Watercolor workshops in France - our journey to open Perigord Retreats
The Perigord Retreats Journey
03Feb

Why France

Want to know why we started Perigord Retreats – watercolor workshops in France (and other disciplines, for that matter)? Thinking about experiencing painting in the Perigord like our ancestors? Read on…

Having spent many years holidaying in France as a family, we found ourselves spending more and more time here and longing to make the move permanently.  We were attracted to the weather of course, the huge open spaces of nature, the general pace and quality of life and organic foods locally sourced and available in abundance.  The history and preserved buildings and artefacts were an added bonus.

We were not restricted on our choice of location – we wanted some warmth in the summer with definitive seasons and really needed to escape the grey cloud we had been under for a few years in England.  Don’t get me wrong, we are English through and through and England will always be our home but it was becoming unrecognisable in terms of a rapid population increase with resultant increase in traffic on roads, houses and people.  It was time to realise our dream.

Our children were of an age to complete their respective educations and take the emigration decision before settling in to work in the UK.  We sold our house, bought a caravan and a 4×4 to tow it and off we drove in to the sunset.

 

our caravan for exploring france

Our caravan for exploring France

What a summer we had – the joys of towing a caravan round everywhere, locating campsites to stay near houses we wished to visit, intermittent and infrequent wifi, English mobile phones, the knowledge that France “shuts” for the whole of August….we were lead on quite a few merry dances. With more than 70 properties visited, we lost the will to live several times and thought about returning to England to start again but we knew the right thing was here somewhere.

We arranged a meeting with an agent 1.5 hours from where we were staying to see three properties.  We got caught in August tourist traffic and arrived late for our rendezvous to be told by the proprietor that it was lunch time, suggested we went and found somewhere to eat….  We drove around the town looking and realised the area was somewhat different, a hospital, main dealer garages for vehicles, 5 super markets but surrounded by beautiful scenery.  We thought it would be worth waiting two hours to see him and the shortlisted houses.

We went in to his office, sat down and he carefully explained to us why all the houses we had selected were unsuitable.  Talk about feeling as flat as a pancake.   “Indulge me” he said, “you want two houses” he said, “Have a look at this ensemble”.  We jumped in his car wondering if an imminent return to England was on the cards as we seemed to have exhausted every possible property opportunity within a 10,000 square mile radius – France has 250,000 square miles to offer.  We arrived in the hamlet of Campagnac, turned right towards the valley and gasped.  Wide open space, undulating hills, mature oak trees and turning our heads right – two beautiful houses set in 5 acres of gardens and grounds, an indoor swimming pool, a gravel drive and well stocked and impressive gardens.  Love at first sight.

 

46300 Gourdon – The new home of watercolor workshops in France

Fast forward a few months and we were now safely ensconced in our new home, now named Villa Perigord and Villa Quercy after the two regions we border.  It had been a rather tumultuous time as we have learnt to come to grips with everything French plus two houses and their general workings plus a massive swimming pool.  Gas underfloor heating, electric heating, wood fires,  air conditioning plus heat exchangers for pools to name a few of the problems that we discovered and that was only to do with heating or keeping cool.

It was with a determined realisation that we now had loads of  bedrooms and living spaces plus a garden that had been neglected for several years and a field with extra long grass and numerous creatures living within it and only four people to deal with all of this plus the need for an income.  After putting our heads together, we realise we needed to do more than just rent our properties to holidaying families and so our external businesses commenced with gardening, changeover cleaning, property maintenance, chateau catering and bridal beauty and make up – nothing if not diverse. And so the process began to evolve and our idea of hosting watercolor workshops in France.

Adrian – the master builder who can turn his hand to anything and the wearer of many hats became the creator and executioner of bedroom building and bathroom making and a swimming pool expert – ask him about clearing green pools at chateaus and he can tell you exactly what to do to.

Angela meanwhile has become the chef of millionaire Hollywood actor and 30 members of his family – only twice in one week but enough to mention it.  This was betwixt her management role of rental of the properties plus those that other home owners had passed on the responsibility

Harrison, ignoring his degree became the expert gardener and assistant builder, creating his own potager (vegetable garden) in his spare time here.  His car permanently had a strimmer and gardening tools poking out of the boot.

Chloe was busily occupied by anxious brides coming to the region to marry in a chateau with her dealing with the whole beauty aspects of hair, nails and make up – a couple of bridezilla stories to tell of course.

All of us committed to working hard and filling the gaps in the others schedules – we all became a dab hand with the vacumn cleaner and bleach spray plus never ending trips to the laundry with bed linen from all of the houses we managed.

With all of us working very hard and using alternative skills to what we did in England, our futures began to evolve.  We realised we had a gem of a location, beautiful and enhanced properties, a developing garden.  We also had more space to embrace, were learning more skills and opportunities were arising.  What could we do with 9 bedrooms, a huge basement space, 2 acres of field undeveloped and a garden becoming more beautiful by the minute….

Building the studio

building the studio

Continuous development

Family discussion during the off season – what off season we think as we continue to renovate, maintain and plant.  What are we going to do long term? How can we make the most of what we have here? What are we going to call ourselves? We are better equipped than the chateaus we have worked in. Surely we can do something with our skills and all this space. Let’s think of a name first and then work from there – What about Perigord Retreats?  That’s a good name, covers whatever we want to host here (especially watercolor workshops in France).

In our random work portfolio being all things to all men, we have also met individuals from many walks of life.  We have already mentioned the Hollywood actor but also a Hollywood producer, an all American graphic design artist working on movies, published artists producing amazing work including commissions visiting this region from all over the world.  These visitors stay in what they consider is available – everything from small gites to chateaus and hotels forming their own schedules and excursions to our attractions here.  And so the plan began to form…we could offer a unique location to visiting groups and share the beauty of our location and space with them.  They can eat with us and we will transport them to the beautiful historical sights of the region.

This is where you find us now – sharing our homes with like minded people who want to see what a beautiful place we live and to enjoy what the region has to offer.  The large basement space was soon converted to a studio to be used for art and available 24/7 – a space dedicated to artists work where it can be left for the duration of their trip. A space with daylight lighting, opening doors, cool in the summer, warm in the autumn.

The two houses offer an opportunity to rest in peace, tranquillity and comfort, enjoy good food and wine, visit the very best medieval castles and villages, landscapes and vistas and fresh produce markets in true French style, paint plein air or back in the studio with everything on hand for you. If you’re interested in joining a watercolor workshop in France, contact us.

 

Chapter 4
We now have a name and Harry, with his degree in business management has formulated a business model that he thinks is viable. Adrian and I with our years in the business world roll our eyes a couple of times but know, as a graduate, he understands the latest philosophies and we will just get on with it as we always have.

The logo was created and our website developed and we have a starting point. I meanwhile was spending my life behind the laptop trawling the virtual world for artists who already had a suitable following of students and currently took them on trips to Europe. English, American, Australian, Mexican, Chinese you name it, I tried to make contact with them. Occasionally, someone would respond, a SKYPE call ensued and we would discuss our options. Any successes with plans for a visit, I would wrap up warm and go and find Adrian and Harry and relay the good news. They meanwhile were still busy fencing the field behind us and I always visited at the wrong moment to get told to grab hold of this, pull that or go and procure some more fence posts /fencing /wire /staples…..

Chloe held the fort whilst all this was going on. The daily upkeep of two houses, the cooking whilst keeping up with the properties that we managed – hibernating swimming pools, winter upkeep of gardens, security checks and the odd flood to deal with.

This scenario continued all autumn and winter with a couple of really good leads.

Spring of 2017 and we had our first visiting artists prospecting our home as a potential venue for a visit. Things were tense in the house, we knew we were good enough but had I done enough in my explanations over the phone. All of our artists were over the moon with our accommodation and facilities. A few tweaks here and there – Adrian , can you just convert the two rooms downstairs into bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms. Adrian, can you split the big bathroom upstairs and make it two bathrooms adding one to another bedroom. Adrian, can your remove the bidets and convert them to toilets.

Adrian, can you knock a door through the bedroom into the new bathroom, Adrian, can you add day lighting to the studio. Adrian, can you just make the laundry area more workable. And so the list when on….and on….

Over the autumn and winter months, we did our absolute utmost to achieve our goals. We were constantly doing half a job where we were waiting for supply and delivery of materials – don’t forget, our command of the French language plus the technicalities of building were not necessarily compatible with the logistical problems we were trying to resolve. I soon learnt that smiling sweetly at delivery drivers combined with a coffee and biscuit seemed to oil the wheels – seems to be the same the world over.

January was cold, and I mean cold – minus 11 degrees (12 degrees farenheit).

We were all contributing to work on the lower ground floor in hats and gloves which of course affected setting times and further hang ups. Adrian often thought we were not going to finish but I had faith, he always finishes to our tight deadlines. The dogs were barely getting walked and as you can see, ended up in various photos as part of the motley crew working daily.

By March, the grass had recommenced growing which meant we had to start gardening again – the pressure was really on. The indoor swimming pool room had become like a builders storage yard, the lawns had wheelbarrow ruts all over them, as for the piles of sand everywhere. Two months to get things as good as we wanted was a huge task indeed.

Pots were acquired and planted with all things spring like, bulbs had been planted and were beginning to show through, frantic lawn repairs and why was the lilac not blooming…still too cold.

Somehow we made it. All of a sudden our guests were being collected from the airport and our first trip would be underway – had we delivered what we promised our tutor and guests?