Explore medieval hilltop villages, hone your French in bustling food markets, cram your bags with smelly cheeses, peppery salami, crusty bread and local wine. Over 20 years ago, Alastair Sawday was spending his time doing exactly that. Continue Reading…
The 9th edition of Sawday’s Special Places to Stay: French Châteaux & Hotels hits bookshelves this week. Here’s a sneak peek of Alastair’s foreword. Continue Reading…
From long sojourns in Europe to stolen weekends in glorious Britain, all of the folk at Sawday’s love to get away to meet hospitable hosts, eat fabulous food and stay at some very special places. Here are some of our most recent stays. Continue Reading…
Generous hosts, sensitive restorations and local, hearty food; Toby tells us what makes an unforgettable B&B, and why these are four of his favourites.
No one should run a B&B unless they LOVE hosting. Many forget this very simple rule, seduced more by the money than the prospect of welcoming strangers. Lucy and Tim are born hosts – generous-spirited, easy company and with a genuine love of sharing their home with others. And they’ve had the courage really to keep it home, rather than an ‘enterprise’. A B&B as it should be.
A dream – this place demonstrates perfectly how the world of B&Bs is now aeons away from the musty, fusty formality of yore. Simple, laid-back and with a touch of funk, Lucy’s set-up defies categorisation. Breakfast isn’t served, it’s delivered on a tractor to be eaten whenever you like. And you’ve not a bedroom in a house, but the run of a whole barn set in the grounds. It’s a touch pricier than usual, but then you have so much more than just a bed and a breakfast.
In the Fashoda Incident in 1898, the French and British had a stand-off on the White Nile in the Sudan. The British, surviving on grim army rations, were invited to a dinner of fresh vegetables by the French. They had carried the seeds for 14 months across Africa.
That is why I love the French – for what they consider important: like fresh veg and baguettes, good coffee and good manners, books, cartoons and lampoons, sharp femininity, their own way of doing things. They stick like limpets to their Frenchness. They are French and proud of it.
My early French memories, from the ‘50s, are of empty roads, wine cooling in streams while we picnicked on bread and cheese and tomatoes. A café and bar in every village, farmers, cows, Citroën 2CVs bouncing along with hay-bales, old men in berets, and ineffable charm at every encounter. Ridiculous, of course, to hark back to those days, but they have left their mark on me and early marks survive.
I was introduced early to the châteaux and castles, to the beautiful buildings and villages scattered throughout the country. I thought that Azay Le Rideau was an architectural paradise, a château-jewel in its own lake. I spoke French early, at the urging of a mother who had learned it as a girl, so my connections were alive and nourishing. I felt French, wanted more of it all. Years later I would read JeanGiono and Moliere, take travellers around the country in coaches and then myown mini-bus. I fell in love with French women, idling in Montmartre and underthe bridges of Paris. I took a girlfriend to Les Folies Bergeres – oh how grown-up that was. Paris made me, makes me, think about beauty, about aesthetics, about love.
I have been to Martinique, too, and heard French patois in other islands. I have enjoyed croissants in Pondicherry, and French-style coffee in Kerala, relieved to retreat into nostalgia. France has captured me, and I can see why. I have been touched by Frenchness in so many ways, starting affectionately at a young age. I even taught the language for 5 years, but confess to my love stumbling at the third year of the imperfect subjunctive. However I can still produce it, to startle older French people and mystify young ones. Luckily, we have many ‘older’ owners of our Special Places, and my enjoyment of them is deep. They, too, enjoy their subjunctives.