Sunday, August 29, 2010

Then & now

'Le Petit Lapin' as I firsat saw it
I promised to write a bit about renovating ‘Le Petit Lapin’, so on this sunny Sunday morning, I will try to remember how things were in the beginning.  The cottage was quite a derelict stable when I purchased the property.  It had housed pigs once, so throughout the renovations we called it ‘La Porcherie’, the pigsty, a name which happily grew less and less appropriate as time went on.  
My sons and their friend Sidonie
When I first saw it, the roof was covered in lichen with missing tiles here and there; the entry was just an opening without any kind of door; and there were stalls inside formed by granite partitions that went up as high as my shoulder.  The building had been extended in cinderblocks-- not very pretty-- and there was a sort of window-- an off-centre hole covered with corrugated plastic.  And attached at the back there was a large wooden hanger with a tin roof.  There was clearly a lot of work to do!

Durng the Easter holiday, I came over to Sains from England and my four children joined me.  The three at university brought two friends with them and together we began to take on the challenge of opening up the interior space of the stable by destroying the walls we didn’t need-- there was no way that guests were going to fit into the tiny stalls, so there was a lot of granite that we needed to chip away at with hammers and chisels and picks.  You can see in the photos the product of a hard day’s work, the result of the children's enthusiasm.

Renovating is, of course, a matter of both construction and destruction, and the latter is always easier and faster.  Building the cottage was invariably harder and much more time-consuming, but for that I needed to call in the professionals-- the subject of another blog.
Sidonie in the future diniing area

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Children at 'Le Petit Lapin'

Picture by Ante & and Sara from Belgium
When I first started looking for a place in France, I decided that I wanted to have a gîte.  I imagined a cottage of two or maybe even three bedrooms… but once I found my house, the dictates of architecture and space and my own large family meant that I had to rethink what was possible and sensible and practical.  The result is ‘petit’: ‘Le Petit Lapin’ has a small footprint and there was nothing I could do to stretch those granite stones.

I was determined, however, to have enough space so that a family with one or two children could still come and enjoy all that this beautiful part of Brittany offers.  In addition to a proper bedroom for grown-ups, we managed to create a mezzanine, and it’s now the sort of space Heidi would have enjoyed, with a double bed under the eaves and a roof window with a view over the orchard and the valley to the south. 

Lots of children have visited ‘Le Petit Lapin’ and I am always delighted to welcome them here.  Their parents might think for a minute that the mezzanine is indeed small, but the children’s eyes light up when they see the staircase and discover their own private space at the top.  I am sometimes even lucky enough to receive in my guest book a special ‘thank you’ written by my young visitors-- like this sweet drawing of two happy little girls under one of my apple trees with three of my six farm cats.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The sea, the sea!

It’s been a wonderful summer at ‘Le Petit Lapin’: guests have visited from all over Europe and America during sunny weeks of warm days and cool nights-- a holiday atmosphere for everyone (even for me, and I wasn’t even on holiday!) 

Here in Brittany, where the tides are the highest in all of Europe, this time of year brings dramatic vistas at the beaches between Cancale and Saint Malo, so this first blog entry will be about the day I recently spent with friends at my favourite beach in the whole world: Les Dunes de Roz Ven.  Here, on a hill overlooking the sea half an hour’s drive from ‘Le Petit Lapin’, is a large private mansion, 'Roz Ven', that once belonged to the famous French writer Colette (1873-1954).  After a delicious lunch at the brasserie at Pointe du Grouin near Cancale-- moules à la crème and frites (mussels simmered in cream and a platter of crispy chips) as well as a special bottle of Sancerre (I was, after all, with  good friends)-- we parked near the road to the village of Saint-Coulomb and walked down to the beach past the mansion’s gate house and under a bower of tall umbrella pines. 

The view as one slowly descends never ceases to amaze me: turquoise blue water in a small bay bordered on each side by dramatic granite cliffs.  The tide was out and we walked down the beach to the small waves lapping the shore, collected smooth stones and little shells and occasional pieces of worn sea glass.  Then we walked up onto the eastern cliff to the path that runs for over a thousand kilometres all along the Breton coast.  We sat there quietly for a while, looking back at the scallop of sand, the sunbathers, the swimmers, the children playing ball and building sand castles far below.  How lucky I am, I felt, to live in this part of the world all year long. 

I hope everyone who comes to ‘Le Petit Lapin’ will spend at least a few minutes-- if not an entire day--  at the sea.  The cottage was renovated for that-- to welcome visitors to this beautiful part of the world and to allow them the leisure to explore and discover for themselves all that Brittany offers. 

The renovation of ‘Le Petit Lapin’?  Well, that’s another story for another post....