Posts Tagged ‘walksweeks’

Walksweeks Your Way

June 3, 2015

Some contrasting images from a recent Walksweek with three guests from Minnesota and Oklahoma.

We set off on a blustery morning for our first walk together above the little village of St Basile.

Our first glimpse of the Château of Maisonseule

Our first glimpse of the Château of Maisonseule.

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We were invited to take a private tour of the castle, with Kate acting as interpreter.  It is truly impressive . . . .

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IMG_7992 (800x600)From the Renaissance West facade . . .

to the powerful Medieval defensive towers.

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Inside there were welcoming fires and we heard fascinating stories about the castle and its history.

A few days later we were in the vineyards of the Côtes du Rhone.

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Our hiking route took us through the famed Crozes Hermitage and Hermitage parcels, with frequent stops at information panels.  There was a quiz at the end and our Walksweekers scored highly and won a little prize!

The weather had definitely warmed up and after a good day’s walking, winetasting, shopping and sampling delicious Valrhona chocolate, we rounded things off with a glass of bubbly at a spectacular viewpoint.

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On another excursion our intrepid guests set out from les Sarziers towards Boucieu le Roi with instructions to “Hunt the Hamper” for their special picnic lunch.  They found it in a shady spot by the river and after a restorative break continued to the station, where they boarded their vélorail pedal car for an exhilirating ride down the Doux Gorge which turned out to be full of thrills and surprises!

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With a visit to the market in Lamastre, convivial dinners at les Sarziers and a varied choice of hikes and activities each day, it was a great week.  Our guests had chosen a Walksweeks Your Way and we have decided to concentrate exclusively on this formula for the future as it gives great flexibility to plan the week and enjoy the very best of our very special area …. your way!

The Year in Pictures

December 14, 2013

2013 was a great year at les Sarziers.  Changes, renewals and some memorable events made for a very special twelve months.  January kicked off with the new Doghouse roof and the final touches to the restored garden.  In the Spring we welcomed several Walksweeks groups who enjoyed fantastic weather and perfect walking.  Then there was the usual buzz of the Ardéchoise, which passed through Arlebosc for the first time this year.  The big event in June was the return of the Mastrou and the start of our regular Tuesday trips to Lamastre on the market train.  July saw the publication of Welcome to the Free Zone and all the excitement and events associated with the launch.  But the absolute highlight of the year was without doubt the wonderful celebration of 25 years at the house with Jazz aux Sarziers on August 4th.

We have lots of exciting plans for next year – watch this space!

We wish you all a very Happy Christmas and a wonderful New Year and we hope to see you soon with us at les Sarziers.

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12,952 cyclists – it’s the Ardéchoise!

June 15, 2013

Ard 1 They’re back!  The 22nd edition of l’Ardéchoise is into its final day, with nearly 13,000 participants pedalling all over the department.  As in previous years, we have a vélomane staying at les Sarziers who will be returning this afternoon from his four day tour to enjoy a celebration barbecue with us in the garden.  The weather is perfect and the welcome from towns, villages and little hamlets all over the Ardèche has been as warm and enthusiastic as usual.

Our Walksweeks guests too are enjoying the buzz in the villages they pass through.

This was the atmosphere in Lamastre this morning, (for a slideshow, click on one of the pictures).

More info about the Ardéchoise here

A perfect walking day in the Ardèche Verte

June 4, 2013

After a run of very dreary wet weather the sun has finally re appeared and conditions are absolutely splendid for walking.  The broom and wild flowers are spectacular and our party of Walksweekers enjoyed an exhilarating hike from Nozières to the Col du Buisson on an upland route with sweeping views taking in both the Massif Central and the Alps.

A perfect day for a picnic lunch at the ruins of Rochebloine fortress.

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On the Doghouse

January 30, 2013

We were in Paris for a couple of weeks being sophisticated, which was fun and a good break, but no sooner are we back down here than the pace picks up again. We are lucky to have our gorgeous base in the capital but we are frequently struck by the anonymity and regularity of life in the big city. Somewhow everything potters along in the same old way; bad weather is merely an inconvenience rather than a challenge to be embraced, social contacts tend to be reduced to aggressive encounters between you on your bike and a taxi in a hurry and the shops are full of stuff you don’t really need but are tempted to acquire.

Back at les Sarziers there is never a dull moment. At this dead time of the year, with the cows inside and the fields asleep, the locals are fellling timber and dealing with other maintenance jobs. We are following suit and attacking the renovation of a roof.

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The little house (known as the Doghouse) where we live when we have Walksweeks guests in the main house, has been sagging for a while. The roof was put on eighty years ago, when the building was constructed. At that time, a well was being dug to irrigate the garden of the house next door and the excavated stones were used to build a garage with an upper floor. The creation of the Doghouse was our first attempt at renovation before we attacked the main house.

Bernard, the local builder has come up with a brilliant solution. By creating a new roof over the old one, we are able to keep our cosy boarded ceiling whilst installing two roof windows and a wood burning stove. It’s a pricey job though, and to keep the costs down we opted to take off the old tiles ourselves and prepare the roof for the big boys.

Work was due to start this Monday, and Bernard showed up with the bad news: there has been a delay making the main new roof beam, which will not be ready until the end of the week. We all know the stories about unreliable builders and their deadlines, but we had a trick up our sleeves!

So here we are on a lovely sunny Monday morning up on the roof removing the old tiles. (Click on one of the pictures for a larger version).


We got on at a cracking pace and by mid afternoon we had them all piled up ready for the lorry. Bernard had to confess himself impressed! The lorry duly backed up in front of the garage door and we enjoyed ourselves chucking in the tiles from a great height. We have kept a good few – you never know when you might need to roof a woodshed or a dog kennel – but the rest are for the dump.

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Our next job was to remove the laths that the tiles had been hooked over, brush and vacuum the roof and then treat it with insecticide. It was a bit alarming being perched so high up on the ancient and slightly rotted boards, but the view is terrific and it was interesting to find old corn cobs, lime seeds and a ton of empty snail shells in amongst them – the leavings of generations of rodent residents who had made a cosy home in the insluation material and gorged themselves into hibernating insensibility.

By Tuesday lunchtime we were pretty knackered and inside having a cup of coffee when Bernard appeared again, slightly anxious this time. Without our noticinig, it had started to rain and he had come to see how we were getting on. The ball was by now firmly in his court and before dusk a burly and monosyllabic chap had turned up to attach the plastic covering which will be the first insulation layer of the new roof. Result! It would seem that if you need to pin your builder down on his dates there is no better way than removing your own roof!

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Meanwhile, there are crêpe pans on offer and deals on eggs and flour in preparation for the traditional pancake-making for chandeleur this Sunday. Roger is finally having his operation and we are popping in regularly to keep an eye on his aged mother, who will be alone in the farmhouse. The days are slowly gettitng longer and life in the country keeps up its busy pace.

L’Ouverture de la Chasse

September 16, 2012

We were woken on Sunday morning and again on Thursday by the sound of barking and the occasional bang in the woods . . . . . ah c’est la saison de la chasse! 

The hunting season seems to start earlier each year, although that is an illusion since the regulations surrounding what should more properly be called rough shooting, are very strict.  The Préfet of the Ardèche, in collaboration with the National Hunting Federation and its local affiliates, defines the open and close seasons for different types of game, which are extremely specific, and also the manner of hunting, the days of the week and time of day when it is allowed.   Each commune, even little old Arlebosc, can negotiate special exemptions or authorisations depending on the local conditions.  In addition, a schedule of special hunts or battues is arranged to cull specified quantites of boar and deer each year in attempt to maintain an optimal ecological balance and prevent excessive damage to crops and forestry plantations.

There is a sharp division in rural France between les chasseurs, usually forming one of the most active and influential clubs in the village, and the non-chasseurs, who tend to be vociferously opposed to the whole affair and are apt to tell gruesome stories of what happened to the family cat, who was “mistaken” for a rabbit.  But there is no organised anti-hunt movement as in England, and certainly this kind of thing has none of the class connotations of landed gentry, traditional hunting pink, stirrup cups and so on.  This is a very down to earth rural affair involving the local farmers and their motley assortment of dogs  going after rabbits, hares, pheasant, duck, partridge and such like. 

Until recently, hunting days ressembled nothing more than guerilla warfare and you would come across louche looking groups of blokes deep in the forest or a handful of desperadoes circling the edge of a field, armed and accoutred for all the world like resistance fighters from the maquis.  They started in the misty dawn, fuelled with black coffee, saucisson and a couple of shots of something warming.  As the day wore on and the bottle went round and round, things could get hairy and the papers still report cases every season of hunters being injured or even killed by friendly fire.

However a few years ago, the National Federation went on a serious charm offensive to improve the image of this rural sport and it now seems as though the whole rationale of man against rabbit in a battle of wits has been turned on its head.  Where once the late summer market stalls displayed every imaginable kind of drab-coloured garment which was guarranteed to render you invisible to the naked eye, it is now mandatory to wear bright orange fluorescent caps and jackets and even the dogs have green reflective collars.  One does wonder what the quarry makes of it!  Perhaps animal eyes don’t take in these psychedelic flashes of orange – in which case mankind has got it wrong since the Stone Age!

Self conscious looking youths (usually the newest recruits into the club) are posted, wearing this flashy garb and holding an ostentatiously “broken” gun, at vantage points to warn you, should you be innocently out for a stroll with mushrooms on your mind, that you are in danger of straying into the killing fields.  If all hands are required for the current operation a brightly coloured picture of hansome hunters is hung on a tree to warn you that carnage is in progress. The text extolls the beauties of the natural world and the desirablilty of us all living in harmony with it and all but wishes you a nice day.

For Walksweeks we generally schedule routes over open upland areas on hunting days, but we do equip our walkers with orange hats in case they feel anxious.  More often they return puzzled by the old shirts and unmentionable bits of underwear they have come across hanging on bushes along the track. 

This is all to do with the dogs!

Unlike a well trained and disciplined pack of foxhounds, French hunting dogs are of mixed breed and appearance, ranging from the approximate beagle to the rough coated vague terrier with everything in between. 

 

These animals live for half the year in a fenced enclosure somewhere at the the back of the farm.  They spend a great deal of their time standing on the roofs of their kennels and barking themselves hoarse whenever anyone walks past.  It is easy to imagine their delirious joy on that blessed first Sunday in late summer when, equipped with a fluorescent collar and a little bell, they are allowed out and encouraged to race hither and yon tracking all those delightful scents which they have been denied for so many months. 

Inevitably, at the end of a long and exciting day a good number of them are hopelessly lost, and after a deal of fruitless yelling and listening out for the sound of the bell their master simply goes home without them, leaving behind a personal item carrying his own scent, in the belief that the dog will eventually find it and wait to be picked up, as at a bus stop. 

We are not at all convinced that this system works.  We have frequent visits at this time of year from ragged, thirsty but extremely cheerful dogs, who are obviously enjoying their few days of living rough.  We leave a large bowl of water out for them and suppose that they probably hook up again with their masters on the next hunting day. 


They seem pretty capable of looking after themselves in the meantime and determined to enjoy the wide open spaces until it’s back to the long stint on top of the kennel on February 28th  next year.

From Yellowstone Park to the Ardèche

August 30, 2012

We have been away on holiday in the United States for a few weeks and, unsurprisingly, doing a lot of walking and hiking.  We were amused to see this rather peremptory sign on one of the trails, but after a while it got us thinking. 

Whilst in this particular case, the National Forests authority had obviously decided that the trail was too narrow to be safely negotiated as a two way street, it is also true that many routes are much more rewarding if walked in one direction rather than another.

We usually put our own walking itineraries together, using a combination of different waymarked routes, sometimes reversing certain sections.  We always test out the walk in both directions to see which way offers the best views, the most comfortable gradients and so on.  As a result our guests are almost always on a unique tailor made route rather than following a well trodden tourist track.  It also means that we are able to adapt our suggested routes to groups of walkers with varying abilities and expectations.

When we created Walksweeks the idea was to offer a walking holiday without the hassle.  This is just one way in which our background research, which incidentally we love doing, takes the frustration and guesswork out of a walking week and leaves the walkers free to enjoy the stunning and ever changing landscapes in the best possible way. 

Nothing compares to the freedom you experience when you can simply follow the path and see where it takes you.

 

Walksweeks welcomes the author of The Gruffalo

July 1, 2012

We were delighted to host our friends and staunch supporters Jane and John for a recent Walksweek. As walking companions they brought along Julia Donaldson and her husband, old friends from Bristol University days. This was our last Spring Walksweek before the Summer gap, when the weather is often too hot for walking. We still have availability in September, a wonderful time to experience the changing late summer colours in the woodlands and orchards.

Julia was definitely here on holiday rather than in her public persona, but we know how popular Le Gruffalo is in France and she kindly signed a few copies for the children of our friends. After an alarming misunderstanding, when they got the impression that they were about to embark on a roller coaster ride down the Doux Gorge, everyone thoroughly enjoyed their trip on the Véorail. Pedalling makes a change from walking! Julia draws on her own experiences as the inspiration for her stories, so we will be watching out for a tale of a quick-thinking mouse on a pedal car outwitting all and sundry!

Wine Tasting at les Sarziers

June 19, 2012

Markus has started a new initiative – a “dégustation” in our own wine cellar at les Sarziers. Here he takes us through the local Gamays and Syrahs right up to the noble Hermitage from Tain whilst also adding, for comparison, a Riesling from Alsace and a couple of Burgundies.


The intimate and atmospheric setting is ideal for appreciating those elusive aromas and flavours and for sharing impressions in an informal way. And later on, the Hermitage was just perfect with the cheese course at dinner.


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