4 Painter/Sketcher Girls in the South of France

May 2 – May 10 2014

We are 3 painter/sketchers who’ve been meeting in wonderful locations round the world for years, and immersing ourselves in what we love doing most. Painting and sketching.

We invite a 4th friend on most of our trips.

It all started in The Greek Isles. Next came Tuscany.  After that the Rhone Valley in France and then Tuscany again, and all a few years apart.

So this year we would come from our homes in USA, Australia and New Zealand and meet in South West France.

Our destination would be the tiny village of Trausse Minervois in the Languedoc wine growing region. A perfect place to immerse ourselves in our art, enjoy some local wine and food, with a good dash of history.

This is the one I call ‘my village.’

My love affair with Trausse began in 1999 when I first went to paint a commission for Marilyn and Steve.

They’d seen my watercolours in my Mosman Gallery and decided I was just the painter to do something for their end of year card.

This year’s will be the 15th.

This is sent to all those who’d ever stayed in one of their 3 gorgeous stone cottages and those who may like to.

I’ve met people who’ve collected them all so far and have them framed.

I love that people enjoy them so much.

I  don’t get there every year, but it’s an annual painting so I take enough reference to tide me over.

The plan for us painter girls was to sketch or paint every day, as well as absorbing all the inspiration we were surrounded by.

This little village of only about 400 people is pretty much exactly as it’s always been from around circa 1600

The remparts are there, those walls and the tower the villagers would have to drop tools and hide in whenever the Lord of the neighbouring village decided to have an attack.

All these villages lived that way, within walls and lookout towers just in case.

You can feel the history in the stone.

We love the stone houses now renovated inside but looking exactly as they always have on the outside.

No contemporary additions here.

We’re fascinated by the occasional glimpse through an open doorway to an the inner courtyard you would never know was there.

The ancient bell in the clock tower chimes every hour with an extra frilly one at 7am to get the workers out of bed and off to the fields.

You know you’ve slept well if you don’t hear those bells.

We had a prior engagement in Carcassonne before the painter girls arrived next day.

With Marilyn and friends we were off to Wendy’s book launch in a quaint little old bar. Her book is on Wines of the Languedoc- Rousillon. You’ll be amazed at what you’ll learn.

Of course we have coffee in Carnot Place with the Saturday Market in Full swing. I adore seeing all the local produce, hearing the conversation and being part of it all.

The girls would be staying in La Bergerie, once the barn where the sheep sheltered at night.

It now has 3 levels and a curved stone staircase taking you up to the 3 queen sized bedrooms where the girls would zzzz their nights away.

With its enormous farm style kitchen and big dining room/lounge room there was plenty of space to make our evening meals and to paint in if they liked, plus the rose covered garden outside where we’d spend painting, sketching time.

In fact if you’d like to enjoy your own adventure in Trausse, check here.

It’s very early May so the skies are cobalt blue the sun shining most days, but if that chilly wind blows. Then it can still be a little cool.

Lunch in France is particularly important part of the day, as it will be for us. All over France people leave their desks, close their shops or leave the fields and take time to enjoy their food.

Food is regarded as the bonding of family and friends.

The ingredients for a meal are seasonal and purchased daily with utmost care.

The cheese to have later in the meal is usually from a known cheese maker so they’ll know the flavour changes as the season does.

Wine is chosen to go with the food and one enhances the other.

People here would never dream of sitting in front of TV and downing a bottle of red wine.

An aperitif is often taken before dinner and can be a muscat designed to prepare your pallet for enjoying food.

We loved learning about some of these traditional and vital insights into the French ways with wine and food on Wendy’s Wine Tour

Wendy is a professional Wine tutor living in the area and who is passionate about sharing her knowledge of the many vineyards nearby.

I knew our painters would love this excuse to see some of the vineyards of the region, to enjoy a cassoulet lunch in a local restaurant, and to see and taste regional wines you’d never normally get to try.

One of the villages we visit later in the afternoon is Minerve.

Like Carcassonne Old Cite, these were Cathar villages in the 12th century.

There was an ongoing difference in the way they wanted to carry out their beliefs.

For them there was too much carrying in Rome and they refused to pay their tithes.

So Simon de Montfort was given a slight detour while returning from the Crusades to ‘sort them out’

Essentially the Cathars were given a choice to give up their faith or defend.

Either way they were burned at the stake.

All of these walled or high villages surrounded by cliffs and stone walls have not changed much and you cannot help but think about the history.

Our days are spent exploring not only Trausse our own village, but Caunes about 5 minutes drive away and Carcassonne Old Cite about 30 mins away.

Driving about gives us ample opportunity to pass through many other pretty little villages, the boats going through the locks on the Midi canal, and occasional abandoned stone farmhouses we dream of making our own.

So many ideas for paintings.

Carcassonne Old Cite is spectacular. It has everything one needs to take you on a fairytale journey. Your imagination could run wild.

But its history is enough and the memories of the Cathars and their tragic demise is never far from your mind.

We started with a cafe au lait and each did our own explorations, wandering stone streets and lane ways, poking about in shops and gathering ideas for paintings and sketches.

We had a very lovely lunch in a very picturesque restaurant to gather our thoughts and share our discoveries. Mind you it’s all picturesque. You can’t find anything not.

The garden back home at La Bergerie greets us with the heady aroma of roses in full bloom clambering over ancient stone walls and the birds always seem to be singing. Time for a big cuppa tea, or a wine.

Such inspiration to get started on the new ideas we’ve picked up that day.

In Caunes after winding our way through narrow lanes, past the abbey, the tiny corner Pattissierie, shuttered windows with lace curtains. Big old carved doors, a display of fruit and veg outside a tiny store.

We adored the big eyed Labrador with face pressed to a window next to a toy goose.

That became a painting for one of the girls.

Back up the hill, we find a restaurant for lunch. La Marbrerie is a Tea Salon, Ice Creamery and restaurant, in a lovely old building with local pink marble tables and products displayed in the dining room.

Often there is a good value special of the day with a glass of wine.

The salads are a great pick and with added chicken or local cheeses sets you up for the afternoon.

Dinners are mainly at home and we enjoy finding what ingredients we’ll need to prepare our meals.

We also make sure we have a couple of grain baguettes freshly baked that day.

Staff are always intrigued but helpful as we decide which piece of meat might be right to BBQ.

Nothing looks like it does at home so we try to ask about how we should cook it.

Ducks chickens and rabbits are displayed alongside and still pretty recognizable.

No battery farm produce here.

It was probably running around outside only a few days ago, and happy.

Everyone pitches in each evening, with a glass of local wine at the ready to help to prepare our meal.

Sometimes it’s just we 5 and other nights we have Marilyn and friends joining us at dinner.

The wines grown in the village and surrounds and go down extremely well.

We have hilarious evenings talking about our past trips, the way our paintings have changed, our gorgeous students back home, ( all good of course ) plus the fun of using our French language, little though it is.

The paintings are stuck on the wall and we feel very happy.

Bed calls and it’s Bon Nuit to all.

We paint every day and enjoy the marvellous surroundings we are in.

On one of the final evenings that week we discover Marilyn has friends coming so we will christen the Salon Grenache. The inaugural Grand Opening!

It was once an old barn where wine was pressed and stored so Marilyn and Steve have decided to create a special place to entertain and have drinks in a wonderful setting. And it’s now ready.

My 2013 Christmas sketch was the courtyard and exterior of this.

Two of the friends coming play in a band together, so they sat themselves on the barstools and played and sang their hearts out.

Lots of songs we knew by Simon & Garfunkel and Split Enz which we could belt out the choruses to.

What a night and what an opening.

Sorry you missed it Steve. Travelling as you do so often.

The painter girls loved it.

This quiet little village is full of surprises. Who’d have thought all this fun was going on behind closed doors!

Our very last dinner was at Hotel D’Alibert.

Frederic is the owner and chef in this ancient abbey, now a restaurant and hotel which has been in his family for  over 300 years.

The food is out of this world.

We all discuss with him what the dishes are and are delighted with each and every one.

I notice he’s taken away the heavy curtains and the darker traditional style.

Now there are French doors onto the street and subdued wall lighting with splashes of colour in the glass sculpture and artwork by an Estonian artist he loves.

Milton’s ears perked up when the music played later in the evening was by Arvo Part, one of his favorite composers.

Frederic adored his music so much he’s even managed to meet him.

What a superb ending to a marvellous and unforgettable week.

With paintings sketches and ideas packed we said our goodbyes as we headed to Toulousse next morning, to catch our various flights back to our other lives.

Who knows where our next adventure will be.

©ErinHillMay 2014

8 comments

  1. Erin, what a wonderful time you all must have had! I just returned from a similar trip to Provence with other artists (last year I took a group, this time it was just painting for me!). When you get back and have time, you might enjoy our blog: sketchersinprovence.wordpress.com.

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  2. A wonderful blog and gorgeous sketches Erin – makes me want to rush back to the Languedoc! Perhaps Greece would be a good spot for your next adventure?! Jx

    Like

  3. Gail

    oh Erin this was wonderful to read and observe. I almost felt as if I was there, but I know damn well that you left me behind in Sydney !! Gail

    Like

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