When I wrote my profile for this blog I included the two towns closest to the villages in which I have homes, Abingdon in Oxfordshire and Guingamp in Brittany. I'm more comfortable living in a village where I know most of my neighbours, than a large town or, heaven forbid, a city. And the nearest town, the one to which I go for shopping and visits to the doctor, coffee-and-cakes and exploring, well I'm happiest if that place is old and characterful and not so large that I feel over-whelmed.
So, let me introduce you to the town in France where I shop for groceries, buy flowers and gifts for friends, occasionally browse the bookshop and sometimes have too-close encounters with the French health system.
Guingamp is very old and quite beautiful.
Actually so are many of the inhabitants, older and stylish at least. The women like to wear those cute cropped trousers and very chic little jackets and they look smart because the French tend to be slim and toned. And of course they are beautifully accessorised with scarves draped just so around shoulders, a very good handbag clutched under an arm, tasteful earrings dangling at just the right length etc etc
If you look up, and it is very important to look up when in France, you will see fairy tale turrets and shingles and beautiful windows. I have always been fascinated by windows and many of my older holiday albums are full of pictures of flower boxes and lace curtains fluttering in Tuscan breezes...
Yes, that is a chocolaterie underneath, and yes, their truffles do melt in the mouth...
The Ragazza recommends their chocolate seashells, which are divine
The Black Madonna in the Basilica of Notre Dame de Bon Secours.
Once a year pilgrims come to pay homage to her, it's a tradition to be found in many parts of France where there are almost two hundred Black Madonnas.
The mairie is very French, n'est-ce pas?
The French like things to be propre (neat and tidy) and correct. Whether it be the hedge or the paperwork, everything is clipped and trimmed and held in its place.
The mairie kind of shows that business-like air, yes?
Next door is a park.
There are musical events held here from time to time, children run across the grass to play on the swings, couples sit on benches gazing intently into each others' eyes, lone walkers wander reflectively.
I have done all three at various times...
This is my favourite flower shop where I buy the gifts for the hostess when I go out to dinner.
The shop owner will wrap your purchase beautifully and added a tiny ladybird peg to secure the customary greeting card.
A very, very old doorway, the entrance to an architect's office, how wonderful it must be to enter your workplace through such a door.
My first job, years ago, was as an analytical chemist in a chocolate factory. My role was to check the quality of the raw cocoa beans and compare those from different African countries to ensure good quality and future purchases, so this display of cocoa pods, beans and the finished products brings back memories.
This old timber-framed house is now a clothes shop
It took me months to pluck up the courage to walk into a French clothes shop and try on a smart sweater, trendy trousers, chic clothes.
The very old fountain in the centre of the town.
There's a free parking area nearby, which is often full, but a little patience if often rewarded, if you are adept at squeezing your vehicle into small spaces.
I think you can understand why I like Guingamp?
It's not without its own urban sprawl, over-sized supermarkets, dingy back streets and modern housing complexes. But it does have a small and picturesque centre, some lovely quirky shops, a wonderful bookstore and a bakery with a cafe at the back that sells the best raspberry macarons in Brittany...
The Friday morning market is great for seafood and pretty pink quilts, as well as fresh, local meat and vegetables and the kind of stalls that sell random goods.
In addition there are fantastic medical facilities, a university, a very popular football team and a station from whose platforms you can catch the TGV to Paris. There used to be three castles but Richelieu ordered them to be destroyed and now only three towers remain. Even without a trio of chateaux, as local towns go, Guingamp is pretty much parfait in my opinion.