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A very French way to travel...

Peewit, our lovely 2CVMy preferred means of transport in France is always by bike (see my recent post about the Tour de France). But, while the French love of cycling has been well documented, they are also very fond of motoring – just witness the elaborate ‘pique-niques’ enjoyed by the French roadside each summer, testimony to how every car journey can be turned into an adventure.

But certain types of motor vehicle can enflame French passions more then others, and – being a fiercely proud nation – the local ‘marques’ such as Peugeot, Citroën and Renault inevitably inspire the most loyalty. Some of the oldest models are the most beloved of all, and it should come as no surprise to hear a Frenchman (or woman, for that matter) cooing over a ‘frog-eyed’ Citroen ID, or lovingly polishing a Renault 4 rust-bucket which looks – to you and me – as if it should be consigned to the scrapheap.

Snails in a French marketSo imagine my joy, as a committed Francophile, when – on this summer’s holiday to the Dordogne – I ended up behind the wheel of a trusty old 2CV. The ‘deux chevaux’ (on account of its 2hp – the power of ‘two horses’) is perhaps the doyenne of all French motoring eccentricities. Ridiculed by the insensitive as an ‘upturned pram’, and hounded by the impatient as it labours up the slightest of inclines, these magnificent machines are a sight to behold and a true joy to drive (if a tad noisy at times).

It was a little unfortunate that it took the expensive and somewhat inconvenient breakdown of our own – ruthlessly efficient and very German – car to pave the way for this temporary delight. No matter. We eschewed the offer of a courtesy car from our friendly Green Flag customer services team, and got in touch with friends of the family instead, the redoubtable Harry and Georgina. Now ‘Harry & George’ are both English by birth, but are utterly French in the way they have embraced village life in the Dordogne, and in their slightly unhealthy obsession with all things mechanically French. “Peewit”, we were told (for that’s the car’s name) could be ours for as long as we needed her. (Note the use of ‘her’ rather than ‘it’, denoting the vehicle’s rightful place in the family pecking order – presumably just below a human and some way above a domestic pet.)

Rachel driving PeewitPeewit, being a mere 2CV4 (with a 400cc engine) is not a powerful beast, but she is indescribably beautiful, and more than makes up for her lack of ‘puissance’ by oozing character, energy and vitality such as cannot be imagined in another roadworthy automobile. Her double-cream exterior, exquisite curves, flap-up windows, bug-eyed frontage and Ribérac ‘24’ number-plate all added up to a real head-turner of a vehicle, and to get behind her wheel enabled me to show off my dream companion to all and sundry.

What a joy it was to fire up the tiny ‘moteur’, clunk her gears into place, feel the bounce of the wheels along the road, and lean into corners as if we were in an upright go-kart. Having the warm breeze and bright sunshine on our faces as we buzzed our way through the French countryside (yes, the roof rolls back too!) was an enormous pleasure; and chugging into Ribérac’s busy marketplace on the morning of last Friday’s market (below) was an experience I will never forget.

OK, the repairs to our VW Golf cost a few hundred euros, but – as I reminded my wife Rachel on more than one occasion – people pay good money to drive around France in a vehicle such as this. So, perhaps the breakdown was a price worth paying for such an unexpectedly wonderful experience? It was certainly a whole lot of fun – I can’t remember the last time we argued so much about whose turn it was to drive!

Wonderful French markets        
 

Posted: 16/08/2010 16:22:23 by | with 0 comments
Filed under: France, gastronomy, transport


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