From smelly cheese to great artists, we’ve got the lot

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I’m a firm believer in supporting your local economy.

So it should come as no surprise to anyone that, as I type, I am investing in northern France by eating possibly the smelliest cheese anyone has ever produced as well as supporting its cider and wine producers the best way I know how.

Every year at this time I come to France with some friends.

And each year I enjoy relearning the language, revisiting favourite places, and reacquainting myself with a culture that, while only a short journey from Portsmouth, is so different to our own.

A few weeks ago I was invited to visit Copenhagen by a friend who lives there.

A cousin of mine, who lives in Brisbane, told me I was so lucky to be able to pop across to Denmark for the weekend without so much as a second thought.

She’s right.

While she may be able to hop on a plane and go up to Cairns to scuba dive on the barrier reef, she is only swapping geography.

What she’s not doing is changing language, changing history, meeting a different way of life head on or even swapping food.

We are so lucky living where we do.

The comedian Eddie Izzard, who’ll be appearing at the Southsea Comedy Festival later this summer, makes a joke to Americans: ‘You know Europe, it’s where the history comes from.’

It might be a joke, but he’s oh so right.

There were the empire builders like the British, Greeks, Russians and Romans.

The explorers like the Spanish and the Portuguese, the architects and artists, the inventors and the gastronomic innovators.

And, let’s face it, we’ve got the people who invented a palatable way to enjoy alcohol. Yes, we’ve got it all over here.

Just a few minutes from Portsmouth we can get on a ferry, jump on a plane or catch a train to get us to the continent and experience something a little bit different.

For me, visiting France every year is a way of slowing down, of reminding myself I don’t have to live at 100 miles an hour all the time – just for 51 out of the 52 weeks in the year.

It’s balm for the soul and I’ll always be grateful for it being so easily accessible.