And so my first proper get together with readers finally happened last weekend in the particularly glamorous surroundings of the French Riviera. A lot of new readers have joined us recently so I’m just going to backtrack a little to explain how it all came about. Earlier this year, friends in London introduced us to Darryll and Bettina and they invited both us and the boys to stay with them at The D’Azur, their villa in the South of France. While we were there, they told us about their dream of launching a homestay concept where they would open their home to guests in the winter months. The tricky thing is that because it’s an unusual idea, they didn’t know quite how to launch it – and of course I was happy to help.
So they’ve been busy getting everything ready over the summer months with the plan that before they launched, we would visit with a group to test it out. Of course we could have taken friends or other bloggers but as you know I prefer to try to share the perks that blogging sometimes brings with you, my readers, if I can. After all, without you these opportunities would never arise. And so in July I held a competition for two couples to join us the Côte d’Azur in October to see if Darryll’s concept would work.
The winners were Anne and Gillian who, along with their husbands Stephen and Brian were happy to accept and so our trip was on. Anne and Brian are Irish and Gillian and Stephen are Scottish so we were well set up for “An English woman, an Irish woman and a Scotswoman” punchline.
I wish I could have taken everybody who entered, I felt very honoured that so many people were willing to spend a weekend with me and Mr MC – maybe one day I’ll be able to charter a hotel. Until then, join me by proxy so I can show you what it was like.
Friday night at The D’Azur
So here I am arriving at Nice airport last Friday, for the first time feeling a little anxious about how it was all going to pan out. As always, I’d had a busy few weeks and I just hadn’t had a chance to think about it until we boarded the plane. I couldn’t be sure that everyone would get on and the forecast was for two days of torrential rain. I hadn’t had time to pack until the night before so my suitcase was feeling a bit thrown together which is unusual for me.
A note about this jumpsuit. I’ve bought it specifically for all the time I spend travelling because it doesn’t crease. My shoulder is a real problem when I’m carrying bags in between meetings so I’m trying to find ways of travelling as lightly as I can. It’s a bit of an investment buy but the cut is so beautiful that I know I’ll wear it endlessly and it’s navy by the way, even though it looks black in this quick iPhone shot.
We collected our hire car and made the 30 minute drive to The D’Azur – I know I showed you the house in June but here’s a bird’s eye view.
There’s always a warm welcome from Darryll and Bettina – oh and Frank of course, their little dachshund. We were the last to pitch up and so it was good to find that everyone had already settled in. The men were happily drinking beer in the kitchen while the women were in the sitting room with a glass of wine, playing around with Anne’s stack of Trinny make-up.
It was immediately clear that everyone was going to get along and so I was able to breathe out and enjoy my first glass of Provençal rosé. And this is how it works at The D’Azur – it’s like going to a friend’s house for the weekend where all you have to do is relax and chat and eat and drink and enjoy yourself. You have the option of booking as a couple and taking pot luck as to who else you’ll meet while you’re there or you can book as a group. If you’re going with friends or family, it’s far nicer than just renting a villa because there’s no debate about what to eat… who will cook… who’ll do the shopping… the clearing up – it all just happens magically around you.
Because of the poor weather forecast Bettina had decided on a kitchen supper for the first night so we left her to prepare the table…
… while we got changed before retreating to the sitting room to chat and enjoy the view of Cannes.
Darryll does all of the cooking; his style is simple, wholesome food which he prepares from ingredients that he sources fresh from the local markets.
Back to outfits and my move towards buying less but better. Because I knew we’d be busy getting to know each other, I did a classic desk to dinner by simply switching my trainers for the gold shoes I told you about in the summer. It was the first chance I’ve had to wear them and I know they’re going to be my main party shoes for years to come.
They’re back in stock so here’s a closer look. The magic is in the heel because from behind it looks as though you’re wearing stilettos but as you can see, there’s an elegantly chiselled block to support your foot. All you have to do is throw these on with a pair of jeans and you look as though you’ve made an effort.
We were called through for dinner and Darryll and Bettina asked if we’d mind it they joined us at the table which was good because it gave us a chance to really break the ice as a group for the weekend. I should add that they’re very good at knowing when to join in with their guests and when to step back and I know they wouldn’t have been offended if we’d said we’d prefer to eat on our own.
I was too hungry to take a picture of our starter – tomatoes, mozzarella, red onion and basil. But here are the braised beef cheeks that were our main course, served with buttery mash and French beans.
For dessert there was a choice of a mango fool made with Greek yoghurt or a board of delicious French cheeses. I think we all had both.
And after that, we returned to the sofas and as Stephen had brought a fine bottle of single malt whisky with him, we had an impromptu tasting and education about the Scottish whisky industry… with occasional input from the Irish in the room! Before we knew it, it was 1am and the whisky had magically disappeared so we agreed that it was time to retire to our luxurious bedrooms to regenerate.
Saturday at The D’Azur
There was no set agenda for Saturday morning so we all got up when we wanted to. Amazingly there were no sore heads, it was just very relaxed and some of us padded around in pyjamas for a while. Darryll had lots of ideas for breakfast but we opted for a big bowl of scrambled eggs followed by croissants and pain au chocolat fresh from the village boulangerie.
Anticipating hangovers, Darryll had prepared a huge jug of Bloody Mary but knowing that there was an afternoon of wine ahead at the Wine Festival in the village, we limited ourselves to just one glass.
And despite the forecast for storms, there was blue sky and sunshine – we couldn’t quite believe our luck. The rugby world cup was on and England were playing so the chaps kept an eye on the screen while we relaxed outside…
… and here’s Brian watching the tense Ireland match. It wasn’t going well and we were all ready to go into Théoule to the wine festival so the Scots and the English went down in the car first, leaving the poor Irish to catch the last bit of the game.
The pretty village of Théoule is a five minute drive from The D’Azur and you can read more about it in my post about our stay in June. Of course it was much quieter in October, just the locals were there but the coastline was still as stunning despite the cloudy skies.
This gives you an idea of the lay of the land and the reason that The D’Azur has such an amazing view. The houses are dotted around on the cliffs giving each one a front row view of the Bay of Cannes.
There’s always time for a spot of shopping – this was the all important deliberation between a red trim or a turquoise trim on a kaftan…
… and some cheese purchases which we were clearly taking very seriously!
Meanwhile the men kept each other entertained outside(!)
The wine festival was centred on the village square and before we went in, we decided to fortify ourselves with a snack from one of the food stalls. Here they were cooking fresh wild mushrooms on toast.
And with our stomachs lined, we went in and I was suddenly struck by what a fantastic thing it was to be doing on an October Saturday. Mr MC captured my happy dance moment… one French man appears to be looking at me and thinking ‘crazy English woman’, while the other is more along the lines of ‘stupid English woman’! Note the glass on a rope around my neck – what a nifty French idea…
And this is pretty much the only photo that we took inside the wine fair. The fact that it was the first stall tells you everything you need to know – we clearly took the whole thing very seriously and learned about a large number of wines as we went around… tasting each one thoroughly!
When we came up for air we were in urgent need of pommes frites to soak it all up.
Bettina came to collect us and we returned to The D’Azur ready to sit down with a few large pots of tea before gearing ourselves up for the evening. Although we could have popped out to a restaurant in Théoule, Darryll had offered to cook again and we’d all readily accepted.
The one thing I know Anne and Gillian will want me to point out is that the weather was very humid and it played havoc with our hair. I’d just got dressed for dinner here and you can see it’s already going curly. Outfit time again and I’d packed an old favourite. I’ve had this blue velvet jumpsuit since my early days of blogging and every time I wear it, I shed a metaphorical tear for the early days of Finery. It’s an amazing creation, I can screw it up in a ball in my suitcase and it doesn’t crease and yet it’s as comfortable as a onesie, it’s washable too.
Whenever I’m in doubt about what to wear for a night out, this is what I put on and the good news is that I’ve found you an almost identical alternative. It has a slightly different top but it must have come from the same manufacturer… just thinking ahead to the party season. So here I am in mine…
… and here’s this season’s option.
Back to The D’Azur. We had drinks on the terrace while Darryll put the finishing touches to dinner.
He’d been marinating a huge piece of lamb all day ready to cook on the barbecue.
And in my experience a group of men and a barbecue isn’t always a good idea. There were different theories about how to get it going…
… which eventually they did but then we had to wait a bit longer than planned for it to die down. It wasn’t a problem and the wine kept on flowing…
… Darryll and Bettina’s neighbours popped over to join us for a glass and poor Darryll’s kitchen space was invaded but he kept his cool.
By this time Bettina had dotted candles around inside…
… and so we sat down for another lovely dinner…
…full of the joys of a day of wine.
And afterwards we talked – in fact that was the theme of the weekend, talking. There’s a particular joy in meeting other like-minded people for the first time and seeing where the conversations go. Some of them were life-changing… Anne asked me a few pertinent questions while we were talking and uncovered that I’m working seven days a week at the moment and feeling as though I’m verging on a bit of a burnout. She runs her own garden design business and she told me about a book that’s helped her to prioritise. I ordered it immediately, I’ve just started reading it but it’s already making me think differently about the intensity of what I’m doing – The Empowered Entrepreneur. By the way Anne also has a lovely Instagram feed so do follow her @annebyrnegardendesign.
But that wasn’t the only tip we picked up – in a conversation about the happiness of long marriages, Gillian told us she had the secret… and it was in her bedroom. She was keen to enlighten us and so as she disappeared, Anne and I composed our faces carefully. She returned clutching something in her hands… which turned out to be a box of wax earplugs… cue the laughter.
And so it went on until, despite the chilly temperatures, the men suddenly decided that the pool looked tempting. Out they went and with Brian sensibly offering to manage the music, gave us a spontaneous display of Geordie-Scots machismo… and we videoed the moment… just for you.
I think Frank’s face says it all.
Sunday at The D’Azur
Once again, magically, there were no hangovers the next morning – although nobody wanted a Bloody Mary.
We had one last leisurely breakfast before it was time to pack up. Anne and Brian had an afternoon flight to catch so we all left together.
We weren’t due to fly until later that evening and Gillian and Stephen were staying overnight in Nice so we dropped them off at their hotel and went for a wander through the Sunday streets.
When they’d checked in, they came to meet us for lunch and yes, we somehow managed more wine… when in France! While we were there, the predicted storms finally arrived and we were marooned as the rain hammered down and lightning flashed around us. We decided there were worse places to be…
And so that was our weekend. It was a leap of faith for all of us but it was worth it. As our lives open up in midlife with a vacant space where our children used to be, it’s time to look for new adventures. I think a lot of us reach this stage and review everything, including our friends, and sometimes you find the things that you had in common with some of them aren’t there any more, especially if your friendship revolved around your children.
I have yet to meet a Midlifechic reader that I haven’t instantly warmed to. Mr MC was surprised by how quickly Gillian, Anne and I jumped into quite intimate conversations and were so comfortable together. I explained that it’s because anybody who reads Midlifechic is already part of the mindset. Even though I write and you read, I always feel as though we’re chatting so being together in real life felt as though we were simply picking up where we left off and I’m sure that would be the same for all of us. So let’s try and get more of us together over the months ahead.
Of course I can’t promise that the surroundings will be as spectacular as The D’Azur. I know I’m biased because Darryll and Bettina are now friends of ours but I do think that this is a unique concept and a very, very special place to stay. I can’t think of any other way of being able to dip into this kind of luxurious expat lifestyle so easily, so comfortably and so affordably. Your time there doesn’t have to be as high energy as ours was, you could just go to relax, knowing that Darryll and Bettina would quietly take care of you in the background. You could take your offspring as we did in the summer or you could go with friends – it’s high on my list for a reunion with our old London chums.
The thing is that it’s easy and quick to get there – and the flights are cheap. You can be sitting at your desk at lunchtime and then arrive for one of Darryll’s dinners in the evening. Our weekend was such a happy one that they’re taking the plunge and launching The D’Azur today. You can find out more about it here at the D’Azur website which has just gone live now so please let me know if you have any problems. At the moment they’re offering very reasonable launch prices so book now because for a little while, Midlifechic readers will be the only people who know about this very special place. I want to say thank you to them for indulging us in such a lovely weekend and thank you to Gillian, Stephen, Anne and Brian for their energetic and entertaining company.
So, an English couple, an Irish couple and a Scots couple went to France and…? Well they had a blast, that’s for sure.
A quick reminder
There are just four tickets left for the JL&P event in Leeds on Friday 8th November and after a few requests we’ll be including ideas for different body shapes and sizes so please do come and join me, you can book here.
Disclosure: this post about The D’Azur is not sponsored, our group was invited to stay with Darryll and Bettina free of charge as part of the Midlifechic competition prize. I’m sure Gillian and Anne will add their own comments to the post to give you their thoughts too – I’ll be as interested to see them as you will! Oh and further transparency, we have built the website for The D’Azur but not on a commercial basis, purely as friends.
Other posts about The D’Azur
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