to the sleepy, tranquil village of Benevent L’Abbaye, La Creuse in the Limousin region of France, she suggested we come and visit and after several years of dithering, Mum and I eagerly departed London on a rainy Saturday in June this year to arrive in this unfamiliar province in central France.
Bennevent L’Abbaye, La Creuse, France
The drive from the airport saw us enveloped in undulating, rolling, lime green landscapes, whilst the prolific pollen count made itself all too apparent to my fragile nasal lining. About five cars fell into the periphery of our vision on the journey, deeming it a “busy” day by local standards. If this is busy, then London life is nothing short of disorganised, chaotic pandemonium.
We reached their beautiful home with magenta flowers gracing the front patio, a balcony adorned with floral displays and the friendliest dog I’ve ever met. The sun was all consuming at a temperature of approximately 30 degrees, absorbing the vapour from my soggy London umbrella.
Benevent L’Abbaye is the picture of what I always imagined France to be like, where locals greet you as you walk down the street and with charming village post offices, doctor’s clinics and quintessentially French boulangeries, charcuteries and patisseries.
The village name translates literally to the “Good Wind” and it is an important location along the Pilgrim route in Europe by virtue of its abbey. Unlike so many other Catholic churches and abbeys I had seen before, this one is simple, understated and earthy, the cool ashen stone giving us some light relief from the midday heat.
Even in a tiny village, the French can make just about anything seem elegant. Forget corporate fizzy drinks, here we sipped on al fresco violet cordial at Le Colimacon Bleu Salon du The, a tea room with one of the most eclectic collections of loose leaf teas that I’ve seen anywhere in the world, including Lassi, Rose and Masala and a cocoa nibs flavour (which I first tried at a gourmet chocolate afternoon tea).
La Creuse is a predominantly agricultural area; there is little to see in terms of industry, export or job markets. It is an easy-going, rural life, where the simplest of things still yield the greatest of pleasures – the family Sunday lunches, the fruit trees in the orchards, a coffee and a cake in the village. Far from the glamorous but sharp tones I recall in Paris, the vibe here is as casual as the dress sense. No-one here cares if you don’t have a designer handbag , which suited me just fine (my designer handbag money stays firmly in my travel pot).
We spent Sunday afternoon in the nearby town of Gueret, a larger town than Benevent L’Abbaye but retaining the narrow cobbled roads, a municipal hall and a large central fountain.
A selection of boutique clothes and shoe shops line the streets as does a charming little chocolate cafe, which was sadly closed when we were there. We enjoyed a lazy and sun-soaked stroll but it would be worth visiting on a Saturday or weekday to see the town come into its own.
And of course, what is France without its food? With only two days, I tried to sample a few French delicacies including a goats cheese fougasse, éclairs and macarons and Mum tried a slice of Tropezienne cake. It’s the abundance of light but delicious fresh cream in cakes that I think truly distinguishes British cakes from French pastries. Later that evening, we were treated to homemade cherry Clafoutis, which I learned is a delicacy from the Limousin district itself.
Normally a neurotic restaurant planner, it felt strangely liberating to be taken to a restaurant chosen by someone else! At the small family run La Pailotte restaurant, the waterside views at dusk were seductive but the vibe inside the bar bustling, the perfect combination for us.I tried duck gizzard for the first time in a salad that was one of the best I’ve ever tried. The dishes rarely change but the loyal customer-base they have earned love them just the way they are.
– Benevent L’Abbaye is approximately an hour away from the nearest big city of Limoges
– This is an ideal location for anyone with an interest in countryside walks, sampling French village life and visiting the undiscovered regions of France