Suits of armour, moustaches and woodworm.

The chambre d’hote in question, at Ruille Froid Fonds, was an ancient farm house, creeper clad, populated with suits of armour, beautiful furniture and an ancient wooden staircase that leaned. I asked Monsieur how long his family had lived in the house. “Only five generations,” he said from beneath his generous moustache.

My plan the following day was to continue south to the home of a dealer I’d met the previous year. En route, I stopped at Chateau Gontier. Like many small provincial towns, it was in full flower, on every bridge, at every street corner, with cobbled pedestrian zones and pretty water features. The ladies in the two Boulangeries gave me copious and confusing directions to find the local antiquaire. The man in the Pharmacy left his shop to stand at the junction with me and send me off on the right road. I found the place on the dot of 12.30 (lunch time usually being sacrosanct) but Madame said, do come in, we live here, look around . The fabulous house was creeper covered, set in a lot of ground. When I asked, is there a WC? Madame said, Ah non, pas possible – it is in the house, and it is personal. “Mais, allez dans la nature!” she said, gesturing to somewhere behind the sheds. So French.

There were stunning pieces on sale here, fragrant with warm beeswax polish. I quickly reached the pivotal moment of ‘what I choose now determines the rest of the trip in terms of space left in the van’. I fell for an eighteenth century refectory table. I noted a little woodworm activity on one leg (a quick squirt of treatment was to hand immediately). Although Madame was not negotiating on price, she threw in a few other items. “Je ne suis pas si mechante!” she said – I am not so bad!

Everything already in the van had to come out, so Madame and her husband said come and find us when you are ready to load the table. In hot sun, I emptied and stacked, and then went as directed through their house (fabulous high ceilings, stunning Regence furniture) to where they were having lunch by the pool. Once our transactions were complete I was glad to find a leafy spot down on the Quay, lunching on an Emmental baguette and watching the sparkling river. So many lovely towns in France – not shabby or sad, but spruced and polished.

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