Viella Vacances Bed and Breakfast, Viella, Gers

Chambres d'hôtes & Holidays in the Gers close to Madiran, St Mont and Jazz in Marciac, SW France

Everyday Ramblings !

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Posted by holidaysinthegers on November 2, 2009 at 5:42 AM Comments comments (1)

I expect when you think of the Gers or SW France you don't think of Kiwis do you ??  Well, I have just finished a week of harvesting tonnes of them in the village. 

For the last few years I have driven passed the groves, but never really gave them much thought as they were in the middle of the vines.  I assumed they were apples or something.  So when Paulette asked me if I was interested in picking Kiwis, I was intrigued.  We all duly arrived at the farm for an 8am start.  We were given instructions on how to pick them and told to treat them like eggs as they bruise very easily, then off we set. 

The trees are grown in long rows and are trained along metal wires.  I have never seen so many kiwis. The trees were really heavily loaded with some kiwis close to the ground and others so high you had to stand on a crate to get at them. The work was break-backing with each row taking more than two hours to pick, but with a great bunch of people we had a fun time, even if I didn't understand too much of the conversations/ banter !!!   Luckily, the sun stayed out all week and it was around 24 degress for most of the time. Not bad for the end of October !! Over the the course of the week, week we picked somewhere in the region of 40 tonnes of them. So the next time you buy a Kiwi grown in France, it might have been picked by me  !!  

I have added a photo to the photo gallery.  Next Wednesday we are getting together for the traditional end of harvest supper.  Lots of good local food and wine.  An excellent tradition I think !!


Over the last few weeks I have had Vivian Charlesworth staying with me. She is a young amercian artist who has just finished her studies in fine art.  Vivian has created the most amazing mural on my barn wall and is finishing off a second one as I write. I have added a photo of the first to the gallery.  She is superbly talented and I wish her great success in the future.     Sadly, she leaves this Friday as she has to return to the States and she will be missed.    However, she would love to return to Europe so, if you are looking for someone to do some painting for you I can pass on your details to her. 

Rain, Rain Rain !!

Posted by holidaysinthegers on April 15, 2009 at 6:20 AM Comments comments (0)

I didn't move here for rain, but that's what we have and what we have had all weekend.  It's safe to say that Easter weekend was a bit of a wash out !  My garden is currently doing a very good impression of a swimming pool.  It will take weeks to drain away. The pigs are learning to swim. 

Down at the camel Farm, Sarah is putting sand bags around in case the house floods. A tributary from the Adour river runs passed her house. Originally, it powered the mill, which has long fallen in to ruin, but it is very narrow here so the level rises very quickly whenever there is alot of rain.  Added to this, the snow melt from the Pyrenées feeds into the Adour and the snow has been the best for 20 years.  Let's hope it's a slow melt !! 

I guess all this rain is why the region is so green.  Many people I speak to say it reminds them of England, the Cotswolds in particular.  Perhaps that's why more and more are coming here either on holiday or to stay permanently and why some already here are trying to keep the place a secret!   As one recent guest said, if he hadn't been booked to stay here he would never have found Viella by chance.  It is a hidden gem.  Almost too hidden at times !  

Meanwhile, the growing season has started in earnest.  All the vines have now been trimmed and tied up and are already looking very green. The fields, which have stood empty since the Maize harvest last year, have now been ploughed ready for planting next month and the rape seed fields are in full colour resulting in me sneezing almost constantly !! There seems to be even more of this than last year.  Dreadful stuff !

In a previous posting, I talked about a young student who planned to walk to Holland with  a donkey. She left just over a week ago. It was an emotional day for all concerned. The donkey picked up on this and refused point blank to move !! Eventually, after removing some of the load, a great deal of coaxing (of the donkey !) and then leaving them to it, they made their way to Termes d'Armagnac, about 15km away.  She carried on walking for about a week, but then decided not continue. It made sense and so she returned to the Camel farm.  She is now busying herself organising a festival for the white camel. Probably to be held in the summer. Watch this space for more information.

Let the festivals begin !!

Posted by holidaysinthegers on March 28, 2009 at 11:30 AM Comments comments (0)

Yes, I know it is only 28th March, but don't let that stop you from having a party ! 

This weekend, it is the Festival of St Mont, a tiny village of less than 500 people about 5 minutes drive from here.   As per normal, the festival centres around wine. In this case St Mont (obviously).  It is a celebration of the St Mont wine a rich, fully bodied red wine produced between here are Bassoues.  Most of the vineyards send their grapes to the Plaimont co-operative who produces a variety of wine, but there are a few vinyards that produce their own; notably Chateau Saint Go which produces a range of excellent wines.   If you like your red wine full bodied, but not too "tannaty", you should give St Mont a try.  There is also a variety of dry whites and roses ranging from the extremely mouth numbingly dry to the light and fruity.  The wines of St Mont are still relatively unknown in the Uk which is a shame, but there are large showrooms in St Mont and Plaisance where you can try the full range for free. 

Anyway, back to the Festival !  It is happening over the whole weekend in several locations. ST Mont and Plaisance being the largest two, but with several smaller events going on elsewhere and, in order to keep the Germdarmaires happy, there are coaches going from one site to another!  There are activities, wine tastings and shows going on in various villages and, of course, there is the mandatory meal.  Lunch time today it was soup, fois Gras, Grilled duck breast, apple tart, wine and coffee. All for 12E and it tasted lovely !!   The meal this evening is Tapas and there is another huge meal tomorrow lunchtime in the wine cellars of St Mont.   To give you an idea of size, this lunch time they served just under a 1000 meals. Tomorrow will see about double that number.  This is all cooked and served by local volunteers, dressed up as monks, and characters from the middle ages. I think they will need to sleep for a week afterwards to recover. 

Later this evening there is a huge open air concert in another village, Aignan, about 30mins from us with a couple of bands who started their careers locally but who now play europe wide. All free of course !  After that, it is back to Viella for the first "Bal" of the year (essentially and disco in the town hall, but the DJ is excellent).  No doubt it will make for another late night.  The concert doesn't start until 10:00 pm and the bal goes on until 5:00am.  Mind you,  I musn't forget that the clocks go forward tomorrow morning.  Please don't phone me tomorrow !!

Now if you'll forgive me, I am off for a siesta !!

England 34 France 10 !!!!

Posted by holidaysinthegers on March 19, 2009 at 1:31 PM Comments comments (0)

I'm sitting here in the office overlooking the garden and surrounded by dogs at the end of another beautiful day. It's been in the late 20's today. Lovely ! 

The last week or so has seen the garden really come to life. The fruit trees are coming into blossom and the spring flowers are at their best.  The piglets are doing their best to keep the grass down so I haven't had to mow it so far  this year !!  There are lots of young calves in the fields around the vilage and there is a real feel that winter is behind us.  Mind you, I won't bank on it though as the weather forecast is not good for next week, but I'm making the most of it while it lasts !!

Over the last few weeks, we have been busy in the vineyards cutting off all the old branches and removing the dead vine cepes (trunks).  The vines are just starting to bud and will really start to come on over the next few weeks. Then it will be time to start trimming.  Last year we had rain and hale for what seemed like the whole of April. This did a fair amount of damage to the vines and several vineyards lost most of their grapes and alot of their vines completely.   For some it was the second year running, so a few went out of business.  I really hope we don't get a repeat this year.

I start work in one of the local vineyards next month. Domiane Berthomieu. Take a look at their website ( They produce really good quality wines and their red wine liquer is surperb.  No doubt I will be bringing a bottle or two home on the odd occasion! 

There was a new arrival at the Camel farm last week.  A white Camel!! She is really cute. Sarah thinks she is about 3 years old. She was bought by a dutch girl who is staying with Sarah for a few weeks. She is in quarantine for a couple of weeks and then, hopefully, she will be able to mix with the other camels.  The orginal plan was for the dutch girl to ride her back to Holland as part of a project for university (usual idea I know), but the camel is just too young, so plan B is to take a donkey instead. The camel is now up for sale. Anyone want a camel ????

Rugby is huge in this part of France. Most villages have a team and most of the players in the national side orginate from the SW.  So, we just had to watch the big match on Sunday afternoon; England v France.   We had a BBQ with a mix of english and french.  The idea was to eat befor ethe match, but as usual, we started late.  However we were nearly finished befpre the match started.  We have a large screen TV in the barn, so everyone was able to watch England beat France in all their glory !  It was great to be able to do a bit of ribbing and watch Michel eat his words for a change!!  England were in the lead from about 5 mins into the game. A great match and a great afternoon. 

I also have some good news. I have sold the last two piglets. The other remaining piglet, white sock, left last week to go and live with a local farm hand. Not being funny, but I think the piglet has more brain cells in his tiny head than either the farm hand or his mate !! We spent half an hour chasing piglets around the pen last friday night, but managed it in the end. Normally, the piglets scream like you have never heard when you catch them, but white sock stopped after a few seconds. The guy seemed to be happy with him so it will be interesting to see how they get on !!    The last two go in two weeks to a lovely english couple who have bought a place about 15mins away. They have their work cut out there, but it will be an amazing place when it's done. The piglets will be in heaven with a huge wood for a home and I think Zizzy and Clara will be glad to see the back of them. They can have a bit of peace for while until the next lot arrive in a month or so!! 

Back to normality - Well, sort of

Posted by holidaysinthegers on February 13, 2009 at 4:57 AM Comments comments (0)

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Over the next few days, both Michel and I spent much of our time in the village. Michel cutting trees and me letting the English residents know what was happening or not, as the case maybe.  We also called on some of the older more isolated residents to make sure they were ok and take them water in case they needed it.  Most had gone to stay with younger relatives. Those at home invited us in.  In one, we spent a good hour sampling the home made Floc de Gasgone. Very nice it was too, even if my head was spinning afterwards !! The monsieur rarely went out so was glad of the company.  Needless to say, I couldn’t understand much of the conversation. The locals here have a really strong accent and speak a mix of French and patois (a local dialect). 


Water was finally running again Tuesday afternoon.  Yippee !  At least I could flush the loo without having to fill it up again from the well.  I swear I’ll never take water for granted again and will always keep some bottles in, just in case !  It was another full day before electricity was restored. EDF had tried to reconnect the village Tuesday evening, but it kept shorting out as the mobile generator wasn’t big enough. With a 400KW generator installed, the village came out in force to see the switch on.  Fingers crossed and, yes, it worked !!!  Huge round of applause for all.  Was that the end of it ? No ! Only half the village was connected. The power lines on the other side of the village had been too severely damaged and repairs were going to take several more days. So the major organized groups of generators for these houses.  Electricity was finally fully restored the following week. 


It’s amazing how a crisis bring out the best, and worst, in people.  Most villagers were out and about helping each other with offers of food, water and places to stay, but the actions of others, well ……. An example.  There were two houses on the edge of the village still without electricity after 5 days.  The mayor organized for a group of generators to be connected up to supply them whilst repairs were carried out.  The monsieur in one house didn’t want the other one connected up, he wanted the power just for himself. And who lived opposite you may ask? A young woman who lived on her own with three young children. Can you believe that ???  


Being without any utilities for several days really makes you think. After four days of no power, water or phones, the excitement starts to wear off and it becomes hard work.  We were lucky in that we had a well we could use to supply us with water for flushing the loo and washing in and we could use the wood burner to at least heat one room in the house. Others weren’t so lucky. Many villagers rely on electric heating and most don’t have an alternative source of water.  Still, it was an adventure and we proved that we take what Mother Nature chose to throw at us – well, this time anyway !!!       

The morning after

Posted by holidaysinthegers on February 13, 2009 at 4:56 AM Comments comments (0)

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Sunday morning and still no water or power and mobile phones only worked if you drove down to Riscle, about 10mins away.


The village was again bustling with people.  Still no sign of EDF though !  Being on a hill means that water has to be pumped to the village.  Having no electricity meant no pump. No pump, no water.  Power lines were down all around the village and it looked like we were going to be without water and electricity for a few days, so the mayor organized several pallets of bottled water to be delivered and handed out.  A man in a van toured the village shouting announcements through a megaphone all afternoon. I didn’t understand a word of it, but I’m sure it was very useful!!!  


Michel and Jean Pierre spent much of the day cutting up trees. All 10 pine trees surrounding Jean Pierre’s place had come down blocking the entrance. Several roads around the village were also still blocked by fallen trees.


I called in on the camel farm to see how they were fairing.  A few of the animal pens had been damaged and roofs lost, but luckily no major damage.  However, the river had risen alarmingly and they were in danger of being flooded. Hopefully, the sand bags would keep the water out.  The camels themselves were decidedly unimpressed with the weather and stayed firm put in their barn.


Later, we lit the wood burner so at least the lounge was warm.  I had started emptying the freezer so we were having a good old English breakfast for dinner.  The burner has a shelf in it for cooking, so we cooked the dinner the old fashioned way. Sausages, bacon and fried egg all cooked over a wood fire. Yummy !  It was really good fun. Amazing what good simple food, good wine and good company can do for the soul.

The day of the Temp�te

Posted by holidaysinthegers on February 13, 2009 at 4:52 AM Comments comments (0)

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Saturday morning I was woken about 4am by the most amazing noise. The overnight forecast had been for high winds and the region was on red alert.  We had braised ourselves by bringing in anything that might “fly” and locking shut all the shutters. I’m not used to sleeping in complete darkness and it was kind of strange not being able to see anything at all, so when I woke at 4am, I had no idea what was going on.  The winds were whistling through the shutters at a huge rate of knots and Prince was trying his best to eat the door into the rear lobby and hence into our room.  I let him in and went back to sleep. I woke later with a sudden jolt, “oh no, the piggies !” I thought. Struggling to stand up, let alone walk in the wind, I went out to check they were ok. Both doors to the pig house were wide open, but the pigs were safe and sound, if a little fed up, indoors.  Then  I saw it, or rather lack of it. The greenhouse/ poly tunnel had been completely destroyed.  The frame was still there, a testament to the concreting skills of M Cantelice, as we were to find out later when we tried to take it down, but the cover was ripped to shreds. Luckily, it hadn’t rained so I moved the lawnmowers and tools into the atelier.  I was just about to make a cup of tea, I am English after all, and the power went off. 7:30am, not good. No phones either (fixed or mobile).  10:00am, and we lost the water supply. Having already run out of gas for the central heating the day before, that made it complete. No heat, no power, no water and no phone.  Wonderful!!


The winds continued for much of the morning, but that didn’t stop Poppy wanting to go out.  If ever there was a dog who could sulk and make you feel guilty for no reason whatsoever, she is it.  Just how do you explain to a 2 year old lab/lurcher cross that she can’t go chase things today as she is more likely to fly than to walk ??  I ventured out early afternoon with the three of them. It was still incredibly windy, but at least you could take one foot of the ground with fear of being blown over.  Miraculously, other than the green house and loosing a few tiles from the atelier, we had escaped serious damage. Others in the village weren’t so lucky.  Trees were down all over the place. A couple of huge cedar trees had come down on to the roof of the old convent next to the church. They had only just finished re-roofing it a couple of weeks ago !! A neighbour opposite us had lost much of his roof as well as the whole of his garage and several roads into the village were blocked.  Later, we found out that in Riscle, a neighbouring town, a wall of a barn used for storing St Mont wine (12 million bottles to be precise) had come down and that somebody had to stand guard on the place all night to stop people stealing it !!


Up in the village, the mayor and his team were busy trying to assess the damage.  They had set up an emergency room in the Marie.  The place was bustling with people wanting to know what was going on and offering to help.   It would have been a great opportunity for the “new” bar owners, Gerone and Annalaise, to get themselves more known and integrated in the village. A roaring fire, mulled wine and cafetières of coffee and the bar would have been a great place for villagers to gather, but no, Gerone decided to shut up shop and take his family to the mother in laws; not the wisest of decisions as it turned out. All the other business, with the exception of the hairdresser, managed to open.


By the end of the afternoon most of the roads had been cleared of fallen trees, but still no sign of EDF.  Time to dig out those candles.


Jauary Blues (well cream really)

Posted by holidaysinthegers on January 20, 2009 at 9:43 AM Comments comments (0)

Gosh, it's been a few weeks since my last posting.  Doesn't time fly !!


Well, we had the annual new year's bash.  The weather was threatening to put  a dampener on things but, thankfully, the rain held off.  My first guests arrived at 10:30 in the morning.  A bit of a panic for us as we were still trying to get the plastering finished in the barn. Needless to say, we were  working until the early hours in the morning. Thankfully, the guests were happy with what they saw.  


There was plenty going on in the village all day, not least the wine tasting ( obligatory !), quilles (french skittles with a lump of wood rather than a ball), demonstrations and grape picking.  Later in the afternoon, we had the customary  procession between the Mairie and the church with people dressed up as historical characters. The concert put on by the local choral society went down a storm. For a village of only 500 people, we have some excellent singers !


My guests left for the evening event about 9pm and we left for dinner with some friends in Marciac (a small town famous for its annual jazz festival).  We all arrived back about 5 in the morning; a good time was had by all. 


My guests finally left early afternoon,  happy with their stay. The mince pies and christmas cake went down well and I almost managed to sell them a piglet, but the husband was having none of it !  Happy Guests, that's what it is all about.  Perhaps they will be back next year.


The following day it was back to work. Over the course of the next three days, we redecorated the local bar, changing it from a sickly rose colour to a more subtle cream and burgandy and changed all the lights.  It looks good, even though I do say so myself !!  The only thing is Gerone threw out so much stuff that the place now looks empty when you walk in.  Of course, being the squirrel I am, I now have most of it in the barn, including an 8 foot fig tree !! 


There are no bookings this month so we have carried on with the work in the barn. The plaster wall is now done and painted and we have created a couple of seats next to the floor to ceiling radiator.  I want to paint a mural on the wall, so if you know anyone who fancies a challange in return for a free holiday let me know !!







It's Snowing !

Posted by holidaysinthegers on December 27, 2008 at 8:04 AM Comments comments (0)

Christmas day arrived and Michel decided in his infinite wisdom to start putting up the rails for the plasterboard ceiling in the grange. I wouldn't mind, but we had people coming to lunch and we were eating in the grange !   Somethings never change (remember Neil ?!!!)


8:30am and the chapon (large castrated cockeral) was in the oven. 11:00 and I was well on the way to being organised for a change. 11:30 and himself finally stopped work which left us 30mins to clean up the barn and decorate it for Christmas.  Being french, none of the guests turned up until 1:00. Michel's son, nicolas finally arrive at 2:00 and we could start.  We were 7 for lunch & the menu was :


Entree : Oysters followed by smoked salmon, Fois Grais and warm Cambert cheese.

Main : Chapon and more veggies than I care to mention !

Cheese : Lots !

Desert : yule log, christmas pudding, christmas cake.


The christmas pudding went down well with the french as did the Christmas cake. Surprisingly, I still have virtually a whole yule log made by the local bakery left!  Another success for english cooking I think !!  


Five hours later and we were almost finished.  Eating isn't rushed here !



Boxing day and it was back to work.  It isn't a holiday in France. Not alot of people know, but companies don't pay employees for public holidays, staff have to make up the time by working longer hours or loose a day's pay.     Michel is self employed so he doesn't get paid if he doesn't work and I can't let out  the bedrooms until the grange is finished, so the race is on to get the work finished as soon as possible.   


I went out to give the piggies lunch to find the garden covered in a sprinkling of snow.   The next thing I knew, the heavens opened and we had a couple of inches of snow in the space of about 30mins. The piggies took one look at this funny white stuff and went straight back indoors not to be seen again until Saturday morning.     Poppy wasn't quite sure about the snow, and decided that being indoors in front of the fire was a better option.  Very sensible, me too ! 





Christmas comes to Viella

Posted by holidaysinthegers on December 22, 2008 at 10:30 AM Comments comments (0)

The villagers have been busy all week decorating the village for Christmas. It is a big thing here.  The theme is very much wine/ vine based. I now have the pleasure of half a dozen vines on my verge, decorated with coloured foil, and a 3 foot high wine bottle, which lights up at night, outside my gate.  Do you think someone is trying to tell me something ? !!!

Seriously though, the village looks really pretty, with many of the houses in the centre being decorated with vine branches and coloured bows.  At least this year Alan, the local handyman, hasn't made the same mistake as last year where he decorated one of the many large stone crosses we have here with lights. Unfortunately, at night when it was lit it looked like a piece of male anatomy if you get my drift !! 

The bar has finally put up some decorations, well a christmas tree anyway. No lights though -  Bar humbug !


This week sees the huge marquee going up for the new years eve bash. I gather that numbers are slightly down this year with about 500 tickets being sold. At 98E per ticket, that's not bad in the current climate.  Needless to say, very few locals go. They tend to go to Maumusson down the road, a more traditional bal where you can get away with wearing your cleanest jeans rather than having to dress up to the "nines".  Come to think if it, I don't think I have ever seen Michel wear anything other than jeans. Even when we went to a christening most of the guests had jeans on, including him.  Clean, but jeans none the less. Can't imagine that happening in my previous life in the UK.

Yesterday, we had a meeting to discuss last summers' fete. I thought I would go along to show willing. As ever, it was complete chaos. It was supposed to start at 10:30, but we eventually sat down about 11:00. It began with the accounts and the results of the Quille competition. Pretty run of the mill stuff, then we went on to talk about the main fete itself. It runs for 3 days over the Bastile weekend centres around huge meals, drinking and dancing for three days. On the sunday there is always a "spectacular". Last year is was a bull run through the streets. This year is was a horse demonstration. A complete disaster. It lasted for 20mins. So the committee had to refund everyones' entrance fee.  It was when this topic came up that the meeting desended into complete chaos. Everyone having an opinion and ideas for how to make it better for next year and everyone talking at the same time with the committee talking amongst themselves.  After 20mins of random speech and nobody deciding anything, we apparently finished the meeting, everyone got up and we had a few glasses of vin chaud to celebrate another successful reunion.  No wonder everything takes so long to get done in this country !!