Monday, 26 September 2011

L'Atelier d'Artiste - upstairs

Upstairs there's a huge, triple aspect, cathedral ceilinged space for sitting and sleeping, plus a bathroom. This floor has the original ferme (triangular roof truss) plus huge sliding glass windows that have been made to measure to fit the original barn openings, which not only maintains the original 'sense' of the building but gives great views over the surrounding woodland and hillside, and allows a phenomenal amount of light into the space.

The sitting area has a sofa, a mini TV with French plus some English, Spanish, German, Dutch and Italian channels, and a combined hi-fi/DVD player/iPod dock.

The sleeping area has a king size (160cm by 200cm) bed and the usual storage for clothes and incidentals. All the walls have been rendered with fine hemp and lime; woodwork is reclaimed chestnut.

The bathroom was created from the former grenier (grain store) and has a tiled 180cm by 120cm (yes, you did read that right!) walk-in shower, a glass bowl sink on an acacia slab, a wall hung WC and space to sit and relax. The room is finished in a mixture of plaster, hemp and lime render, tadelakt and reclaimed chestnut.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

L'Atelier d'Artiste - downstairs

L'Atelier d'Artiste is an 'appartement d'hôte', and also accommodates one couple. It's a huge space of, in total, 120 square metres (which usually equates to at least a three bedroomed gîte around here!) over two levels, originally converted by Grillou's previous owner from barns and a cowshed into an art restoration studio and workshop. We've renovated the whole area using natural materials, and furnished in a quirky and contemporary French country style with a mixture of new and reclaimed furniture. As in all our accommodation we've used natural paints and washes, home made using natural earth pigments.

Downstairs there's a very practical open plan kitchen with oak units and worktops, a four ring gas hob, full size electric oven, fridge with freezer compartment, washing machine and dishwasher. It's been designed by cooks for cooks and so you'll find plenty of good pans and utensils, sharp knives, gadgets, kettle, espresso machine, cook books plus simple but stylish white crockery and decent glasses. The kitchen is stocked with a supply of basic foodstuffs (herbs, spices, tea, coffee, flour, sugar, oil, vinegar, pasta, tinned tomatoes etc etc), kitchen roll, dishwasher tablets, washing liquid and environment friendly cleaning materials.

There's a dining area which seats four people in comfort; opposite is a sitting area with a squashy sofa and two armchairs plus an antique dresser full of table linen and other essentials

Large double glass doors give directly onto a gravelled terrace outside, where there is a small table and two chairs; a few steps away, under the shade of cherry and walnut trees, is a paved dining terrace with a table, four chairs and parasol.

To be continued ......

Sunday, 18 September 2011

La P'tite Maison

La P'tite Maison is our chambre d'hote suite; created from a former farm worker's house, it now forms a completely self-contained suite for two people of around 65 square metres, over 3 levels and with access from the dining room/library in the main house.

Downstairs is a spacious private hall area leading into a salon with sofa and comfy chairs (pictures coming just as soon as the chairs have been delivered!), a mini-TV system with French plus some English, Spanish, German, Italian and Dutch channels as well as some good radio, and a combined hi-fi/DVD player/iPod dock. There's a small dining table with two chairs, a small silent fridge, some cutlery, crockery and glasses so that you have the means to put yourself together a picnic supper, and a kettle plus tray of ground coffee, tea and tisanes.

Upstairs is a landing leading to a double height bedroom with leather double bed; from the bedroom a flight of stairs leads to a mezzanine level chill out area with low chairs and floor cushions, candles, incense and music. The shower room has a tiled 90cm x 90cm thermostatic shower with glass door, a contemporary wash basin and oak shelving, and there's a separate WC.

Friday, 16 September 2011

The fifth season

There's a very distinctive feel to this time of year. It's not summer, nor is it yet autumn; the days are quite noticeably shortening and the mornings are heavy with dew; the light is clear and golden. In traditional Chinese philosophy we're in the middle of the fifth season: late summer. Beginning somewhere around the third week in August and lasting through to the autumn equinox, late summer is a time of richness and of harvest, and belongs to the Earth element, which provides us with all the nourishment and security we need to live through the cycle of the year.

Golden September light in Ariège

Earth is a point of stillness: after a summer of long hot days, late nights, holidays, fêtes and normal day to day routines thrown to the winds, it's a slowing down, a coming home, a preparation for the quiet reflection of autumn and winter. Interestingly, French culture, with its huge focus on la rentrée - for everyone, not just for school students - knows all about that. Life is in transition between the extravert, yang summer period and the yin, inward-looking days of winter where shutters are shut and life revolves around keeping the woodburner going. (I'm talking figuratively, of course: anyone who's read much of this blog will know that at Grillou we spend much of our time outside in tee shirts even in mid winter).

Take a trip to any agricultural co-op or even to the supermarket at this time of year and you'll be presented with a vast array of preserving jars and pans, thermometers, automatic sterilisers and every other possible accoutrement; late summer is also the time to fill the storehouse (tell me about it ... having just managed to finish conserving the eighteen kilos of green beans that my mere three rows of plants produced this year we're now knee deep in aubergines, peppers, tomatoes, quinces, squash, melon, grapes, walnuts, crab apples, figs .....). In this land of duck, any self-respecting paysanne Ariégeoise over 50 will as I speak be filling her larder with jars of confits, soups, stews and beans cooked in duck fat, and foie gras, not to mention - judging by the extraordinary number of tomato plants that grow in the average potager round here - hundreds of pots of tomatoes conserved in every which way.

Jars in my larder: a paysanne in the making?

Late summer is almost always a particularly lovely time to be here in Ariège, where an Indian summer is the rule rather than the exception, often going on until late November. We're having one now - the last two weeks have seen temperatures in the late twenties and early thirties, and it's still perfectly warm enough to have dinner outside, even if - like us - you don't quite get your act together to eat before 9pm. Out and about the light is golden, balmy and has a dream-like quality, especially in the early mornings and at sunset.

Our oleander bush still thinks it's high summer ....

And next year, of course, you'll be able to experience all this for yourselves here at Grillou, because I'm now able to tell you - finally, definitively and without wobbling - that we shall be open for guests from 2 April 2012, and will start to take firm bookings from the end of next month .... Watch this space!

Monday, 5 September 2011

Just another manic Monday

Kalba to Lapeyre: Oi, where's my stuff? Your driver is a plonker. And I've wasted two whole days waiting for him to arrive at the times he has promised. Do something. (Or words to that effect).

Lapeyre to Kalba: Not my problem, madame. I have put you in touch with our driver. That's my job finished.

Kalba to Lapeyre: I'm desolated but I am not in agreement. I have paid you an arm and two legs for this shower screen, plus a small mortgage for the delivery. It was promised for early July. It's now early September. It's your responsibility. Get on with it.

Lapeyre to Kalba: C'est impossible.

Kalba to Lapeyre: No, no, no, I am not at all in agreement. I think it's perfectly possible, and your moral responsibility.


Lapeyre to Kalba: I'll think about it and phone you back.

Kalba to Lapeyre: I'll hold on.

Lapeyre to itself: Sigh. Rustling of paper.

Lapeyre to Kalba: As an honourable exception, madame, I will contact the driver and phone you back.

Kalba to Lapeyre: You have five minutes.


Driver to Kalba: It wasn't my fault. Lapeyre didn't load it onto the van.

Kalba to driver: How strange. It was there at lunchtime when I last spoke to you. You will be here in the morning, non?

Driver to Kalba: Oh, well, I'm not sure ..... maybe Wednesday.

Kalba to driver: C'est impossible. Tomorrow morning, before noon. I'll expect you. That's guaranteed, non?

Driver to Kalba: Oui mais non mais .... [sigh] d'accord.

Kalba to driver: So just to confirm - tell me again when you're coming ....

Driver (in small voice): tomorrow, Tuesday, before noon.

Bets, anyone?