A trip to the Vosges

Not having had much time off this summer, we decided to go to Sainte Marie aux Mines in the north east of France, for the big patchwork and textile arts exhibition; I bought a ticket for the full 4 days of the event and Nick packed a bike; it’s close to the Vosges, where he’d be able to bag some more cols. It’s about 1000km from home, so we booked a little apartment on Airbnb and went in the car.

The exhibition was fantastic, there was just so much to see, from traditional and antique quilts to contemporary quilts and textile art pieces; the quality and variety of the work was amazing. I especially loved the work of a group of 21 artists from all over the world, Texnet 2, who’d worked collaboratively on a 365 piece project, marking each day of 2020 in the form of 12 large calendar month pieces and another 12 made up of smaller quilts for each day. They couldn’t meet up, due to covid restrictions, so all the work was coordinated online and many of them only met in person for the first time at the exhibition. Except the two Australians, who couldn’t attend.

There weren’t as many exhibitors as usual and the number of visitors was well down on normal, which did have the advantage of allowing you to see the pieces without being swamped by the crowd, as well as being able to chat to the artists. Sadly, the commercial part was also much reduced; there were plenty of fabric stalls, but if you were looking for something slightly obscure or specialist, you were unlikely to find it.

Nick too, thoroughly enjoyed himself, cycling 430km over the 4 days and adding 42 new cols to his collection. He went into Germany on the last day and found some very pretty villages.

We set off home early on Monday morning and made good progress until a warning light came on in the car and it lost power. Looking in the handbook, it seemed serious, so I phoned the insurance, only to be told that we have no breakdown cover. I checked with our agent, who, as surprised as we were, confirmed this, though he was helpful in finding us a tow truck and a garage, albeit at our own expense. While on the phone to him, we saw a sanglier (a wild boar) run past, chased by four large dogs; the sanglier disappeared into the bushes, leaving the dogs to stand about, seemingly unwilling to follow it, then to wander off.

I phoned the recovery driver; he wasn’t the easiest person to understand, but suddenly it became a lot more difficult when a huge 4×4 pulled up right in front of us. Three gun-toting men in orange jackets got out and surrounded our car – hunters – shouting questions at us – had we seen a sanglier? How big was it? Where had it gone? How many dogs were there? Which way had they gone? How long ago?……… Eventually they left and I could get back to my phone call, feeling more than a little stressed.

An hour later the recovery lorry arrived and towed the car up the ramps. For a while things went from bad to worse;  you had to pay the driver before the journey, but Nick’s card wouldn’t work and when I looked in my purse, my card wasn’t there. I had what I think must have been a panic attack; I couldn’t remember where I’d last used it and had visions of being left stranded in the middle of nowhere, unable to get home. Eventually we found the card in my coat pocket, where I’d put it while filling the car with fuel the previous evening. Finally we got to the garage, I googled hotels nearby and the driver of the tow truck kindly offered to take us there.

It was an interesting hotel, though certainly not a classy one; each room had an ensuite, but I think they must have been purchased when a ferry company renovated its cabins –  tiny and made from preformed plastic, with a shower curtain that clung to you while you showered.

The rhythmic creaking noises from the room above ours were repeated regularly all evening; somebody had stamina, I thought, until Nick pointed out the succession of workmen’s vans in the car park!

The garage owner looked at the car the following morning; the problem was an injector, but his friend up the road had one in stock so he could do the repairs during the day. From the garage we walked into Vichy, where we found a great little café for lunch; I think I was the only woman in the place, which was full of workmen and lorry drivers. The owner and chef were delightful and the food excellent, which set us up for the walk back to the hotel and later to the garage to pick up the car.

An interesting and memorable journey, but we were so pleased to get home.

Here are a few photos of the exhibition and for anyone who might be interested in seeing more, a link to a google photos album.


Ten years on and our gite is open at last!

The end of August marked the tenth anniversary of our retirement and moving here; in some ways it’s passed so quickly, but we can’t imagine living anywhere else now, it’s really become our home. We have made so many friends and become part of the fabric of the local community; it was a decision we haven’t regretted for an instant.

Purely by coincidence, the anniversary was also the week in which we finally opened our gite. It’s taken far longer than we imagined, (integration takes time and is so much more fun than working!) but at last the work is done, from building new bathrooms from scratch, to installing double glazed windows and totally landscaping the garden; the countless hours of painting, plumbing, plastering and the 1001 other tasks required are over. 

We’re working on a website; once it’s done I’ll put a link here, but in the meantime, we’re taking bookings for next year, so if you or someone you know is interested, please get in touch, at jackie@cawthray.co.uk.

The gite will accommodate 6 people. There’s a fully equipped kitchen/dining room, a sitting room, 3 bedrooms (2 double, 1 twin), 2 bathrooms and a laundry room. There’s parking for 3 cars, an outdoor eating area with barbecue and use of a large park.

We’re just 3km from the motor race circuit at Nogaro and 30 minutes from Marciac and its renowned jazz festival, in the beautiful, rolling Gers countryside, surrounded by vineyards, ideal for walking and cycling and only an hour and a half drive from the Pyrenees. There are wonderful, vibrant markets to explore as well as Armagnac producers to visit, some of whom even do tours in English.

So if you’ve never explored the Gers, it would be great to welcome you to our adopted home and show you around.