Stretch for the stars: a yoga retreat in Lot-et-Garonne
PUBLISHED: 09:44 04 September 2014 | UPDATED: 14:47 03 November 2015
Having travelled to the Himalayas to learn the art of yoga, Tamsin Chubb is inspired to make a permanent move to her farmhouse in rural France to open a relaxing retreat
Sitting at my table, looking out across the valley of trees, always reminds me of how grateful I am for this life less ordinary and the adventure so far. My story of how I came to live in France is one of following my heart rather than my head and how this eventually led to the place that feels right for me. There was no plan or dream to move here, rather a series of circumstances that unfolded into an opportunity to begin a new life.
By my early 30s I had lost both parents to cancer. The second and sudden unexpected loss of my mother in 2008 brought into focus the feeling that life was too short to waste. I owned a flat in Brighton and had a job I enjoyed working for an interiors company, and yet almost overnight this meant nothing to me any more. I had inherited some money and decided to invest this into finding a life with meaning, so I quit my job, bought a plane ticket to India and headed off in search of learning more about... yoga!
From this point onwards life was never the same again and I have never returned to employed work. Instead, I worked as a freelance design consultant, practised yoga and travelled whenever possible. Eventually, the pull of yoga became greater than anything else and I returned to India to take my yoga teacher training in the beautiful Himalayas. This transformational experience left me wanting to only pursue a life with yoga and to live somewhere less hectic. Craving silence and space to explore the teachings, I headed for the quietest place I knew, which was my mother’s holiday home in south-west France.
My mother had bought the house in 2005 with her partner John after two years of searching the south coast. They were just at the point of giving up when good friends invited them for the weekend to their place in Lot-et-Garonne. That weekend, they went on several house viewings and fell in love with a house far too big for a holiday home, but a place that would fulfil their dreams of country living with a garden that would keep them busy for years and a renovation project to share as they created a life together.
The area offered many of the attractions they sought. Lot-et-Garonne sits within the historical region of Gascony and is renowned for its slow pace of living, good food, gently rolling hills, an abundance of medieval villages and a maritime climate. This, combined with its geographical benefits of being situated between three main airports, close to a major hospital, a three-hour drive from the Pyrénées and a 12-hour car journey from the UK, made the house a place they could easily reach and live in during their retired years.
They had spent two years prior to their purchase putting in the groundwork, researching legal requirements, subscribing to FPN and attending language classes. Having friends in the area was a huge help with the initial negotiations as they could recommend translators to help with the sale process. Once the house was theirs they quickly got to work and spent the following two years renovating the property, installing extra bathrooms, creating rooms and employing local artisans for specialist work.
My mother died three years after buying the house and from this point onwards the place was not used much. All our lives changed and as time went by we began to want different things and to realise we had reached a new phase in our lives. With my newly acquired skills, this led to the decision to buy my sister’s half and make the house my home and a place where I could teach and run yoga holidays.
INVESTING IN LIFE
I moved to France permanently in April 2013 and, unlike my mother and John, I came alone, unprepared and unable to speak French. I was, however, focused on making a life for myself and getting the house and garden ready for the first pilot retreat in September of the same year.
With the major renovations completed there was only a need to change the rooms to provide accommodation for groups, create a yoga room and get the garden under control.
All my management and design skills from my previous career and experience of freelancing now came into play. I set up a Facebook page as soon as I arrived, created the website towards the end of the year, and sourced and purchased the necessary furniture. I had very little money for setting up so relied on the help of friends and travelling volunteers who found me through Workaway, a work exchange site. The only investment I made was to buy comfortable beds and some good quality linen.
On first arriving I had dreams of building a yoga platform and log cabin in the garden. However, the best advice given to me was to keep investment low for the first year. Live in the house and see what it is like all year round to know your real needs.
I had no option but to be minimal with expenditure and it is amazing what you can achieve even when you have little money to invest. Dreams grow as the business grows and I was able to transform a four-bedroom house into a retreat space for intimate groups of six people, including a yoga studio.
So far my experience of living here and setting up a business has been positive, gaining local knowledge and useful advice from friends in the area. The greatest joy has come from doing what I love all day long and feeling part of a community. France comes alive in the summer with village fêtes and festivals, while during the winter people get together and eat and drink by the warmth of the fire.
The biggest challenges have been understanding the complicated French bureaucracy and adjusting to a slower pace of life – although experiencing long periods of silence has enriched my teaching practice and proven to be a creative space.
It has been a big year, with the launch of Little French Retreat, getting to grips with social media, adopting an epileptic rescue dog (a budget buster but a necessary companion) and, of course, receiving the honoured invitation by the village maire to teach yoga in the local school.
And finally, I fell in love with a gardener from the Lake District, someone equally as crazy as me in deciding to move here alone. One year on and life has turned a corner, I feel welcomed by the locals and am happy to call this place home.
When you follow your heart it seems that everything meant for you comes to you and the obstacles you face can be overcome more easily. My advice to anyone wanting to make this move is to just do it!
It’s a wonderful life adventure and if you stay open and flexible you find the differences much easier to accept. I have received nothing but kindness and support from my neighbours and I love the French way of life.
The irony of my adventure is in seeking a life less ordinary I moved from Brighton, a busy vibrant town where I felt isolated and lonely, to live in a fairly remote place where I enjoy the benefits of a slower pace of life, the freedom of which I never had before and the company of interesting guests. I feel privileged to live in such a beautiful place, where the surrounding undisturbed nature and peace provide a sense of wellbeing and calm. A perfect destination for relaxing yoga holidays.