Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy New Year!

Old Dinan on a winter evening
Happy New Year from 'Le Petit Lapin'!

It's definitely winter now here in Brittany-- though it's not really cold and there's not yet been any snow.  The weather stations inform me that it's in fact a normal winter so far, that the chilly storms of 2011 were unusual and that this year's mild temperatures are just what we should expect in this pleasant part of the hexagon.

Nevertheless, after a family Christmas in Paris, I am content to stay close to home for the moment.  Yesterday I planted 36 irises in the courtyard and today I ventured out for an afternoon walk in the sunshine, but come dark, my thoughts veer towards cosy fires and the pleasures of meals out with friends at one of the welcoming restaurants not far from the cottage.

Moules with frites
One of my favourite places to go both in and out of season is Dinan a thirty-minute drive west of 'Le Petit Lapin'. Along the Rance river at the old port there are little crêperies as well as restaurants serving heartier fare-- traditional steak or moules with frites or local fish-of-the day.

I especially enjoy the places with large granite fireplaces whose open fires not only warm the guests but are sometimes used for grilling-- lamb from Mont Saint Michel ('agneau pré salé') and sausages are particularly good this way.

Cider is the traditional drink with either crêpes or moules, but there is always a good choice of wine-- this is France, after all!

Wine is always possible...

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Sign of the times...

It's summer at 'Le Petit Lapin'... and as a sign of the times, we have a new sign: a lovely slate rectangle with the name of the cottage and a little engraved rabbit to welcome our guests.
It was quite a job to put this new sign in place, though.  I had to find a moment  when the current guests, a very nice couple from Holland, were out exploring, so that I wouldn't disturb them.  Then the granite walls of the cottage needed to be drilled and the surface evened out so that the sign would be secure and flat and level-- a bit of a challenge when working with natural materials, but the result is rather pretty, I think.
Welcome to 'Le Petit Lapin'!
And the nice Dutch couple thought so, too-- they told me that they were both surprised and pleased to discover the new sign in place when they returned to 'Le Petit Lapin' that evening.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

As promised: spring at 'Le Petit Lapin'

Daffodils against the granite cottage wall
It's spring!  Well... the temperatures are still pretty cool at night and the bright sunny days alternate pretty regularly with cloudy and rainy ones-- it is, after all, that season-- but spring is definitely beginning to bloom all over in Sains: the grass is emerald green; the bright yellow daffodils are out in the courtyard;
and the pears and apples are all in bud and ready to burst into flower.  The lilac that I planted as a cluster of sticks two weeks ago is now covered in promising tiny leaves, while the strong red stalks of the peonies are valiantly pushing up through the chives.

Peonies beginning among the chives
The days are appreciably longer now, too, in this most western region of France.  In summer the light lasts till after ten, but even before daylight saving kicks in on the last Sunday of March, it's still light these spring evenings at seven-- a big contrast to those wintry December days when darkness fell fast at five-thirty and my cats were clamoring for their dinner by six.
This spring's yellow pansies
This year I've decided on yellow pansies for the little flower bed outside 'Le Petit Lapin'.  It was originally a feeding trough for the pigs: the farmer would push the wooden door inwards, pour the mash into the hollow, then pull the door to so the pigs inside could eat.  The trough has now been filled with earth and the little yellow pansies do look rather happy there, don't they?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Winter at 'Le Petit Lapin'

Christmas decorations in the snow
It's still winter in Brittany this morning: the fog is rising from the valley and the lake is covered in a thin film of ice, but there will soon be signs of spring everywhere.
There was a rare snow storm at Christmas time-- that big blizzard that hit all of Europe transformed Sains into a white wonderland for a few extremely chilly days-- but everyone managed to make it home for the holiday. Our four children arrived from England, Italy and Paris by car, ferry, train and plane, reminding me once again how well connected Brittany is to the rest of the world.  I never feel cut off here, but I am more often aware of the rural calm, the self-sufficient little villages, the natural drama of the sea and the importance of the seasons in shaping the lives of those who are lucky enough to live in this beautiful part of France.
These quiet weeks between Christmas and Valentine's Day are very precious to me: I spend the mornings indoors at my desk writing (I have a book coming out in September) and in the afternoon I often manage a  walk to the lake in the bracing air that is particularly invigorating at this time of year. By Valentine's Day, there will be crocuses in the garden and visitors once more at 'Le Petit Lapin': I'll be welcoming an English couple on 12 February, my first guests of 2011.
A duck on the pond, waiting for spring...

Sunday, October 10, 2010

My new little rabbit

My new little rabbit, waiting for Régis
I wasn't looking for a rabbit when I wandered through my favourite brocante in Rennes last spring, but when I found this special ridge tile-- a terracotta petit lapin-- I couldn't resist.  I took him home and painted him black, to match the slate tiles on the top of Breton houses.

Putting the new roof on the barn
   Régis, my roofer, was scheduled to come to replace the roof over the barn part of the main house in May.  Replacing the roof of the stable that became 'Le Petit Lapin' was one of the first things I had to do back in 2001, but the roofs over the two parts of the main house were, Régis told me, O.K., 'Vous pouvez attendre... un peu.'  I replaced the roof on the original house in 2006, but held off re-doing the former barn until this year.  The barn roof was one of the first Régis worked on as a young apprentice over thirty years ago and he was very proud of its quality, so I felt confident in putting off what I knew would be a big job.  

And a big job indeed it was when (in the way of French workmen) Régis finally got round to doing it in September.  But Régis is quite the artist and was happy to secure my little rabbit on the roof of the cottage that bears its name.  So there he is now, waiting to welcome the next guests to 'Le Petit Lapin'.
The little rabbit in place at last

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Then & now

'Le Petit Lapin' as I firsat saw it
I promised to write a bit about renovating ‘Le Petit Lapin’, so on this sunny Sunday morning, I will try to remember how things were in the beginning.  The cottage was quite a derelict stable when I purchased the property.  It had housed pigs once, so throughout the renovations we called it ‘La Porcherie’, the pigsty, a name which happily grew less and less appropriate as time went on.  
My sons and their friend Sidonie
When I first saw it, the roof was covered in lichen with missing tiles here and there; the entry was just an opening without any kind of door; and there were stalls inside formed by granite partitions that went up as high as my shoulder.  The building had been extended in cinderblocks-- not very pretty-- and there was a sort of window-- an off-centre hole covered with corrugated plastic.  And attached at the back there was a large wooden hanger with a tin roof.  There was clearly a lot of work to do!

Durng the Easter holiday, I came over to Sains from England and my four children joined me.  The three at university brought two friends with them and together we began to take on the challenge of opening up the interior space of the stable by destroying the walls we didn’t need-- there was no way that guests were going to fit into the tiny stalls, so there was a lot of granite that we needed to chip away at with hammers and chisels and picks.  You can see in the photos the product of a hard day’s work, the result of the children's enthusiasm.

Renovating is, of course, a matter of both construction and destruction, and the latter is always easier and faster.  Building the cottage was invariably harder and much more time-consuming, but for that I needed to call in the professionals-- the subject of another blog.
Sidonie in the future diniing area

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Children at 'Le Petit Lapin'

Picture by Ante & and Sara from Belgium
When I first started looking for a place in France, I decided that I wanted to have a gîte.  I imagined a cottage of two or maybe even three bedrooms… but once I found my house, the dictates of architecture and space and my own large family meant that I had to rethink what was possible and sensible and practical.  The result is ‘petit’: ‘Le Petit Lapin’ has a small footprint and there was nothing I could do to stretch those granite stones.

I was determined, however, to have enough space so that a family with one or two children could still come and enjoy all that this beautiful part of Brittany offers.  In addition to a proper bedroom for grown-ups, we managed to create a mezzanine, and it’s now the sort of space Heidi would have enjoyed, with a double bed under the eaves and a roof window with a view over the orchard and the valley to the south. 

Lots of children have visited ‘Le Petit Lapin’ and I am always delighted to welcome them here.  Their parents might think for a minute that the mezzanine is indeed small, but the children’s eyes light up when they see the staircase and discover their own private space at the top.  I am sometimes even lucky enough to receive in my guest book a special ‘thank you’ written by my young visitors-- like this sweet drawing of two happy little girls under one of my apple trees with three of my six farm cats.