“Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion.” – Anatoli Boukreev

A week or so after the training was completed in the Picos De Europa, the Collett’s team for the Pyrenees arrived into Panticosa to begin their training period. In an area that is more familiar to us and where we have a great relationship with the locals, it really felt like a home coming.

We had a jam packed programme to complete and ended up walking for 7 of the 9 days allocated for training! Training on the mountain is where it’s at…. Read More

Last month’s unexpected and awesome jaunt in the Dolomites has been closely followed by the training of the new Collett‘s staff in their two Spanish resorts; the Picos De Europa and the Pyrenees.

First up was the Picos. A bit of an unsung hero in the mountain world- probably due to its lack of skiing in the winter. This is also its greatest attribute because not only is the national park more beautiful without ski lifts, it also encourages a steady flow of visitors around the year and makes Potes, the main town, pretty vibrant very early on in the summer season.

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It’s Mayday soon and spring has really sprung here at Les Vignes Basses. Despite an odd cold snap, the plants and trees are blooming and everything is turning a lush shade of green. We’ve been busy bees planting out seedlings as well as spring cleaning (and fixing) the caravan in preparation for summertime visitors 🙂

Dan has been busily mulching around our trees, which we planted last autumn to make sure that they aren’t out-competed by the ever-growing grass. Dan was a little overexcited about all the orchids that have popped up this year, including the elusive Vanilla Orchid. I think all flower walkers will understand… Read More

After feeling pretty cold and damp in the caravan, it took us a mere nano-second to jump at the opportunity to do some cover work with, what feels like our old family, Collett’s Mountain Holidays in the Italian Dolomites.

Not that we are particularly keen for injuries during the winter season, I know how disappointing this can be, but we are very happy to help out if the occasion demands it 🙂

Two weeks working in Ciasa Verena? YES PLEASE. So we headed over to the Dollies in our little Jazz, stopping over in Turin along the way. Once we reached Corvara we met up with friends old and new and proceeded to have a total blast skiing with guests and all of the Collett’s crew. The days out on the mountain with guests and friends were awesome; great snow, great weather (except for the top of the Marmolada!) and delectable food, everything we’ve come to expect from the Dolomites. 
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To realise our dream of building a straw bale house, our first port of call is the local town hall or “Mairie”. Although the land came with outline planning permission for two dwellings, we still have to submit our designs and have them approved by the powers that be – all hail the planners 😉

A daunting prospect at first, collating the information required took some effort on our part, indeed deciding upon a final design was a lengthy process in itself! Once our permaculture design for the land was finalised we knew exactly where to situate the house. From there we utilised the skills, knowledge and research of building techniques to design a….<wait for it>….rectangle. Although a round house would have been our preference, the Charente is super strict with its rules and regulations about new house design. This means a roundhouse is out of the question. Similarly, the other regulations are quite restrictive; windows must be taller than they are wide; the pitch of the roof must be no larger than 35%, which is extremely shallow; the roof must consist of French tiles; the list goes on. Although this sounds like a large list of restrictions, in some ways it helped to give us a framework to start designing from, and that coupled with the design restrictions imposed by building with straw bales moved us along greatly with the design.

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Thanks for the great title Clare! And Hilaire Belloc of course…

Right lucky beans we are to have been invited back to work in the Pyrenees for a couple of weeks with our old company Collett’s Mountain Holidays. We were lucky enough  to spend an entire summer living and working in Panticosa and the surrounding mountains during the summer of 2012. Since then, we have been asked to help out with staff training as well as making up staff numbers during the GR11 special holiday weeks in September.

We had a bloomin marvellous time there this September, all thanks to the guys already in resort; Remy, Clare, Will & Claire. So many excellent days walking along with the absolute highlight, canyoning. Here are a few snapshots:


 An insanely gorgeous view over the Sierra De La Partacua, on the Punta Del Pacino walk.
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After spending a few weeks in September working in the Spanish Pyrenees we returned to Les Vignes Basses with fresh motivation to finish our workshop/woodshed. It was a design produced by Dan but which is is better explained via pictures. For those interested in how we built the workshop ourselves, here come the photos:   Read More

For a while we have been banding ideas between us, trying to decide upon which type of eco-building method to use. Comparing the different ways of building a sustainable, eco-house is a bit of a daunting task these days. Not that this is a bad thing; wonderful architects, designers and conservationists are finding more and more innovative ways to provide this much sought after form of housing.

So ideally the house would provide shelter off-grid with small rooms but enough space for family and friends to come and visit.

With energy prices predicted to rise and rise over the next few years, a house that is self-sustainable and perhaps even earns money by selling its energy to the grid, makes sense.

Now back to the question of which type of eco house to build?! There are merits to each and every type of sustainable build, choosing between them can feel like wading through a quagmire. We explored each option in as much depth as possible before committing to our final decision.

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Before we moved to Les Vignes Basses full time we lived and worked in South Korea teaching in the public school system. Whilst there, we had large chunks of free time to look a the internet, which we used to research, learn, read and discuss what we want from our lives in France and exactly what we want to do on the land. Through various blogs, Facebook pages, pages shared by friends and oodles of trawling on the internet we stumbled upon permaculture.
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The Good Life

Living a sustainable life has become really important to us over the last couple of years. Fueled by a desire to be self-sufficient, we gave up on trying to live in the UK and traded countries to France. We would not have thought about doing this were it not for Dan’s parents who already live in France and adore the place. The thought of getting in debt for 30 years in the UK just to own some bricks and mortar (that we probably wouldn’t like anyway), because the housing market is so inflated, felt like a decidedly incorrect choice for us.

After searching for alternatives we came back to the idea of France which had been planted by Dan’s folks and their wonderful life there. In France housing is not seen in terms of a market but as something to actually ‘house’ people. Much more sensible and the prices are reflective of this.
So we bought ourselves a patch of build-able land in the lovely Charente department in the middle of France, named Les Vignes Basses – The Low Vines.
This blog will document our journey to sustainable living at Les Vignes Basses, please help us along with comments, suggestions and ideas!
Les Vignes Basses when it all began...

Les Vignes Basses when it all began…