The Charente: roofs of red terracotta tiles, bleached-white walls, windows shuttered against the blaring sun. The baker does his rounds in his battered little white van with a hundred warm baguettes in the back, while a cat picks its way past a Romanesque church, the sound of bells skipping across miles of rolling, glorious countryside. For many years a farmer in England, John Lewis-Stempel yearned once again to live in a landscape where turtle doves purr and nightingales sing, as they did almost everywhere in his childhood.
He wanted to be self-sufficient, to make his own wine and learn the secrets of truffle farming. And so, buying an old honey-coloured limestone house with bright blue shutters, the Lewis-Stempels began their new life as peasant farmers. Over that first year, Lewis-Stempel fell in love with the French countryside, from the wild boar that trot past the kitchen window to the glow-worms and citronella candles that flicker in the evening garden.
Although it began as a practical enterprise, it quickly became an affair of the heart: of learning to bite the end off the morning baguette; taking two hours for lunch; in short, living the good life – or as the French say, La Vie.