During over 40 years of driving in France, we have seen, stayed and shopped in a large number of villages and small towns in France. Many of these places are nondescript, but quite a large proportion are quite charming or beautiful, due to their geographical situation – often by rivers, on hillsides or in valleys. The apparent changes in village life over those years have been marked.
In the 1970s I think we just caught the end of an era. As well as its war memorial, pretty well every village had its own boulangerie (baker) and a bar. French bread does not last more than a day, hence the boulangerie ensured fresh bread every day. And I got the impression that the bar featured in many everyday country lives. Indeed, we used to stop for a breakfast of delicious pain beurre (yes, bread and butter) with coffee at a bar in Normandy about an hour’s drive from our overnight ferry crossing to St Malo.
The one thing you did have to remember, was that everything closed over a lunch time of at least two hours between 12 or 1230 and early afternoon. Vital to remember when you needed to pick up fresh bread, but often forgotten!Read More »
We’ve visited France regularly for over forty years, mainly on camping holidays. Over that period many changes have become noticeable.
First there was the annual ritual of getting the insurance green card, the GB sticker, the headlamp beam converters, and painting the headlights with special yellow paint, just for France – all now gone apart from the beam benders. But now there’s the yellow jacket, the alcohol detector and adequate warning triangles.
Then there was the dreaded ‘priority to the right’ at almost any junction, now just on non-priority roads and in towns. And the very frequent ‘chaussée déformée’ and ‘nids de poule’ signs on most country roads, where you found yourself on an extremely bumpy road surface with an alarming camber – which explained those ‘rock ‘n roll’ Citroens, but are mercifully mostly gone today.
The great thing was that each town and large village contained a bar for coffee, a tabac for Le Monde and the weather forecast, and a boulangerie where you could buy baguettes and not much else – but all but the bar closed for at least two hours over lunch. And there was probably a small restaurant. The towns would also have grocer, butcher, chemist and so on.
It was with dismay that we watched year by year the spread of the now-ubiquitous hypermarkets and smaller supermarkets, and the gradual closing of most of those earlier conveniences. Yes the new outlets are more convenient with greater choice, but the heart and bustle was gone from now-deserted towns and villages, just to return on the weekly market day that has still retained a foothold in many places.
Nowadays, the roads into towns are lined with commercial/industrial units, just like the US. And you have to drive everywhere, just like the US – progress?
Featured image of artichokes on a market stall, Nonancourt