How do you define adventure? There are as many answers as there are adventurers. Our adventure was about immersing ourselves for an extended period in the culture of a country where we did not speak the language and knew no one. Leaving our comfort zone, we lived in a space of 200 square feet, embraced dramatic changes in our daily routines and were rewarded with the opportunity to explore the differences and similarities between the French people and ourselves.
We were in southern California for Christmas in 2009 when we received an e-mail by accident from a friend of a friend who owned a self-catered cottage in the small French village of Saint Agnès near Monaco on the French Riviera. The owner of the cottage in France had the opportunity to take the trip of her lifetime and was asking our friend if he had any friends that might be interested in caretaking her cottage for seven months while she traveled.
My wife and I talked it over and sent an e-mail volunteering for the job. We hurried home and started preparing to be out of the country from March to October. Accomplishing all that was required to obtain a long-stay visa in a short time period is a story in itself.
We arrived in Saint Agnès on March 17, 2010. Saint Agnès is the highest coastal village in Europe and one of the most beautiful small villages overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The village is 2,461 feet above sea level, with a population of a few hundred full-time residents. We had no car, two small suitcases, eyes full of wonder and minds full of questions. We wondered if we would be able to make friends.
The owner’s property consisted of two cottages and three long terraces with a variety of fruit trees and plantings. We would live in the “Mousehole,” true to its diminutive name, and manage the “Stable Cottage,” a 300-year-old stable remodeled through the years.
We leased a car to explore surrounding cities and villages in the Cote d’ Azure region and take excursions into the Provence, Rhone-Alps and Bordeaux regions of France. We were 5½ miles up a mountain from the city of Menton on a narrow road full of hairpin curves, with sections that were only wide enough for one car. If two cars met in those sections, one of the cars had to back up to a wider spot in the road in order for both cars to pass. It took 20 minutes to drive the 5½ miles down the mountain.
Menton is only four miles from the Principality of Monaco. It is reputed to have the best year-round weather in France and is a major tourist area. Music, the arts and cultural activities are subsidized by the government and are numerous and affordable; we took advantage of as many as we could.
We experienced day-to-day living in a small village, phenomenal hiking trails and a very old and rich culture.
We experienced the French health care system and of course wonderful food and wine.
We experienced many kindnesses from the people of the village, becoming “their” Americans. Because we traded our time managing a cottage, we gained new insights from interacting with people from around the world.
It was an experience that we found fascinating, challenging and rewarding in many ways. We look forward to sharing our adventure in France with you.
The Richardsons enjoy a love of travel, experiencing different cultures and connecting with people to gain a better understanding of life around the world. They have traveled extensively in Asia, Europe, most of the United States and North and South America, including a month traveling around Peru and five days hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.