He who knows what sweets and virtues are in the ground, the waters, the plants, the heavens, and how to come at these enchantments, is the rich and royal man.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
According to Jim MacNeill, Former Secretary General of the World Commission on Environment and Development, “Sustainability is growth based on forms and processes of development that do not undermine the integrity of the environment on which they depend.”
It is important to us that the holidays we offer do as little damage to the environment as possible, while at the same time contribute towards the local community’s economy. We feel more like the custodians than the owners of this farm – we feel very privileged to live here. As its custodians, our intention is to look after our farm to the very best of our ability and to preserve it for the generations to come. In the meantime, we share the exceptional natural beauty, the rich cultural heritage and the nurturing tranquility of our farm with our guests without harming the natural environment and helping environmentally-aware local producers at the same time.
First and foremost, we support our local community economically by buying what we need ourselves and what we use for our holidays locally – whenever possible, directly from the producer: often from a neighbour, a small local business or at a weekly fresh food market. Two of our walks end at typical medieval Gascon villages on market day. At the end of each walk, guests can buy their favourite wines from the wine cellars we visit. (this is 100% optional, there is no obligation as we usually already buy the wine for that day ‘s evening meal at the cellar) On our free day, our guests have the opportunity to support our community directly by eating at a typical Gascon bistro/restaurant.
Preserving and improving environmental health is one of our prime objectives. Or us, it with the restoration of our house. Following the advice of the Maisons Paysannes de France, we have renovated our house using eco-friendly and authentic methods. We also needed to renovate the meadows, woods and lake. When we bought the farm, the 2-acre fishing lake had been neglected for many years, the 6 springs feeding it were overgrown and untended, so we availed ourselves of professional advice to create the thriving habitat for many species of fauna and flora that it is today. The 6 springs were reputed to have healing properties in the past, from there the small church built several centuries ago adjacent to the farm. We arrange classical concerts in this little church to help with its upkeep, a heavy burden on a community as small as ours that already has an ancient village church to look after.
On the farm
We grow as much of our own fruit and vegetables as possible using permaculture guidelines so that we can offer our guests organic, home-grown and home-cooked Gascon fare at every meal. We use no artificial pesticide/insecticides/fertiliser.
We planted a new orchard of indigenous fruit trees so that we can introduce our guests to local fruit varieties.
We use our horses’ manure to fertilise our fields, our orchard and our vegetable garden. As the land had been neglected for many years, everything we grow now is 100% organic. Many of our guests are interested in organic food production and permaculture and we are always happy to share our knowledge with them.
We also grow a variety of herbs enabling us to offer our guests iced tea (mint, or example) made from freshly-picked herbs.
We recycle everything we can, we buy secondhand whenever practical. We compost everything compostable. Everything we no longer need, we donate to Emmaus, a charity that sells secondhand goods. We often exchange our horse manure compost for home-made jams, compotes and yoghourts – perfect supplements to our guests’ already copious breakfasts!
We source our meat, cheese and eggs from neighbours, friends and our favourites at the local markets – people who raise their animals in free-range conditions. Our guests often comment on the incredible taste and colour of our eggs. Most of the fish we cook come out of our own lake – another reason why we can not use artificial insecticides, if this gets into our lake, it would .destroy the carefully balanced natural habitat of our fish.
In the winter, we heat our house with wood from the trees in our woods, taking care to replant what we use. We plant to replant several indigenous trees, mostly oaks, a legacy for future generations.
We make a conscious effort to minimise waste when shopping by buying products with less packaging and when we go to the market, we take our own baskets.
We avoid cleaning and washing products that are harmful to the environment – we use more natural products like vinegar which is amazingly effective – it even kills weeds.
Our sewerage system is a “fosse septique” – all sewerage is processed naturally on the farm.
All the wines served in generous quantities during the holiday comes from local winegrowers, more often than not from the vignerons in our own village.
We have decided not to install a pool – this seems not to bother our guests in the slightest as we often find them swimming in the lake or lounging on the large deck by the lake after the day’s walking.
Our booking process is paperless, we do not print brochures and guests can choose to pay with Paypal/bank transfer that makes our payment process paperless as well.
We use our cars as little as possible – we are currently training our horses to pull a carriage so that we can fetch our guests back to the farm after walks by horse-drawn carriage.
During our walks and after our picnics, we are careful not to leave anything behind and we take great care not to disturb the natural environment in any way.
We live in a cultivated region where many farmers are still using farming methods that are harmful to nature, especially bees, but some of the more enlightened farmers are now making efforts to use less damaging methods – this is a popular topic during our walks.
We limit the number of guests we receive each year and we keep groups sizes small to reduce our impact on the environment. We can comfortably sleep 10 guests, but we prefer smaller groups to ensure we can spend time with each guest individually.
We firmly believe in supporting and investing and our local community.
We have several large, ancient woods surrounding us that we work as a community to maintain and to safeguard our local wildlife: deer, boar and a huge variety of smaller fauna, flora and birds offering our guests the opportunity to walk through woods not much dissimilar to the enormous forests that used to cover this part of France centuries ago – the experience includes walking over stone bridge dating from the 4th century.
Our region proudly hosts several festivals every year. Especially wine festivals: we have an Armagnac festival, a Madiran Festival, a Saint Mont festival, a Pacherenc festival…the list goes on. We support our neighbours by frequently attending and by incorporating these festivals into our holidays to give our guests a taste of local traditions.
We also work as a community to restore and maintain our diverse architectural and cultural heritage raising money through a variety of activities aimed at educating the inhabitants of our region about their rich heritage. We are very keen to share our knowledge with our guests, during our walks especially, when we visit several of our regions touristic highlights, like the medieval village and monastery at Saint Mont, the guard tower at Termes d’Armagnac and the double bastide at Plaisance-du-Gers, to name a few.
We live on the edge of the fertile Adour valley, a powerful river that takes its origin in the Pyrenées mountains. The river biosphere is fragile and precious; we do our bit by helping to maintain the tracks on its borders. Two of our walks follow these tracks, giving us the chance to talk to our guests about the important role this powerful river has played in the past and still plays in our region’s prosperity and about the efforts our region is making to preserve this biosphere.
We have asked permission from the local vineyard/land owners to walk across their land and through their vineyards and made sure that by doing so we will not be doing anything to harm their crop – a crop that we have more than once helped to bring in at harvest time and helped to protect when serious weather threatened. This gives us the opportunity and insight to talk to our guests about vineyard cultivation, while walking through said vineyards.
Two of our walks end in a village during the weekly fresh food markets – both these markets focus on local farmers/producers and seasonal produce – this gives us the chance to explain to our guests how our community benefits from supporting our local farmers and brings our guests into direct contact with local people, one of us always on hand to translate when needed. We often buy the ingredients for our evening meal at markets – packaging here is non-existent, one brings one’s own basket.
On our free day, guests can choose to visit a popular local winegrower who does not bottle his wine but sells the season’s wine “on tap”. As he has no bottling costs (we take our own containers) he sells his wine at less than 2 euros per litre. The vineyard and cellar are about a kilometre’s walk from our farm.
We continue to work to reduce our impact on the environment. Our dream is to be self-sufficient and we have spent many agreeable evenings discussing the trials and tribulations of our « escape from the city » with our guests. We are hoping to eventually use the overflow of our lake to produce electricity.
We are passionate about our region’s history, dating from the Roman era – it was the Romans who first started producing wine in this region – is very important to us and we share as much of this with our guests as we can during their visit.
According to SustainableTourism.net, “Sustainable tourism is about re-focusing and adapting. A balance must be found between limits and usage so that continuous changing, monitoring and planning ensure that tourism can be managed. This requires thinking long-term (10, 20+ years) and realising that change is often cumulative, gradual and irreversible. Economic, social and environmental aspects of sustainable development must include the interests of all stakeholders including indigenous people, local communities, visitors, industry and government.”
What can you do to help?
- Turn off your lights when you leave your room
- Turn off your computer when not in use. Conserve energy by using your computer’s “sleep mode” instead of a screensaver.
- Unplug unused electronics (even your mobile phone)
- Conserve water. Take shorter showers using less hot water means using less energy
- Recycle paper, plastic and glass – we have separate bins for each
- Buy organic food – chemicals used in modern agriculture pollute that pollute the water supply, and require energy to produce.
- Use cloth/paper/reusable bags when shopping instead of plastic or paper bags.
- Buy local products locally
- Buy minimally packaged goods
- Buy produce that is in season
- Always ask before you take pictures
A mindfulness and meditation workshop with horses in this part of the world is a very special experience…the best way to discover why our guests come back year after year is to visit in person.
So seize this exceptional opportunity to spend a few nights with us NOW…to help you make your trip a special one, please let us know you are coming by making a reservation by e-mail on welcome2gascony[at]gmail.com.