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House Sitting in the Ile de France - how to have your cake and eat it Over the years I have visited various parts of the French coast, mountains and cities for holidays, work and pleasure. But I've seldom had the luxury of time to simply live in one place and take in my surroundings without the deadlines of a timed holiday or tours crammed between business meetings and a return flight. Housesitting in Ile de France gave me that privilege; time to enjoy the country and savour the character of the heart of la France Profonde. Discovering the Ile de France In the heart of the French countryside just one hour from Paris lives a British expat long established in a tiny hamlet near the town of Coulommiers, with her family of dogs and hens. Susan occasionally travels away from her country idyll finding housesitters to take care of her pets and home. On the Housesit Match website she describes her French home as ‘a peaceful retreat nestled in the heart of the country’. Driving along the Route National at Ermenonville I passed the famous Parc Asterix and noticed scenic road side areas signposted as bon coins de pique-nique, and covoiturage. How organised to set aside land for outdoor lunch and ride sharing meeting places. It was hard to visualise anything like this off motorways elsewhere. When I arrived, nothing had prepared me for this charming corner of the world. Susan's home is a characterful gated property not visible from the road, with expansive views from the rear facing veranda. Land of Brie and Champagne Before long Susan introduced me to my charges for the housesit assignment, four dogs - all different sizes and ages and each with a unique personality, and 12 chickens. Their routines were straightforward and her explanations and briefing document was clear. I was all set. And she was ready for her holiday. Barring downpours of rain in the first two days the rest of the time at the housesit was peaceful, warm and sunny. I visited Coulommiers the nearest town, and the first place in France to produce what we now know as Brie cheese.
I also visited nearby Saint Simeon and the Fromagère de la brie where you can organise visits to see the cheese being made, and naturally there are dégustations à la Laiterie. This region is close to the home of Champagne. It's easy to get to and try a little tasting (or two) and take some bottles of bubbles home with you. No matter where you house sit in France, there’s always something wonderful close by and in this case, one of the many great places to visit was Fontainebleau. Both the gardens and chateau were exquisite, really easy to negotiate and not at all crowded, not like Versailles which has been plagued by long queues whenever I have visited. Originally a fortified castle dating from the 12th Century, this chateau has weathered more than 800 years of history, 36 monarchs and an Emperor. Above left: the mountains of Reims, Champagne, above right: Chateau de Fontainebleau; right: Susan's chickens!
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