School's finally out. Off on holiday tomorrow. "Mummy," asks Oliver, "what's the name of the hotel we're staying at?" "Le Mas Pandit," I reply. "What does that mean?" It should be a homework free fortnight, but dust is brushed off the French/English dictionary to reveal that "Mas" is the word for a farm in South West France while "Pandit" translates enlighteningly as, well, Pandit.
The following day we're an hour from Montpellier. It's quiet enough to hear a pin drop as we sit sun-kissed on a bench, admiring a remote village school in a location evocative of Manon des Sources. Centuries old, the rustic beige stone edifice also houses the town hall and by comparison the twins' primary looks positively sci-fi. More remarkable is that nearly a quarter of this French institution's pupils hail from London.
Two years ago, English mother-of-four Tracey Scher set out to create a rural idyll in France where stressed-out primary school mums (secondary ones welcome, too) could find family holiday perfection. She hopped her brood across the channel, converted an old, Roquefort dairy (Le Mas Pandit) into six luxury apartments, opened shop and enrolled her children at the local, village school.
Very Little House on the Prairie, with just one teacher and one class of 18 pupils spanning three different year groups, Tracey makes taking such a plunge seem easy. "It's a far cry from their private pre-prep back at home where they were studying astrophysics age three," she jokes, "but the French state system is infinitely superior to the British one. I'm extremely happy with it. My kids are bilingual, they get delicious, three-course meals for lunch with a different cheese every day and a free school bus picks them up and drops them off. One of my son's is even doing better in French than some locals!"
"Sometimes," Tracey admits as we watch her children bounce with mine on a giant trampoline, "I do have doubts. I went to St Paul's, one of the UK's top school's, and had a privileged education which my kids won't get. But overall it's a relief to be out of the stress of the British education system. The standard's good here, the baccalaureate is internationally recognised. I know I've done the right thing."
Watching the young ones roam carefree and barefoot on the stunning, 40-acre estate which boasts a petting farm, football pitch, swimming pool and tennis court, the innocent adventures of Enid Blyton's Famous Five spring to mind. While the twins' are busier than ever (tractor rides, fishing, horse-riding, tree-top climbing) a stressed out primary school mum switches from running on empty to full tank and the proposition of making such a move becomes increasingly appealing. Is this the elusive lifestyle dreams are made of?
Claire seemed to think so. Safely home on British soil, it was waterworks seconds after crossing the threshold. "I want to go back to France," she wailed. Inconsolable, face glued to the carpeted stairs, the tears kept on coming. Attempts to comfort (think about your friends, your nice bed, and that new arts and crafts box in the cupboard) fell on deaf ears.
Three days later, still gridlock. "It's not fair Mummy. I want to be back in France NOW." Just one trump card left. "Ok," I said. "If we go to France then you'd have to swap Miss Perry for Madame Poulet at the local village school. Is that what you want?" Claire stilled and reflected. Then she gave a sideways, shifty glare. "No," she intoned, uncertain.Reuse content