(Picture shows view from the terrace).
When we first arrived in this part of France is was called “les Charentes inferieures”. There was Poitou-Charente and the Charentes Inferieures. The only claim to fame it had was the ancient fortified port of La Rochelle, and the first time I visited it there were all sorts of utterly disgusting things floating down open drains, a smell of septic tanks, undrinkable tap water and an overall feeling of decay and neglect.
Then, sometime in the late 80s, the local authorities twigged that the climate here was exceptionally good, the area rich in history, and the name of Charentes Inferieures not very encouraging.
So it was re-named Charente Maritime.
We arrived along with the first trickle of tourists. Compared to Sussex, where we had been living, the entire region was miserably backwards. Telephone wires straggled the streets and what had once been fine merchant dwellings built in the 18th and 19th centuries were dowdy blackened stone monstrosities. I had a little estate agency and saw a great many houses. It was odd – even in our Victorian Britain our terraced houses had the casi down at the end of the garden … but this bit of basic modernity seemed to have slipped the average local French man by, and many houses had no toilet at all. Others still had them in the garden. Many had them in the garage or in a barn attached to the house. Wall tiles with imitation splashes on them were de rigeur, there were holes in the pavement (if there was a pavement) and the telephone directory enquiries closed for lunch.
It was extremely disheartening, and wefrequently wondered what idiot notion had made us move here.
But it has to be said that when France swung in to action, some time in the early 90s, they hit it hard and hit it good. We virtually watched the restoration of hundreds of wonderful old buildings, the reparation of pavements and roads and the modernization of each and every little town, from beautiful La Rochelle and Saintes to the smallest little village. The constant smell of septic tanks, at one time a characteristic of France, disappeared as mains drainage was installed and the new Charente Maritime sprang in to life.
As was the way with so many British I was later to sell houses to, we chose something far too big, needing far too much work, and far too isolated.
Catherine Broughton is a novelist, a poet and an artist. Her books can be ordered as e-books from this site (£1.99), from Amazon/Kindle or from any leading book store or library.
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