David (61) and Jon (45) are a married English couple who have started a new life in France following David’s retirement. They bought their house in Ariège in 2018 and after moving there permanently from the UK, they have been refurbishing the property and its large garden.
They have a dog, a black Labrador-spaniel cross called Bella, who is seven years old, intelligent, friendly and who loves exercise outdoors.
Their house, Villa Doumenc, was built in the early 1960’s in a mid-century style on the outskirts of the town of Lavelanet, an hour from Carcassonne and under two hours from Toulouse, in the Pays d’Olmes. Lavelanet nestles in the foothills of the French Pyrenées, and the southern terrace of the house has a magnificent view of the peaks of Soularac, St Barthélemy and Fourcat.
Before moving to Villa Doumenc, David and Jon owned a holiday home for twelve years in the nearby mountain village of Montségur, famous for its Cathar castle and in an area of outstanding natural beauty. In fact it was the beautiful mountain scenery, the forests and rivers, the pantiled villages with their Romanesque churches, the ancient castles that perch impossibly on the crags and mountain tops, the randonnées, walks and treks, and the proximity to the Mediterranean coast and Spain, that convinced David and Jon that here is where they wanted to live.
The assistance they seek from Workaway volunteers is primarily for the development and maintenance of the garden and exterior spaces. In return they can offer a unique opportunity to experience life in the Midi-Pyrenées and to learn about the region’s culture, gastronomy and history.
This project could involve children. For more information see our guidelines and tips here.
The Pyrenean mountain range runs from the Atlantic coast in the west to the Mediterranean Sea in the east, occupying both France to the north and Spain to the south. Lavelanet's location in the northern foothills of these mountains offers volunteers a unique opportunity to experience the region’s blend of French Occitane and Spanish culture, food and folklore formed by centuries of shared history and tradition.
The current border between France and Spain which bisects the Pyrenean range was only formally defined in 1659 by the Treaty of the Pyrenées after nearly 25 years of war between the two countries. Over the centuries prior to that treaty the northern side of the mountains, in particular the valleys that run parallel with each other from Foix to the Mediterranean, required protection by a chain of fortresses, often breathtakingly constructed on vertiginous crags and peaks.
Some of these fortresses, most famously the Château de Montségur, some fifteen minutes from Lavelanet, are called ‘Cathar castles’ because of the pivotal role they played in the 12th and 13th centuries sheltering the followers of the Cathar religion from the Papal crusades and the Inquisition.
For volunteers who are either studying this period of mediaeval history or who have an interest in the life and faith of the Cathars, David and Jon have a range of books on the subject, and would be delighted to take volunteers on visits to the castles in their free time. As part of the cultural exchange, if volunteers have specific knowledge of the period, the castles or the Cathars, then David and Jon would be very interested to learn from them.
Aside from their fascinating history, the ‘Cathar castles’ are individually magnificent ruins in astounding scenery. David is an artist, primarily drawing in pen and ink, and has a long-term project to photograph and draw all the castles. Volunteers who would be interested in assisting him with the groundwork and drawing their own sketches would be welcome to join him. David would be very interested to learn the basics of painting in watercolour, acrylics and oils from an experienced volunteer, in return for which he can provide drawing lessons and materials.
David and Jon have an extensive library of books on a range of subjects from art and history to travel, particularly in the Middle East where David was born. This library is a unique cultural asset which would be at the disposal of volunteers.
In language terms, David and Jon can provide English lessons and practice to those from whom it is a second language, and both of them are very keen to improve their French with volunteers who can teach them.
The mountains that overlook Lavelanet are lower in altitude then the High Pyrenées (Soularac is 2,368 metres) and, while sudden, adverse changes in weather, wind and temperature must never be underestimated, the footpaths along the ridges are well signposted for the amateur walker. The lower slopes are more alpine in character, with green summer pastures for grazing cattle above the tree-line, below which the landscape turns to forested valleys and rivers tumbling down cataracts and waterfalls.
For the amateur ‘spéléologiste’, there are prehistoric caves in the limestone mountains locally that are open to the public. The most famous is the Grotte de Niaux which, with advance booking and in limited groups, allows visitors to travel deep into the network of caverns and tunnels to see cave paintings which are over 12,000 years old.
For over two centuries, the town of Lavelanet was a prosperous, booming textile manufacturing centre, but competition from the Far East effectively terminated this industry in the 1980’s before it had time to evolve or diversify. Empty factory buildings can be seen as poignant relics of a once-glorious past, but the town is reinventing itself: younger generations, and incomers such as David and Jon, do not share the nostalgia of the older people and they want to grow their businesses, live their lives to the full and bring up their children here.
In summary, a stay at Villa Doumenc with David and Jon in this area provide volunteers with a wealth of cultural and learning opportunities as well as the physical pleasure of living in some of the most spectacular scenery in the south of France.
Gardening (strength, stamina and aptitude for weeding, digging, sieving soil and creating flower beds very welcome)
Mowing and strimming the lawns
Helping with the potager (vegetable garden)
Repairing and installing new fencing
Refurbishing a woodshed, collecting, chopping and stacking wood
Removing an old compost heap
Assisting with the removal of garden waste to the décheterie
General maintenance, sanding and painting of garden metalwork
Stripping, priming and painting metal gates and railings
Refurbishing a teak garden table and its six chairs
Jetwashing paths, terraces and steps
In wet weather, some interior maintenance and decorating
English and French language practice
This host offers a language exchange
This host has indicated that they are interested in sharing their own language or learning a new language.
Please contact them directly for more information.
The house has two comfortable, well-appointed double guest bedrooms which would be offered to volunteers (one couple sharing one room, or two singles in one room each). Bathroom facilities are shared by all but there are three WCs and two showers available in the house.
There are two sitting rooms with televisions (one for watching DVDs only) and ample sitting space outside for volunteers to relax during their free afternoons and Sundays.
The washing machine, drying and ironing facilities are available for volunteers to use (with some guidelines as to operating times and soaps to use which will be explained at the time).
Volunteers should be self-reliant and happy to entertain themselves in the evenings and at weekends, as outside working hours and meal times David and Jon would appreciate the option to relax in their own space.
You will be offered three meals a day:
0800-0900 – Breakfast (cereals, fruit, yoghurt, toasted bread, coffee and tea)
1300-1400 – Lunch (cold meats, paté, cheese, salad, French bread)
1930-2030 - A main cooked evening meal with wine or beer.
David and Jon cook with fresh, local produce (including their own vegetables when available), and they value time spent sharing meals. Food is very important to the couple and volunteers can expect good quality ingredients prepared well. They welcome any help with menus and preparation and would be delighted if volunteers wanted to suggest or prepare a meal which they particularly like during their stay.
Your own car, motorbike or bicycle are preferable to see the sights and go to the shops, but for those without, David and Jon can meet and collect from the airport and provide transport to the nearby towns when they are going there.
There are two bicycles and a three-seat kayak in the house which will available for you to use at pre-arranged times.
There are also plenty of opportunities to walk, jog and explore locally on foot. Within walking distance there is a tennis club with excellent hard courts and an indoor squash court.
Lavelanent is one of the few towns locally with a good cinema: it screens all major films close to release date including English independent and other non-French language ones in the ‘Version Originale’. The cinema also shows recorded transmissions of operas and plays as part of the wider region’s cultural programme.
There are a number of bars in the town and three or four restaurants within walking distance if volunteers would like a change of culinary scene one evening or weekend.
The ancient city of Foix is the capital of the department of Ariège and is less than half an hour away. Dominated by its spectacular château, the city has a selection of interesting shops, cafés and restaurants in its narrow, winding mediaeval streets and provides access to Toulouse by train from its railway station for a day out, or a weekend’s stay, in the region’s largest city.
Limited internet access
We have pets
We are smokers
Can host families
We have decent WiFi and broadband (for normal working) and the guest room has a desk and chair
Maximum 4-5 hours a day, 5 days a week