So here I am, volunteering as a “workaway” in a maison de maître on the canal du midi in the south of France. Not so sure about this particular leg of the experiment, although the setting and house are stunning. For the moment I’ll concentrate on the positive.
The house is like a small chateau (minus the turrets and towers): truly grand proportions, broad patio with balustrade overlooking the canal, vineyards, and tree-lined roads stretching off to the Pyrenees.
It is three storeys high, every floor with immensely high ceilings, extravagant moulding and trim, all floors tiled, the halls wider than most rooms in my house. The staircases could have been used in Gone with the Wind. There is a tiny door off the (seemingly unused) dining room that leads into the “original’ part of the house, which is older and consists of a kitchen/living/dining room with wooden beams on the (considerably lower) ceilings – but still magnificent views. One imagines that once the grand house was added on in the early 1800s (I think), this part of the house became the servants’ quarters. The couple who are my hosts have reclaimed the area for somewhat cosier living.
Down one level from the main floor, there is a pool, surrounded by lavish gardens including a massive palm tree – and beside the pool is small building which contains a full kitchen, bar and ping pong table – with a large wooden outdoor table. And there is a gigantic garage with steep steps up to the gardens. They rent out a number of parking spaces there. So it is vraiment an estate. My room is on the third floor (where there is also another fully equipped kitchen, a yoga room and 2 other bedrooms.) I have an incredible view, heated bedding and en suite.
The town of Ventenac-en-Mirevois is tiny and hugs the canal (along which I walk each day). The ‘commercial area’ (sorry, can’t stop laughing) consists of two café/restaurants side by side, next to the cave where you can fill up plastic jugs with wine for 1.50€ per litre – and it’s not bad at all. The two cafes face the store – which is open for 4 hours each morning and sells a few basics plus bread and croissants (I think there may be a law in France stating that everyone must have easy access to a boulangerie). And that’s it.
I took a bus, for 1.20€, into Narbonne yesterday morning just for a change of pace. It’s quite a charming town with a lovely cathedral and chateau and some Roman ruins – also a huge indoor market where I was tempted by cheese and artichokes, etc. etc. The canal runs right through Narbonne and there are wide patio spaces and treed pedestrian walkways on either side of it.
I am here for another week – and starting to get a bit of tan. Next post will share more re. the work situation, hosts and the young Canadian couple who are volunteering with me.