No other visible houses, no passing traffic, no street lights, nothing to disturb the deep silence but birdsong and occasional cow bells in the valley below. It's all quite magical ...
It's a big house, which is really two houses in one: we live at one end, in the small original farmhouse (on the right in the photo); you'll live at the other, in what was once a huge attached barn. That's your garden, on the far left. You'll not be overlooked, and neither will we. There are other barns too, separate from the house: one has been converted into your covered, fairy-lit eating area. The land is hilly, unfenced and runs off into woodland all the way round; the whole environment is wild, natural and completely unspoiled.
There are no manicured lawns or immaculate borders - we work organically and take much inspiration from permaculture, so we work with nature rather than trying to tame it. Ancient oak trees sit alongside side fruit trees, natural paths and rockeries; large numbers of birds visit - we've recorded 85 species, and are a registered LPO refuge - and various mammals, lizards, bats, butterflies, and other insects also call Maison Grillou home.
We're Kalba Meadows and John Curtis; we're English, but no have our feet, and our souls, firmly planted here in France.We moved here in 2007, when we bounced up the track with an unsuspecting estate agent and promptly fell in love. (With the house, not the agent).
I'd like to tell you that we first found and fell for the Ariège decades ago, but that's simply not true. The story of how we discovered this department is an odd one: we'd spent a lot of time trying to find the right house in the neighbouring department of Pyrénées-Orientales but just couldn't find what we wanted at a price we could afford. So eventually I got out the large scale maps (good old paper ones, of course!) of the whole Pyrenean chain, did a virtual journey westwards, and without travelling very far, found an area I'd never stumbled on before. Largely thanks to an inspiring geography teacher, I can lose myself in a map as the scenery unfolds in front of me, and what I discovered that day was an extraordinary wilderness of an uncommon beauty. We quickly flew out to explore for ourselves; on a warm and sunny day in early April 2006 we stepped off the plane at Carcassonne and drove west through ever-greener, ever-more-rolling landscapes, until the snow capped Pyrenees suddenly appeared over the hill, right in front of us. Eventually we remembered to breathe again and the rest, as they say, is history.
People often ask us where we're from and what we did in our past lives. The answers aren't simple ones as between us we've been settled in one place for a long time / been a bit nomadic; lived a fairly conventional life / done rather more counter-cultural things; lived in the city / lived in the middle of nowhere. We've both spent most of our lives in 'people-work' - psychotherapy and social work; we've both travelled a lot, though to different places. Before we moved here we lived on the north Norfolk coast where together we created, and ran for 8 years, a tiny restaurant with rooms in our home. We came here to take life down a notch; to live a bit more simply, with more time to work in the garden, go walking, watch birds and do some of the many other things we're interested in. Life has had other ideas though and we currently find ourselves working harder than ever: Kalba spends most of her week working in citizens' rights advocacy and support and as a pro-EU campaigner, and also continues to work occasionally with clients, while John manages the garden and looks after our guests during their stay with us.
One or both of us will always greet you personally when you arrive (or the next day if you've arrived late), we'll offer you local info and advice if you need it (or not, if you don't!), and you'll often see us around - usually working in the garden - during your stay, so if you have any questions or problems we'll generally be right on hand to deal with them. However, we also work elsewhere from time to time so there are periods when one or both of us are absent for a couple of days. In any event, we know that many people come really needing some space, and we're pretty good at getting out of the way and making ourselves invisible: Maison Grillou has an amazing ability to swallow everyone up, without any sense of ever being crowded.
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