“Eloise and Cleo greeted us after a long scenic drive to the small South Western town of Sainte Valière. We felt welcomed as we sat in the quiet courtyard and were seized by the simple romance of life there. Water, wine, cheese and dinner to muse over, Dave chopping some garlic, Carrie chasing Cleo and the rest beginning to take bags up the big staircase and settle in. The kitchen is expansive and inviting, I just wanted to cook, often and for many people. It would be the place where we shared the rich flavours of the region and talked about which disco music we really liked.

The house is 3 stories of bright rooms with luxuriously big bathrooms, each room has speaks of an ideal lifestyle with a view that is completely transporting. Throw open the windows to let a breeze sweep aside the thin curtains and you can feel the village is so close but it is quiet and still in it’s worn stone. We were able to spend the days relaxing in the informal atmosphere, reading for long hours, writing a handful of melodies, including the bands favorite hit ‘Golden Apricots, castles in the sky’ and visiting nearby towns for long lunches. We watched tourists move down the canal in different shaped vessels with different holiday agendas. We strolled by an orchard and snoozed under some big maple trees.

On our 3rd night Eloise created an open house gig. We wandered down the road in the hours before to cut lengths of grape vine to decorate the house, her friends and neighbours cooked good food and supplied local wine. Then people from the neighbouring villages came pouring in, children, divine ladies with their hair done fresh, handsome young men, old folks with walking sticks and a lady in a wheelchair with a wry and curious smile. They shook hands with Eloise, and spoke politely as they entered, there were even some teenagers there sussing out the scene.

After the wine was flowing and things were settled we played two acoustic sets on the stairs, everyone listened while still eating and drinking and the children played, maybe upstaging us. It seemed to be an enjoyable atmosphere and I felt very happy with everything. After the second set people were jolly and there was word that we were good, but we would have done well to include a few french songs next time. A vibrant woman from the local press came with her camera and snapped the scenes, including a nice moment of Eloise and I dancing on the landing. The evening allowed us to really be with the community and feel that we had shared some quality time. We found out who did what in the village and for how long it had been going on, it seemed everyone was working with wine in some capacity and they were eager to share with us. We were left elated and warmed, continuing late into the night with plenty of the wine.

On our last day we had a big lunch in the front room, the table cloth was flipped and a centre piece of grapes, a gift from a local started the meal. We talked of the area, travelling in general and what adventures would be next for each of us. The warm air brought the sound of the bells right into the room and the house exuded all the glory and mystery of another time. The warm colours of the region and the superb light linger on and I recommend a stay at Sainte Valière to anyone, whatever reason you can find to become familiar with this part of the world, would be good. Eloise is accommodating and hospitable and it would be a worthy exchange to share some of this style of life with her wonderful family. One day I will stay a year and write a novel.”

By Steph Brett of the Sugar Fed Leopards, September residency 2016