So many adventures in the Vienne Valley…

On weekends we occasionally hear a scream or sharp yell that echoes across the valley as numerous thrill-seekers take their turn and jump off the viaduct. 

Have I mentioned that there is bungee jumping off the viaduct in our little village? Because there is. Along with a ropes course through the trees along either side, and two long zip lines that cross the Vienne River. 


I have no interest in bungee-jumping, myself, but I love ziplining and the ropes course looks like it would make for a fun afternoon on a future weekend. 🙂

What I have done is gone kayaking down the Vienne River. It’s gorgeous and a bit challenging because the river is actually shallow enough to create tiny ‘rapids’ where the water has to maneuver over rocks. 


Craig joined me on my first voyage from L’Isle Jourdain downstream to Moussac, and it was his first time trying kayaking ever! 


Apart from a couple of tricky moments getting caught in the rocks (no danger here- we could easily step out and adjust if we needed to because the water is only a foot or two deep), it was gorgeous and peaceful. We even kayaked past a herd of cows hanging out in the shallow shoreline.


It was an excellent hour on the river and I plan to go again on the longer stretch of L’Isle Jourdain to Queaux, a two-hour trip.


We took a day to check out LaRoche Posay, just over an hour away from us and where the famous natural healing spring water Spa is. I was also informed that cancer patients receive three weeks’ stay free at the spa to make use of the healing and relaxing spring water benefits, on the French government’s dime. Amazing.  
Craig and Sini and I drove there one Thursday, with my purpose to get a massage at the spa, and theirs to go for a picnic lunch and explore the town. 
The spa is almost hidden, in a low, dark wood, unassuming building shaded by trees (and behind a small, rustic mini-golf course), and I was about to ask for directions when I came upon the sliding glass front doors. 

Inside is calm and elegant, and I was given my robe and towel and  a tour of the building and amenities. The sauna, steam room, and pool are all included with the price of any service at the spa, or €35 if you just want to swim and steam. 🙂
The pool is lit with LED lights along the edges and changes from turquoise to blue to purple to green in a cycle, and has programmable jets at one end and in the middle. (I felt that when the pool was purple it looked the most magical.) 😉  



I snapped a couple of photos before seeing a sign that asks that phones are not allowed.
There was a little cafe where complimentary herbal tea and flower-infused water was available, an outdoor patio with giant bean-bag cushions, lounge chairs, cocoon baskets and even a couple pool-side beds to spend hours in.


I had a relaxation massage, and both preceded and followed it with time in the eucalyptus-infused steam room, and then enjoyed some tea and some sun on the outdoor patio. 

post-massage goofy grin


Hilariously, I had to wait for a swim because just as I was about to get in, an aquafit class started: the pool became packed with seniors and a cheery but extremely loud instructor started yelled instructions to them and counting off moves. “Un! Deux! Trois! Quatre! Cinq! Six! Sept! Huit! Encore! Un! Deux! Trois! Quatre! Cinq! Six! Sept! Huit! Une fois de plus! Un! Deux! …” 

An hour later the pool was a relaxing space again, and I went for a swim, followed by a soak in their luxurious hot tub. It was divine!
I met up with Sini and Craig and we discovered a small market in the town centre and tried the local macarons (coconut, almond, and chocolate), before heading home.


On our way to LaRoche Posay I had noticed a beautiful set of buildings as we passed through La Puye, and on the way back we stopped in. It turns out that an ancient monastery is now the set of buildings for the local retirement home and we went exploring in the huge elegant church on the grounds there. 




The lady who showed us the church was very kind and barely spoke one word of English so I got to practice as the translator between the four of us. I told her where we were all from and she said she had a nephew living in Manitoba (of all places! small world), so she asked about the  forest fires we had in Alberta in June this year and how much she would like to visit Canada.




The drive to and from LaRoche Posay was so beautiful, I would be happy to go again any time, even if we weren’t headed to the spa…. But that pool…. 🙂

Corinne and Gilles wanted to have friends over for a party and show them the progress this summer, so we went in search of some wildflowers to decorate the house. We have seen loads along the tiny roads nearby all summer, but after a couple of really hot weeks many had dried up and we had to venture off our normal routes a bit to find them all. 

Craig looking way to serious as our ‘bouquet-holder’.

 
What we also discovered was an amazing amount of *blackberries*. 

It turns out that blackberry bushes make great natural fences along farms and they aren’t really harvested for sale or anything, and we discovered two fantastic spots that I plan to return to over the next couple of weeks!! 

These are the sweetest blackberries I have ever tasted!

Back at the house we set up for the party! We used sheets and pillows to organize the back yard in the Moroccan-style, bright-colours that I know Corinne plans to design the final courtyard with cheerful fabrics, lots of cushions, and many comfortable places to sit. 

Inside, the living room looked like a completely different space from when I first arrived, with all new insulated, plastered, and painted walls, new furniture, and most importantly, neither tools nor stepladders nor paint cans nor piles of wood lying around! 🙂

Here are the ‘Before’ photos of the living room and backyard and upstairs “winter garden”:

Living Room BEFORE/In process

Backyard IN PROCESS

With a new floor and new wall, the soon-to-be “winter garden” as a storage/workspace.


‘After’ photos below, along with some details: sangria dispenser, decanters, food, and our wildflowers! Outside looked like a different country, the living room finally looked like a living room, (with room again for the guitars, piano, and sound system) and upstairs the ‘winter garden’ looked comfy and inviting!

It was so cool to see this space with all the updates and improvements so far. With music, great food, friends, and a rainstorm that held off until the night was winding down, it was like a great send off to Craig and Sini, who left the next day, and it means I will help at other places in the village for the next couple of weeks while Corinne and Gilles take a vacation!

Sini, me, Craig, and Viktor!

A summer in French heaven, part one!

  

So, imagine you are offered the opportunity to stay in your first choice spot for a volunteer holiday. And imagine it sounds too good to be true, and at the same time, charming and imperfect enough to seem real.

And then you arrive and it’s everything you hoped it would be and better.

The Plan: spend my summer volunteering in the French countryside. 

The Process: join workaway.info and search for a host. 

The Result: connect with a British artist named Corinne who owns a 200+ year old house that she wants to renovate and turn into an international artist retreat, book and take a bus from Paris to Poitiers, and then drive to the small village of Bourpeuil across the river from L’Isle Jourdain, soon to be my home away from home. 

As Corinne drove along, the view of the countryside and houses reminded me more and more of what I loved in Provence. Terra cotta roofs, sheep wandering across the fields, rolling hills and tiny gardens, brightly coloured doors and shutters, window boxes and potted plants, lavender and sunflowers…. and the sun ever so slightly dipping into the evening sky made everything more than picturesque.

My delight simply grew as we arrived in the small town and I saw the grand viaduct, the town across the Vienne River including a church on the hill, and we pulled up in front of an old unassuming old house. 

Corinne was already a kindred spirit and I immediately felt further welcomed by her partner Gilles, and their two friendly terriers, Duke and Major. 

This is Duke.

This is Major


Our first meal (stewed lamb and grilled vegetables and roasted potatoes) was served on the long wood table in the warm and inviting black and white kitchen, one of the most complete rooms in the house. This is obviously the heart of the home, and we have lunch and dinner together here every day. 

Gilles is a fantastic cook (who reminds me of my dad) and he always has delicious meal ideas, and Corinne loves to cook as well!! Between the two of them we have had everything from pan-seared vegetables and sausages with couscous, moules frites (mussels with fries) with homemade mayonnaise that is so good I actually eat mayonnaise here, to vegetarian curry, beet and chèvre risotto, and the best potatoes au gratin I have every had. 

Right away I fell in love with the house, my room, my hosts and the dogs. I am the second of three volunteers to arrive this summer; the first is Viktor from Hungary, and soon to join us is Sini from Finland.

There is a long to-do list here, from plastering and painting walls and ceiling, tiling, flooring, sewing curtains, and furniture building/reupholstering, to building a terraced courtyard, installing a kiln, and helping furnish and decorate the guest rooms.
For the first week every morning after breakfast (and coffee, bien sûr!) I was on painting duty. The old grey shutters on the front of the house had previously been sandblasted and needed priming, rust-coat painting on the hardware and then painted a fresh new colour. 
(The name of the colour Corinne has chosen? Picasso Blue. 😊)

The back terrace in painting progress.

The finished shutters and doors!

Other than joking I have been painting anything that doesn’t move over my first several days here, I did also help clear out and organize a newly purchased
(fully furnished house) in the village for friends of our hosts, and  we took several loads of items like furniture, clothing, linen and dishes to local charities and also to a “Vide Grenier” to sell some particularly nice/interesting things.

A Vide Grenier literally translates to “Empty Attic”. Every village has these big yard-sales/garage-sales once a year, and this one was quite huge and included a carousel, carnival games, a hot lunch, a free coffee and beer for each registered seller, and two football fields of knick-knacks and antiques, artwork, clothing, lamps, toys, and collectibles. Everything you can imagine (including several kitchen sinks)!

The neighbors here are all so friendly, and just like everywhere else I have been in France, the small community atmosphere of people is hugely friendly and warm-hearted.

Right away we were introduced to a bunch of Brits that have relocated, or retired, or vacation several months of the year here. 
The most idyllic night so far was spent on the island at the home of Helen and Moyed, and the house that the town is named after. 

It was a beautiful evening, and the originally casual plan of hummus and bread for a light dinner turned into a huge delicious meal including chips and curry, olives, preserved lemons, dolma, burgers, and plenty of wine and beer. 
We sat under the tree in their front yard with their pet chickens wandering around, a view of their olive grove, the river, the viaduct, the bridge, and the villages on either side. Heaven.

This is Dolly, apparently the queen/guardian of the household.


More to come…. This is only the beginning!