A couple of years ago, I organised a feltmaking retreat in the mountains of SE France. The idea was to
- spend time working on your own practice
- create and play with felt
- have no formal teaching but share knowledge
- enjoy being cooked for and shown around the local area
This year’s retreat was attended by two IFA committee members, Vice-chair Mandy Nash (Region 12) and Communications Officer Heather Potten (Region 13) and myself, Jane Fox (Region 14).
On arrival at Nice Airport, we were collected by Mel Jones, the accommodation owner, who drove us an hour NE of the city to La Zourciere, a 200-year-old farmhouse in Berthemont-les-bains, where we were based for the week. Our two ‘gites’ were in a quiet area with a few scattered houses, a ‘vacherie’ where local cheese is made, a spa and lots of paths from which to take in the amazing views. The nearest town, Roquebilliere, was 5km away.
The weather was a bit cool and rainy to start with, but our outdoor tables were under the cover of the balcony so we were able to work away on our projects. An occasional breeze made laying out of fine fibres a bit more of a challenge but we had the option of the kitchen table to work on so this wasn’t a problem.
Day 1 was spent getting organised and going on a walk to take in the views of the Vésubie Valley and the surrounding mountains. We admired the many wildflowers along the paths – great inspiration for colour! On Day 2, we visited Roquebilliere in the morning for their little market, admired some locally made products and more views. After lunch we continued working on our projects, whether it was making samples, making prefelts or just experimenting with resists to create different shapes.
Day 3 was dedicated to working on our felt, now and then walking around to see what the others were doing. Day 4 we took a break from woolly work and headed to the next valley for a walk around the stunning Mercantour National Park, guided by Mel: more beautiful wild flowers, a few shy chamois and several less shy ibex, with amazing horns.
Day 5 was another day out, this time to the pretty little town of St Martin Vésubie, with its medieval architecture and stream running down the main street and to Venanson, one of the many ‘ville perche’ or hanging villages (which cling to the cliff tops). We stopped to explore; in particular, the 15th century chapel with its beautiful, intriguing frescoes of St Sebastian. Day 6 was spent finishing off our projects or starting new ones. We took advantage of the sunny weather and walked to a nearby waterfall, where we saw an amazing variety of butterflies.
Each day of our visit we had delicious meals cooked by Liz. It was so nice to be able to relax and not have to worry about what to fix for dinner!
On our last day, we said our goodbyes to our wonderful hosts, Liz and Mel, and travelled back to Nice. I would really recommend a retreat-type holiday. It’s a great opportunity to experiment with techniques and work on projects that you may not have time or space to do normally. You can work at your own pace, in a small group, sharing ideas and advice without pressure. You can be inspired by the beauty of your surroundings:sketching, photographing, thinking. Of course, having someone to do all the cooking and driving is an added bonus!
Text: Jane Fox, Region 14
Photos: Heather Potten, Region 13