Les Prauds, Ardeche

Trip Start Apr 28, 2007
Trip End Oct 26, 2007

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Thanks to Joy and Gary we had wheels!  They very generously loaned us their Chrysler Cruiser PT convertible for a 10 day trip into France. A couple of months before, when we had driven through British Columbia and wine country in California and had seen all the baby- boomers touring in their Cruisers, we admit that we had  made the odd comment. Now it was us - just as well we had spoken so benevolently!
Unfortunately it rained chats & chiens for the trip to the Ardeche from Kussnacht am Rigi. Not only could we not have the roof down, but even with our lights on we were barely noticed in the downpour. Maybe more realistically, the French choose not to notice a Swiss registered American car. It felt like they were trying to cut us off at every opportunity on the open road. Whereas we should have seen endless vineyards along the Rhone, we could barely see the truck beside us and the car ahead of us. Eventually even the French slowed down to less than 100kms per hr - their legal speed on motorways being 130kms, so their normal speed being in excess of that.
We were invited to stay with Melvyn and Paull in the Ardeche. "Emily" was our travelling companion.  Christened by Joy and Gary, she is their resident in-car GPS and she did very well until she chose to take us up a route that even we recognised through the rain drenched windscreen as so far back-country to be almost "off road" - into the far reaches of the Ardeche and not anywhere near our destination. Eventually we arrived after calling Paull & Melvyn, and using the more traditional Google printout.
Paull and Melvyn have renovated an amazing old stone farm house and barn between Lamastre and the village of Nozieres in the Ardeche. Understandably Emily had got confused about the best route in - it's quite remote - the closest large town would be St Argreve, where in the past several years, Paull has organised a classical music and arts festival which runs over several weekends in July/August.  Over the last 15 years they have beautifully restored the house to be a well deserved escape from their normal London base.  The guest room we were in was the hay loft when it was a working farm house, and the size of the original fireplace in their sitting room now houses the woodburner, the phone nook, and a small library.  Melvyn and Paull told us that the space above that original open fire used to be used for smoking the meat from the farm. The stone walls of the house are probably 40cms deep.
Tuesday morning is market day in Lamastre, and we went with them to buy the ingredients for the delicious meals they prepared for us.  There was a profusion of hand crafted cheeses- the local specialty being varieties of  brie-like goats cheeses; breads and patisseries; the freshest of fruits and veges; interesting meats; and preserved fruit pastes made locally; as well as a vast array of clothing and crafts. 
To maintain some of our hard earned Swiss fitness, we later walked to their neighbouring village, Nozieres. Like so many villages in France, Nozieres was charming.
Breaking news is that Melvyn has been invited to play at the Wellington Arts Festival in 2008!  For those who enjoy classical music, and piano or fortepiano, Melvyn Tan is a must see. As an indication of his talent, Beethoven's own original forte piano was restored several years ago for Melvyn to play in concert.  Melvyn is a member of Royal College of Music, and has performed all of the Beethoven sonatas and concertos which is no mean feat. It's not just Beethoven he  plays though. Given he has played almost everywhere else, we Kiwis have a chance to see him. So far he has been to NZ only vicariously - Melvyn was the pianist for the BBC' series, Pride and Prejudice.
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Re: Ardeche
Hi Richard, yes you know we thought of you, given your family connections there too. Should probably let Paull or Melvyn answer for themselves about the music room - however, we understand they plan to turn their attached 'barn' into what will be a wonderful music and living apace, but at the moment the piano is still in the living room inside the house itself.

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