One of my great endeavours before departing for my European adventure was to stay in the countryside of the country that I am in. Often, the people are more genuine here and it provides an opportunity to experience a different style of living, that which is away from the city life.
Another ambition of mine was to at some stage stay with a family. For similar reasons, this provides yet another insight into how the people of the culture organise themselves and behave. Families provide a much different dynamic than that of a young couple or single person.
So when I received an invite from Julian, a friend of mine, to follow him to his hometown of Rousset-les-Vignes in the french countryside and stay with his family for a few days, I couldn’t resist.
Julian and I actually go a fair way back. We first met when he was traveling around Australia and couchsurfed at my place. He didn’t have a lot of money then so we didn’t get the opportunity to do a lot, but I remember it being a fun time in any case.
I then met him again when he hosted me in Nouméa in New Caledonia. Here we had more of an opportunity to get to know each other. It was fantastic. We went traveling on the island of Lifou together, hitchhiking, meeting locals and staying with them. It was the raw kind of traveling that I had never really done before but with Julian it all just fell into place.
Julian’s a real explorer at heart and loves to learn about the indigenous cultures of the land that he’s in. He loves to hike and explore the nature and the wildlife, which I think made him pretty excited to be going back home for a few days.
For you see, Julian now lives in Paris in order to undertake a stage of work there. I don’t really see Paris as being the ideal place for Julian and I don’t think he does either. So in the end, I think both of us were pretty excited to be going to Rousset-les-Vignes.
It was there on the first day that I met his parents. His mother, Patricia, greeted me when I arrived with a friendly welcome and his father, Jean-Michel, similarly not long after. I was already in admiration of them for the fact that they had agreed to accommodate me so kindly, but this was only further increased by how open and friendly they were when we first met. I became comfortable almost immediately.
It was easy to see where Julian had found his traveling spirit from. Both Patricia and Jean-Michel seemed to have traveled extensively themselves and always spoke of their previous travels with a gleam in their eyes and a beaming smile on their faces. After speaking with them for some time, it became clear that they also held value in traveling and learning from different cultures and in particular learning the stories of the indigenous population. After one such conversation I remarked that I felt it was important to travel to learn, to which Jean-Michel added “and especially to the non Anglo-Saxon places“.
They were very wise in regards to travel and I paid close attention to ensure that I took everything that they told me onboard. And they were more than happy to give me advice. The night before departing I had suggested a particular itinerary to them for the next three weeks or so. Soon there were a multitude of maps spread across the dining room table with both Patricia and Jean-Michel pointing at places to see and things to do. It was great to see them almost reliving their previous journeys through me as we studied the maps. Before one town could finish being explained a breath of excitement came and Jean-Michel would point to the neighbouring town and explain the beauty and pleasure of visiting it.
But I don’t think anything could beat Rousset-les-Vignes for them. They love their home and the region that they live in. Not least for the stunning views and the wines within the region. Jean-Michel took great pride in the wines of the region and each night over the dinner table there was a new discovery to be made. He taught me what to look for when observing a wine and when swirling the glass. They had a cellar full of wines that were categorically grouped dependant on the region. I learned to appreciate wine a bit more than what I had been during these days.
And the food. Some of the most glorious food that I have sampled since being in France was served on their dining room table. I don’t know how, but in not much time in the afternoon Patricia would conjure up two courses of meals for dinner. And typically do something similar for lunch also.
Always varying, and always delicious.
This was the French food culture. Each time the table was prepared and the meal served. This was usually accompanied by a glass of wine and some bread to eat with. Once this was finished, the second course came with more bread. After this, the cheese. And a wide selection of varieties too including, on one night, the famous Banon variety. This was, to them, the king of the cheeses and it did turn out to be the best of the bunch. Very strong in flavour and creamy and it was finished in no time.
Once too the meal was to be preceded by an aperitif. Jean-Michel introduced me to Pastis, an aniseed flavoured liquor that is mixed with water to dilute it. Once mixed, it usually produces a white or yellow colour. I had heard of this drink before but had never actually tasted it. Jean-Michel poured us both a glass of 51, a brand of Pastis that was his preference. He informed me that there are a few different brands of Pastis and that generally each household will have a favourite and drink only that type. Here, it was the 51. And if you wanted a double shot of it at a restaurant, you simply ask for a cent-deux (a 102). It was strong in flavour, and I admit that I wasn’t able to drink it as easily as Jean-Michel. My inclination is that it takes some time to get used to this drink and if I keep trying hard enough, my taste for it will come.
Eventually Julian had to leave however. Work awaited in Paris and the cheapest train was departing on the Friday. Patricia and Jean-Michel very kindly told me that I was welcome to stay longer if I had wanted and I took them up on this offer as I was enjoying discovering the area.
We all drove to the train station together to see off Julian. It was obvious to see that they both really enjoyed the company of their son back home and were sad to see him depart again. It was almost emotional for me to watch as he waved goodbye to them for the last time on the platform.
Julian has two sisters, both of which have traveled extensively themselves by the sounds of it and so they had all inherited the traveling spirit of their parents and departed elsewhere. This left Patricia and Jean-Michel to themselves and it was evident to see that they missed their children a lot. I joked with Julian before he left that I would eventually replace him, but this would be impossible. Patricia and Jean-Michel spoke a lot about Julian and his sisters, and always with the most pride in the achievements and travels that they have accomplished. It was fantastic to see and feel that family pride again after being away from it during my travels. In a way it made me feel more at home too.
The following days I stayed there without Julian, and both Patricia and Jean-Michel continued to be most accommodating to me. It was them who took me on a drive to the Dentelles de Montmirail and the Roman ruins of Vaison-la-Romaine. I could not be more thankful to them for that as it was an amazing way to spend the day.
Finally I realised I needed to continue discovering the remainder of France. Besides this, it was probably fair that I left both Patricia and Jean-Michel to their lives and stop being a burden! In the morning they prepared for me a sandwich to take with me on my train trip to the south. Jean-Michel kindly drove me to the train station and even came in with me to ensure that I could get the tickets without and problems.
It was slightly sad to say goodbye to them as they had made me feel at home in the space of only a few days. But I have a feeling that we may see each other again. I hear the Tour de France is passing through Rousset-les-Vignes in July…
And so I had fulfilled my hopes of experiencing a stay with a family during my time in France. I had imagined that it would be a friendly and generous affair, but Jean-Michel and Patricia exceeded all expectations.