THE INSIDE SCOOP
A move to Provence and the creation of a successful ice cream business offers author Elizabeth Bard plenty of inspiration, discovers Emma Rawle
Read one expat’s story of finding happiness in Provence running an ice cream shop
Meet a handsome Frenchman, move to Paris and marry him… It may sound like the plot of a novel, but for New Yorker Elizabeth Bard, this is exactly what happened; but after eight happy years as a twenty-something in the French capital, she was able to fulfil a different dream and move to Provence to live in a small village and raise a family in the Provençal countryside.
Those of you who read Elizabeth’s first book Lunch in Paris may be surprised to learn that the city girl, who was born and raised in New York, studied in London and lived in Paris, suddenly upped sticks and moved to the countryside. It was certainly a big leap into the unknown, but for Elizabeth, her French husband Gwendal and their sevenyear-old son Augustin (given the pseudonym Alexandre in her second book Picnic in Provence), it has turned out to be one of the best decisions they’ve made.
“We weren’t looking to leave Paris, we really weren’t,” says Elizabeth. “We found the house in Provence in 2009, very much by accident, and we just decided to pack up everything. It was probably the craziest thing either one of us has ever done! I’m a city girl, so the idea of living in a village with just 1,300 people was head-spinning for me. But it really has turned out to be a wonderful choice for us.”
Moving to Provence certainly was a spur-of-the-moment decision, taken after a chance visit to a house in the small village of Céreste, not far from Avignon and Aix-enProvence, which was the wartime base of French poet and Resistance leader René Char.
“I was six months pregnant and didn’t want to fly, so we decided to holiday in France for Easter,” explains Elizabeth. “My husband was reading a biography of René Char, whose poetry he really admires, and so we decided to go to the village where he lived during the war and ran his Resistance network: Céreste.”
A conversation with their B&B hosts in Céreste led to a meeting with Char’s daughter Mirielle, who still lived in the village. Over several coffees with Mirielle, they discovered that her family still owned Char’s house and during a tour of
the quirky property, they learned that the family were thinking of selling it.
“Gwendal and I didn’t even exchange one look,” says Elizabeth. “We got out of the house and walked back to the B&B and then we spent this crazy night in front of a spreadsheet trying to figure out if we could swing it. The next day we went back to them and asked if we could buy the house. Within a year, the baby was born, I had my first book launch, Gwendal decided he would work from a distance and we sort of packed up lock, stock and barrel and moved to Provence.”
Céreste could hardly be further from Paris, both in terms of distance and lifestyle, and living there has been a real journey of discovery for Elizabeth. “The neighbourliness of the village is something that was a real discovery for me,” she says. “I’d never had real neighbours before, the
“The neighbourliness of the village was a real journey of discovery for me”
kind you sit out on the stoop and talk to. You can’t just walk down the street in your own world. I once had an American friend, who came to stay, and one morning we walked down the street together and I had to say ‘ bonjour’ to every single person on the street! You know half of them by name and everyone by sight; it’s that kind of place.”
The impulsive move south has benefitted the whole family, especially their son Augustin, who has grown up in the Provençal countryside with what sounds like an idyllic lifestyle.
“He’s certainly had experiences I never had growing up in New York,” says Elizabeth. “It’s so different… He’s adopted a goat! I never had a pet goat. It’s such a safe, warm, cocoon-like environment where he knows a lot of people and people know him. I think for his early childhood experience, it’s been really magical.”
France is not only a great place to grow up but also a great place to be a parent, as Elizabeth discovered when she had her son. “I think I’m very fortunate to be living in the French system in terms of raising a family,” she says. “This is a country really made for it; the whole culture is centred around the family. There is free pre-school, subsidised day care, five days in hospital after giving birth just to get acclimated… When you have a child in France, you understand why you pay your taxes! It’s a very reasonable and well-balanced environment, certainly for me as a working mother.”
It seems a miracle that Elizabeth can find the time to raise a child. Not only is she a successful author but she and Gwendal have opened an ice cream shop, Scaramouche, in Céreste, which was recently voted the third best ice cream parlour in France on TripAdvisor. It has been so successful that they have just opened another branch in the Montmartre area of Paris (over 400 miles away.).
The small village of Céreste, relatively unknown to tourists, seems an unlikely place for a successful ice cream parlour, but the couple were determined to stay local and through word of mouth, they have created a place that people will travel to just for the ice cream.
“Everyone thought we were crazy!” laughs Elizabeth. “Céreste isn’t a chic sort of village. It’s not where all the
Parisians come for the summer or where all the tourists stop; it’s a real place where people actually live all yearround. But we wanted to do something local that would allow us to share the amazing flavours we’ve discovered here, and just something that would be fun for us, and would be good for the village, and good for the community.”
Through hard work and a bit of lateral thinking, they have managed to turn Scaramouche into a year-round business, with their thick hot chocolate and bûche de Noël glacée especially popular in the winter.
Gwendal is an engineer by training, although he had been working in the cinema business in Paris, so he is in charge of the scientific process of creating the ice cream flavours while Elizabeth describes her role as ‘taster-inchief’ – a job she takes very seriously.
“We did about six months of vanilla testing,” laughs Elizabeth. “The classics have to be perfect before you can go on to invent more wild flavours. We also have two kinds of strawberry ice cream: strawberry sorbet, which is the hot pink kind the French love, and I insisted we also make the kind of strawberry ice cream I grew up with, which is more the English-style of strawberries and cream, with chunks of
Scaramouche in Céreste was recently voted the third best ice cream parlour in France on TripAdvisor
strawberries in it. We had a little battle about the strawberry but we have both.”
It isn’t really surprising that Elizabeth is so passionate about the ice cream business. Food has been an integral part of her life ever since she moved to France, as those who have read her books will know. They are interspersed with recipes from different times in her life.
“I always knew that I was going to write something about the rollercoaster ride of international living,” explains Elizabeth. “When I sat down to decide how to do it and how to structure it, I realised that almost everything I had learned about France, I had learned ‘ autour de la table’ – sitting around the table.
“There are a couple of years before you become fluent in a language when you do feel half-there. You’re half-funny, half-charming, half-intelligent, half-everything because you can’t express yourself properly and that was really difficult for me. You find other ways to express your personality and
“I realised that almost everything I had learned about France, I had learned
‘ autour de la table’”
for me that was through cooking. Cooking is a way for you to welcome people without having to talk to them!”
After living in France for 13 years, Elizabeth now feels thoroughly at home, but with a business to develop and run and a child to raise, the next 13 years are likely to be as eventful as the last. That should provide plenty of material for the third book! www.elizabethbard.com
Picnic in Provence, Elizabeth Bard, £8.99, Summersdale Publishers Ltd
These pages, clockwise from above: the couple’s ice cream parlour Scaramouche in Céreste; their courtyard; Elizabeth and her husband Gwendal
This page, from top: the stylish interior; a family stroll Opposite page, from top: making use of the fresh produce; pumpkin and courgette flowers; Elizabeth enjoys cooking with the local Provencal produce
These pages, clockwise from above: the village medieval festival; Céreste; local strawberries; produce at the market