We had all the ingredients for the makings of a wonderful memory:
Four couples. (Add one Englishman, three Frenchmen, two Canadian girls, and two crazy Americans). Place in one holiday house deep in the French countryside, stir in some wine, champagne, good food, lively conversation, and, of course, a Secret Santa gift exchange.
Simmer to a boil, and enjoy!
The kids opted to stay home, so we'd arranged sleepovers for them. (I also told my neighbors to keep an eye on our house just in case the 16-yr-old took advantage of our departure to throw a party). We were a bit nervous, but we left. On the three-hour drive from Toulouse to Valon on Saturday morning, Jean-Luc informed me we were headed to la France profonde— deep France.
"Les blaireaux?" I asked, which literally means badgers, but in slang means hillbillies or rednecks.
"No, and that's a really derogatory term," said Jean-Luc. "I wish the kids didn't teach you that word."
But they did.In fact, they call me a blaireau when I act like a tourist, taking pictures. And they've also taught me worse expressions. Sssh! Don't tell their dad!
Shopping centers soon disappeared and the flat highway transformed into twisty roads, the misty landscape dotted with fuzzy sheep and even fuzzier cows that, in the hazy sun, looked like lions. We went over rivers and through the woods, traversing deep rolling valleys, mountainous peaks, and pretty little villages with stone bridges decked out for the holiday season.
We were headed to the heart and soul of the French countryside.
Aveyron can lay claim to ten of the most beautiful villages in France, breathtaking landscapes, châteaus and medieval villages, and, of course, Roquefort cheese and Laguiole knives. I couldn't wait to get to the gîte so we could get out of the car and explore.
Finally, we saw the sign for Valon. We'd arrived. My heart skipped a few beats. The gîte was a 19th-century renovated stone cottage nestled in the lush Truyère valley with a view of a 12th century chateau and the river below.
It was a dream come true.
After dropping our bags off in our room, we joined our friends for lunch, a crackling fire warming our bodies, a homemade soup warming our bellies. Since the weather was more than agreeable, we took our coffee outside.
|Coffee with a view.|
|We took in nature, listening to the river, and inhaling the scents of rosemary, lavender, and sage.|
|The Toulouse Les Chicks (left to right); me, Oksana, Monique, and Trupty.|
|Our men (left to right): Jean-Luc, Chris, JC (standing), and Phillippe.|
Photos were taken, laughs were exchanged, then, it was time to explore our little slice of provincial paradise.
|We walked the village streets,|
|slowly sashaying by beautiful private homes,|
|and met, Rita, one of the friendly locals.|
|Château de Valon, the centerpiece of Valon, at Dusk.|
Before the sun set, we headed back to the gîte, where, over a vin chaud, or warm mulled wine, everybody pitched in to prepare dinner, including the men.
|Dinner- a raclette- was a community event!|
|Champagne and lively conversations!|
The evening ended with the exchange of our secret Santa presents, though, we all knew the most special gift was the bond of friendship we had established three short years ago — the kind of true friendships we are so very, very lucky to have, the kind of friendships we are truly thankful for.
True friendships are a gift. That night, we went to our rooms with the spirit of Christmas beating in our hearts.
Before leaving for Toulouse the following morning, we ate a light breakfast and went on an hour-long hike.
|Walking in nature, we took in magnificent views,|
|talked about the honey sweetness of life,|
|discovered the beautiful and unexpected,|
|and I left Valon feeling more than content!|
For more on things to do and see in Aveyron, click here.
If you'd like to stay at Chris's gite and experience the magic of staying in a medieval village surrounded by natural beauty in the heart of rural France, you can book your spot at the following sites.
AirBnB (chambre d'hôte)
Chris is working on his next project, renovating another property he owns in Valon. His beautiful gîte is for sale! So, if you've ever dreamed of owning a gîte in France, or know somebody who may be interested, do share this link.
I hope your holiday season is full of love and friendship!
Gros bisous from France.