Category: Travel Diaries & Blog (page 1 of 4)

Working Your First Winter Season at 40 – Week 5 – January has arrived.

After last weeks trials and tribulations this week arrived all shiny, new and full of possibility. The ‘clock’ reset as soon as the new guests arrived.

Funny how even when you think its the worst week possible, as soon as Saturday arrives you get to change your luck and start afresh. Its an interesting thought that the definition of your ‘worst week’ is totally personal to you. Your opinion of ‘worst’ can differ so much from the person next to you even if they are living and breathing the same experience. The gravity of ‘worst’ changes over the years as you identify new benchmarks. New ‘worst’ days.

My NYE ‘worst’ week is relative but I am sure glad to be coming out of the other side.

This weeks ‘fresh start’ just happened to begin at 06:30 when 20 brand new and excited faces rocked up to begin their snow holiday! A 6am arrival is not normal but special arrangements had been made.

Its nice to just sit and take it all in sometimes!

The first week in January also welcomed us with the prospect of a new team member joining us to replace the person we lost in New Year week (just to confirm…when I say ‘lost’ I don’t mean that they are wondering aimlessly around resort trying to find their home. I mean they quit!) We also had a little shuffle around of the roles short term to ensure we could maintain our high level of service until the new person arrived.

This may sound slightly odd but I am super proud to announce that this week I shall be demoted! 🙂 For one week only I shall become a chalet host/ chef with my own little chalet and my own group of guests!

I could not be happier!

They say that a change is as good as a rest (apparently) and this is a big change. All my manager responsibilities will be covered by the owner for the next week and I shall cover the chalet requirements until the new team member arrives.

For the first time in a while I get to be a little selfish with my time. I can predict how my days will go. I can anticipate how much time will be spent doing things without needing to juggle a multitude of demands and the wider team support. I get to spend some real quality time with the guests. Plus I get to be creative and cook stuff!

Not my finest photo but I made cake! I found baking to be incredibly therapeutic! This delicious masterpiece is a carrot cake! Each day we bake fresh goodies for the guests to enjoy afternoon tea when they get back from the slopes.

I genuinely love the complexities of my manager role and how varied the position can be from one day to the next but it was so nice this week to be able to try something new. To reset myself after a challenging few weeks.

Cooking and hosting is not new to me as a concept or indeed skill. I was raised by a chef and have spent most of my life hosting one thing or another. It is however new to me in this environment.

So this week I am a host/ cook for the first time in the mountains! But its never straightforward! The new arrivals have taken over two of our chalets and requested to eat together all week. One chalet sleeps 16 and the other sleeps 8. Note the two chalets are not next to each other! They are a 5 minute walk apart and neither kitchen can manage with cooking for the full number in isolation.

So. Myself and the host/chef from the other chalet came up with a catering plan between us to rustle up some delicious treats and cooked them over two properties with some dashing/ driving in-between.

A logistical challenge for sure but it actually turned out to be really good fun with a lovely group of guests!

Consequently we can add another experience to the Katie travels with food in a van story board… This time it’s piping hot soup…We shared the cooking between chalets and didn’t consider how to transfer the finished product between accommodations. Lesson Number 3 in the mountains…think ahead!

Its important to mention that whilst our lives in the mountains keep plugging along we do still have the remnants of our old life in the background. The UK bricks and mortar is going strong with holiday rentals which I manage remotely. The rental just about covers the property costs which works well to not eat into our savings to much.

Our long term plans are ticking along while we search out rentals in France for the end of the winter season and we continue to research how best to make our transition permanent.

The most significant update however in our ‘non seasonaire’ lives this week is…WE HAVE SOLD OUR UK HOME!!
The place we once considered to be our forever home will now belong to another family who can make their own memories! Onward and upwards! Vive la France!

Back in December we accepted an offer to buy our home but we have been nervously waiting to see if the sale would actually happen! This week things have started to move and exchange/ completion dates are now being discussed! Not to mention that the buyer has started to contact all our utilities companies so is clearly quite eager!

Its all very exciting! Also hugely scary as we wont be physically able to be in the UK when the house sale goes through! Luckily for us we have an amazing family! Which is super fortunate as we are having to depend heavily on them to pack up the rest of our lives over there and put it into storage on our behalf!

We have been preparing for this eventuality for some time and so have already cleared out the loft and packed up most of our personal possessions. The real win is that we have managed to sell most of our furniture to our buyers so there wont be too much to actually go into storage!

The next major step in our French lives is now not to far away. Very soon we should have a bank balance that should in theory give us the new French life we are searching for.

Back in the mountains the pistes are so much quieter now that the NYE tourists have gone home and we have wall to wall sunshine! Blue skies as far as you can see!

The blue skies are glorious and make for stunning views from the summit and chair lifts but we are willing the snow to return…just a little bit of snow would go really far right now. The pistes are starting to look a little bare and as the temperatures drop the day melt is turning to sheet ice. Its been two weeks since we last saw the white fluffy stuff drop from the sky.

The lack of fresh snow and warmer temperatures during the day are making for some interesting thaws! This blanket of snow is slowing sliding off the corrugated roof of the communal bread oven next to our house.
I feel like we have been in the mountains now for long enough to make some judgements on its suitability for us as a permanent place to live long term.

From the very start of our France Forever discussions we always felt that the mountains were off limits as a location for our new life. There were two main reasons for this.

1. The mountains represent our play ground. The place we go to let off steam (or we used to in our past life when we had limited annual leave and a lot of steam!). We wanted to protect this as much as possible. Sure we may need to work our winters to survive financially but it’s our hope to play more than to work when we do work it will be for someone else who can carry the burden of ultimate responsibility.

2. Money. The mountains can be expensive especially if you want land or a large property and you want to tap into the tourist industry. Both of which we want to do so that we can have the options to make some money to sustain our French life and have enough space for our business plans. We felt our money would go further in supporting our goals in other areas of France.

Our experiences over the last few months living in the mountains is that it’s beautiful and can be almost surreal in its magic appearance especially after a heavy snow fall. Having said that, it’s also hard work up here. Altitude and weather can make the simple things in life much more complicated.

Thus far my original perspective on the mountains for our long term life remains. I like sliding around on the white stuff when the worst I can do is bruise my ego or my bottom but driving around on the white stuff is frankly still quite frightening!

The frosts have been especially beautiful recently!

This week ended on the positive note in which it started. I got a tip! A departing guest tipped me a bottle of cider and some cash to say thank you for a lovely time! It made me smile from ear to ear!

I can’t impress upon you all enough. If you are fortunate enough to have a mountain holiday, tips are a massive factor for the teams that work out here. We don’t choose this lifestyle for the money but a small tip (or even better a large one!) can make a huge difference to the workers. Makes us feel all warm inside too! Who doesn’t love that feeling?!?

Until next time…I am off to train our newest team member and to hand over the baton of chef/ host after a truly lovely week running my own chalet.

You can find out what we did last week here

Working Your First Winter Season at 40 – Week 4 – NYE

Its new years eve week and I am exhausted, I don’t much mind admitting that the rose tinted glasses have been well and truly removed. Our reality is clear and you know what? Its still exactly where we want to be. In-spite of what has been a very difficult week we are still good (we checked with each other just to make sure!)

A little reminder to myself why we are here even if we didn’t get to play in it very much this week…

This job is bloody hard work. This industry is bloody demanding and it’s so unbelievably easy to lose sight of whats actually important in the ever elusive pursuit of pleasing everyone (except yourself at times!). Its been hard graft this week. There have been some tears of frustration and there have been a couple of time outs too!

This tasty delight took me a week to eat. A WEEK!! I shall explain why…

As many people do, I decided to try and start the New Year with a better diet so I cooked Dan and I a tasty, vegetable packed chilli for dinner on the Sunday before New Years. A week later I actually sat down to eat it.

Best laid plans don’t always work out how you intend…Lesson number Two for the mountains and a pretty good life lesson generally.

Most evenings I do a little tour around our Chalets to see the guests and the team. A chance to manage any questions or concerns and a great opportunity to have a nice chat with the people that stay with us. It can be, and normally is, a really lovely part of my job.

Once my visits are complete I can typically sit down for the evening and have some dinner with Dan and perhaps a bit of a chill out. Dinner time for us right now is normally somewhere around 10pm so the hours are long in this world but we usually get some time off during the day for some snow fun. Again…a thousand times better for my general well being than sitting behind a computer for 10 hours a day!

So. We are about to sit down for the tasty chilli (see photo above) to finally consume some vegetables in our standard cheese heavy diet and we get a knock on our door.

Dan and I actually live in an apartment underneath one of our chalets and the door knock was a member of the team reaching out for some help. Great! We are always happy to help where we can and its a big part of my job to support the team.

Fast forward 48 hours of at elbow support and sadly the team member decides that despite our collective best efforts to guide and help, this world / lifestyle/ job/ role/ experience really isn’t for them and ultimately decides to resign. Bugger! (the expletives were far richer at the time I can assure you!)

There are two main reasons for the ‘bugger’ moment. 1. The person who resigns is lovely, a great member of the team , has had all the training and makes amazing food which we devour when offered and 2. We are now 1 person down in a very small team with not much capacity to pick up the slack.

So I am one team member down. I have a chalet full of guests on one of the busiest weeks of the year and need to come up with a plan sharpish!

Fortuitously this difficult week was punctuated by a rather glorious NYE firework spectacle in Meribel which I was able to catch.

This turned out to be a double whammy!

I got a few minutes to reflect on why we are here and get some perspective away from the strain of managing customer expectations without a full compliment of staff and I got to celebrate the New Year at the 6.30 kids session which was handy because I didn’t actually see in the New Year as I was knackered and in bed (and sober!) by 11pm!

So apparently staffing is a fairly standard problem in the mountains around January time. It’s almost expected and actually the job related posts on the local notice boards have gone through the roof of late.

The season is in its 6th (ish) week and its about now that people decide to move on, change positions, think the grass is greener, don’t enjoy the roles or don’t feel its right for them or just get tired/ bored…sometimes its a combination of the above. Its also the point that those who didn’t make it out for the start of the season due to wanting to spend Christmas at home now start to look for positions.

All in all its a fairly turbulent time in resort but one that seems to happen year in year out. The small mercy is that the first few weeks in January are normally a bit quieter in terms of guest numbers so companies and staff can usually cope with a little unplanned turbulence.

‘Coping’ however is very different to thriving and this week we coped!

New years eve is really special in the mountains and the buzz is palpable. Watching the fireworks go off all down the valley is beautiful. The sky line is awash with pretty colours and we try to add a little bit of sparkle to our guests evenings too.

As the end of the year approaches it feels like social media is jammed packed with people celebrating the start of a new decade and doing 10 year flash backs to see whats changed for them.

Our lives have changed beyond recognition in 10 years. In 2010 Dan and I were a couple of years into a renovation house and starting to think about what project we could tackle next. We were heavily into over landing and planning our Moroccan adventure and I was starting my Jaguar Land Rover career with my focus very much on climbing the ladder to the lofty heights of management.

We were on the treadmill of life. Turns out I don’t much like treadmills!

At some point over the past decade we both decided corporate careers didn’t really suit us and continuously ran out of time to enjoy the benefits of our hard work. Work Smarter Not Harder!

Another interesting ( and probably should have been expected) side effect of New Years is the crowds!

This time last week there where no queues and there where parking spaces everywhere,the shops had not run out of orange juice and toilet roll. I could get a beer in the local bar without having to elbow people out of the way to protect my personal space. I could get on and off a bus without having to plan my exit strategy 3 stops in advance. This time last week it was Christmas and sure it was busy but nothing like how busy it is for New Years week!

Look at them all!!! People everywhere!!! All having a lovely holiday time

This has been our hardest week in the mountains so far. In hindsight I would have changed quite a few things about how I managed this week but its all good experience and honestly I am very much looking forward to the crowds thinning out next week and having some quieter mountain time!

As a team we came together and it was really lovely to see. The guests all left happy and I learned a little bit more about myself which is refreshing!

Over the years I have spent quite a lot of time both personally and professionally studying human nature. The ‘seasonaire’ is a unique kind of person but not as unique as the ‘customer’. There might even be enough material to warrant a blog about that in its own right! Anonymous though obviously!

The beautiful and occasionally overlooked thing about this industry is that ultimately everyone is here to have a good time (guests and staff alike). So whilst hiccups occur its often how you deal with them that makes the difference.

Next week we can start all over again and see what challenges come our way. For now though I am happy to report that we made it through. There is light at the end of the tunnel!

To find out what we got up to last week click here

Working Your First Winter Season at 40 – Week 3 – Christmas

Aaaaaarrrrgggghhhhhh its Christmas week, the guests arrived early and I am not ready!

I honestly wish I could say that didn’t happen…but it did! Best laid plans, weeks to prepare, lists ticked off…all going so smoothly…and then you throw a human into the mix. Not just a human but a guest human.

The definition of human should at some point include the words predictably unpredictable. Lesson 1 of the season well and truly learned (whilst I had my arm elbow deep in the toilet giving it a good scrub! So glamorous I know!)

Keep in mind here that I am gainfully employed (and wish to remain so) and guests are paying my wages so I am super conscious about what I can/ can’t write and what I should and shouldn’t talk about!

Christmas week is a pretty big deal in the Alps. Its the first busy week of the season and for many places their first real week of paying guests. Its also hugely pressurised. Christmas expectations are high, especially so with the catered chalets where all the trimmings are offered at Christmas time from mulled wine to fresh made mince pies. Not forgetting the turkey!

A rare blue sky this week! Glorious between the blizzards!

A week ago there was a mere dusting of snow on the ground and the snow cannons were working double time to keep the pistes open. This week however has been mainly spent clearing the white fluffy stuff so we could get into the accommodations and on the driveway safely. The snow has officially arrived and just in time for our weekly trip down the mountain to restock the chalets. The snow chains got their first outing! Its going to be a white Christmas!

A huge pile of snow in front of one of the chalets created by Dan for the snow plough to take away the next day

In years gone by we wished for fresh powder to go and play in. After only 1 week of clearing that wish is waning! Apparently our Chalets have a reputation in resort as being the best snow clearers in previous years so we have big boots to fill!

Another thing that happened this week which I should have predicated is the arrival of the tour coaches! Aside from the snail pace that they travel up and down the mountain roads they really are spectacular to watch! Those drivers must have nerves of steel to take a vehicle that big up to the top of the mountain in snow chains! Kudos to those brave (slow) souls!

The food / waist line struggle is real! Leftovers for our dinner come in whatever container is available to transport from the Chalets.

The food problem continues this week…I say problem. Its not a bad thing! Its great in fact. Dan and I get fed by the Chalets each day. The teams are producing some delicious food and we basically get the leftovers! We are expanding each day from all the wonderful food!

There is a game in the mountains that some Chalet chefs play on their hosts. Its called feed the host. A silly game where the objective is to look after your host almost too well throughout the season. The result is normally expanding waist lines. I am fairly confident our team is playing ‘feed the manager’!!

This is Bob the Turkey! Christmas dinner was epic and between us we fed 30 guests a 5 course meal that went down a treat!
Neither Dan or I have ever worked a Christmas day before and it was a bit of an eye opener!

A whole different level of stress to deliver against seriously high expectations. Add into that mix Dan and I are both ill with a cold and Dan is celebrating a rather special birthday!

It made for a quite surreal day culminating in me taking a Turkey (Bob) for a ride on my knee between chalets whilst sitting in the boot of a van.

Once the last plates were cleared and put away the whole team headed for the local pub for a well deserved pint which turned into 3…and some sore heads on Boxing day but we delivered. It was quite a humbling moment, the whole team getting the job done.

We did manage to get a couple of hours play time on the pistes to celebrate Dan’s birthday which was very cool and makes it all worth while.
This week also happens to mark the 4 year anniversary of our life change strategy.

4 years ago I changed jobs. I moved roles into a different team within the same company in an attempt to recover some of my work life balance. The previous 3 years had taken their toll on my health and whilst I loved what I did it was time for a change.

4 years ago this week Dan and I started to talk about change, about our long term future, about making every second count, about what we could do differently. 4 years ago this week our lives began to change for the better.

If you had told me 4 years ago that this would be my work view I would never have believed you.

You can find out what we did in Week 2 here

Working Your First Winter Season at 40 – Week 2 – Season Start

If I had to sum up the past 7 days with just two words it would be food and laughter.

If I could give the past ‘me’ two words of advice for this week it would be that Branca Menta (French Mint Liquor) shots are a bad idea on a ‘school’ night and to stop eating!

Muffin on the mountain finding the first snow of the season!
Its December 11th and training is now in full swing. The rest of the team arrived in resort a few days ago all full of energy and enthusiasm.

There is a surprising amount to learn about working in the mountains in winter and even more to learn about working in Chalets!

I mentioned earlier that Dan and I are total newbies to seasonaire work. Give me a multi million £ contract to negotiate or hand Dan a broken machine and we are like pigs in muck (so to speak). Drop us into the largest ski resort in Europe with a small owner led team, 3 chalets to look after and an expected 600+ guests over the course of the season and we have a really exciting challenge on our hands.

Our new home for the next 5 months. Les Allues and its church in the background.

Our jobs really did take some looking for. There are so many opportunities out there but there are also so many people trying to stand out. Some of the bigger companies literally host recruitment sessions in multiple places in the UK and interview 100’s of people for a handful of jobs. I am going to come back to that at a later point because the whole seasonaire world/ approach/ concept was frankly baffling to start with BUT for now I want to tell you a little bit about what our jobs actually are!

Our team is really small but perfectly formed. There are 8 of us in total including the owner. Dan, my wonderful husband, is the main Driver for two of the guest chalets and the go to maintenance man. Thus far his skills from our years of tinkering on cars and houses have come in super handy. Anything from blocked sinks, sticking doors, blown bulbs and dripping taps to maintaining the work vans to get the guests to and from the pistes and keeping on top of the hot tub and sauna maintenance schedule. There isn’t much he cant fix to be honest and his driving skills in the snow are impressive!

This season I am taking on the brand new role of Chalet Manager covering all the Chalets to support their teams and the company owner to deliver the vision and to excel against customer expectations ensuring that they have the best holiday possible.

My role is really varied. One minute I can be helping a chalet cook to rearrange their menus to manage a last minute dietary requirement and sourcing the ingredients (not so straight forwards when the closest super market is an hours round trip away!) and the next minute I can be face to face with guests who may or may not be happy/ sad/ hurt/ excited/ arriving/ missing skis/ lost their lift pass/ wanting to book lessons/ leaving/ need a doctor/ want a good restaurant…the list is long! Its basically like being a load of different people all at the same time and its ace!

One of my HARDEST jobs….testing the food pre season start to ensure the standards are high and the customers get the best experience…its a tough life! 🙂
If I could have written down on a piece of paper the sort of job I wanted to do this season then it would be this. Beyond thrilled!

Its a brand new position so I get to mould it how I want it and everything I have learned over the past 20 years of my career is not wasted! Its totally different, that’s for sure! But there are so many parallels that can be drawn.

Whats even better is that Dan and I are doing it side by side so we can keep each other balanced and ‘on point’.

One of the best (and worst) bits of the job this week has been all the Chalet test meals.

Each team have an opportunity to cook a full meal for the rest of the group as if we are paying guests and then they get some feedback on how to make it even better.

Its been great! The standard has been super high and the guests are in for a real treat! The slight downside is that my ski pants no longer fit…turns out a week of 4 course meals is all it takes! Ooops!!!

I might be full of fine dining but there is ALWAYS room for a mountain hot chocolate!

Another great perk for seasonaires at the start of the season is that a lot of other companies are also testing their service/ offering out before the first real guests arrive. Loads of restaurants and bars run opening nights and discounted service to take consideration of the fact that they all have sparkly new teams that are still setting in.

In the past 7 days we have bagged 2 free snowboarding lessons with different companies wanting to test their concepts. It may also have something to do with the idea that the more seasonaires they train at the start of the season then the less accidents there will be as the season progresses?

The whole business approach in the mountains is just so foreign to me.

It does make total sense once you are here but takes a while to get your head around. The teams are created, formed, function and then disband in less time than it can take to make a really boozy Christmas cake!

Absolute profitability and asset write off is measured against half a year. It sure goes someway to explaining just why everything is so bloomin expensive up here! That and the fact it takes so long to drive everything up the mountain to sell plus its a captive holiday market. Thankfully another perk of the seasonaire life is slight discounts on standard prices when presenting the appropriate identification.

Its a pretty special job that means you can do this on your lunch breaks!

We are now less than 1 week away from the first guests arriving so its all hands to the pump. Scrubbing, washing, tidying, cleaning, sorting, cooking, prepping, shopping. You name it was have been doing it.

Roll on Saturday 14th and our Chalets will be full of holiday makers all expecting the best service and some fantastic skiing.

Winter season 2019-2020 you are here!

If you want to see what we did in week 1 take a look here

Working Your First Winter Season at 40 – Week 1 – Training

As our first week in the Mountains draws to a close we have a day off work to reflect on just how much has happened and changed in the last few weeks.

After 210 days living on our Motorhome we packed everything up. Put the Hymer into winter storage and loaded up a hire car to get us 450 miles across France from the Sunny Dordogne to the Snowy Savoie.

You can find out a little bit of our back story here (linky coming…final draft in progress) should you be interested as to how we ended up here. How & why we ended up saying goodbye to perfectly acceptable careers and all the life trimmings that come with middle management jobs.

The past few years have been leading to this very moment. For now however, I shall focus on today.

This is today:

This view is the answer. Our answer.
A visual explanation occasionally used to explain our life choices to people
Effective November 27th 2019 Dan and I are Winter ‘seasonaires’ in the French Ski resort of Meribel.

So what does that actually mean? In short being a “seasonaire” basically means that you work in seasonal role typically linked to a hospitality business (which could be anything from laundry, cooking, cleaning, bars, shop work…) for a short (fixed term) term contract in a holiday resort. In our case a winter holiday resort in the French Alps. The pay will never make us rich but the employers offer something (arguably) far more enticing than the £€$ in you pay slip each month. A great deal of companies will offer accommodation, lift passes, food, transport, insurance, drinks, discounts…the list is practically endless.

Its a very clever concept really. Dan and I could never realistically afford to live a full season in the mountains (even in our motorhome). The lift pass costs and food bills alone would break our respective banks and use up a big percentage of our savings.

Our jobs for the next 5 months come with a one bed apartment, full insurance for on and off the mountain, lift passes, food while on duty, uniforms plus a pay packet at the end of each month to keep up our national insurance contributions.

This approach was a no brainer for us. Getting the type of jobs we have with the perks we did was not at all straight forwards. This is a highly competitive industry. Its not unusual for companies to receive thousands of applications.

Its hardly surprising however. We are being paid, housed, fed & watered plus insured, clothed and treated to as much mountain time (for free) that we can juggle around our working weeks. Its our literal jackpot.

Our first week has been a busy one! The rest of the team are yet to arrive and the guests are still a few weeks away but we are fortunate enough to be in resort a few weeks early to settle in and familiarise ourselves with the area and what it has to offer.

Our training is thorough. Everything from Health and Safety, snow chain driving, fire safety, sales & bookings, dietary requirement management, team development, cleaning, chalet set up, guests expectations, company image…its a lot to take in. Especially when you are brand new to this!

Have I mentioned that we are total seasonaire newbies? Yep. Never done this before so its a bit like turning our career clocks back 20 years and starting from scratch!

How hard can it be though right? Its not like we are brand new to people management or customer facing roles. We do however have 40 year old bodies that may not take so kindly to the typical mountain lifestyle for seasonaires where sleep seems to be the absolute last thing on their minds!

I guess the next few weeks will tell! Hopefully you will stick with us while we find our feet and see how this all pans out.

The snow remains elusive but there is a buzz in the atmosphere that winter is just around the corner and very soon the hills and valleys will be covered with the white stuff and the masses will descend. Until then we shall satiate ourselves with views of the snow capped taller mountains and the clock ticking down to season start.

We are thrilled to be here and are so happy that our new boss took a chance on us this season. Cant want to see how this next chapter goes!

If you want to see what we got up to in week 2 take a look here

Nouvelle Aquitaine

Moulin Lauga

The unintended but wonderful consequence of our new life choice!

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Moulin Lauga is so small its not even in our map book. Without specific instructions we would never have even passed though this charming little place.

A few months ago whilst at Gites La Colombiere we were introduced to Mark and Jess. Similar to us, they had cast aside the UK way of life in favour of an extended 6 month honeymoon in France that just kept on giving.

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Whilst in the Pyrenees we decided to drop them a line and see if they fancied catching up as we knew they were renting in the area.

Queue a dinner invite and copious of booze. We rocked up for a simply stunning evening on their terrace.

Home made pizza with home made nettle pesto (to die for seriously!!) the time flew by. Salad from the garden and homemade elder-flower fizz. Even watching the electrical storm gather on the hills. It was just perfect!

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Their home is so cute, in the rafters of the old creperie its got everything you need with views that are frankly inspiring.

They are a very creative pair and they had made their mark on the place and are living their dream. Learning the french way of life away from the hordes of tourists. We were their first English conversation in weeks!

After a lovely evening together we continued the visit with a hike the following day with their rescue dog Zelda along (or should I say leading) the adventure up into the hills opposite.

They have been there for only 2 months but are already so much a part of the community it was so lovely to hear all their stories about the history and locals – it made us feel a part of it too!

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We have so much love for this pair and so much about their life choice resonates with us.

They gave us such a thoughtful gift when we left – a new hobby/ business venture for Mark. We will share more about that later! 🙂

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The unintended but wonderful consequence of our new life choice is the amazing people we are meeting along the way!

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Thank you Jessica Chambers and Mark Chambers we loved every second!

Port- Barcares

Not far from the Spanish boarder is this seaside resort complete with funfairs and icecream. Uber busy and reminded me a little of Blackpool in the UK but warmer!

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Our overnight stop was just up the coast next to the HUGE inland lake called Etang de Leucate ou de Salses where you will find a much calmer approach to life with man made reefs out into the lake holding candyfloss coloured properties most with moorings as part of the deal.

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The aire was about €12 a night including electric but my goodness was it chocked full! Easily over 100 motor homes parked up so not especially tranquil but did afford easy access to the beach and jet-skis for hire.

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Icecream for lunch and an explore on the bikes with a dip in the sea was a lovely change to the mountains that have been our playground for the past couple of weeks. They remained in our sights though as the peaks are still visible from the beach.

The Lunch invite to Tourouzelle

So you may have seen me mention a few weeks back that a number of you from this wonderful group had reached out and invited us to come and visit you to see your little pieces of paradise you have decided to call home.Wendy Anderson is one of those amazing people! She joined the group only a few weeks ago and immediately got in touch to invite us round for lunch or dinner OR BOTH!

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Wendy and her husband Simon are just 9 weeks into their new life in France but spent a number of years researching and visiting and have settled in to a lovely village near Homps and the Canal du midi called Tourouzelle.

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We really didn’t know what to expect and had only exchanged a few messages in advance but we arrived and immediately felt relaxed in their amazing home.Traditional French homes are so very different to British homes. Everything from layout to soft furnishings and theirs has some stunning features.Our lunch, a BBQ in the court yard, was delicious! We were certainly treated!

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The courses just kept coming and the conversation flowed. Lunch, for us anyways, does not tend to last for close to 5 hours but the time literally flew by and we felt like we were in the company of good friends. An added bonus was to meet Simon’s daughter who is about the start secondary school in the UK and Hannah who is a US student currently studying at St Andrews in Scotland and is spending her summer doing “Workaways”.We learned all about their lives and plans for the property and future business ideas (which sound amazing and I can’t wait to share more details about them with you!)There are so many things I could tell you about this experience but this would turn into a super long post! Instead I want to focus on some key pieces of information that we have taken away from our lovey visit.

  1. Networks are super important and language does not need to be a barrier. Wendy recently needed to visit the vet with their dog Loki but without transport of her own (the car was back in the UK) she started to walk to the next town. A local from the village spotted her on the road and offered her a lift and then returned after the appointment to take her home again. Before that day only passing pleasantries had occurred with the occasional Bonjour – they are now firm friends.
  2. Patience is key over here. Things do not happen immediately and you need to persevere sometimes thinking about outside of the box to get the job done. Like the fact that their boiler broke almost immediately and they have created an ingenious hot water solution on the terrace using old water bottles in the midday sun.
  3. Have a vision but be ready to modify along the way. On paper their new home does not tick all their original “boxes” but in reality the home and the village found them and needs them. They are a team.
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Thank you so much to Wendy and Simon for sharing their lives with us for the afternoon! We loved every second and can’t wait to come back!

Minerve

North West of Narbonne – A stunning location found and documented AND my personal debut into the world of YouTube.

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Check out the linky below to see the must watch video and please do let me have your feedback! Its my first shot at “vlogging”so still lots to learn but its a start! You can now subscribe to us on Youtube! Exciting times.
https://youtu.be/JmGlUP_Cdtg

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So having successfully navigated to Narbonne and handing back our boat we decamped back into the bus, said goodbye to our temporary boat neighbours and set off for our next location.

Now it seams that motorhome aires are a little few and far between near the canal du midi – certainly outside of the major towns (which we tend to avoid). Our primary goal was to find water as we had drained down the system ahead of picking up the boat. Stagnating water in hot conditions is a recipe for trouble.

Campercontact told us the nearest location was 16km away so we set off towards Minerve little did we appreciate what we would find. I am going to (again) break with tradition here and let the images do the talking.

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This place literally blew my mind. We rounded the corner on the approach perhaps 3 miles out and this vast gorge came into view. I had zero idea that terrain of this nature existed in this part of France and it felt like being transported to a whole new part of the world.

Check it out – you will most certainly not be disappointed!**edit – video information error…the gorge was NOT formed by a glacier 50 million years ago! It WAS however formed by a river called Brian (I kid you not) 50 million years ago!

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