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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…!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

25 July
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Two become three ‘en France’… but it’s a puppy not a prince here!

So as we congratulate William and Kate on their new chapter with baby George, Lee and I begin our adventure in France with a new arrival of our own… of the canine variety! Meet Hank the miniature schnauzer (or Schnauzer Nain in French). He’s been with us for a few weeks now and has been keeping me occupied as I bid “Au Revoir” to ITV News for a few months and “Bonjour” to life with my rugby-playing husband in Clermont Auvergne, France.

Hank as a little baby pup - so cute!

Hank as a little baby pup – so cute!

The cute little fella has been settling in well. He’s been chewing everything in sight, except his own toys! We are now fully immersed in pup-sitting and pooper-scooping and, before you ask, yes he is named after Hank in Californication. Lee’s a big fan, I chose the breed so he chose the name. I trust his namesake is a good role model because I’ve never watched the show?!

We were lucky enough to find Hank at a breeder in the heart of the French countryside here. It’s amazing the places you can discover just by putting it out there on Twitter! When we collected him, the lovely family kindly invited us to stay for a BBQ. I was a little apprehensive about a dining experience entirely in French, but with the help of Google Translate and some memory of conversation lessons I’d been taking, we all muddled through: “Bon Appetit!”

 

Hank's breeders

Hank’s breeders

And fortunately, when the chat dried up, the language of sport doesn’t need translation – cue fierce competition of table football.

 

Lee (right) getting competitive at table football

Lee (right) getting competitive at table football

Over dinner they told us that Hank already had his own personality, ‘greed’ being the predominant trait! First in and last out at feeding time, good job I’m already used to a man constantly raiding the fridge then! My only hope is that a Hank is easier to housetrain than a husband…. I’ve made a good start teaching him to hang washing and change the remote to the news!

 

Hank doing the washing

Hank doing the washing

Speaking of la maison, prepping chez nous to be pet-friendly was a challenge all of its own – the language barrier getting the better of us. The French word for puppy is chiot – pronounced ‘she-oh’. Not, as we mistakenly said to the pet shop assistant, ‘she-ott’. The latter translates as a curse word for a toilet! I’ll leave it to your imagination, but it was little wonder she looked dazed and confused!

Hank chilling on the rug

Hank chilling on the rug

I’m glad to say it hasn’t all been dog duties (though it feels like it!). Before Hank took over our lives and Lee had to start pre-season training, we did squeeze in a pre-pup romantic getaway. We drove from France to Lake Como in Italy (where George Clooney hangs out!) and it didn’t disappoint. We stayed in a stunning hotel in Tremezzo with a floating pool and lush gardens.

Selfie of me and Lee

Selfie of me and Lee

Finally, before I go, I’ll let you into a little secret… Anglo-French confusion also caught us out when we chose Hank’s name. He is, in fact, actually called Iggy. Confused? Well in France, unbeknown to us, the rule is that you register any pedigree dog born in the year 2013 with a name starting with the letter ‘I’. Next year it‘ll be ‘J’ and so on and so forth. But our heart was already set on Hank so, whilst officially his first name is Iggy, he’ll be called by his middle name!

Until next time, must sign off now to rescue my flip-flop from the jaws of our furry friend …. Oh the glamour!

Ax

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