Hosting Workshops in France: 13 of my favourite things

A friend of mine at Letters from Athens has a post on her blog called A few of my favourite things with loads of beautiful pictures. It inspired me to take a look at the things I love about living and hosting our Connect with Horses Personal Empowerment Workshops here in deepest (but not darkest) rural France:

  1. I love the CLIMATE. The hot, dry summers, when an afternoon siesta is essential to one’s survival, the long, lazy autumn days with temperatures around 15° sometimes way into December, the short, sharp, violent winters, with snow! seldom lasting longer than a week or two. The wet springs, when the grass in the paddocks grow so fast that the horses turn into walking wine barrels (luckily none of our are prone to laminitis).
  2. NO TRAFFIC. I love the fact that there is barely any traffic on our roads, except maybe at 12h when lunch starts and everyone goes home, and then again at 14h when lunch is officially over when you might find yourself behind two or maybe even three cars on bigger roads. Sometimes on Friday afternoons, around 16h, you may find yourself in a traffic jam involving two other cars and a tractor, if you are not careful. Even the highways are traffic-bare. When the L’Aliènor opened a couple of years ago, my husband and I used to bet each other that we would come across less than 5 or less than 10 cars between Aire-sur-l’Adour and Pau, a good 30 min’s drive. Admittedly it is a toll road, and not cheap either, but what a pleasure to be able to drive undisturbed on a road of such good quality.
  3. I LOVE the LOW POLLUTION levels around here. Fresh air, constantly renewed by the many private and public woods scattered around the countryside. Brilliant stars at night with barely any light pollution to steal their shine. No noise pollution, I can hear the horses snort in the furthest field from the house.
  4. I love the SLOWER PACE OF LIFE, the laid-back approach to just about everything that is not life-threatening. People take the time to talk to each other, properly, because they are interested in each other’s well-being. Going to the market is spent shopping: 10% of the time, talking and catching up : 90% of the time. Two cars coming from opposite directions may stop in the middle of the road so that their drivers can have a chat – and if you are stuck behind one of them? You wait, because next time it may be you who is causing the obstruction.
  5. Once in a blue moon, I wish the shops were open on Sundays, but mostly I appreciate the PEACE AND QUIET it brings. I certainly love having time to spend with friends and family (see the 6-hour Sunday lunches I mentioned in another post), to go to a museum or an open garden or to go to a flea market – where one invariably meets friends and has to compare treasures found. Lunch time is sacred too, shops close from 12-2, giving everyone the opportunity to eat an unhurried lunch and have a siesta without feeling guilty.
  6. While we are on the subject of lunch, I think it is great that most bistros and restaurants here do a SET LUNCH : soup, first course, main course, desert and a carafe of wine for 11-13 euros. And as this is Gascony, the food is of excellent quality and one is offered copious amounts. Sometimes even the coffee is included, otherwise one has to fork out another 1 euro 10 to be able to wake up sufficiently to go back to work.
  7. I am grateful that even though this is the back of beyond, light years on the other side of the final frontier, we have a very good, uninterrupted and a fast enough INTERNET CONNECTION. This makes us feel less isolated, keeps us better informed, enables us to stay in contact with friends and family all over the world. I am very grateful that the provision of broadband internet is a high priority of our department.
  8. One of the main reasons we live here is because the LAND IS CHEAP and we could afford to buy and now maintain 8 Ha (20 acres) without bankrupting ourselves (totally) which means, of course, that we can keep more horses in splendid comfort. I also love our lake, all 9000 sqm of it. I love the fact that it offers sanctuary to so many different wild animals and birds, especially the migrating ones, and I love the way the mood of the lake changes with each season : cold, deep, dark and mysterious in winter, a mad and angry rushing torrent passing through in spring, a clear butter-won’t-melt-in-its-mouth still innocence in summer and a mirror reflecting the rich ruby, gold and copper colours of autumn in November.
  9. I love the FRIENDLY PEOPLE of Gascony, and specifically the people of the Gers. Every summer and autumn, we get buried under gifts of surplus fruit and vegetables, home-made jams and the odd bit of venison. I have learnt to plant the fruit and vegetables that my neighbours do not, so as not to have a glut of say, broccoli, and plant enough so that I have surplus to share. The fish from our lake (mostly black bass) is also much appreciated. Round here, if you intend solving your problems yourself, do not mention them to your neighbours. If you do, then someone’s aunt, daughter, friend or great-nephew three times removed will be commandeered to come and help, as everyone invariably knows an expert who can cure whatever ails you. This is pay-it-forward country. By the time you are too timid to show your face in the village, feeling acutely guilty because you have been helped so many times (and everyone always refuses to accept your thanks in any shape or form) you are called upon to render a service vital to the survival of some other poor soul.
  10. Even though I love the Gascons, I also appreciate the fact that you can meet and become friends with a huge variety of EXPAT‘s here, and join in their cultural activities. There is a fair amount of Brits here, less now as many had to sell up and go back to the UK during the financial crisis, there is a vibrant Dutch community, a few scattered Germans and here and there you will come across the odd Australian, South African, New-Zealander. Americans not so much in the countryside, unless married to a French spouse, although there are thriving communities in the bigger cities, like Bordeaux and Toulouse. I am grateful that we know quite a few couples who are cultural-combinations, one French and the other some other nationality, who understand the challenges of being married to someone from another country. Another thing I love is English and Dutch book-exchanges. We have several a year, where you can pick up any amount of pre-loved books in excellent condition, either for free or for a couple of sous. It has done my English and Dutch tremendous good.
  11. I love the vineyards all around us, especially now that they sport such fabulous autumn colours, and the WINE made from these vineyards’ grapes. I love being able to drive 2km down the road to LaPrune, where wine will be poured through a petrol nozzle into a 2 litre plastic bottled for me, white (sweet and dry), rosé (sweet and dry) and red (dry, drier and driest) and I will be charged less that 2 euros per bottle. Admittedly, it doesn’t last long, but how can that be a problem? I haven’t got a very sensitive or educated palate. I can more or less distinguish between very good and very bad, and the rest is « Very nice, Dear » which my husband finds exasperating as he is very serious about his wines and knows rather a lot about wines, especially the wines of our region. Our Equine-guided Personal Empowerment workshop guests can opt for an extra day’s Tutored Wine Tasting Tour at the beginning or the end of a workshop – he drives them to all his favourite watering places and introduced them to the wines and winemakers of our region. This little extra is also very popular with our non-participating guests.
  12. I love it that we are LESS THAN 2 HOURS from the Atlantic coast, with its endless, unspoilt beaches and its quaint seaside towns. I love it that we are less than two hours from the ski slopes, with a good variety of different resorts catering for skiers of all aptitudes. I love being so close to Spain: Within two hours we can be across the Spanish border on our way to San Sebastian and the delights of a completely different culture. I love all the hot spring spa’s in the region, the one we most often go to is the Caliceo Spa in Pau, less than 50 minutes from us.
  13. It is also great that it is so EASY TO TRAVEL here. There are 4 airports less than 2 hours drive from us, Pau and Tarbes are less than 50 minutes away, Toulouse and Bordeaux less than 2 hours, all 4 serviced by the budget airlines, with regular flights all over Europe.

There are a lot more things that I love about living here, like the high-quality medical care the prompt parcel delivery by the post office, the unparalleled musical festivals like the annual Marciac Jazz festival…but I am going to stop now because I have already written way more than 1500 words and because I can’t sit in front of the computer the whole day long, I need to get out there and enjoy the things I so love about living here.

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8 thoughts on “Hosting Workshops in France: 13 of my favourite things”

  1. Sounds like heaven on earth. Whenever I go towards the South of France, I feel happy, relaxed. Your retreat sounds like a great place!

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  2. Lovely! I so agree with everything you said! It’s my experience of the French countryside as well, except we don’t have the skiing so close in Normandy – or Spain. But we do have a lovely beach where we can ride to our heart’s content – tide permitting. Thanks for linking to my blog as well. Xxx

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    1. You are very welcome, only fair, since your post inspired mine. I miss Normandie, we lived there while I was working on Jersey, in the Channel Islands for nearly 12 years in all. Maybe one day on your way there or on your way back you can stop off here?

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