Years ago, Clare lived in Toulouse. Recently, she started missing it all — the language, the town, and the food — and decided she should go back. As a single woman, she asked friends to join her, but no one else had the free time. So, she thought NotInTheGuideBookswould be a good start.

She searched with an open mind and a few interests in mind, including cycling, walking, culture. But as a pescatarian, when she found the fish and crustacean course led by hosts Vikki and David, she figured she could learn a lot of new tricks to expand her own menu.

We had a chat with Clare about her experience, and she gave some great insight into this creative cooking holiday:

Was it your first solo trip?

This was my first solo trip — and I loved the ease of it. At the airport, waiting for my trusted host to pick me up, I found 3 others waiting for the same holiday.

Who did you meet on the holiday?

There were 6 people cooking in total plus 1 non-cooking partner, who was just there for the beautiful scenery and the food. It was a great mix of culture and ages, from early 30s to 50s, both men and women (3 men, 3 women), from England, Mexico and Russia.

What places did you go that were non-touristy that you wouldn’t have otherwise seen?

The host had a great idea for us to get to know the market — we all had to choose a partner, and were given a shopping basket and shopping list, and taken to local produce markets and left to shop. All of our lists were essential to complete our 4-course meal, but we had to navigate and explore for ourselves for the best ingredients. It was a great way to get to know the market and the producers.

In addition to great restaurants and cafes (that we were happy to have the insider hints for), we had a trip to a wine farm, wine tasting, and were pleasantly surprised when trestle tables filled with lots of food and samples appeared. Local friends of the hosts came to join us, and there was always more than plenty of food as we lounged under the trees, with lush vines behind us on a hot sunny day.

The cooking sessions were split between English David, at the cooking school, and a kitchen at the neighbouring hotel, with French chef, Bernard. We had the best of both worlds.

Fish dish made on fish and crustacean cookery course in Toulouse

What was the best cooking tip you picked up?

90% of the dishes we prepared I never would’ve made prior to this course — it was all informative and left me with many new ideas… I loved the mussel soup.

We incorporated pastries in to both sweet and savoury dishes, like crab tarts. In addition (amongst many others), there was lobster Thermidor, and seafood bouillabaise.

It should also be noted that every lunch and dinner included 3-4 courses!

What were Vikki and David like?

Vikki and David, along with Bernard, were all really lovely. Vikki is not involved in cooking, but handles the business aspect; however, as our host, she joined us for every meal and was very much part of the experience, which is the same for any non-cooking participants as well.

Although Chef Bernard speaks English, he asked me to serve as his interpreter, which led to great details and funny anecdotes, and the ability to get to know more of his amazing personality and exceptional cooking tips.

What did you do at night after dinner?

You wouldn’t believe it, but dinner is an all-night affair. We cook, we learn, and then we earn a 4-course meal complete with wine.

There is an eclectic mix of rooms — some in an annex, some with high ceilings, some with ensuites, but all very unique and quirky — though all rooms are in old French buildings. In the midst of these old buildings is a beautiful covered terrace where we dine into the late hours, surrounded by stunning views and rolling hills.

We dined overlooking a historic village with a castle (of course), with free-flowing wine and the passing of food until people drift off into their luxurious beds.

group eating dinner on cooking course in Gascony

Do you have any advice for future guests/travellers?

I went alone because I was single and none of my friends had time off or were skint, yet I wanted something with a group to share the experience with. Just do it — you may not be soul holiday mates with every person, it’s a gamble, but pick an activity you really enjoy.

You will come back refreshed, with new ideas and skills. There will always be one person you get on with very well. My group was very different in terms of backgrounds and nationalities, and everyone got along. Be brave!

What activity would you like to try next?

I am really open, but I loved walking away with new skill sets to improve my life. Perhaps I would focus on vegetarian cooking.

Even though I did not set out looking for a cooking holiday, I am so pleased with my choice. It gave me beautiful scenery, relaxation, and new knowledge that I was so happy to acquire — I think I would like to find this kind of holiday on purpose next time!

If Clare has convinced you to check out this fish & crustacean holiday with Vikki and David, you can find out more on the holiday’s itinerary page.