Friday, 25 March 2011

Painting Days in France

Nicola Blakemore of Painting Holidays in France would like to offer guests at Le Moulin the chance of a 'Painting Day in France'. Take a look at what she has to say:

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up. ~Pablo Picasso

Fancy a change from site seeing? How about a painting day

Will I be any good at painting?

I can offer you a 'Taster Day' which could open the door to a whole new hobby. My gentle and patient tuition will soon have you taking your first tentative steps.

I can provide you with everything you will need and show you how to get started. I could come to you or vice versa, or we could meet at a suitable and convenient location and get creative. Either bring a picnic or we can grab an inexpensive lunch somewhere.

I don't seem to be getting any better!

Have your gear with you but could do with some help? Then contact me and I'll suggest suitable locations, depending where you are and what you like to paint be it landscape, seascape or buildings. As above you can either bring your own lunch or we can pop into a bar.

What will it cost

The cost for a day starting at about 10.00 am until 5.00 pm approx, is €75 per person plus 50 cents per kilometre expenses (depending on locations), including use of deck chairs, drawing boards and other materials and equipment. All you need do is turn up with an open mind and enthusiasm.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Come With Me On A Spring Road-Trip To The Mediterranean

This is a guest post from Joanne Mathews of Escape2France. We have collaborated with Joanne and David her business partner and professional photographer to offer photography courses from our gite here in Languedoc Roussillon.

Trip to the Mediterranean

This beautiful area, from where Escape2France conducts its French-based photographic tours, sits alongside the Mediterranean coastline between the port of Marseille and the Spanish border. Having been subjected to a recent name change, we are now to be known, rather surprisingly, as Sud de France rather than Languedoc-Roussillon - a simplification that will not be popular locally. Ah, the universal dislike of change! They've already renamed the airport in Carcassonne - much to the chagrin of the local populace! Sud de France, saturated as it is in history and awash with chateaux and vineyards, also incorporates the foothills of the Pyrenees. Through it all ambles deep gushing river gorges, colourful market towns, birds of prey, hovering over the newly tilled vineyards, slinky Pyrenean lynx hunting the wild boar and alongside it all, isolated and beautiful villages, each one built on a rising, almost nipple-like rock, topped with a chateau and a church, bells clanging regularly across the red tuille roofs - not to call the faithful but to tell vineyard workers it's time to eat! Because of this stunning scenery, the region makes an excellent base for photographic tours, breaks and holidays with its undulating scenery and the dreadful history of the Cathars to absorb. Briefly, in the 13th century the church of Rome ruthlessly put down heretics and sects such as the Cathars who threatened their authority and financial stability. The church, with the strong support of the Kings of France, disbanded and persecuted the Templars and they outright murdered the Cathars, who had sought refuge in a series of chateaux and towers along the edge of the Pyrenees Mountain range. However, today, the Cathar and Templar crosses are proudly displayed on the flags of the region. The local people, who don't consider themselves to be French at all, but d'Oc (Occitan), typically Mediterranean - each small, dark, round, friendly, chaotic and noisy - and, of course, everywhere, the superb quality wines produced in this, the largest vineyard in the world.

It's the start of springtime here in the Sud de France. Searching for inspiration, I decide to take the short road-trip to the coast. On the drive down to the favoured wine chateau - Château Rouquette sur Mer on the Massif de la Clape - a wine-growing area sited on a small cliff-faced mountain separating Narbonne from the Mediterranean Sea - I have my "plastique" (a 5 litre wine container) in one hand - and in the other, my camera. All around, the mimosa is flowering - clear splashes of yellow against the wintery sunlight but most exhilarating of all, when I approach the Mediterranean Sea, are the colours of the sky. I have only ever seen such blues in the work of artists, who flock to this coast for the intensity of the light. The deepest blues are high above me, the palest near the horizon, with every brilliantly reflected variation pulled in different directions across the water by the breezes and the currents. Such light can mesmerise - you feel pulled towards the sea, clutching your camera and feeling slightly breathless about these, the first truly possible outdoor shots of the year. Pink almond blossom illuminates the vineyards which are otherwise empty of colour and which appear slightly drab against the beautiful, newly emerging hedgerow greens. I'm in a hurry - I'm afraid the scene will vanish if I don't catch it soon. But then one change in the wind direction, one cloud - everything will be altered, will have disappeared before the shot is in the bag!

As I drive over la Clape, I realise the windscreen is spattering - the rain is falling. This is one of the driest parts of France - less than 50 cms of rain each year - and virtually all of it in November and March. Recent descriptions of our weather in springtime include "you know the Mediterranean weather in the spring - up and down, like the mood of the people ……" I look out over the vineyards to my left - their sheltered situation meaning that even so early in spring, there is the merest hint of a green wash to the vines. The sun has encouraged a few buds to burst forth, whilst the edges of the fields are carpeted in deep-purple and pale lemon - hundreds of heavy headed Iris flowers peering at the sun, planted throughout the generations by vineyard owners, who consider the Iris their symbol, always giving a pictorial feeling that Easter has arrived early. Looking watery, the combination of sun and rain has produced a rainbow of course. More Mediterranean magic!

I take my photographs, fill my "plastique" and I drift away to the étangs, a string of lakes which sit along the Mediterranean shoreline and which, in the springtime, attract large quantities of migrating birds - pale, watery colours wash over this inland sea combined with pink flamingos, standing one-legged in the water - and I consider a summer full of light and sunshine. Always a hot summer, filled with photographers, summer food and wine, tours around the castles, chateaux and vineyards - and conclude that such idyllic times are there to be shared.
Come and join us! Follow the Escape2France link for further details of our summer tours.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Skiing in Font Romeu France

We recently took a little time out to go skiing in Font Romeu, reported to be one, if not the sunniest ski resort in France.

We were a little bit worried because we had pre-booked the hotel and committed ourselves to this break in Font Romeu knowing that the Pyrenees had not exactly been inundated with snow. Now I know you can always go walking or do a bit of sightseeing but once you have set your mind on skiing that is exactly what you want to do. That said, the snow report for Font Romeu was saying 100% open which was better than most of the resorts in the Pyrenees that week.

When we arrived it looked a little bit like there wasn't any snow around, certainly not in the town anyway. But then we did eventually find our way up to the first ski station and hey presto everyone was skiing and the car park was very full. So things were looking quite optimistic.

Only problem was we didn't realise that for ski hire we needed to go back to town, so by the time we did that and found all the facilities it was a bit late to get any skiing in that day. Probably a blessing in disguise really with hindsight and the loss of feeling in our legs by the end of day 3 of actual skiing.

Anyway we decided to explore the town, check out the best ski hire deals and find our hotel so we could chill out and get ready for a nice meal out in the evening. Then that old saying kicked in 'what a difference a day makes' because as you will see from the photograph, it started to snow and to snow and to snow. In fact the next morning on the way to the slopes, it was still snowing. Then around lunchtime, it stopped snowing and the famous Font Romeu sun came out. The rest as they say is history and we had 3 days of fresh snow and glorious sunshine, what we would call a happy ending. Sorry about all the cliché's.

For more details, photographs and information on Skiing in Font Romeu you can have a look at my lens on the trip via this link. Lots of information on the resort, the restaurants and the skiing which hopefully will be helpful to anyone planning a similar trip.

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