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The château royal in Najac was part of a network of châteaux royaux located in the Aveyron valley (Midi-Pyrénées). The village of Najac is perched on an exceptionally long rocky ridge and surrounded by forests. At one end is the imposing château, the river Aveyron meanders gently below. Along the lone street are picturesque old houses and a fountain which dates back to the 14th Century.
Najac château is very well preserved and its circular dungeon was defended by archers at a height of almost 7 metres, the tallest in France! A place of narrow walkways and secret passages, fabulous views over the village and surrounding area, this extraordinary monument makes for a wonderful visit with its echoes of times gone by…

Najac village

Najac has been inhabited since pre-historic times, it is known that the Gauls mined copper and that the Romans farmed here. The village of Najac spills along a narrow ridge that ends at a rocky point with a commanding view over the Aveyron River far below. As a strategic defense site, it is unequalled. The Counts of Toulouse made it a showcase of their might and power – building a fortress that anchored the original village. As its population grew, the village overran the fortress walls and snaked along the ridge with each new section being gated and walled. All these walls and gates further secured the fortress by throwing up additional barriers and defences.
Construction of the fortress was begun in 1100 by Bertrand, Count of Toulouse. It was built strictly for defensive purposes, its inhabitants were garrisoned soldiers whose job it was to defend the lands of the Count. Najac was the first fortification along the Aveyron, joined later by fortresses in Laguepie, Saint-Antonin, Penne and Bruniquel. Initially a simple, square stone structure, over the next 200 years it was expanded, its walls built higher and a keep was added along with inside passageways. Narrow slits in the walls at dizzying heights gave archers an advantage over any invader. Rounded corner towers were constructed which better withstood blows from battering rams. Sheer walls rising high above the steep ravines of the Aveyron River discouraged attempts to climb the outside walls. The fortress was considered by all to be impregnable. Indeed, it was never captured by invading forces.

 

Najac

 

They say that Richard the Lionheart slept here. Yes they say that about a lot of places in France, but in Najac’s case – it’s unequivocally true.
But how did he come to be here at Najac? It is a story steeped in politics, war, broken promises and violent fights over succession of power. While the Counts of Toulouse laid claim to the Aveyron, so did the Dukes of Aquitaine. The most famous member of that Duchy is Eleanor of Aquitaine who married Henri II of England bringing with her dowry much of the lands of Aquitaine including the Aveyron. When Henri II laid claim to his marital property, the Counts of Toulouse refused to relinquish what they considered their property. Fighting ensued, lives were lost, and much money spent. Finally, an agreement of alliance was reached, and Richard the Lionheart, Eleanor and Henri II’s son and representative of the throne, travelled to Najac to sign the papers. Alas, this treaty didn’t end the disagreement. English troops took Moissac and Cahors and for the next 100 years, war between England and this part of France raged on and off.

 Najac hilltop

The story of Najac is full of other interesting details of medieval life. The Knights Templar played a role here as did the Cathar heresy. Najac hosted pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostele as well as Crusaders. 
If you visit the village, come prepared for walking! It’s quite a trek through the village to reach the fortress. The fortress itself is fascinating in its unrestored state; it encourages you to use your imagination to imagine what life must have been like for the soldiers here. If you are able, do climb the stairs to the top of the 40-meter-high Keep with its murder-hole – the view from the top is unrivaled. The stairway spirals clockwise in a way to make it difficult for invaders carrying swords to raise their arms and the narrow arrow slits were the highest in the world at one time.

Najac, another wonderful place to visit during your stay here at French Escapes.

Posted by & filed under Holiday reports.

Many of our guests ask how far it is to the nearest beach, well if you don`t want to be driving for 3 hours to get to the Mediterranean coastline, or the Atlantic coast, then the big surprise is that the nearest beach is actually only 10 minutes away. Yes here in the heart of rural SW France we have a wonderful Beach on the banks of the Lac de Roucarie.

Lac de Roucarie

The lake is man made, a large area of grasslands and agricultural land was flooded to make a large reservoir to supply water to the Carmaux region. It has become a very popular spot to spend a day lazing on the beach and swimming in the beautiful clear waters.

The beach area is on one side of the lake, and offers safe swimming, which is monitored during the main season. It also has plenty of BBQ areas so you can spend the whole day relaxing in the Summer sunshine and enjoy plenty of picnic food.

On the other side of the lake is a large sailing club which offers all sorts of water sports, from sailing dingy`s, windsurfing, canoes and many other non-motorised crafts. 

There is a well maintained road / footpath that encompasses the whole lake, it is a wonderful walk that takes around 1 hour 30, and is  just over 7km, but is mainly on level ground with just a few small inclines, so is relatively easy for all ages. For the more fitness driven there is also a fitness trail that contains many exercise equipment and adventure type climbing frames.

Facts and figures for the Lac. Total volume of water is around 6 million cubic metres, it has a maximum depth of 28 metres and a surface area of 0.64 km².

Aerial shot

Aerial shot

So just because you are in the heart of the countryside, it does not mean you have to miss out on a day at the beach.

Need to know more then take a look at our pages on this and many other things to do and see while on a relaxing holiday here in the stunning SW France.

 

 

Posted by & filed under Holiday reports.

So the New Year and  January is upon us and 2014 is now in full swing. Time to start thinking about that Summer Holiday you have been working so hard to reward yourself with!

Here at French-Escapes.com we are selling the main peak weeks very quickly, so you need to act fast to get the dates you may want. 

 

cropped-salles-may-2008-010.jpg

August is now nearly sold out, we only have the last week in Maison Sans Tourelle left for August. July is also selling quickly in both houses.

Can you holiday out of the main season? This part of South West France offers so much to do, and often it is better to see those places out of the main season, it is much quieter and gives you the chance to explore these areas even more. The weather can be just as good, in fact it often gets too hot during August, so walking the steep cobbled medieval streets of the local Bastides can be easier in June.

Belcastel SW France, Aveyron

 

As an additional incentive, we are also offering a January Special Deal, where if you book your 2014 summer holiday before the end of January then we are giving you 10% off the total cost of your holiday. Not including dates from July 5th to the end of August.

So what are you waiting for get your holiday booked with us now and start looking forward to your well deserved rest and relaxation in the sun.

 

Posted by & filed under News.

Well who would have believed it? It has now been a whole year since we arrived ‘En France’ and what a year it has been. It has really flown by and we can’t believe that it is now a full year on.

Can you remember those posts soon after 12/12/12 when we arrived and the furniture a few days after that? 

La Grange became the store room for everything while we lived in De Tourelle over the very cold winter months of 2012 and early 2013.

Furniture stacked high

We soon found a place for most of the furniture and started work on making the space our own.Friends and family had come and gone, and the season was soon upon us.

Now set up as our home

Now set up as our home

A fairly successful season and one we thoroughly enjoyed as it was our first at being resident, The pool benifitted from being checked and monitored daily and behaved itself for the whole season. Reluctantly we had to close it up eventually, but lets hope it opens in a much better condition this time.

So what does 2014 hold in store for us? Well hopefully we will be seeing more people staying with us here at French Escapes, we have week long retreats planned that will be fully catered, a new service we will be trying.

Lets hope the Summer weather is as good as July and August were in 2013, and this time can we start the Summer in April please!!! 

The weeks are selling up, so if you are thinking of a French Holiday then go to our site and see if we fit the bill. 

We look forward to seeing you in 2014 and beyond. 

Tony and Janine xx

 

 

 

Posted by & filed under Our Story.

Belcastel, South West France and Château de Belcastel seems from the majority of our guests this year to be the most loved place to visit while staying at Le Château De La Rivière. Why is that we ask?

Well you only have to visit and you will know why, but here we will try and let you all know just what makes Belcastel so beautiful. 

You can look at Wiki data and Google pictures and you will have information overload about Belcastel and it’s surrounding lanscapes, but when you actually drive around that corner and you see the hillside built village for the first time you will go WOW….. That image will stay with you for many many years.

Belcastel SW France, Aveyron

Is it the way the skinny cobbled streets wind their way up the hillside to the focus point of the village, Château de Belcastel, the fully renovated castle? Or is it the ancient arched bridge spanning the Aveyron that splits the village in two, but makes for a stunning panorama? Or maybe it is just the wonderful quaintness of its buildings and how they all intermingle in a typically ‘bastide’ way? Whatever it is will be different for everyone who visits, but it will leave an impression on you.

 A quick history lesson on Château de Belcastel.

Château de Belcastel started out as one of the castles along the route of the Lords of Rouergue. It started as a chapel in 9th century. In the 11th century it was expanded into a fortress, was refurbished in the 15th century and promoted to a Château. Left to fall into ruin by the 19th century, then finally resurrected into its current beauty in the 20th century.

The renovation was carried out by the somewhat controversial French architect Fernand Pouillion, who rebuilt the Château stone by stone during the 1970’s. The quality of his work inspired the local villagers to match his enthusiasm and they improved their own houses to match the finish and attention to detail that Fernand wanted. Hence the whole village is now in keeping with its traditional past, but is very much in the 21st century.

Fernand PouillonWhy was Fernand a controversial figure?

He produced modern architecture focussing on cultural, educational and residential projects, but also worked on two restoration projects. He built mostly in the Aix-en-Provence, Marseille and Paris , Alger (in Algeria) and Tehran (in Iran).

He is best known for his designs of, often low-cost, housing complexes in the 1950s and 1960s, including the La Tourette complex in Marseille, built 1948-1953, the new town Diar el Mahçoul in Algeria and for hotel designs in Alger between 1964-1984. He also worked on reconstruction of the war-damaged Old Port of Marseille together with Auguste Perret and others. So the controversy is that in 1961, he was jailed for his role as a building contractor on a housing project in Paris, escaped from jail, was eventually acquitted for the original crime, but jailed again for escaping. He was finally released from jail in 1964 and moved to Algeria, only to return to France in 1972, after being pardoned by the French President Georges Pompidou. It was to Belcastel he settled. He died in Belcastel on July 24th 1986 at the age of 74, where he is buried in the Chapel at Belcastel in an unmarked grave, as was his request.

Château de Belcastel is now owned by American gallery owners Heidi Leigh and Nicholas Leone, who have opened the Château to the public and hold many art galleries tastfully entwined within the restored buildings. They even have a private suite in the SE Tower with private balcony and swimming pool, ideal for newlyweds.

Belcastel SW France, Chapel on the Aveyron.

All around Belcastel you will find nuggets of history and intrigue, that is if you stop just admiring it’s absolute beauty.

Then take it all in while you rest at one of 4 restaurants that Belcastel offers. From 1* Michelin to a friendly lunchtime snack, you will always find it friendly and welcoming.

The Coat of Arms of Belcastel

The Coat of Arms of Belcastel

So come and stay with us at Le Château De La Rivière and make a day out to visit Belcastel.

Posted by & filed under Holiday reports.

Well here we are in the middle of October already. Can’t believe how quickly the Summer 2013 months came and went. So shall we have a look back and review what a great year it was.? The Winter just did not want to end, it seemed to go one forever, if it wasn’t snow and extreme cold (-15C is cold….) it was just cold and wet all the time. But then Spring did eventually arrive. But to be honest it wasn’t the weather that told us it was Spring, it was the constant growing of the grass and weeds more-so…. Then the wonderful time where the cherry blossom blessed us with its wonderful displays.cherry blossom

Quickly followed by the apple blossom, Spring was still a wet and chilly time, it was more like a British Spring then that of S France. But eventually the weather broke and the real Summer kicked in around the middle of June. July and August was just stunning, day after day after day we had deep blue skies, temperatures constantly in the mid to high 30’s. On many day it went above 40. And sat by the pool where we have a natural sun-trap we had over 50C. Good that we have plenty of places to go in the shade then, and the pool which sat at a very comfortable 34C was more a necessity than a luxury.

The guests arrived, had a wonderful time and left, ready for the next ones to arrive. Before we knew it our main season was over. Here are a few snippets of the comments that many of them left.

“Had a glorious week here, it is so relaxing, the grounds and pool are heavenly. Also lots to see in the area. Janine and Tony were excellent hosts”.  

“We have had a brilliant holiday, had fun exploring the area and relaxing in the house and by the pool”

“When asked if he was having fun, one of the offspring said ” what’s not to like!”..exactly.”

“We had an amazing holiday, lovely house, pool, garden. Great hosts”

“Helpful and considerate hosts, well-equipped and comfortably furnished accommodation. Superb pool and gardens, great location. Highly recommended.”

We have already taken bookings for next year from some of this years guests, which is wonderful for us.

As for us we are now permanently living in the open plan barn. We have a new doggie, he was an abandoned puppy at just 4 weeks old when we got him from the local vets, is growing very quickly and big… Benjy is now 5 months old and running Junior ragged, bless him. They are fighting Janine for the warmest spot in front of the wood-burner, Think they are happy the fire is now workingwhich has now finally been installed and is working a treat. So hopefully our winter will be nice and warm and toasty. 

Our plans now turn to the jobs we need to be doing over the winter months and getting everything ready for a bumper year in 2014. Lets just hope the winter weather is not as severe as it was in 2012/13.

 

 

Posted by & filed under News.

Hello everyone, just a quick blog this time.
We are pleased to tell you all that we have revamped our website www.french-escapes.com We still have some work to do on it but believe it is now ready to be used so we can start getting some feedback on it.
So if you have a minute or two then take a look and see what you think.

We also have a mailing list that you can subscribe to keep up to date with what is happening here at Le Château De La Rivière. Just see the Contact page and add your email to subscribe.

Hope you are all enjoying the glorious weather both here in France and the UK. Hopefully it is the same wherever you are if not in either.

Best wishes and hope to see you soon.

Posted by & filed under News.

Well we have only gone and done it.  We are now living ‘En France’

We started packing the lorry at 10am on Tuesday 11th Dec, and it was finally completed at around 7pm, it was so full that we could not get a lot of the garden stuff in. So all my fruit trees and planters were gratefully received by our lovely neighbours.  The lorry was absolutely full to the brim. So full they struggled to put their own sack trolley back  on it.  We said good-bye to all our worldly goods and started the big clean up of the house. Then the struggle of getting what was left in the Espace. We soon found out that Espace has nothing to do with pots of space, because the car was full before we had started packing it. Poor Junior had a couple of square feet of space, just enough for him to lie down in… He was surrounded by boxes and house plants…

Come 9pm we were just about done and finally closed the door and posted the keys through the letter box. (The estate agent had the master set.) That’s it we no longer had access to our house in Bramley. With a wonderful wave off from our neighbours, we were on our way for an over-night 12 hour drive. Frightened and excited all at the same time and thankfully with Junior settled very quickly, we made our way to the tunnel in the freezing fog which accompanied us all the way through England.

The usual smooth operation that is the Eurotunnel, we were on the train within 30 minutes of arriving at the terminal, and although there was a slight delay with a technical problem on the train, probably due to the extreme cold that night. We were soon popping out at Calais and on our way to Paris.

We arrived at Salles at 10am (French time) after what was a really smooth journey. Junior slept most of the way and was so well-behaved, you would not have thought it was the same dog that didn’t like to travel more than 100 yards in a car. We only stopped once for fuel and gave him a little walk and drink. It was though very very cold. Temperatures varied between -4C in Paris to -12C here in Salles. Thankfully the Renault behaved as well as Junior and did not let us down in any way.

So we arrived and got straight into the Tower House and fired up the heating, put the kettle on and enjoyed a cup of tea. Junior thought all his Xmases had come at once, when he saw the garden….

We had a day to think about what we were going to put where. Our worldly goods would be joining us on Thursday. So just enough time to clear a space in the Barn so we could unload the lorry straight into it. The idea being we have all the time in the world to sort through it and find a good place for it all.

Thursday morning arrived and we called after 10am as we had not heard from them, they had been deployed to an additional drop the drivers had not accounted for, but it did mean they could drop one of the trailers so made it easier for them to get to us, but it did mean they didn’t arrive at us until 7pm. After we fed them we started the big unload, to the annoyance of the new neighbours I’m sure as we did not finish until 11pm, but we did it and then just had the nightmare of sorting through it all starting Friday.

Look what we woke up to.!!!

Barn 2 Barn

Just a few bits that will need sorting and time to find a place for it all!

You would think that as we packed it we would know what was in each box..!!!!

Not a chance we are still looking for some things 10 days on, but thankfully the pile of boxes has gone down quite a bit now.

The first thing we needed to do though was get the Wood Burner out and installed into the fireplace so we can at least get that roaring  fire going and keep us all nice and toasty.

Job's a good'un

Job’s a good’un

Thanks to John we had a day or 2 of wood which gave us time to be brave and order a load for ourselves. 3 steres is cheaper than getting 2 so 3 it was. How much wood is 3 steres? A lot this is how much.

So here we are on Christmas Eve.

It is all feeling very homely and cosy and despite us both having a cold we are so happy and Junior is really settled already. Any regrets? Not a chance. Lets just hope the New Year see’s the Bookings rolling in.

A very merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all.

Xmas donkeys in Albi.

Xmas donkeys in Albi.

Tony and Janine, and Junior. xxxxxx

Posted by & filed under News, Our Story.

It’s been a while since our last Blog, so thought it would be nice to let you all know what the latest is in our planned move to France.

We are hoping that the Exchange goes ahead on our UK house in the next few weeks and that the target completion date is still on for December 14/15th.

This means we will be able to meet the deadline to make a significant dent in our French mortgage. We do not know when we will be moving out to France for good yet as there are things a-foot with work, that could be beneficial to us staying for a few more months, but we have found somewhere to rent on a weekly basis, so our options are open, which is good news for us.

We will of course keep you informed as things change or progress.

See you soon

 

 

Posted by & filed under News.

So the decision had been made. After 7 years we had decided that we could not carry on in the same way both financially and emotionally. So the “a vendre” sign was up.

Of course, as was our luck at the time, when did this happen? Yes right at the heart of the global economic collapse. So did it affect us, you bet it did. The Chateau was valued at 100k Euros below what we bought it for 7 years ago. And even at that price we were advised to drop it a further 100k Euros to get interest in it. We could not afford to do that as it would not even clear the outstanding mortgage owed on it. So we put it on at a price we could just about manage to walk away from it and clear any existing debts for it.

Even at this price we had very few viewings, and no serious offers, the main issues being with the size of it, from a management view, or the history of flooding it has… Of course the annoying part of that is the fact that the flooding risk had now been resolved, but we still had to declare the past problems.

To add to our woes, Jane had decided to return to the UK to be closer to her Grandchildren, which left David on his own to see the seasons through.  We will admit we had serious concerns that David would not be able to cope with this on his own, but he reassured us he would have help at hand and would not let us down. He is still good to his word to this very day. We cannot thank him enough.

So it was that we were in a strange position of having to push the rentals while secretly wishing it would sell quickly. Believing that as we were selling it as an on-going business, then any rental agreements would be honoured by the new owners. We were not in a position to stop trading while it sold.

2 years on and with the Euro-zone crisis having deepened, the global recovery having stalled, and the dreaded ‘double dip recession’ biting hard, it was time to yet again look at our options. It was clear that the only way we were likely to sell was to drop the price to un-manageable levels. And then see if we could cover the shortfall by re-mortgaging our UK home. This in reality was not an option, with the UK now in deep recession again and no lending being given out. So we had to come up with another Plan B.

After going out in June 2012 to open up for the forthcoming season, and finding so much work that had to be done, we decided it was time to work out a plan to move. Again we were looking for new managers to see us through 2012. We were not sure David would be able to see the season through due to several health issues, although he did assure us again that he would not let us down. While searching for a back up plan for management possibilities, we were introduced to a couple that ‘had a plan’.

PLAN B.

We have always thought that things would be so much easier if we lived on site permanently. Getting ready for the season could be done over several months, not squeezed into 5 days. A broken tile in the roof could be fixed there and then, not left for several months to do untold damage inside, any problems would be sorted before they escalated into major tasks. We could improve the quality of what we offer, as we would be there to ensure it is cared for properly. And all those big jobs we really want to do but cannot do in the 5 days we generally get there at the book-ends of each season, could be done over the winter months.

What has always stopped us was the frightening aspect of losing all our known income. Becoming totally reliant on rental income to pay the bills and to keep us alive. In the current climate is not a given that the clients will continue to come. So we needed something tangible to give us a potentially different revenue stream.  What are we good at? Running holiday homes, we have been doing it for 7 years now…. So when the chance pops up to do this stuff for other owners, do we take it. ?

We have a ‘cunning plan’, will it all fall into place? Well this is still unanswered.

What we can say is that we have done the U-turn. We have taken Le Chateau off the market. We have put our UK home up for sale, and we are in the process of preparing for the big move.

As far as this Blog is concerned we are now in real-time. We are still waiting for an offer on the UK home, have had some of viewings, but due to market conditions have had top drop the price, but the maths do still add up to make this all possible, albeit a bit too close to the line for our liking…

We are de-cluttering, and have just re-launched the house sale with a new agent. So fingers crossed everyone we will have some good news to publish very soon.

We are off to Le chateau next week to close it down for the season, and hopefully have a few days relaxing. I think we have earned it. Hopefully it will be the last ‘visit’ over there. Our next trip will be for good.. Dog and All.

le Chien!!

Thinking about learning to bark in French

We can then look forward to our trips to the UK..  And more importantly look forward to welcoming all our wonderful guests in person.

Please comment on our Blog if you like it.

We intend to keep this going in a more Chronological fashion so we can keep in touch and report on our progress.

Our very best wishes.

Janine and Tony xxx

and Junior…woof woof

Posted by & filed under Our Story.

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