Virginia Duigan, (pic left), writing in The Spectator Australia
Special Christmas Issue 20-27 December 2008.
The single-storey ancient stone farmhouse is surrounded by rolling fields, several miles from the nearest town. It is long, narrow, charming, with more lamps than I have ever seen in one small house. The sleeping quarters are at one end: two bedrooms, and a third double bed in the sitting room. I must walk through Anne’s bedroom and past Caroline’s bed to the kitchen to reach the bathroom. But we are old friends, and this is the third successive year that the three of us have gathered in a wintry landscape to write.
We are in the heart of rural France. South-west of Paris, only 90 minutes away by train, it might as well be a far-flung province. The region is called le Perche; tourists come rarely and certainly not off-season. When de Gaulle spoke of la France profonde — provincial, quiet, inward-looking — he might have been describing le Perche, with its sleepy capital Nogent-le-Rotrou, our nearest, Internet café-free small town.
But writers are imaginative and optimistic. We have the perfect, cosy auberge in mind for Sunday lunch. Its stone wall is covered in creeper, and it serves simple yet delicious food sourced from local farms. We scour several villages in search of it. The villages are pretty but deserted, the inns few, somewhat utilitarian and tout complet. Back in Nogent we locate the sole open shop, which is run by Arabs, and before it shuts grab whatever is to hand — bread and wine, lettuce, cheese, eggs, fresh figs. That evening we have tomato omelettes, figs, cheese, and rather a lot of wine.