Working up an Appetite

Working up an Appetite

20 hours on an airbus, four and a half hours on a fast train… am I there yet? …another hour on a fast train …a slow train for half an hour …a bus for 20 minutes, then the last short leg by car, and finally I arrive at my destination, Montcabrier, a small medieval hilltop village in the Lot Valley.

I’m not complaining. A writer’s retreat is what I sought. Atelier de la Rose, comprising a studio and accommodation offered as B&B or half/full board, was established by Sally Gaucheron, an art and design historian, and her late husband, artist Ed Herring. It has been a haven for artists and writers for twenty years.

During my two week stay I intended to work on writing projects long neglected back home in Melbourne because of teaching commitments.

So, hankering after tranquility, time and space, I found myself quickly adapting to this new and productive environment: a spacious studio with a large writing table that looked out across neighbouring hills, and when the brain was fagged, forest paths to wander, all to the rhythm of the village bells which rang on the hour and half-hour throughout the day.

The disciplined focus each day gave way at night to evening walks in the village, appreciating the night sky from the terrace, curling up with a good book in a very comfortable bed. The guest bedrooms are painted white with white furnishings so the mind soon feels light, cocooned for sleep. But not before a final smile. The corridor beside the bedrooms has a series of playful photograms, fabricated faces, that Ed Herring did when he and Sally ran photography workshops in schools.

This idyllic picture, however, remains incomplete. Why?

What held each part of my new routine together was Sally’s wonderful cooking, of the vegetarian variety and not widely available in France. She had advertised on her website that vegetarian full board was an option, and this had helped me to make up my mind in the midst of all the manic internet research we do these days prior to travel, that this particular retreat held most promise.

I was spoilt with such a delicious variety of meals, a mouth-watering two weeks that ranged from galettes to a Thai curry, ratatouille to potato and leek shepherd’s pie, eggplant ravioli to a couscous bake; soups (it was an unusually cold April) included creamy cauliflower and split pea, red pepper and sweet potato, but I really savoured the opportunity to try a traditional nettle soup, all enjoyed with crusty sough dough bread from the local artisan bakery which has its own formidable reputation.

Other regional delights were plump juicy Agen prunes at breakfast each day. Quercy walnut tart was one of many scrumptious desserts, but the cherry crumble, made with preserved fruit from the two large trees in the garden, was my favourite.

Malbec, a companionable red wine from nearby Cahors, flowed generously through dinner and on, as we settled into evening conversations usually joined by Noire, the resident centenarian who appeared to have forgiven Sally for the sign on the gate, CHAT LUNATIQUE!

This April may have been too cold to sit and dine out on the terrace, but sitting at Sally’s table each day, in the warmth of her kitchen enjoying fabulous vegetarian meals, made my residency at Atelier de la Rose very special.

The long journey was well worth the effort in so many ways.

Louise Molloy, Melbourne, Australia

April 2012

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