For seventeen years now, my family and I have been spending our summers in the Loire Valley, France. We typically leave near the end of June, after the children have finished school and completed their year-end piano recitals. As May nears, we start anticipating with excitement our annual departure and begin preparations for spending a couple of months in “paradise.”
The Loire Valley is a magical place, especially in the summer. The sun sets late on summer days—daylight doesn’t disappear until after 10 p.m. Each town has an annual “marché nocturne” (evening street market/festival), usually on a Friday or Saturday night. At the marché, the town comes alive. Local food is served in the town square to the accompaniment of three or four piece bands. Booths border the streets, selling crafts and trinkets from local artisans, items unavailable anywhere else on the planet. For younger children, there are often rides and attractions. It’s a celebratory time full of laughter, dancing, singing and fun. During the summer there is plenty of entertainment nearby: outdoor theaters, light spectacles, concerts, and other unique and enjoyable events. Imagine sitting on the grass in front of a medieval chateau and watching knights on horseback approaching from either side, readying for battle. Or maybe, a lady in distress being rescued by a brave prince. It is all there, during the magical summers in the Loire.
Our summer home is near a small village of just 300 people, yet the village is home to one of the best restaurants in the vicinity. And, if you want a five-star dining experience in a 16th or 17th century chateau, there are several to choose from—all within 15 to 20 minute drive; exquisite dining with a spectacular ambiance.
Spending summers in France has forced my wife and I to “stop and smell the roses.” As a trial attorney and litigator, it’s a chance for me to take a deep breath and relax before the litigation wars resume. For my wife, a doctor, she gets a break from her busy practice to spend time with our children, tend to the gardens, and prepare sumptuous feasts for the evening. Did I mention that having a world-class chef for a wife is an added blessing—even more so in France, when she has plenty of time to devote to one of her favorite passions.
We love taking daily strolls through our forest in paths created by a renowned 19th century Parisian landscape architect. I delight in spending an hour or two at the Steinway grand piano, polishing old pieces and working on new. We arise in the mornings, at our own leisurely schedule. We listen to beautiful music, either live from my daughters, who are accomplished pianists, or on stereo. An hour bike ride is on the daily agenda, the only decision being which route to take and how far to go.
Biking to the grand medieval chateau of Langeais, along a road that has existed for a thousand years, is a special treat. My wife tends to the plants and flowers, making sure that we have lovely, fragrant flowers in each window sill and elsewhere on the property. A trip to the local boulangerie for fresh baguettes, tossing in a crispy pain au chocolat, is part of the morning ritual. Depending on the day, we will purchase poulet from the charcuterie or fish from the poissonerie. Fresh fruit is also a must—the fruit salads my wife makes are truly to die for. And we always wonder why everything tastes so much better in France.
A short drive from our home are the gardens of Villandry (some day we’ll try biking there). We visit Villandry every summer and spend hours getting lost in the vast expanse of flowers, hedges, ponds and forest. It must require an army of gardeners to maintain the exquisite beauty of the magnificent gardens. As we partake of the beauty, we try to imagine what life was like among the fortunate few who dwelled in the chateau of Villandry during the seventeenth century.
The days move along dreamily after we have lunch on the terrasse, overlooking beautiful meadows and magnificent trees. Other days, we make a picnic lunch and find a lovely spot to settle down and enjoy nature more intimately. On a perfect day, we retreat to the bedroom for an hour’s nap, before resuming our idyllic leisure. I can sit for hours on a couch in the sitting room with my laptop, the doors open to nature and a friendly breeze, waiting for inspiration to descend as I continue writing my current novel. The words seem to flow easier in France. The characters form more readily in mind in the Loire Valley than they do in my lawyer’s office. The fantasy of writing full-time and living forever in paradise returns. The summer lingers long, as it did when I was a child and enjoyed a three-month siesta from school. But, eventually, the countdown forms in my mind. Just 20 days left; just 15, now 10. Then single digits. It’s hard to imagine leaving this world of pleasure and serenity and returning to our hectic life in California. It’s as though I’m experiencing a wonderful dream that I never want to end, but realizing that I will soon awaken to a world much less friendly and civil.
Each summer, we try to plan a special excursion to some other part of Europe. One year it was Prague, another Brussels, and Austria, often London (where my wife has relatives), northern Italy, Switzerland, Spain. We promise ourselves every year that next summer we’ll go to Rome, but we never seem able to fit it in. This year our summer stay is truncated due to change of schools by our children—so Rome will be next summer (2017) … for sure!
The countdown to paradise has already begun.
Two months away—I can almost taste the best chocolate crepes in the world.
Soon it will be just one month—the intoxicating scent of our trees, flowers and grass will beckon.
With only one week to go, I will prepare a list of a couple of piano solos I want to learn.
Before we know it, we’ll be sitting in the plane, leaving LAX.
And soon after, the plane begins descending and Paris comes into view…
About the author: Roland Colton is trial lawyer, author, pianist and traveler, who resides with his family in California and France. His debut historical novel, “Forever Gentleman” is available for pre-order on Amazon and will be released in July. The book has already received pre-publication acclaim: “Intrigue, romantic rivalries, and mistaken identities abound in this Victorian drama … an exciting read, packed with mysteries and unexpected twists … engrossing novel …” (Kirkus Reviews); “It’s a romance, it’s a mystery, and it’s a history all wrapped into one satisfyingly beautiful production … highly recommended for anyone who appreciates a depth and attention to detail that results in a powerful story line.” (Midwest Book Review).