Vous or tu? The polite and informal ways of saying ‘you’ that can cause social difficulties in France. In English we just have to contend with a simple ‘you’ and do not need to worry about offending anyone. But it’s different in France and we debate this after our game of boules with Tim and Ellen Weir at Les Hiboux in Crezieres, Poitou-Charentes.
“Basically I stick to ‘vous’ unless with close friends or family,” says Ellen, adding: “Some French people prefer to use ‘tu’ after only a few meetings. When we’re invited to a meal Tim and I like to compare notes as to whether the hosts both refer to us as ‘vous’ or ‘tu’ and sometimes ‘tu’ will be used for me and ‘vous’ for Tim,” she smirks. It’s a good way of meeting our hosts during our week’s stay at La Vieille Maison, a charming three bedroom stone cottage that is one of three at Les Hiboux. It’s a luxurious break in an extremely peaceful part of the country and one where guests feel privileged to stay. With its three acres of gardens that include a sunken trampoline, swings, a slide and playhouse, our children, Harriett (3) and Heidi (1) are in their element. There are two boule or petanque pitches (“boules and petanque are one of the same, much like soccer and football,” says Tim) and a swimming pool.
“So what brought you to this part of France?” I ask Tim. “I was a scientist in London and wanted a challenge,” he replies, adding that his father has lived in the country for many years. “He doesn’t get as much sun though and greater amounts of sunlight drew us to the Deux-Sevres region, which is famous for its melons, sunflowers and wine. It’s five hours from Cherbourg so within easy reach of the UK and five hours from the Alps so we can enjoy skiing in the winter.”
It takes us a little longer, closer to seven hours in fact, to travel from Cherbourg, because the sat nav in the Kia Sorento I am driving refuses to take us on the toll roads. On our return I understand why because the three tolls we pass through total 40 euros. Bear in mind that a tank of fuel is 60 euros (gazole is just 1.29 euros a litre) it makes more sense and is far more enjoyable to avoid the toll roads, if you’ve got the time to spare. It is far more sensible to stop half-way and stay in a gite overnight for the same price.
We arrive on fumes literally; there is virtually no fuel remaining in the tank and I am sweating. Petrol stations seem to shut at 8pm in France. The other challenge is that a great many only accept French credit cards especially on a Sunday but this is easily resolved with Ellen’s help. She has experienced all manner of challenges from incompetent guests like me. “One family locked their keys in the car the day they were leaving to catch their ferry,” she recalls. “We organised a locksmith to arrive here bright and early and they got on their way.”
On our arrival we are shattered and it is a joy to be met by really comfortable beds and we all enjoy an extremely good night’s sleep. There are six of us in total because Caroline’s mum and dad, Lin and John, join us. That first night we spy a baby owl in one of the trees and later learn that Les Hiboux means Owls.
That first day we all enjoy a meal in Chef-Boutonne, a place that we find ourselves returning to throughout the course of our break. An evening stroll there introduces us to Chateau Javarzay with its large lake and pleasant grounds.
We find that the French bread tastes nicer from a boulangerie than a supermarket and this is often enjoyed with Camembert for lunch. Good French drinking wine is available from under three euros upwards. We enjoy a lovely bottle or so of Chardonnay for just four euros that would have easily cost three or four times that in the UK.
A trip to Ville de Saint-Jean-d’Angely sees us walking up the clock tower, which happens to strike as we reach the top – that certainly wakes us up! At Angouleme we enjoy sauntering about and stumble upon a park where the children play. Angouleme is well known for its contribution to cartoons with a statue of Hergé, the creator of Tintin. Melle is about 30 minutes from Crezieres and many locals flock to the Friday market, which results in the best restaurants being overbooked.
It is easy to reach this part of France thanks to the many regional airports, the nearest is probably Poitiers. However, we travel with Brittany Ferries from Poole to Cherbourg, simply because Caroline’s mum and dad live near the port. It always surprises us how smoothly the vehicles board and leave the ferry. Our large Kia Sorento off-roader complete with roofbox does not pose a problem even if it does exceed seven feet in height. The Thule roof box really does free up space in the main vehicle and although it is only the Touring 100 model, by no means the largest available, it carries a pushchair, and three bags including two sizeable Thule Chasm bags. The Brittany Ferries crossing is very smooth with Harriett and Heidi roaming from deck to deck. The weather is so good there’s little need to venture inside. We enjoy sitting on deck as do so do many other passengers who are reading, sunbathing and listening to music. Thankfully long journeys such as this see Harriett and Heidi entertaining each other, from singing to each other to pushing each other round on chairs on deck; the safe rubber surface allowing for chairs to be pushed quite easily and so Harriett can pretend it is a pushchair or a trolley. She prefers this to playing in the onboard play area. She also enjoys role playing with the French language. It’s amazing how many words she learns. Our cabin is also en-suite, which is much appreciated especially on the return journey. It allows us to have a rest and to freshen up, if required. It’s particularly useful for the children to finally fall asleep to Caroline’s rendition of We are Sailing…
France is such a large country that it is impossible to visit everywhere but should you wish to Les Hiboux is in an ideal location to be able to visit such places as Poitiers and La Rochelle.
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Recommended reading: The Rough Guide to France www.roughguides.com
Tim Saunders - pictured with his two daughters, is a travel writer for
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