08 October 2013

First impressions of Bandouille

So...one shuttle bus, one 11-hour flight, one two-hour wait, one two-hour train trip, one 45-minute car ride later...BANDOUILLE!

Yes, it was a really long trip. But here are the first impressions...

The French countryside is beautiful! Traversed by a network of narrow roads and decorative flower-laced roundabouts that route you through small towns of old cream-colored brick, stone, and plaster houses separated by fields of sunflowers and cabbages surrounded by hedgerows...peaceful, green, colorful. Drew picked me up from the train station at Poitiers, and we carried on a lively political conversation on our drive, dissecting the politics of three countries, so the 45 minutes passed quickly. Then we pulled up to the gate and there it was...part 12th century monastery, part 18th century farmhouse, my destination for a week of instruction in "aquarelle" with English artist Jane Minter.

Drew and Bixxy bought the place in 2007 after seeing a shot of the front gate (below) in a real estate magazine. They have extensively renovated to accommodate their guests, while maintaining the character of the original buildings in every way.

Bixxy was at the door to say welcome and escort me to my room. The "front" door, which could equally be called the back door (since there are also doors entering from the lake side) opens right into the cozy farmhouse kitchen, where we ate breakfast and lunch and hung out to drink our morning and afternoon coffee/tea between painting sessions.

We went up the stairs (as you can see, all the walls of stone are lined with watercolors by Bixxy, the guest instructors, the guest students, and other artists) to my room. Each guest has his or her own room with attached bath, and mine was about double the size of my bedroom at home! Here are a couple of shots of the room...and a few of the views FROM the room...

Looking out windows on one side of my room (facing west), I could see a couple of the numerous outbuildings, some of which have been left as is (i.e., picturesque ruins begging to be painted) while others are being utilized as the studio, a barn, a storage shed, etc. Looking out the windows on the opposite side (facing east), I could see the lake, which is in surprisingly close proximity to the house, and is beautiful at all times of day and in all weather, as you will soon see!


I had a bit of a rest on arrival, and then we all met downstairs in the kitchen for dinner, since there were only four of us that first night--Drew and Bixxy, myself and an English woman named Nikki. Nikki had been staying for a few days to gather information about the painting holidays on behalf of her watercolor group back in Sussex, and was due to leave Monday morning, while the rest of the pupils and our instructor were due to arrive on Sunday afternoon sometime, so I was the transitional guest between the two.

Sunday morning, Bixxy dropped Nikki and me down in the local town, Chiché, which was having the French equivalent of a "boot sale" (rummage sale). Bix told us they had found antiques and interesting items at these, but the one we went to was the equivalent of a garage or yard sale--mostly junk--with a few extras like a booth with chickens and another with home-harvested honey for sale. Since rain was threatening, our assumption was that the antique dealers stayed away. Still, it was fun to negotiate a price in French for a picture frame and a scarf, and I took a few reference photos for possible paintings--quaint windows and doors and front gardens in the French village.

Sunday afternoon, Bix drove to Nantes to pick up our instructor, Jane Minter, an Englishwoman who makes her home in Verona, Italy, and the other two students, Christina and Giovanna, sisters-in-law also from Italy, from the airport, while Nikki and I hung out in the studio and outdoors, painting. Here is my first quick afternoon sketch of a window outside the studio:

 They all arrived back in the early evening, and we had a lively dinner that was to set the tone for the rest of the week, with all of us attempting to speak English (the Italians) and Italian (the English and the American) and, ironically, nobody at all speaking French! So much for my Pimsleur course to refresh my schoolgirl French.

Jane, whose husband is Italian, speaks fluently in both languages; Christina is likewise quite fluent in English; Giovanna speaks only a few words of English; and Bixxy and I spoke no Italian but operated on the theory that if you added "o" or "a" to the end of any word, it magically became Italian. Since many Italian words are based on the same Latin roots as English, this worked surprisingly well. In the course of the week, Giovanna learned some English, I learned some Italian, and Jane got thoroughly confused, giving me painting advice in Italian and speaking to Giovanna in English until Giovanna would say "Eh?" and crack us all up. Drew was amused by the progression of our dinner conversations, since someone would tell a funny story in one language and half the people at the table would laugh, and then Christina or Jane would translate it into the other language and the rest would laugh. It was a delayed reaction on one side or the other, which meant that we laughed a lot! Here's a slightly blurry picture of the dining room where it all took place...

And here, as promised, is the first of the multiple beautiful shots I took of the lake while I was there:

To be continued...


  1. It sounds wonderful!! Like a Merchant Ivory movie!!!! Now Julian Sand just has to run into the lake naked!

  2. You don't know how funny that comment is--there were two fishermen staying at the other end of the lake in tents, and one afternoon I looked out the window and said to Drew, Are those guys NAKED down there? Turns out they just had their shirts off and were sitting in folding chairs. Not quite the same as Julian--they were pink like lobsters and one was rather tubby. More like the minister chappie.

  3. Bandouille looks like an amazing and inspiring place. Can't wait to see and hear more about it!

  4. It looks so peaceful and having instruction from Jane Minter too!
    I hope you'll have time to tell us some more about your days in France.

  5. Thank you for sharing your journey. It was so fun to be part of this experience. Glad that you gave yourself such a treat.