We lived in France from May – September 2016. We’ve been visiting as a couple for 11 years, twice annually on average. My wife Lydia’s grandparents live in Saint-Jores, part of the ‘La Manche’ region, a spit of land at the North-Western edge of Normandy, also known as Basse-Normandie.
2. Le Plein Air – Literally, open (or full) air, ‘fresh air’
I had a French teacher at school, Monsieur Moore, who I didn’t appreciate much at first. He seemed very grumpy and very English to me initially – a good teacher, but a fairly fierce one. Over time, especially when I went into GCSE Français, I grew to like him, a change that began when, as a class, we were corporately shocked to find out he was actually French! Being a virtual beginner, I assumed his flawless French accent was a feature of his teaching repertoire and that his normal English accent was…normal. This is a guy who grew up in France and stayed until his 30s before moving to England and yet in his 50s seemed utterly English! He also said he’d kneecap me if I didn’t get an A at GCSE.
Anyway, I recall many occasions where his insight blew me away – finding out that he dreamed mostly in French, apart from the odd occasion where the dream required an English response, was certainly one of those. Another was his explanation of the French concept of le plein air. He told us that one of the ways in which the French philosophy more than matched the British spirit was the commitment to being outside. This claim is evidently true the moment you visit rural France. Green spaces. Open spaces.
Where our relatives live, there is a reservoir and nature reserve (pictured above), free for use, with free parking, including a play park for kids within 1km of their house, even though they reside in a tiny hamlet in the middle of nowhere. There is also an impressive cycle way that runs for hundreds of kilometres from Cherbourg, cutting right down through the region, passing through our hamlet. The cycle way doubles as dog walking space, a jogging track and convenient path for safe walking to and from the nearest towns. We used it to full effect attending the Tour de France Grand Départ at the next town, La Haye de Puits, leaving our car at the edge of the track and strolling in with the two boys.
Le Plein Air is more than a commitment to the French – a way of life, an automatic activity for free time, family time. Whether it’s walking, cycling or doing the exercise trail amongst the rows of tall trees in sheltered grassy areas alongside the breathtaking Carentan marina, this favourite French pastime is always free and always liberating.