Thursday, July 16, 2009

Tout Sweet: Hanging Up My High Heels for a New Life in Rural France

Dearest M, who I visited recently in Lausanne, has spent much of her life with her wonderful Paris-based father at his restored farmhouse, deep in the Vienne, just south of Tours & the Loire Valley.

French farmhouseThe first time I visited was when I was desperate to get out of London to write. They lent me a little (& rather unrestored) house in the nearby village in which to stay for the summer.

I drove down singlehanded from London via Calais on an epic trip which started at 9am and ended at 2am in a tiny lane in a ravishing medieval village whilst I crashed around with torch and signal-free mobile. The next morning I discovered that, since last visited, it had also become home to some invisible red biting spiders, (I knew they were there as there was a note on the door,) so I relocated to a rented fairy tale apartment carved out of the walls of the village's ruined castle, complete with oak stairs and creeper clad leaded windows.

Over the summer I fell deeply in love with the village and with the Vienne. I was a constant source of curiosity to the villagers, who were all friendly & charming as I battled through with my schoolgirl French (no one speaks English there). My boyfriend came out for a fortnight and we hurtled around wine tasting, shopping in the markets, eating like pigs and even visiting the Futuroscope theme park in Poitiers, (my advice would be: don't).

I last visited for M&P's beautiful country wedding and, although I have an open invitation to return (& I need to meet the cat that her father has named after me), it's not so easy to get to from Manhattan. Then, out of the blue, the next best thing happened.

Tout Sweet: Hanging Up My High Heels for a New Life in Rural France
by ex fashion editor Karen Wheeler arrived from Europe. She thought I might enjoy it because of the similarities in our professional lives, but, in the smallest of small worlds, Ms Wheeler's part of rural France just happens to be a mere 30 miles from my small piece of French heaven.

I gulped it down in a day, recognising the area from her vivid descriptions, & snorting with laughter and with agreement, as she nailed the experience of being a single Englishwoman in a small provincial French village

There are obvious parallels to be drawn between Ms Wheeler's life and my own. We've both been fashion editors & writers on glossy mags & on newspapers. We both upsticked from our shiny London merry-go-round to live in different countries on a whim. And we've both gone from frenetic dashing around in heels to launches & events to pottering around the countryside with dogs and taking pleasure in a slower pace of life. (Although, granted, I'm only in the country for the summer, but I have no intention of going back into full-time, soul-destroying magazine work.)

Ms Wheeler & I have never met (although I do feel we should have) but I feel nothing but empathy for a woman who, on the first day of renovating her new French cottage discovers that she has no suitable clothes for construction work after years in the fashion industry, and sets off for the day in gold sandals.

Tout Sweet Karen Wheeler
Released on July 6th, it's already in Amazon's Top 100 Travel Books and you can buy it Tout Sweet: Hanging Up My High Heels for a New Life in Rural France by clicking on the book title anywhere in this post. She has a great blog too at and Twitters at @mimipompom1