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Archive for the ‘gites’ Category

As the title says, it HAS been a while. It’s been a long, very busy summer for us here at Le Chant. Great weather, great guests (in the main), and lots of nice people have booked to return. That’s the upside. The downside is that we have had one or two ‘guests’ that seemed not to appreciate that Le Chant isn’t just a holiday destination, but also our home. Granted, this is what we do for a living, and yes – we do get ‘paid’ if you like, for sharing what we have. But that’s my point – we ‘share’ Le Chant d’Oiseau. We share it because we think it’s a pretty place, and because we would have loved to have spent our holidays here with our own kids when they were growing up. We share it because we’re justifiably proud of all that we’ve achieved with it, in just 6 years.

In year one, in the very first full season that we were owners, and only just after we’d finished work on completing the family accommodation in what is now our home, we were very green. We were very keen to please, though we didn’t have an awful lot of spare cash to invest in Le Chant. We still made great efforts to ensure that both the gites and the campsite were the best they could be until we could afford to improve what we had. Lots of what we inherited had to stay, as we couldn’t afford to change things. We knew our limitations, but we priced accordingly.

Once or twice in that first full season, we were taken advantage of by people who just didn’t ‘get us’, or Le Chant d’Oiseau. It took one of these people a whole TWO years to release his bile on a well-known review website. The fact that a) he blatantly lied about certain aspects of his stay with us, and b) in the TWO years he’d taken summoning up the spite to send in his ‘review’, Le Chant had undergone a massive improvement, didn’t mean that the ‘review’ wasn’t published. Published it was, and definitely to the detriment of our business, not to mention our feelings.

In subsequent years, we’ve put up with allsorts of comments from people. In the early days, the main one we laughed off was “How does a lad from Doncaster get to own all this then?” Well, I’ll tell you. By being absolutely convinced that we could handle the HUGE French mortgage, and by having confidence in our ability to graft like navvies in order to pay off said mortgage. Not only that, but also by being brave enough to sell up everything we owned in the UK to try and make a better life for our family here. Many people wish they had the same courage of conviction that we had in 2005.  Another comment we’ve had is “It’s like camping in someone’s garden.” This is true. It is exactly that. But, it’s a very lovely, large, FRENCH garden. This has been said to us both in a kind, complimentary way as well as in a derogatory fashion, implying that we weren’t a ‘proper’ campsite. Well, we are. With the registrations and insurances to prove it.

We’ve suffered the idiocy of people ‘reviewing’ our pets. The fact that our two cats catch birds was the subject of one reviewers ire. What the hell is wrong with some people?

We’ve had to put up with guests’ children scratching their names into our pool table with their cheap little penknives. We’ve watched them chasing our chickens around until they squawked in protest. Our pets have had to endure being poked and prodded as they snoozed in the sun, or had their heads battered with a table tennis bat.

I’ve had to restrain myself on more than one occasion, gritting my teeth as I’ve watched someone’s little darling  ripping said table tennis bats to shreds, or fighting siblings with the pool cues. I’ve also lost count of the times I’ve been told that the pool table hasn’t released all of the balls. Usually due to the amount of gravel clogging up the mechanisms. Usually carefully placed there by small children, roaming freely around the place, as it’s “just so safe here.”

Yes. We provide a safe environment. Yes, we keep the site gates closed all the time, and yes, it’s fully fenced all around. But that’s not an invitation for people to absolve themselves of all responsibility for their offspring. While you’re ‘relaxing’ after your long drive from the UK/Germany/Belgium/insert lieu of choice, YOUR kids are releasing their hours of frustration at being kept cooped up in a car watching re-runs of Thomas The Tank Engine on the in-car DVD system!

Very rarely do we say anything. Instead, we ‘take it on the chin’. Perhaps moaning to ourselves in the privacy of our own house that we need (yet again) to take a trip into Saumur to find/buy replacements for this that AND the other.

Oh, talking of privacy – the number of times we’ve had people walk through our own patio area in order to get from one gite to another, shared by extended family is astounding. Despite what we might ask in various ways, that we be left alone from time to time to just be ‘us’, people still have so little respect.

So, why the rant, you may well be asking? Actually, it’s a case of one thought train leading to another. We’ve had a couple of reviews in lately. One was extremely bad in that again, we felt we’d been treated very, very badly by the guy responsible for it. It’s all very well, the internet giving everyone a voice, but some people should have their voiceboxes surgically removed if all that springs from it are lies. We’ve spent an inordinate amount of cash ensuring we provide things to do on site here. For what? To have it ruined by a few small kids whos parents are happy to let them, as long as THEY get the holiday THEY want? Why bother to write the most lovely comments in our guest book, only to do a complete about turn once you’re away from here and in the safety of your own keyboard?

The other review actually said in far less words, and in such a way as to make it perfectly clear what we’re about, exactly why we take it so personally, this ‘job’ of ours. It said:

Stu and Syb’s unobtrusive hard work behind the scenes ensures you enjoy your holiday, from the generous welcome pack to the care for their environment is obvious.
This is essentially their home and garden which they open for you to enjoy, treat it with respect and appreciation in the hope that their commitment and enthusiasm will be sustained so you can come and enjoy it again and again. We will!

I guess you could say that our commitment and enthusiasm has just been reborn.

Thankyou all for your continued support in what’s been a very long, very tiring but ultimately successful season for us. Here’s hoping your first visit won’t be your last. Except in one or two cases, and you know who you are!

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I’ve often thought, as I wander the highways & byways of our bit of France, what a beautiful landscape we live in. Because I’m a very enthusiastic photographer, I look at the scenery in awe sometimes, and wish that others could see it just as I’ve just seen it, you know? This train of thought is a constant in my head, and it’s not until very recently that I’ve had the wherewithal to try and realise the ambition to have a few days of informal, but informative photography workshops at our place.

La Loire and Saumur sunrise

The Loire at Saumur at sunrise.

Sure, I have a good eye, and I know how to take decent images. It’s not that difficult really, given where I live, and the types of photogenic landscape and subjects I’m exposed (forgive the pun) to on an almost daily basis. But what I lack is the reputation as a serious photographer. You see, to our guests, I’m just the grumpy bloke that owns the pretty gites and sociable campsite in the Loire Valley. They don’t realise that I do actually know a fair bit about photography, and what constitutes a decent image. If they do, then because of my ‘day job’, they fail to take me seriously if I say I’d like to teach them how to take the kinds of pictures they admire in local galleries etc.

Montreuil Bellay

Just one of the many chateaux within very easy reach of Le Chant d'Oiseau

So, when a guest here last year, Chris, at last took me seriously and put me in touch with his prospective father-in-law, UK based landscape photographer, Anthony (Tony) Blake, my creative juices began to flow again after a long period of hiatus.

To explain. Tony is an award-winning landscape photographer, making a living from his photography workshops held in his home county of Dorset. His eye for the shot is simply fantastic. His clients are mostly beginners or improvers, but he’s comfortable having professionals on his workshops too.

Image copyright, Tony Blake, Dorset based landscape photographer

Beautiful Dorset scene, taken by Tony.

Tony’s been looking into the potential for expanding his horizons, and after being introduced to one another by Chris, we got to chatting via. e-mail and arranged a visit to Le Chant d’Oiseau to get together and discuss the possibilities, and for Tony and his lovely wife, Miranda, to see for themselves just what stunning potential the area has for budding landscape ‘toggers.

They came and stayed in Chardonneret with us for an all too brief few days in April. The weather was beautiful. Warm, bordering on hot with the blue skies and clear light that attracts so many artists to the area. It bode well.

What we’ve decided, between the four of us, is to pilot a three-day workshop, based here at Le Chant, to be held in the week commencing the 24th September 2011. We’re currently looking into the costs involved, but accommodation can either be on the campsite, or in one of the two remaining gites (Tony’s bagged Chardonneret already!).

The autumnal landscape should be in full bloom by then, and the chance to bag images such as the one captured perfectly by Tony, below, shouldn’t be too difficult!

Image copyright, Anthony Blake Photography.

Autumnal splendour.

We’re working hard at ensuring there’s a superb itinerary for the three days, with a range of photo opportunities from landscapes, to sunrise/sunset shots (don’t worry, the sun rises late and sets earlier in September!), chateaux, river scenes, architecture, people, village life…. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination!

Here’s how we think it will work.

We’re planning on the cost to include a pitch on site for two people and their chosen unit, (though Héron & Hibou will be available too) with electric for the week. There’ll be an ample french style picnic lunch and four-course evening meal with wine for those attending the workshop. If partners wish to join us, then there’ll be a nominal fee and they’ll be made more than welcome!  If both people on a pitch wish to take part in the workshop, then a supplement for the second person will be charged. Transport to & from the locations for the three-day course will also be included. The remainder of the week will be yours to explore the area and put into practice what you’ve learned on the workshop!

For me personally, It’s exciting to think that as your guide, I’ll be able to share some of the ‘off the beaten track’ locations that I’ve come to find in the six years we’ve been here. Lots of these would be very difficult to find without local knowledge. It’s great to think that some lucky people will get to take the most gorgeous shots of the area, that they’ll be proud to hang on their walls at home, and that we’ve helped them to achieve that!

Places will be strictly limited, so please register your interest for the Loire Experience Photography Workshop now. You can do this by visiting our website at www.loire-gites.com and scrolling down the home page to the Newsletter Subscription box. Enter your e-mail addresss, and press GO! Then, tick the box marked ‘Photography’ to ensure that we keep you up to date with details of prices and itineraries etc.

Tony & I look forward to seeing you in September!

Until the next time,

Au revoir.

 

 

 

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No rest for the wicked…

It’s been a while hasn’t it? Since I smashed the cheap Chinese imprt strimmer into a million pieces? Too long really, but I have a great excuse. I’ve been busy, see? Busy around the place making it better for us, better for guests and undoubtably better for potential future owners of Le Chant d’Oiseau too.

The list of things we’ve done to improve the place in the past few weeks has risen exponentially. Possibly due to an injection of enthusiasm from the latest HelpEx‘ers to find their way into the forest, and offer their services. Rob & Claire arrived quite some time ago now, and even though they set off with the hope of linking up with other hosts on their travels through France, Germany and into the Czech Republic, they just keep on coming back here! Great for us, because there’s a seemingly endless list of things that need to be done! Not so great for them as their adventure’s rapidly drawing to a close. They’ve had a short holiday down on the Charente coast though, and this weekend saw them up in Le Mans for the 24heures du Mans – cars are their passion! But today, they’re back. Raring to help again for a few days before setting off for Germany, and the Nurburgring!

So, what have we been doing? Well….

The grounds and gardens have never looked so good, with borders tidied up, plants planted, weeds uprooted. The hedgerows to the front all trimmed. Piles of wood tidily stacked after being cut into kindling for the bread oven in the summer. The fence to the rear of Le Chant was looking decidedly horrid, so we pulled it all down, hammered in new stakes and rolled out some fresh new chainlink. The old concrete box that’s been a thorn in our side since we arrived has been lifted out by Loïc with his tractor, and placed perfectly in line with the chicken run. We’ll use that for hay/feed storage. That’s opened up the whole rear area of Le Chant magnificently – a 1000% improvement in one fell swoop.

We’ve often wanted to create both a rear garden and a small patio area to the side of Héron, and finally – it’s almost there. The fencing still has to be extended round to finish off the boundary, but it’s a small task now. We had to remove so much rubbish and rubble just to get down to floor level. But when we did – wow. We revealed the most gorgeous tomettes (floor tiles) laid down in past times. Rob uplifted them all and with Claire’s help, cleaned them all off and created a way through the 3’ thick wall to make an entrance into the lawned garden area behind. The pile of stones removed provided fantastic borders around some of the new flower beds as well as the old ones. We have literally hundreds left too. Some will be used to rebuild the walls, and make them safe. Others will be stored, waiting for use on other projects.

While Rob & Claire were busy with the floor tiles, I was busy in our camping shower block with wall tiles. Long overdue, but never off the radar, we’ve finally renovated this charming old barn to upgrade the facilities and surroundings for our camping guests. All the old tiles came off in the three stalls, to be replaced by nice, clean white ones interspersed with dashes of colour, blue & yellow tiles were mixed in and the look now is bright, clean and fresh. New shower units were fitted, new poles and curtains too. I also fitted three lovely vanity cupboards and squeezed in an extra basin too. Each one now has a privacy partition and a huge mirror. When I either figure it out myself, or find someone to do it for me, the lights will work in each individual ‘cubicle’ too! Marble topped basins? In a camping showerblock? We spoil you, we really do! 😉

Showerblock

Fresher, brighter look for our showerblock.

Rob, Claire & Syb then went to work painting the walls & doors and giving the whole building the finishing touches. I went to Normandy, for the 66th D-Day Commemorations. But that’s another ‘blog….

The bathroom in Chardonneret has needed finishing since last October, when we were tactically outmanouvered by Hannah & Steve who moved in earlier than expected for the winter. So, poor things – they had to suffer the most depressing bathroom in France for almost 6-months. But now – wow! Hannah’s pleading with us to let her move back in! New tiles, new lighting, lovely boxing in, no visible pipework. The response from guests while all the work’s been going on, and after they’ve seen the final finish has been really, really encouraging. There’s nothing better than hearing their appreciative noises when they’re first shown into the gite, or to see their faces when they come out of the showerblock for the first time. That’s payment enough, and a reason for doing what we do.

Bathroom, Chardonneret

New everything in the bathroom.

So, what’s next? We have no idea, but I have no doubt there’ll be something I see that I want to rip out, knock down, improve. The maintenance on this place is heavy going sometimes, and each day is different, with a new set of problems, so it’s never boring. I have one or two ideas to improve Héron specifically, but there’s enough to keep me going until the season starts properly, and when it becomes a full-time job for us both just to keep people happy here. Then it’ll be autumn, a quieter time guest-wise and then I’ll set to with tools again.

Until the next time, au revoir!

TBC

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2010

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