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.
John Lewis-Stempel is a farmer and 'Britain's finest living nature writer' (The Times). His books include the Sunday Times bestsellers Woodston, The Running Hare and The Wood. He is the only person to have won the Wainwright Prize for Nature Writing twice, with Meadowland and Where Poppies Blow. In 2016 he was named Magazine Columnist of the Year for his column in Country Life. He farms cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry. Traditionally.
"The writing is as smooth as a glass of vintage wine [...] Even if it doesn't make you want to move to France, you'll still wish you could open your window at night and hear that nightingale singing to you."
– Daily Mail
"John Lewis-Stempel sets off from the UK to the rural far west of France – la France profonde – where he and his wife settle to a farming life in a draughty house with a small menagerie of pets and farm animals and a few acres of vineyards. Life on John's blustery Charente escarpment is a far cry from our sun-baked Olive Farm in Provence. Still, I was quickly drawn into his world and his fascinating pot-pourri of all things French. His is a good-natured universe of horses and hares, hoopoes and hens. La Vie is a pleasing, gentle read. Like the dormice who nest in the attic, you soon want to snuggle up in the spare bedroom. It reminded me all over again of why I threw up everything for the magic of La Belle France."
– Carol Drinkwater, author of The Olive Farm
"John Lewis-Stempel's story of a year on his smallholding in the Charente is warm and vivid and beautiful. He plants his toes in the French earth and turns his lyrical gaze on the land, the people, the deep community spirit. Above all he does what he does best, he writes with virtuosity about the countryside and, in doing so, he writes about himself."
– Trevor Dolby, author of One Place de l'Eglise
"A clear-eyed and unsentimental, yet utterly beguiling immersion in La France Profonde, keenly observed and beautifully told."
– Felicity Cloake, author of One More Croissant for the Road
"This brilliantly written memoir will make you want to up sticks."