South of France

28 March
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Giving up is hard to do. My French fitness challenge!

Most of us love pancakes.  I’ve not done any substantial research but I’m pretty sure this is a statement of fact.  It’s substantiated at the very least by my social media timelines, which were recently scattered with photos of people’s attempts at cooking the batter-based delicacies for Shrove Tuesday.

Indeed, Pancake Day – as it is now more commonly known – has gradually morphed into solely a festival of eating much like the true meaning of Christmas has gradually been taken over by present giving.  It is designed to be a celebration of food of course, but only because it’s meant to co-exist with a period of fasting which, from a religious point of view, is meant to follow for 40 days and 40 nights until Easter comes around.  Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day, therefore, represents your last chance to stuff your face before you starve yourself.  But, whether we like it or not, these days it’s more about the eating than giving much of a thought to the fasting.

Hiking in the beautiful volcanic Auvergne region

Please be aware this is by no means a lecture on Christian values.  I’ve never been one to preach it unless I practice it and the last time I checked, Mardi Gras lived up to it’s literal ‘Fat Tuesday’ translation for me – and meant little more besides whooping at successful pancake flipping and subsequent munching.  So, as lent comes to an end once again and I have failed to give anything up once again, I’ve decided to change my tactic.  Because, after all, giving up – like breaking up – is hard to do.

With a little help from my husband ...

With a little help from my husband …

Instead I have been inspired by another fad – ‘100 happy days’ – that has been crashing Facebook and Instagram of late.  Each day users post a picture of something simple in their life that contributed to making a day joyous for them.  This could be anything from cuddling with the dogs (you know I like that one!) to heading home for mum’s roast dinner.  Get the idea?

Which is when I decided it would make me a lot happier and more joyful if I didn’t have to give up chocolate or pancakes or chocolate pancakes at all, and I could just as well fulfil Lent’s ideals of sacrifice, commitment and willpower by ‘taking something on’ instead.

On yer bike!

On yer bike!

So, picking up and running (as it turns out – quite literally) with the ‘100 happy days’ idea, I (foolishly) had the brainwave for a spin-off.  And so began ‘100 days of fitness’.  Or in instagram/twitter speak {hashtag}100daysoffitness.

Every day I am committing to a different form of exercise.  Anything from hiking or running to weights or cycling.  Or even perhaps YouTube exercise videos which I’ve learnt are called ‘webisodes’.  There are really no other rules.  Depending on the type of training, sessions can be anything from 30 minutes to 3 hours long.  Other than that, as long as I do something, I can check off that day on the way to the magic 100.

I’m unsure whether at this stage whether it’s a help or a hindrance to have a professional sportsman for a husband during this self-imposed challenge.  I am, course, lucky to have an expert opinion on different ways to train.  With a century of days to tick, variety could be my saviour.  However, when I’m struggling for breath on a run, suggestions to incorporate uphill lunges at intervals I can happily dismiss thanks to selective hearing!

Keep on running!

Keep on running!

As I write this I am only on day 5. But as you read this, I will probably be nearer day 35.  Still 65 to go then.  Gulp.  Check my progress on Instagram or Twitter: andreabyrnetv – let’s hope I’m still going if you do!  No pressure then.

09 August
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My ‘Tour de France’ … first leg!

Hello, and welcome back to my blog from sunny France.  Thanks for taking the time to read it.  Last time I blogged, I was welcoming some visitors from the UK.  Not so absorbed with entertaining this week, I’ve had the chance to do some dedicated exploring of the Auvergne, and improve my tour guide credentials for the next time I have guests!

The ‘Tour de France’ has not long departed from this region – passing through a town about forty-five minutes away from Clermont – and producing another Brit winner in Chris Froome.  So, I decided it was time to break my 2-decade bike veto… and buy a ‘vélo’.  After a little pedalling practice on a friend’s (just to check the old adage really is true), I invested in my own two-wheeled transportation.  There was no stopping me now…!

Par vélo!

Par vélo!

The aim: to find places that pass you by in a car, places not accessible on four wheels.  So, although I started within only a few kilometres of our house, I was immediately rewarded.  Two villages along from ours, past a small lake where model boats were being sailed and anglers were waiting for a bite, I found a pretty path.  On one side, novice French farmers were tending to their small holdings in the evening sunshine – ploughing, plucking and pruning their harvests ready to sell to passers by.  And on the other, the biggest and most beautiful field of sunflowers I have ever come across!! Millions of ‘tournesols’, named so because the buds bloom towards the sun, being grown for their oil and seeds.

'Les Tournesols'... beautiful!

‘Les Tournesols’… beautiful!

These photos from every angle no doubt prove that I developed something of an obsession …and that my cycling route has been a little repetitive.  If only this little street I head past on the way home was full of shops instead of houses!  A little retail therapy for all that pedalling perhaps?  But no such luck!

 

Designer Living!

Designer Living!

Tough as it was to drag myself away from the spectacular sea of flowers, I did find some other stunning scenery to share with you.  This is Murat-le-Quaire.  A village in the Puy-de-Dome region.  If you are looking to sample quaint, then this is it.  And with panoramic vistas thrown in.  There is a small museum called Maison de la Toinette et Julien if a history of rural France interests you. But my favourite spot was where rural met retro – a quirky tearoom below a barn shop selling produce from the region.

Quaint, rural France... Murat-Le-Quaire

Quaint, rural France… Murat-Le-Quaire

 

Murat-Le-Quaire

Café culture

 

Rural meets retro in the mountains!

Rural meets retro in the mountains!

Mountain refreshments

Mountain refreshments

This was just one village in a string nestled in the lush greenery of this route.  The next spot along – Le Mont-Dore – offers cable car trips.  So, there really is more to discover here than you would imagine.  I think Central France has often been the poor relative for holidaymakers hopping across the Channel, but if what I’ve found in the Auvergne area so far is anything to judge by, I predict more airlines will be taking up routes here (I’m not being paid commission by the tourist office, promise!).

 

Walkies!

Walkies!

Finally, away from the travel sales pitch, here’s your Hank update (he’s our miniature schnauzer puppy).  Well, he’s just turned 3 months and is still a cheeky monkey!  But he has now had is next vaccination at the vet (he was a very good boy) and Lee and I are now able to take him out for walks, which is proving useful for exhausting those mischief reserves!

Sunset Strollin'

Sunset Strollin’

That’s all for now!  Thanks for joining us and we’ll be back soon…!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

01 August
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Friends & Family

Hello again! Bonjour from me, Lee and little Hank from Clermont-Ferrand in central France. Thanks for taking the time to read my blog!

Lee has made his way to the Pyrenees for a pre-season training so he’s had a week of mountaineering, commando training, zip wires… oh and a couple of rugby matches thrown in too for good measure!

 

Lee doing his pre-season training

Lee doing his pre-season training

 

In his absence, I’ve been welcoming some visitors from the UK and attempting to give them a taste of the Auvergne. Although, as I’m still discovering myself, it’s been more an idiot’s guide than Lonely Planet! My oldest school friend (and bridesmaid) Lisa was first to land for a sneaky weekend break before she became too pregnant to fly.  The weekend’s itinerary started with obligatory pampering at the Royatonic baths and spa in the Royat area of the town.  It’s fuelled by the hot thermal springs of the Auvergne volcanic region and well worth a visit.   We followed that with a rooftop lunch at the gorgeous Princess Flore Hotel, taking in fabulous views of the city including Clermont’s iconic black gothic cathedral built from volcanic rock.

 

View from the Princess Flore Hotel

View from the Princess Flore Hotel

 

We rounded off the weekend with a drive up the mountain roads to the Puy-de-Dome, the king of the region’s chain of volcanoes which make up its unique landscape since erupting all those thousands of years ago.  However, not feeling it was fair to drag a heavily pregnant lady to the top on foot, we settled for eating ice-cream and watching other people either hiking up to the peak or parascending down (watch this space though – the latter is on my to-do list)!

 

Lisa and me at the Puy-de-Dome

Lisa and me at the Puy-de-Dome

 

Lisa flew out of Brive, which gave me an opportunity to take in another new town with beautiful views! Just a hop, skip and jump from the Dordogne, the area hosts many a Brit and their second home – and who can blame them?!

 

View over the Brive countryside

View over the Brive countryside

 

Best friend’s flying visit was swiftly followed by my mum’s arrival for a week. The ‘ladies who lunch’ theme continued and we headed to  Clermont’s beautifully groomed gardens, perfectly combining à la carte with a red and white pavement café vibe at Jardin Le Coq, where we enjoyed the dappled sunshine and delightful food.

 

Mum and me

Mum and me

 

Otherwise, chilling has been the order of the day.  Often, for us Brits, it’s simply too hot to do much else! With the heatwave lasting the entire summer here, temperatures touching 40 degrees and the absence of a pool at the house, we decided to invest in another cooling mechanism.  You’re never too old for a giant paddling pool!

 

The beloved giant paddling pool!

The beloved giant paddling pool!

 

Finally, for those following the progress of Miniature Schnauzer Hank, he too has been feeling the heat…

 

Hank hanging out in the heat

Hank hanging out in the heat

 

And he almost stumbled upon a unique way of cooling off…

 

Hank looking to cool down!

Hank looking to cool down!

 

Next time, my tribute to our Brit Tour de France champ Chris Froome as I get on my bike to explore the Auvergne…!

Back soon! Love, Ax

 

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