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Link to my former blog for all my Fairfax published recipes and foodie musings. http://debsravingrecipes.blogspot.com/p/who.html

Door from sitting room to rear courtyard – pre renovation

Welcome to the first FoodnForage blog. We’ve survived a weird year and things didn’t turn out as we’d planned. For many of us, plans went out the window and days turned into months. But now things feel brighter and hopeful, and I’m looking forward to a new year where we hope to pick up where we left off.

It all began…

with a lifelong connection and family background attachment to Europe, it’s history, culture and in particular it’s food. Not just Europe – but a mad obsession with France. Yep! To cut a long story short……from a food related background of teaching cooking at college, food writing, and owner of three food establishments, at the beginning of 2020 (pre pandemic) we decided to buy a small house in France from where we, (Steve and I) could build on my business plan to hold small class cooking workshops, and for Steve to indulge his interest in wine and photography. Those indulgences are a heavenly but worthy match!

We generally spend a few months in France and Europe every couple of years, and in January this year, we returned from France and from Slovenia, my Pa’s birthplace, thinking about finding a permanent place in France. Australia was burning, and we watched from afar as people close to us were placed in danger. We came back to a different village from the one we left. Many people were traumatised and had lost life and property. It was a surreal time that has left many scars.

Back home, we were thrown into the immediacy of the here and now, preparing the house ready to evacuate. We live in a small Aussie seaside community perched on a peninsula that juts into the Pacific Ocean on the south coast of NSW. I’m reminded how infinitely beautiful but isolated our village is, when I look at google maps. Surrounded by native bushland and one road in that serves our community is our only link with the Princes Highway that runs the length of the south coast.

Our immediate community was spared while others nearby weren’t. Then the weather changed for the better, but we were hit with flooding rain. Gradually the urgency lifted, I started searching online to find some interesting and affordable french properties that might fit the bill. This would mean another trip to France to view a property. Steve was committed work wise, so my good friend Nic immediately agreed to come with me.

It seemed within moments that we had flights booked and were sitting on a plane toasting with a glass of crisp bubbly. This was truly exciting! We hired a car, motored and explored a number of French towns, sampling delicious food and wine before settling on the town that we fell for. It was Montmorillon.

Montmorillon view from the bridge

We looked at various property with help from Hero and Laurie from Maison Rurales and Rosie from our Airbnb, but couldn’t quite find the one that would work as both a base for business and leisure. That was until we met Monsieur from the Vieux Palais. He showed us a property he owned that would need extensive work, along with a generous offer to project manage the renovation. We visualised what could be with few photos and many thoughts and left France as the pandemic began sweeping through Europe. We returned to Australia, still undecided, not knowing what was to lie ahead. We just needed to get home again, it was becoming obvious that we may not be allowed back into Australia if we didn’t get going.

It was March 16 2020, we travelled in a packed train from Poitiers to Charles De Gaulle airport, feeling like we were the only ones sanitised and masked. On arrival in Charles De Gaulle airport, one had a mild feeling of panic among the crush of humanity trying to get home. We thought if we didn’t have Covid19 by then it would be a sure thing now. The following day Australia closed its borders. We were lucky!

Back home, we both returned two surprisingly negative tests and isolated as required. Isolation has a way of providing one with uninterrupted thinking time so the idea of a renovation was taking shape with Monsieur to oversee the works. It really was an opportunity we could not pass up. We gave the green light and agreed this was going to be challenging but exciting. FoodnForage was born! We could not have undertaken such a project without Monsieur on the ground. He has been amazing and generous, advising, overseeing and helping us in every aspect of the renovation. I believe our relationship has been sealed in this joint project and look forward to many good times in his company. The renovations started in July and have continued throughout the period of pandemic, only slowing due to restrictions. We are a few weeks from finishing now.

Front exterior prior to renovation.

The house itself is a sturdy, stone, 3 storey attached townhouse with an enclosed rear courtyard, tucked into a quiet backstreet of the medieval quartier of Montmorillon. When we first laid eyes on it, all the internal walls and many ceilings were covered in wallpaper. Not only the walls and ceilings, but some of the doors and cupboards too! We visualised what could be and we left France with few photos and many thoughts. The house was choc full of belongings from the previous owner who at the end of her life, left everything in the house as it was.

Sitting Room pre renovation

The works have happened around the belongings and we look forward to going over to sort through the things that are left. We will salvage as much as possible from the house, put items to good use, re-covering, painting, recycling. I think Madame would be pleased to know that.

Front door pre renovation

I will update further on the renovations in my blog.

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