Driving through France, heading to my house sit in a village near Coulommiers, in the Grand Mourin valley, Ile de France I was excited about the opportunity to stay in a regional home. I knew I’d enjoy the company of four lively dogs and a clutch of hens. Last year I had answered one of the adverts on my own website for a housesitter to care for a household of pets while the owner went on holiday. This year I returned to the same home, familiar with the pets and the household routines, I would be able to spend more time learning about the local area and of sampling the traditional foods.
Living the life of a local on a housesitting holiday in France
On our first evening together the homeowner said we had been invited over for supper by neighbours. We dined on raclette, and naturally the country’s state of affairs was debated over several bottles of wine. My French was somewhat challenged, but I certainly enjoyed the company and the lively discussion.
The next morning after waving goodbye to my hostess, I set about organising my free time. Each morning I would tend to the hens, walk the dogs and bring in wood for the fire. In the evenings I would bring in the hens, feed the dogs and check all was well around the property before making a fire and settling in for the night. The rest of the time was my own.
In the centre of Coulommiers I discovered the Church of Saint Denys, the original tower of which dated back to 1413. In 1429 Joan of Arc is reported to have accompanied King Charles VII who stopped here at the original church to pray.
The other side of the town hosts one of the 12 original Commanderies des Templiers in France, fortresses of the Knights Templar, originating from the 12th Century. Though not promoted at all and barely signposted in the town it is a rare site and well worth visiting. Earnestly being restored by local volunteers, the Commanderie is a wonderful ancient architectural statement with a Chapel, Chapter House and various other structures still undergoing renovation.
I found it easy to spend time in the wonderful Parcs des Capucins in town, a visual feast for the eyes. Originally the site of the Chateau built by Catherine de Gonzague, Princesse de Cleves and Duchesse de Longueville who decided to live in Coulommiers in 1613. She commissioned architects Salomon de Brosse and Francois Mansart who were active in the region to build her a palace to match the Palais du Luxembourg in Paris. Sadly, little remains of the original chateau, but it creates a romantic setting for the park with a Church, medieval bridges, and remnants of an ancient aqueduct.
Local produce – it’s the best
The park is set out with aisles of trees on two perimeters creating an elegant walk way offering shade from the sun, and in cooler seasons a captive market for promotions of local produce. Wherever I went in the region I found authenticity in the presentation of local produce. There is a heritage to the products on offer that only enriches the quality and sincerity of its production. I visited a brocante (flea market) in Vaudoy en Brie where all manner of local products were on offer. Brocantes in this region are seldom simply a collection of tables with bric a brac.
A visit to France urban or regional would not be complete without a visit to the local patisseries. This seems to be where the French irrepressible creativity finds form in exquisite presentation and delectable flavours.
Looking after this wonderful household of pets was a small price to pay for the excellent experiences I enjoyed while house sitting in this rich landscape of Seine et Marne. Discovering the town of Coulommiers was a bonus I had not anticipated. Many house sitters, like me, find this method of travel a comfortable way to be low key tourists, learning about new places as you go. And for home and pet owners who join our network, it’s great to know they find it a secure and affordable way to keep their property and pets well cared for while they go on holiday.
A self-confessed Francophile, Lamia Walker, founder of House Sit Match enjoys house sitting in new locations in France as one way to experience the country and appreciate the people living in local neighbourhoods. She, and increasingly many travellers like her, are choose ‘house sitting’ as a means to gain an authentic perspective on a holiday in France.