Destination: Chasteuil, France, June 28 – July 4, 2006

1 USD = .793 euro (or more conventionally, $1.26 USD = 1 euro)

Three of the six of us from Paris carried on for the next leg of trip to the south of France.

Chasteuil_town.jpg.jpgBruce and I were tagging along with KV to see his friends Pascal and Nancy who run a five-room B&B called Le Gite de Chasteuil in the tiny hamlet of Chasteuil (pronounced ‘Shastoi’) in the Haute Provence. We had no real idea of where we were going or what to expect; KV just told us we needed to meet these fine folks as they had travelled down the path we were about to pursue in New Zealand and he thought we’d have a lot in common.

We spent six days at the B&B — it was tranquil and serene and was the perfect way to end our franctically paced trip. Excerpts from my journal:

This is the last evening in Chasteuil. How fast it all goes. It’s so easy to sit and gaze out the upstairs window onto the valley and mountains beyond. It’s been a relaxing trip. Plenty of time to sit and read and to eat with Pascal and Nancy, generally late at night after the guests have already been fed. Dusk occurs at 9 pm, often when we are dining; dakness comes by 10. We don’t get to sleep before midnight and we wake sleepily around 9:30 am in a frantic hurry to make breakfast which is served between 8 – 10. Chasteuil is perched atop a ridge, 2.5 kilometer hairpin turns up a gravel and dirt road off the main road. I am afraid to drive these narrow roads and leave it to KV to chauffeur us around. Once or twice we came head to head with another car and had to do some fancy manuevering to back up into a pullout to let the other car pass.

We’ve had many lunches and dinners with Pascal and Nancy which has given us a lot of opportunity to hear their stories of becoming B&B operators in this small village of 20 or so occupants. Stories abound as one would expect from small towns where everyone knows each others’ business and they don’t hesitate to talk behind your back — similar things which we experienced owning our rental property in Kauai.

Nancy and Pascal are lovely people — each with their own super powers which makes for a successful operation. I was able to ask lots of questions — how do you decide what to charge, what to serve, how to furnish, etc — all things which will give us guidance when we get our project going in New Zealand. Chasteuil_town_view.jpgPascal, a mason by trade, has morphed what was once a nondescript schoolhouse into a modern, comfortable, five room B&B with a wonderful common room with three large open-air windows with amazing views, a lovely large kitchen, sitting area, and stone fireplace and a full third floor for their private quarters — all on a tiny plot of land. Despite it’s smallness in land size, I think they’ve got the best deal as they’re the last building in the village and it probably has the best views. It’s a testament to their hard work and location that makes me feel so comfortable just sitting and reading and not wanting to leave the premises. I’ve spent hours each day on the veranda, reading and gazing; I would love to come and stay for a month or more; it would really rejeuvenate and realign the soul.

Despite all the sitting, we did manage to do a few things:

* Saturday morning Castallane churchjaunt to the town of Castellane to attend the farmers market in the town square; then a walk up to the old church which is perched atop a 600′ cliff face; finished with lunch at the square.

* A 6 km hike in the blazing heat from Chasteuil up and over the ridge to Rougon, another tiny hillside village, to have lunch at one of the best creperies in the region!

* A short drive to the next town to see the Ashram of Mandarom. This is a gated and guarded ashram with 30 foot statues of Jesus, Buddha, temples and the like piercing the vista. It’s a bizarre place and we were told, no surprise, that it’s quite cultish. Tours are given regularly but we came too late; we were only able to take a quick peak from the gates.

* Hiking through the Verdon Gorge, Verdon_Gorge.jpgthe Grand Canyon of France. People come from all over to raft and hike the gorge. It’s an all day activity, but we didn’t have the wherewithall for such a strenuous hike; we made do with a very short ‘walk’ which took us through a 600 meter tunnel where one needs a torch in order to pass. If you don’t bring your own flashlight, there is a gentleman waiting at the entrace to sell you one at an inflated price. The gorge is beautiful, the water blue and pristine.
This is a lovely region of France — I look forward to returning some day.

(more photos in the Photo Gallery)