Travel notes from the real France. Carnet de Voyage is a weekly personal travel story in France sent in by readers. If you’d like to write a story for Carnet de Voyage, head here for details on how to submit.
My family has been lucky enough to have had a friendship with a French family for 30 plus years, almost as long as we have been holidaying in France. The relationship began as a business connection through my husband’s job and was forged and fostered by a shared enthusiasm for each other’s culture and language and a keenness for our children, a boy and a girl in each family, to experience and interact with other ‘Europeans’.
Over the years we have visited each other’s homes, gone on holiday together and gained insight into each other’s lives which, as tourists, would not normally have been possible.
One year, we were invited to spend a week of our annual trip to France with our French friends in their holiday home in the small beach resort of Port-Saint-Pierre situated on the banks of Lac de Serre-Ponçon, on the border of Hautes-Alpes and the Alpes de Haute Provence. It was a stunning spot with all manner of water-based activities on offer. The kids were ecstatic to say the least!
One day, we joined the celebrations of a local ‘fête du jour’. It was typical of celebrations that take place all over France throughout the year. Rows of trestle tables and barrels of local wine ready for communal feasting, at least one accordion player, a dance floor, a boules competition and for the children, a timed treasure hunt. Solve the clues in the shortest time, win a prize. Our son, who was 12 at the time and didn’t really speak French, had quite a bit of help from Monsieur and won a prize! A river-rafting trip on the nearby Durance for four people. However, there were six who wanted this trip, the two dads and four kids. So, after some deft negotiation Monsieur agreed a different prize, hydro-speed for six! High excitement all round but I have to admit I had no idea what hydro-speed was. I did ask and gleaned it was a way of travelling down river from A to B but I wasn’t sure how.
The appointed day came but the weather was horrendous and a thunderstorm raged and crashed overhead and the rain fell in sheets. I was convinced the trip would be called off as the rain falling on the mountains had turned the river into a boiling, churning, torrent. But no, off they went to the start point and Madame and I drove to one of the many bridges over the Durance for ‘la vue‘. When we got out of the car, I was both horrified and terrified. The river now running very fast, the thunder and lightning echoing off the cliffs and the white water far below looked like a recipe for death and destruction. Madame found my horror hilarious and assured me it was fine! After what felt like a lifetime, where I wondered how I would get three dead family members home, we spied six bodies being tossed in the white water. Seeing them didn’t make me feel any better as they were too far below for me to be sure they were still alive. I was particularly anxious about my eight-year-old, somewhat timid and unadventurous, daughter.
By this time, I was a jibbering wreck and we got back in the car and drove to the pick-up point. They were out of the river when we got there and I was pleased to count six wet suited figures. I rushed to my daughter anxiously asking if she was ok. She replied “Yes it was great! Can we go again?”
It’s a French adventure we all remember…some more fondly than others.
Paula Maher is a lover of all things French since partaking in an exchange programme between schools in Bristol and Bordeaux. At 14 years old, she was the first person in the family to go abroad (and to go on a plane) and Easter 1971 saw her set off to stay with a French family for a whole month. She loved every minute of it and has been in love with La Belle France ever since!
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Lead photo credit : Serre-Ponçon reservoir lake in Provence Alpes Côte d'Azur © shutterstock
By Paula Maher
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