Living like a local in a small French village is a dream for many travellers, romantics and those looking for a different way of life.
And in the small medieval village of Fontenoy le Chateau, life is to be enjoyed here, away from cities and overcrowded roads.
But how do you feel settled in a new environment with a new language and customs?
One of the best ways is to use housesitting.
For us, Fontenoy le Chateau was our first European house-sitting assignment. A village we fell in love with and is now more like our second home.
So, for over three years, we have been able to experience life as a local in villages throughout Europe.
Living like a Local in Fontenoy le Chateau
Every morning the village is awoken by the 7 am bells ringing out for at least 5 minutes, letting everyone know it’s time to rise and shine and get moving for the day.
But the bells also ring on the quarter-hour and the half-hour. Then at 7 pm, they ring to announce the start and end of the workday.
On a walk through the village, you will find the bakery, a small supermarket, a pharmacy and, of course, the local bar.
The village, we are told, is between 350-650 people, with a local school, Saint Mansuy church, post office, and library.
And every Tuesday there is a small vegetable market near the old market hall.
With low bread prices regulated by the government, and with Camembert cheese as low as €2 and wine for €3, eating is enjoyable and reasonable.
So why a small French village?
After a morning walk with the dogs along the canal, next is a walk to the local bakery for some warm croissants.
Walking the village’s main street on the cobbled road, past old shops and the old market area is just one of the things we love about living like a local in a French village.
Breakfast is warm croissants and coffee while we watch boats pass by the front door along the canal. Perfect.
It is lovely to be greeted each time with “Bonjour Monsieur / Madame.” Even by small children and young adults.
Taste the Fabulous Flavours of French Cuisine
Our first introduction to French cuisine was an invitation by neighbours for lunch at a nearby French restaurant.
Lunch in France is a special event of at least two hours from 12 to 2 pm.
The restaurant Le Pont des Fèes in the small village of Les Voivres was special. Some locals refer to it as Remi’s or as “Hatters” because of the variety of hats in the restaurant.
Entering the restaurant was into a quaint room, very small and narrow, with a bar on one side. So, we were unsure if the small tables were big enough for lunch.
Next, the owner Rèmi emerges, and everyone is greeted with four kisses and tickles from his white beard. Rèmi leads us past the piano in the bar and through a small corridor into a larger room filled with various tables already set for lunch.
On the menu today is fish or meat, so a very easy decision to make, but first, an aperitif of Mirabelle (plum) and sparkling white wine to prepare our tummies.
Why French Cuisine is Fabulous
In the true French style, a small dish of cold cucumber soup accompanied by three small pieces of bread, olives, and a garlic wafer arrive first.
The next course flows with a delicious salmon salad with a deep-fried cheese ball. A white wine ordered for the table goes well with our fish, complemented by a beautiful wine sauce and vegetables. Oh, so good!
The waitress clears away the dishes and, as usual, says, “10 minutes”, indicating when the next course will appear.
Next is a cheese board of the famous Munster cheese and Brie and at least three other cheeses. And thinking the cheeses are the finale, we are surprised by the presentation of four small desserts.
We all agree the desserts are a great way to end the meal.
Expresso coffee followed by another small aperitif, and we can all hardly move. And no need to eat for the rest of the day.
Luckily we have the dogs to walk this afternoon as we savour our fabulous French cuisine.
Loving the variety of French Village markets
Friday is the local market day for the nearby Bains Les Bains village for a good selection of vegetables, cheese, clothing, shoes, bags, wine, meats, and plants.
Like most villages scattered in the region, extra market days are held on a weekend to celebrate an event or a bric-a-brac market called a Vide Grenier.
It’s always fascinating to wander through a Vide Grenier for antiques and other interesting items.
Only a short walk to a nearby village
An afternoon walk with two local villagers along the farm roads of Montmotier village means we finally find out what these old stone buildings are.
These structures were once the local meeting places for the village ladies to wash clothes. The half-moon shape allowed plenty of space to wash and chat. You’ll find them near water wells.
Our return to the village takes us past old farmhouses and brings us into the village nearer the port.
We walk past the port along the canal and find a path heading into the bush saying “sculptures.” It seems a little odd, so of course, we are curious.
And what did we find?
Sculptures made into large rock cliffs. And here we find another sign leading further into the bush saying “smuggling caves.” The caves have served many a purpose over the centuries.
Hiring a Canal Boat at Fontenoy le Chateau
The local port is the place to hire a boat to travel the canal. You can also obtain a fishing license for trout fishing or book a tourist boat for lunch along the canal.
In the evening, the port is busy with boats of all nationalities who moor up for the evening. And for us, we often find a New Zealand boat where we catch up with our fellow “Kiwis” from home.
A Short History of Fontenoy le Chateau
The Chateau of Fontenoy dates to the 10th century overlooking the valley as a strategic stronghold. But after many a war, repairs were stopped in the 17th century, and the chateau was dismantled.
So where did the stones go?
You will find many of the houses in the village are built from the stones of the chateau. As well as the terraced garden walls looking out over the canal and river.
Locals are now restoring the Chateau, which is known to have one of the oldest dungeons in France. And it has a great viewpoint of the village.
Learning the History of Embroidery in the Village
The Embroidery Museum is a must-see in the village, with beautiful and intricate needlework displays.
From 1840 up until 1977, the village had, in the earlier years, over 500 embroiders making garments for the Royals of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.
France’s First Bacurlette is from Fontenoy le Chateau.
A mural in the village car park features the first woman to graduate from a French University. Her name was Julie-Victorie Daubie. She died at the age of 50 years old and is buried in the local cemetery.
Fontenoy le Chateau is a village favourable to writers. Each summer, the village places plaques with many quotes from notable people at various places within the village for locals and visitors to read.
The statue of Gilbert near the old Market Hall is a famous French poet who came from Fontenoy le Chateau.
The medieval tower in the village can be found when walking down the lane to the river. This tower has had many uses for artillery and as a prison, dating back to the tenth century as a Roman archery tower.
Plenty of Villages and Towns Nearby
The city of Epinal is only a 40-minute drive from our village, with the Moselle river running through it, plus the Vosges canal.
We explore the left bank first with its sculptures, then the right side with the old 13th-century castle and church.
And for lunch, you can choose either the fabulous indoor market or the local square. Very French and enjoyable.
Plombeires Les Bains
The drive down into Plombeires Les Bains is amazing. The streets are lined with many beautiful old houses built against the rock face. The stately homes are spectacular as you get closer to the town centre.
Plombeires Les Bains was a place frequented by Napoleon III to bathe in one of the many Roman baths in this region.
Even today, baths are very popular for medicinal uses when open, usually after 3 pm.
Remiremont is a beautiful city for lunch in the large local square.
And if you love to ski, then the skiing village of La Bresse is perfect for the winter ski season.
Biking Paths of the Canal l’Est
Riding the pathways of Canal l’Est is one of the ways of staying fit while living in Fontenoy le Chateau.
Our rides can take us in either direction of the village. The village of Selles is 10km, and here you will find an amazing bakery.
A bike ride past the port to the village of La Forge de Thunimont is an old hamlet with the remains of a huge furniture factory. But we must say the most impressive old factory is Manufacture Royale, once a maker of cutlery for Royalty.
Around the region, you will find many old factories with old worker houses, maybe a chapel and the big house the owner once lived in.
Wildlife along the Canal l’Est
Wildlife is plenty in and around the village.
Wild boar and deer are hunted during the winter. In the river or lake are Kaipa (a type of Beaver) and Western Whip Snakes.
Birds are plentiful including Herons, Kingfishers, and Kites. Oh, and ducks, of course.
Storks and Cheese at Munster
Munster was fascinating.
Monks from Munster, Ireland, settled here to establish a monastery but became more widely known for their Munster cheese.
This cheese is soft with a very strong taste and powerful smell. So, please don’t put it in the fridge unless in an airtight container!
But what was quite remarkable was the stork population.
Storks have been a part of the Munster community for a long time, and they now have pride in place in the town.
In the main square, huge nests perched on the rooves of municipal buildings attract many tourists and, of course, the storks.
Picturesque Towns of the Alsace region
Colmar is a small town in Alsace near the German border and is one of the few towns not damaged in any of the wars this area has endured over the centuries.
It was founded in the 9th century and had many cobblestoned streets lined with half-timbered medieval and early Renaissance buildings.
Every turn bought new sights that had our camera clicking, so much stunning architecture and colours.
Lunch in the covered market meant we could see a range of the local fresh produce of wine, cheese, vegetables, and meats.
Living Like a Local in a French village
We have fallen in love with the small villages in the French countryside. The history is staggering, the villages picturesque and the people very friendly.
Would you love this lifestyle?