It's been a pretty full on year for the pair of us at Maison Grillou, has 2016. Yes, I know, I know, they always are (one day we'll slow down, honest ... though perhaps not quite yet!). But this year has been one of The Big Ones. I've been looking back.
We began the year as it went on, really - with paintbrush in hand! Not only over at Maison Leela, where work continued right up to spring and beyond, but also in L'Atelier d'Artiste where after completely repainting the kitchen walls, I decided at the (very) last minute to give a few bits of furniture the chalk paint'n'wax treatment to lighten up a slightly gloomy corner. Yep, you first guests of the season never knew, did you, that I was in there waxing and buffing right into the early hours before you arrived?!
When I first began welcoming guests, the internet hadn't been invented (yes, I really am that old ...). We found our guests - or rather, they found us - though ads in the weekend papers and relevant magazines, leaflets and business cards. When we wanted to travel abroad, we walked into a High Street travel agency and let them organise the booking ; unless you knew someone who knew someone who knew someone, it was almost impossible to book a holiday outside the UK directly with the owner, and even if you could it was always a bit of a lottery thanks to a distinct information underload - a blurry photo of a bed and a stone wall, four lines of description, and if you were really lucky, the name of a village. As you may gather, I speak from bitter experience :)
Lots of you over the years have asked about what Maison Grillou was like when we arrived and how we went about making the house into what it is today. Some of those stories are probably best never publicly told (!), but sometimes, when we're exhausted and feeling that we're just running like mad to keep still, we look back through a few of the photos we took during our amazing first four years here. During that time, we learned to do things we never thought ourselves capable of doing, shifted weights that would once have floored our flabby office-bodies, found solutions to a thousand insurmountable problems, fell out with both of the builders that we employed to help us on different bits of the project and then decided to do it all ourselves instead.
The photos that follow will give you a sense of those crazy years and a glimpse of just how the house has become what it is today.
Well, well, well ... what an eagle-eyed bunch of readers you are! Quite a few of you out there have already spotted a change or two in this latest version of our website, the biggest of which is that 2016 will be the first year that we're not serving breakfast or dinner to our guests. Some of you have emailed me to ask why. So here goes.
At some point in the last three months, if my calculations are correct, I cooked and served my 12,000th guest breakfast (if I'd known who you were we could have have done something to celebrate, but although I'm pretty spot-on with my accounting I'm not quite that OCD about it!).
I'm going to tell you a story. Once upon a time, the mountain slopes of the Ariège were full of wild goats - to be precise, of Pyrenean Ibex (Capra pyrenaica pyrenaica), or bouquetin in French. Bones dating back 80,000 years have been found; if you've visited the prehistoric caves at Niaux, you'll have seen the famous painting in the Salon Noir, reputed to have been done around 13,000 years BC.
First published 15 October 2014
As lots of you know, each year we do our best to support a number of dog rescue charities and associations: this year (2014) we're supporting Twilight Chiens, a doggie 'retirement home' in Dordogne; Carcassonne SPA, who do fantastic work rehoming abandoned and stray dogs, and Lévriers Sans Frontières.
First published 1 September 2014
Over the last couple of weeks there's been a huge amount of press coverage about holiday scams involving owner-managed accommodation: horrendous stories of people finding out at the last minute - or worse, on arrival - that they've booked with and paid their money to a fraudster, not to the holiday home owner. These particular scams work by the fraudster 'phishing' the holiday home owner, usually via their account with one of the listing sites such as Holiday Lettings, Homeaway or Owners Direct, sometimes via their email account; or occasionally via the cloning of an entire listing with different contact details; neither the holiday home owner nor the guest have any idea that the booking has been intercepted.
First published 7 October 2014
There are, I know, those amongst you who believe that when we have a couple of days between guest departures and the next arrivals we get to sit around wafting a glass of chilled rosé and smiling benignly - yes, you know who you are :). This little post is for you ...
First published on 5 October 2014
Our local Ariège tourism department has just published a rather gloomy report on the state of this summer's play, including a long section on 'visitor profiling'. In a nutshell, it seems that the department remains very much loved by its visitors, but while the overall number of visitors is holding up pretty well, as each year goes by they're spending less and less while they're here. Instead, they're stashing their car boots full of food from home, buying provisions only from the 'hard discount' shops like Aldi and Lidl, brewing up coffee by the side of the road rather than stopping in a café, rarely if ever eating out, and generally ignoring the Ariège's small and rather precarious local economy.
First published 21 August 2014
I want to tell you a story, about our village, Rimont. Are you sitting comfortably? I hope so, because you might not be afterwards.
We've been writing here and there and about this and that since we arrived at Maison Grillou in 2007, just as we did back in our Norfolk days. From 2008 all the way up to the end of 2012 I blogged regularly about our first years in the Ariège and our - um - adventures renovating this house and welcoming its first guests. If you really have nothing better to do (or just want to see what we used to look like or know what we got up to in those days), you can still read those early posts here: