Rural France suffers from a severe case of schizophrenia. It is brought on by the sun and symptoms include bustling streets, full restaurants and a busy schedule of spectacles. There really are two sides of the same coin.
The difference between a village in winter and summer is remarkable. For city-dwellers like me, the split personality is all the more striking.
Take Castillonnès, in Lot-et-Garonne, for example. When we were last here in January, there wasn’t much happening. The streets were quiet and even the Tuesday market limped up the Grand’ Rue.
Now, however, in August, it couldn’t be more different. Firstly, of course, there are plenty of extra people around – as Parisian families, Dutch cyclists and British holiday-homeowners all enjoy August en campagne.
Secondly, all the restaurants in the area are open and are offering fixed-price menus to suit every pocket. We went to La Tour des Vents in Montbazillac the other day. This two-Michelin-starred restaurant was offering a range of options, from a market menu at just €24 a head to a tasting menu at over €110 a head.
“We caught an open-air production of Shakespeare’s Henry V in Eymet on Monday”
The villages have pulled out all the stops too. We caught an open-air production of Shakespeare’s Henry V (pictured) in Eymet on Monday. Castillonnès is holding weekly shows – les mercredis de la bastide – in the courtyard in front of the mairie. This week, 1980s pop star and reality-show panellist Lio performed for the locals. Two years ago, 1960s singer-songwriter Jean-Jacques Debout was the guest star.
These are big names for such a small village. Whether they could be enticed to come mid-winter is another question.
And even if they did, would anyone venture out to see them?