They say in medieval times the religious houses were the sole depository of intellectual and technical knowledge, well here at Studio Lavalette we carry on that great tradition of learning.
It all started when we stumbled across Maison du Couvent, an enormous space with just walls and a roof; but the moment we both crossed the threshold we knew this would be our home. Everyone said we were mad but the nuns were calling us and it felt right.
We both love history and the house and surrounding land has a palpable historical sensibility, with huge fireplaces with their cremeiere’s intact, old stone sinks, ancient Tuscan columns, along with an old well and a walnut tree in the garden.
We saw the potential everywhere. We enlisted an architect who specialises in ancient monuments and together we restored it to its former glory. It is now one of the attractions on the heritage trail through Villebois-Lavalette.
In the garden there is a magnificent stone building, which we converted into Studio Lavalette. We used the same wonderful French architect to do his magic again. It is in this beautiful house that we welcome our holiday guests.
The studio offers state of the art technology with Macs, Bowen Lights and infinity curve, along side authentic traditional architectural features, with a lush floral garden and swimming pool. Each bedroom is stylishly restored and has an en suite with views down the garden over the pool to the valley beyond. It is a place where you can relax, restore and discover the art of photography.
If you're arriving by train we will pick you up from the station in Angouleme: it just takes 20 minutes. You can leave your suitcase in your sun drenched bedroom then come and have an aperitif by the pool and chat to other guests while you await dinner.
Dining has traditionally been a way of socialising in France and we enjoy facilitating that tradition. So come and sit at our table, there are wonderful French dishes that await your pleasure such as:
creamy asparagus tarts with salade girolles;
magret du canard au sauce bigarde with dauphinoise potatoes;
salmon en pipolotte with moon blush tomatoes; chocolate profiteroles;
traditional poire amande and cream; or a
delicious strawberry meringue roulade.
I love cooking and turning local produce into delicious dishes: baking Irish bread with French flour and making cakes, jams and compotes. There are wonderful fresh markets on our doorstep that supply vegetables, cheese, meat, fish and poultry from the surrounding farmers. I am sure Don will get you taking photos of the wonderful colour display under Les Halles on Saturdays!
Of course no meal would be complete without wine! The Charante’s favorable climate allows high quality vineyards to thrive supplying both mild and fine wines to elegantly accompany any meal. Although it’s fair to say the region is more famous for its Cognac. The fact that the brandy must be distilled twice in copper pots and aged for four years in French oak barrels demonstrates how serious they are about it. And with the Dordogne on our doorstep there are ample Bordeaux, Mobazillac and Bergerac and St Emillion wines to taste.
Don and I both enjoy meeting people. Don has traveled extensively with his work over the years and I too have met with many people in my career. We both find it rewarding and enriching to spend time with people from all walks of life. It will be our pleasure to teach and inspire you to take better photographs and warmly look after you in this magical retreat.
For those who are not on the photographic courses the gentle curves of the rolling hills is a walker’s paradise. There are 43 Charante en Pied walks on our doorstep with splendid ancient sites and an abundance of flora and fauna. You can see dolmens at St Brice, medieval gardens in the Abby at Tusson, monolithic churches carved out of the rock in Gurat and Aubeterre. You can experience panoramic views from limestone cliffs or archaeological sites at Roc de Sers. At the Lac de Mas Chaban you will see an abundence herons, grebes, ducks and terns. There are many watermills dotted all along the Lizonne river. There’re plenty of woods with deer and great swooping birds of prey. You can borrow bikes (velos) if you prefer to discover the beauty of the countryside as you meander along. There’s 450km of the Charante to be discovered on a velo.
If you want to stay poolside we have a large collection of books you can read: from the classics to thrillers, poetry music, art and photography. I also have two large easels you can borrow if you want to tap into your creative side and paint or draw. I am extremely happy to give you a few tips to start you off.
Each summer nearly every village in the area offers a range of sporting or cultural activities from para-gliding to pétanque. There are numerous fetes and festivals with attractions like medieval music; dancing; hot air ballooning; giant puppetry; art exhibitions; and of course fabulous markets, which sell specialty wines, food, clothing and are particularly magical when experienced at night.
There are also stunning baroque concerts in the surrounding old Romanesque churches. The acoustics are fantastic and quality of performers outstanding: people travel from all over Europe just to come to these concerts.
If however if you fancy getting that hole-in-one, there is a 9 hole golf course at Pillac and an 18 hole course at Angouleme just waiting for you! The spectacular views from the club in Angouleme are not to be missed.
And I haven’t even mentioned the comic trails through Angouleme, the cartoon capital of Europe; the prehistoric dwellings in the woods of Chaire a Calvin; or the medieval chateau at the top of hill, which was built on a Roman site, and has six watch towers and a chapel reserved for pilgrims on their way to Santiage de Compostela.
You have just got to come and see it all!
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