TREADING LIGHTLY HOW MAISON GRILLOU DOES ITS BEST TO BE GREEN
Treading lightly on the earth is very close to our hearts here at Maison Grillou, as it is for many people who call Ariège-Pyrénées their home. You won’t hear us evangelising about it, but we think that living right in the middle of the Parc Naturel Régional gives us an extra special responsibility not only to minimise any negative impact on this beautiful and fragile environment, but also (and especially) to try and make a positive impact too. Our aim is not only to live sustainably, but to offer memorable holidays that don't cost the earth.
When you book a holiday in L'Atelier d'Artiste, you're effectively entering into a partnership with us to help maintain the house, barns and land in a sustainable way and to help improve it respectfully over the years to come. That probably sounds a bit odd, so let me explain what I mean.
Houses like this are an important part of the Ariège's patrimoine, or local heritage - in the UK it would almost certainly be listed. Maison Grillou is a large old stone building that once formed not only the owner's living accommodation but also a farm cottage and various animal barns: a set-up known in French as a corps de ferme. It probably dates back around 200 years, possibly more. Until the 1960s it was a fairly self-sustaining farm and the land around was pastureland, grazed by sheep, goats and pigs; the habitable area of the building was tiny in comparison to that used for animals. When this kind of near-subsistence farming just became too hard, the farmers - by now of retirement age anyway - moved on; trees took over the land and some of the original buildings fell down. The main building was 'saved' by its previous occupants, an artist and his family from Paris, who renovated some of it, began the process of creating a garden, and lived happily here for 30 years. Maison Grillou was luckier than other similar houses, which were left to abandon.
We couldn't believe our luck when we stumbled on the house soon after it was put up for sale in 2006; the moment we drove up the track into the drive I had a strong vision of what it could be and wanted us to be the ones to make it happen. Our vision for it was to slowly restore the house and gardens in a sustainable and ethical way, turning some of it into accommodation for guests as a part of that process ... guests like you, who by choosing our barn for your holiday would help us continue the process of making this traditional Pyrenean house ever more lovely, and of managing the land around it, so neglected in recent times, a little better each year.
We live a simple life here: we buy only what we need and don't feel the need to own the latest bit of gadgetry; we spend most of our days working on the buildings and land, and sometimes walking or watching birds. We've never been motivated by financial profit - what's the point?! - so we start from a different place entirely: we take a limited number of bookings each year (12 in 2018), and what you pay us to come here on holiday gets ploughed right back into the stewardship of the house and grounds. And for that a huge thanks to you, our guests and partners.
L'Atelier d'Artiste's garden in 2007, when we arrived here ...
Spring 2009: removing tonnes of old cement waste ...
July 2009: terracing outside the front door ...
... and how it looks now.
HOW WE MANAGE THE HOUSE
In the restoration of the house we've favoured natural and ecological materials wherever it's been feasible: hemp and lime render, lime plaster, lime washes, natural paint made in-house using earth pigments from Roussillon, clay paint, paint made from Breton seaweed (yes, really!), reclaimed wood and furniture. In planning the redesign and renovation, we've kept the layout of the house very flexible so that it can be used by future owners as it is now, as a large family house or in myriad other ways.
On a day to day basis we do all the usual things: light bulbs are all low energy, replaced with LED as they wear out; taps and showers all have flow limiters; appliances are all rated A+ as a minimum; WCs have dual flush mechanisms. Washing up water in the summer kitchen is from a rainfall butt. We minimise our use of electricity, heating oil and water - yes, we use oil: we inherited a huge, relatively new and very efficient Viessman boiler and although we'd prefer something more eco-friendly we don't class as environmentally sustainable replacing something that's still in perfectly good working order.
We use biodegradable and environment-friendly cleaning materials, washing liquids, dishwasher tablets and all the rest. Some we make ourselves - we get through a lot of white vinegar and sodium bicarbonate!
All our washing is line-dried. Hard towels are just a step too hair-shirt-y for us though, so guest towels are tumble-dried on a cool setting for 10 minutes to re-fluff them, otherwise the tumble drier is never used.
We re-use, compost and recycle (in that order of preference) and only then consign what remains to landfill. We try to buy as much as possible without packaging, especially food, and our own landfill waste amounts to around half a bin-full per week.
We're almost paper-free and do all our administration, including guest bookings, through the internet.
L'Atelier d'Artiste's bedroom, in 2007 ...
... and now, with hemp and lime render applied to the walls
HOW WE MANAGE THE GARDENS
We manage our gardens organically and on loose permaculture principles. We grow our vegetables and fruits with respect for the environment, without chemicals and following lunar cycles. We've created and continue to create a garden that is as natural as possible and that reflects and blends in to the woodland environment surrounding it. No manicured lawns, but natural grassland; some areas each year are left completely wild in order to attract and shelter the copious wildlife with which we share this place (the name of our house, Grillou, is a diminutive of 'grillon' the French word for 'cricket').
We're slowly reclaiming some small areas of woodland at the edge of the gardens that have become overgrown and are discovering some extraordinary things - like a range of low rocks that were completely hidden that we call our 'little Pyrenees'! And we've created a picnic area that has lovely views on a previously lost mound at the foot of L'Atelier's garden.
The garden is a bird refuge, registered with the LPO (the French equivalent of the RSPB). In the past 8 years we've noted an extraordinary total of 85 species; the last three years or so have seen a definite increase and it looks as though our sustainable management is beginning to pay off. It's also a particularly rich area for butterflies and we do what we can to promote and allow to flourish various host plants.
Although we've successfully produced a number of summer vegetable crops, we've had less overall success with vegetable growing, largely because of heavy clay soil which has been neglected for many years and is now suffering from the rapidly changing climate that we're experiencing here. We've recently moved over to mulched raised beds that we've created using the lasagne method, and are already seeing a huge difference in quality and yield; we also hope to create a Hugelkultur bed in an unused part of the garden.
We don't have a swimming pool, because we really don't want to disturb the peace, silence and natural beauty of the surroundings; instead we hope one day we may be able to resurrect the former mare (farm pond) that used to be on this land many years ago.
HOW WE INVOLVE OUR GUESTS
We include our green policies on our website (you're reading them!) and in our guest information.
Instead of filling folders and drawers with bits of paper produced by local tourism associations we provide you with a Chromebook, pre-loaded with links to local information and sites, markets, local food producers, restaurants and so on. Not only are we saving paper, we hope that we're encouraging you to use local services and discover local life.
We ask you to join in with our waste management practices. We provide separate containers for compost, recyclable and non-recyclable waste plus information about local recycling, and ask you to give us any plastic bags and glass jars so that we can re-use them.
We provide you with reusable shopping bags and encourage you to buy local and unpackaged food whenever you can.
We encourage you to drink tap water - which is perfectly good - as we do rather than buy bottled water.
In the guest information files we suggest practical ways you can conserve electricity and water without impacting on the enjoyment of your holiday.
Cleaning products supplied for you in the barn are all environment friendly, and paper products (loo rolls, kitchen rolls, tissues) are made from recycled paper.
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