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France was literally my second home for about ten years. Patricia and I have had two houses in Normandy since we got together in 1997, and we spent as much time there as we could. We reluctantly decided last year that we could not do justice to the second house, and it was sold in October.

As a result of this experience I am even deeper in love with France than I was before, and especially with the Calvados département, which was new to me. Having a home there was a whole new experience compared with just visiting on holiday: it gaves us time to find French friends and to get to know the locality really well. On the minus side, trips out there were never real holidays because we always had work to do on the house.

Our last house was picturesque yet practical. It was a traditional half-timbered (colombage) Norman house which had probably been converted from a farm building at least 200 years old. It was charming both inside and out, and was incredibly quiet, buried deep in the farmland whose cattle produced the milk for Camembert and our other marvellous local cheeses. But it had new roof, wiring and plumbing, so although it kept us busy with cosmetic improvements we knew the basics were sound. It now belongs to a couple who live on the west side of Paris, which will allow them to do it far more justice than we ever could. We miss it very much.

However, that is not the end of our French story. We spent the New Year of 2007 back with our dear friends the Oliviers, and we know we will visit France - and especially Calvados - again and again. Here, as a memory-jogger, are some pictures of our last home in France...

Looking across the field at our home in Calvados

The picture above shows a long view of the new house across the nearest field, which is owned by the mayor of the commune. We had just done the first cut of the year on our 800 square metres of raw pasture - hence the new-mown hay.

Looking down the drive at our home in Calvados

This is a more recent shot with the land a bit more under control.

A closer view of our home in Calvados

Finally, a closer look at the house - and more hay.

You can see us entertaining the two families who became our dearest French friends, the Oliviers and the Banniers, to dinner in our French kitchen on the Food page...

Our friends Anne and Jeff have a lovely little bungalow with a swimming pool in Provence. We have spent time there, too, because it’s an ideal centre for buying wine - something that became a hugely important part of my life as a result of knowing Jeff and Anne! It also has very beautiful views, especially at sunset.

A typical sunset over the hills of Vaucluse

The Big Holiday - a long account of my first visit to France (among other countries) - will tell you a lot about arranging your own holidays in Europe, in case you need help in becoming an independent traveller.

Personal site for Paul Marsden: frustrated writer; experimental cook and all-round foodie; amateur wine-importer; former copywriter and press-officer; former teacher, teacher-trainer, educational software developer and documenter; still a professional web-developer but mostly retired.

This site was transferred in June 2005 to the Sites4Doctors Site Management System, and has been developed and maintained there ever since.