Highlights from ‘La Ferme’
1. The Farm stay
We were welcomed into Geoff and Linda’s home as if we were long lost family. They are a retired English couple who moved to France to renovate a derelict barn into a beautiful home with B&B accommodation. They have been working hard for the last 5 years and what a splendid job they have done! The front of the house is covered in ivy (or something similar) which is just turning from beautiful bright greens into audacious autumn oranges and reds. It reminds me somewhat of Madeleine’s home in Paris… “They lived in a house all covered in vines, twelve little girls in two straight lines”. Lin and Geoff are such wonderfully generous people and they let laughter and humour permeate their lives in such a strong way. They open their home and share their way of life with you. We feel so blessed to have shared a little bit of our lives with them. We were joined by a good friend also called Linda, affectionately known as Loopy, for 4 days. She is such a kindred spirit and kept us greatly amused with a plethora of stories that would have us on the edge of our seat in anticipation.
Geoff, Linda, Loopy, Me (Laura) and Owen
Our luxurious ‘Jane Austen’ style bedroom, which was B&B accommodation.
For more information on La Ferme accommodation please visit http://www.lafermebedandbreakfast.com/ or email Linda and Geoff at email@example.com
2. The Work
The workaway deal is that you work approximately 5 hours a day and the rest of the time is yours. We imagined being up at the crack of dawn to start ploughing the fields and milking the cows etc, but quite the contrary, we slept in most mornings and didn’t start work till about midday. This suited us just fine! Work around the house included maintaining and weeding the Dahlia’s (60 varieties) and veggie patch, mowing the grass and using a ride on mower and an industrial whipper-snipper, cleaning the B&B accommodation, wood chipping an entire walnut tree that had fallen down in a storm and cutting up firewood with a chainsaw, sanding and lacquering an oak table, pulling vines off the exterior walls and using electric tools to clean the surface in preparation for rendering the tool shed, painting the oak beams on the outside of the tools shed, doing runs to the dechetterie (tip) and shovelling 8 year old horse poo for manure to go on the garden.
Geoff teaching me how to use the strimmer (industrial sized whipper-snipper).
Owen using power tools to clean the walls in preparation for rendering.
Sanding back a beautiful oak table to laquer it and make it look all pretty!
Fred is an adorable Border Collie pup, only two years old and full of beans. He is incredibly intelligent, as Border Collies generally are, but has no sheep or cattle to muster….not even a single chicken to round up. So, he has developed an obsession for frisbees. From the moment he wakes up to when he crashes into a heap from sheer exhaustion at night, he wants to play frisbee. He prefers it over food. Over cuddles and chest rubs. He’s just batty about frisbees. He has a such gentle disposition and has a habit of curling up with you on the sofa at night for a snuggle, much like a pussy cat.
Fred, puffed after too much frisbee fun!
Fred and his bestfriend, the frisbee.
4. The Food
Our stay at La Ferme was not only a wonderful experience for learning new skills, but it was a gastronomical wonderland. Lin and Geoff are great cooks, both unique in their own way. After a days work, we would relax with a cool beverage in hand while our nostrils were filled with the delicious aromas mingling in the kitchen. I spent a good deal of time watching over Linda’s shoulder as she cooked, picking up all sorts of tips and wonderful recipes. They grow a lot of their own fruit and veggies too, and it was an absolute pleasure to walk out into the garden to harvest fresh crops to eat ‘tout-suite’. Everyone in France seems to be able to cook. We were invited out to dinner parties on two occasions, and each time we were fed an excellent 3 course meal with all the trimmings. Such outstanding hospitality one can never forget.
Dinner party at Corrie and Bob’s house, the next door neighbours
Wine in a wonky glass
5. Weekend away to Mont Saint-Michel and Brittany
We set off for a 3 day trip to explore the surrounding countryside on our days off. We popped in to see Mont Saint-Michel which was beautiful but the experience was somewhat spoilt by the bus loads of tourists that scrambled all over the island, eager to purchase every tacky souvenir and photograph themselves at every possible opportunity. We enjoyed learning about the historical significance of the Abbey as a fortress in the long and arduous history of battles between the French and English. Mont-Saint-Michel has never been held captive, as it is an island with a 360 degree view of the land and sea and due to the sheer rocks surrounding it, it had a natural advantage on the opposing Brits.
We stayed near a little seaside village called Cancale that boasted the freshest seafood around…and indeed it was. Just as we were sitting down to dinner, we saw a boat bringing in a fresh catch of mussels from ‘La Mer’. We spent a bit of time travelling through Brittany and through some quaint historical towns. Brittany is well known for its Creperies with savoury crepes known as Galettes. One of these washed down with an equally famous Pomme à Cidre (Apple Cidre) was just what one needed after a long day of travelling.
Mont Saint-Michel, Northern France
View of the surrounding landscape of Mont Saint-Michel
The Abbey, Mont Saint-Michel
Cancal, seaside village
Roadside art, Dinan
Just some of the varieties of Dahlias that Geoff grew
Geoff’s tips for growing Dahlias
1. Buy a few tubers (each tuber is like a group of bulbs) of the Dahlia varieties you like.
2. Get a tray with 4-5 inches of compost soil, put the whole tuber in it and give it a jiggle (don’t cover completely with soil). Keep well watered. Let them grow for a few weeks.
3. When the shoots get to 3-4 inches and cut them off, try and keep the tuber attached. If the tuber rips off, it’s still ok to plant. Look for a reddish base on the shoots. Keep the two main leaves and take off any extras.
4. Get a pot, and using a pencil to make a hole, pop in the shoot about halfway and push the soil around so its nice and snug (If you don’t use a pencil to make the hole, pushing the shoot in directly can damage the plant).
5. Within 3 weeks, it will have developed a root system. They can then be planted in the garden.
Time to plant: Spring time
In the winter months when it frosts, they will wilt over and the flowers will die. Cut the flower stems off at the base and dig up the tubers. Clean them thoroughly with a high pressure hose (to stop them rotting) and put into a box in a dark place for 3-4 months over winter until Spring time.
– They need lots of water, keep them moist (although they can grow in most climates).
– Mix compost in with the soil when planting the tubers into the garden.
– Cut off the dead flower heads to allow the plant to put its nutrients into the new buds.
– Stake them as they grow so they stand up tall
– Plant in full sun
There are more then 700 types of Dahlias.
Each year, the tubers produce more shoots so there is no need to buy more plants. You can yield a huge amount of Dahlias after just one or two years.
We are now on our second workaway experience in the tiny village of Montefegastei, in the beautiful rolling hills of Tuscany. We both got a quite a shock when we flew into Pisa. Neither of us speak Italian. We had just gotten into the rhythm of speaking French. We have 6 weeks in Italy, so I’m sure we will improve. We can already ask for food (a necessity!!) and ‘where is’, hello, goodbye, please etc. And I can confirm….whilst the French take the medal for the best bread, the Italians sure know how to make a mean coffee! And stay posted for some wonderful French and Italian recipes. I’m on a mission to find wonderful recipes to share!