Answer: Having a sister with a farm in the Dordogne!
Especially a sister and partner who are diversifying their farm into a B&B and glamping site. The glampsite so far consists of muddy squares in the ground – four massive tents with wooden floors, woodstoves and rustic box beds are still confined to the pages of the brochure, due to open in July – but the B&B guest room is rather nice thank you very much, and it was just for me and Mr Suburbanite. The children shared with their cousins in the farmhouse.
The locals have been complaining about the weather. It’s true it’s been unseasonably cold and wet, but it’s still warmer than London, and the Dordogne does wet so much more picturesquely than we do…
The farm itself is the best part. I thought we’d find ourselves doing lots of day trips in the area but we haven’t needed to – there’s enough entertainment on the doorstep. Consisting mostly of animals. While thousands of laying chickens on a working farm plus the various other animals represent a lot of work for my sister and partner, especially while launching their glamping venture and coping with two teenagers (and my sister somehow fits in freelance work too) for us feckless tourists, it was animal heaven.
Dogs. They spend the day anxiously trotting between the various humans they consider part of their tribe, i.e. anyone staying under their roof, checking they’re all okay. Tricky if two are on a long walk, one is in a chicken house, one is on the other side of the farm and three are indoors, but they do their best. If no humans need shepherding they take themselves on a walk to a relative in the next hamlet who can be relied on to give them biscuits and send them home again.
Cats. They come in different shapes, colours and characters, but there is generally one available on a nearby sofa or bed if you need to bury your face in something soft and purry. (Don’t we all?)
They also come on walks if they’re in the mood.
Chickens. It’s a chicken farm, so there are loads of these about – all free range, some free-ranger than others. The latter are good for catching and returning to their enclosures with a feathery cuddle en route.
Bees. Less cuddly, on the whole, but still pretty darn amazing. We transferred a captured swarm from a box they’d been living in for less than a week and they’d already created yards of honeycomb from scratch and started to fill it. Also you get to dress up as a Star Wars character.
The farm is organic, which is probably why the hay meadow is stuffed full of orchids. I saw four different types, including this one, in keeping with the bee theme:
Baby goats. Two one-month old kids were delivered to the farm while we were staying. They are still little and gormless enough to be picked up and carried around by a 9-year-old and they make the sweetest little baby whickering noise and they nibble your wellies and jump up to lean their front hooves against you so they can sniff your face. So soft. I can now see the appeal in kid gloves.
Huge horse and a donkey. Sort of life-size My (not so) Little Pony collection. They are getting on a bit and aren’t ridden much, but you can spend a happy half hour grooming them with a real life grooming set. The 9-year-old took on the horse’s mane with a curry comb even though she could only reach halfway up his neck. I cleared about a kilo of loose hair off the donkey and got licked affectionately all over in return.
We were due to return home on Friday, but the SNCF railway people took it into their French heads to go on grève. Hurrah! Train cancelled. We happily decided to outstay our welcome until Monday, and within hours of making that decision the sun came out :-).