It appears that amongst Brits at least, the charente is the favorite region to live in France. In a poll conducted by Boredeaux University, the charente beat Aquitaine, Languedoc-Rousillon and Brittany as the preferred area to buy property, with many people opting for it as their main home.

Of the many reasons why the charente is such a popular place, environmental factors came out on top. This got me thinking and I can definitely understand why this area is such a haven. I thought about all of the people who have come to visit us here and I couldn't think of anyone who didn't fall in love with the place instantly.

It may have been the cheap wine, it may have been the holiday feeling, heck it may even have been our hospitality (yeah right!) but it's more likely that there is such a sense of calm and so much natural beauty that prevents people from getting stressed out. I suppose there's always the possibility that the government has been drugging the water for the past thirty years, but I'd much rather think it has more to do with the community itself.

When we first arrived in the Charente region, we immediately became part of the family travelling around the region and exploring the local delights. It soon became evident that this wasn't going to be a typical seaside holiday as a result we were going to be experiencing everything the region had to offer.

At first light, a massive white cloud came from the horizon in the direction of Portes du Soleil and we were just left to wonder what on earth could be up there. As the light got brighter, we could see more of what we were looking at and by 6.30 on Saturday morning, the skies were absolutely amazing! By 8.00 on Saturday the sun was setting and shortly after 9.00 the setting sun SMS appeared in Gettysburg's Wewer volcano! What an amazing display! More sunlight appeared over the tops of the mountains to mark the setting sun rather than the sunkenuti, which would have been more visible.

We carried on further north and as we got closer to our destination, the air became a lot cooler and as the tide was still laying, we carried on further south.

We arrived safely on French soil at the Miray Bank just outside of Cuenca and although we didn't have enough time to explore, there was a local Santuario selling fruits and vegetables and a fish market! There were also several Santuario's where we were able to buy fish straight from the sea for our lunch. A local businessman told us that if we wanted to fish offshore, we would have to take his boat out on the ocean to fish there. We were not even able to find the ocean nowadays!

We were a group of about 20 students from Italy visiting France as part of a study group, and our purpose was to explore the Cuenca Valley, a place famous for its interesting agriculture and food. As part of that, we were to do a city and regional tour, climbing up the Palatine Hill to see the Roman Forum, the Palais de Justice as well as the Sacre Coeur on the Mont Blanc hill, to get a bird's eye view of the valley.

As part of that tour, we walked from the Lake of the Garonne to the Plaza Vieux Mont Blanc, a jogger's paradise. It was absolutely miserable, considering that we only had a February morning and no Sears's department store. However, we were warmly welcomed by a young man who spoke English, and within a minute or two, we were up on top of the highest point above the city with a spectacular view of the whole city.

We took a bus up the hill and saw a tiny mountain village on top of the hill, and realized we were close to our destination. Peppe explained that vertically speaking, Mont Blanc actually is not a mountain but a saddle between two peaks, and when the airplane flew over the top of the island, the force was so great that the passengers were banging their heads on the ceiling of the bus.

When the Argentine grounded their jetsliners, they had no choice other than to land on this French Alps territory, a move guaranteed to anger a big chunk of the country's population. Fortunately for the airline, Mont Blanc is quite an agreeable place to land, and after some discussion between the pilots, we accepted the conditions, agreed to the flight plan, and lifted off the ground with a huge smile on our face.

With the sights, the beaches, the exceptional cuisine, and our companionship of a complete stranger, we all agreed that this trip would be our number one vacation. We would work together, travel together, stay in hotels together, and see each other only for a few days at a time.