Why did we choose Chez Vallée for the home of Praana Wellness? Or did it choose us?
In 2011 we had the opportunity to choose a country to settle in, again! We are prolific travellers, as are our children, yet it wasn’t difficult to choose France.
I was ready to move closer to ‘home’ if I could still call the UK home. Family and friends who aren’t such long distance travellers were important to us. We wanted to be closer. Something had been drawing us towards settling there since 1990 and so it was!
I love how big France is, I love the rural community life, the less materialistic approach to life, the big skies, the closure of shops on a Sunday and every lunchtime (even though it took me a while to remember its far from a 24 hour culture here) I love its summer markets in even the smallest of villages, the fact that within an hour I can be in a great city (Bordeaux) or the lovely towns of Cognac and Angouleme and I have lots of new places to explore by car – the coast, the mountains not to mention the many wine regions and its gastronomique delights.
I had become a yoga teacher in Malaysia while studying and being a Mum. I was still spending much of my time doing what I have done for decades, counselling but was becoming less excited about renting homes, packing up boxes and was looking for somewhere we could call home, first and foremost, to family and friends, but also somewhere I could open up all my stored boxes and unpack properly. If I could live out my dream and develop a wellness centre and run therapeutic retreats from it too then that would tick all the boxes!
Six years later and I am now beginning to appreciate how far we have come. Truly. My first visit to this boarded up Charentaise house in December 2011 felt lonely, remote and so different and I had no idea whether the community would accept us, whether clients would want to visit us here or, whether we would survive another huge renovation project – it has been tough but all things worthwhile aren’t easy to come by, right? My father, Jack (who is with me everywhere in this old house as his paintings are on every wall) said that so it must be true!
When I drove towards the house for the first time I knew this was it. Goosebumps rippled over my skin and there was a familiarity about another project steeped in so much history that gave me confidence – we were going to try. What was the worst thing to happen? We would have a rambling old home for a while and move on. Not necessary. We have been welcomed by the French community because we are saving one of their beautiful properties, contributing to the local economy and putting this slightly lesser known Pineau and Cognac region on the map!
All 5 years have been an education, often challenging but mostly, full of joy and much laughter. Friends and family have contributed to awakening this old house, pouring love into it and renovating it with kindness and appreciation for where it has come from and the people who lived here before us. We are so grateful for all the help and support.
I have taught yoga in most rooms in the house over the past 4 years and am delighted to now have 3 fabulous places (not least our very newly renovated Yoga Barn) to choose where we do our local classes each week. We have gone from one bathroom to eight (nine if you include the country shower on the edge of the woods embedded in nature), catering this year for up to 12 people on retreat. Above and beyond the organised retreats I have been running shorter private retreats for people and simply hosting people for bed and breakfast as and when the rooms have been free. The opportunity to meet so many interesting and lovely people who contribute their own energy to this wonderful place is all I could hope for. Long may it continue as we continue to grow. The feeling of warmth and openness we feel around the centre is testament to the lovely souls who visit us.
Only 2 items were left in the main house when we arrived – in the form of the 2 photographs below. The photograph of the couple, standing in front of our main doors, in 1912 on their wedding day have been identified by the oldest remaining villager here (who was born in the house and is now 96). Subsequently a family tree was drawn up for us by other kind neighbours. The First World War soldier remains unidentified but is thought to be a relative of the young lady in the picture.
So, we decided, as the doors are original and untouched since 1912, that we would continue to contribute to its history by giving all our guests the opportunity to have their photograph taken in a similar position in front of the doors and we would treasure them all in yearly books to pass on to the next custodians of Praana Wellness.
If you are interested in staying with us and experiencing the wonderful history for yourself you can email me at email@example.com