A move to Provence and the cre­ation of a suc­cess­ful ice cream busi­ness of­fers au­thor El­iz­a­beth Bard plenty of in­spi­ra­tion, dis­cov­ers Emma Rawle

Living France - - Contents -

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.eliz­a­beth­

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

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