Meet hosts Martin and Claire, offering creative and wellbeing holidays in South West France

When Martin and Claire bought their farmhouse in the heart of the Gascon countryside, it started off as a simple venture which has led to them hosting their own popular painting holidays and now even using their charming space for Pilates retreats as well.

They love the life they have created, just as much as they love hosting and sharing it with others, so we wanted to find out just how they got to where they are now.

What brought you to where you are now?

We came to know the area because we have friends from England who live nearby. Six years ago we spent some time with them in their new house and fell in love with the area. Our friends tipped us off when our what we now call home came onto the market and although much of it was in a dilapidated condition, we loved the setting and saw enormous potential in the house.

French farmhouse with blue shutters amongst the trees

Martin and Claire’s farmhouse

What did you do before running your activity holidays in France?

We live in France for the summer months only, and we live in the UK for the rest of the year. I previously worked in television as a Producer/Director making factual programmes, although I am now semi-retired. I started at the BBC in 1965 and over many years worked on programmes like the News, That’s Life, Crimewatch, 999, Holiday and many others. I also made a wide variety of documentaries.

Claire meanwhile is a private tutor and has always worked in education. She also recently qualified as a psychiatric counsellor. She is also a very accomplished cook and has won many plaudits from our guests.

How long have you been running your creative and wellness holidays?

This will be our fourth season. We started by renting the gite and have increased what we do each year. The activity holidays are now in their third season.

Tell us a bit about the location and local life.

We have a fantastic setting; the house is surrounded by 4 areas of garden including a small orchard. Beyond the garden we are surrounded on all sides by vineyards which you are free to wander through and into the hills and woodland beyond.

Although we are just a twenty minute walk from the village we are very secluded – you would be hard put to find a more peaceful spot.

Holiday guests enjoying lunch outside in garden of French farmhouse

Guests enjoying lunch in the garden

How did you get on with the locals?

The village of Viella is pretty small with a population of just 400. There are just a few shops and the people here have always been very friendly. We know our neighbours who own the vineyards as well as the owners of the local Chateau Viella who make some of the best local wines – a very handy local connection!

We heard the locals have given Claire an interesting nickname…

Yes, we’re familiar faces at the local Carrefour (supermarket) where Claire is known as “Madame Brexit” – despite our protestations that we are not in that camp!

It’s all in good faith though and we also watched the World Cup final in the town hall with pretty much everyone else in the village. Thankfully England were not in the final against France. That could have been awkward… ;-)

What makes your holiday a unique experience?

We treat guests like friends or family. We operate in a very open and democratic way; people are encouraged to say what they do and don’t want to do at all times, and we are always keen to oblige when we can.

Add to that the location, where you’ll find many secluded, peaceful and beautiful spots for painting. You could spend the entire holiday in and around the house if you wished, and have enough to captivate your painting eye. However, we think it is important to give people a chance to see some of the beautiful local places in this charming area.

Finally our food… we are told it is exceptional, and there is always plenty of it, dished up and accompanied by amazing regional wines. This is a holiday for every sense!

You can find out more about Martin and Claire’s painting holidays and Pilates holidays here.