“The object isn’t to make art; it’s to be in that wonderful state which makes art inevitable.” ? Robert Henri
Driving down the bumpy, tree-lined track to Bordeneuve Retreat, your mind starts to shed layers of worry and stress. Upon reaching the house, nestled in a light-filled clarière next to an ancient oak forest, the pressures of daily life have lifted. Suddenly there is space– real, genuine, head space for creativity and thought. There are no clocks here, no mobile phones, just peace and quiet, birds and trees, good food and, most importantly, time.
The Ariège region of France is a wild and unspoiled landscape of rolling hills, woodland and pasture with a backdrop of snow-capped mountain peaks. It has long been a refuge for bohemians and artists looking to escape conventional lives and find space, peace and meaning. Hence this artists’ retreat, tucked at the foot of a 12th century château, feels as if it is hewn from the history and culture of the area. It is as natural as its surroundings, blending seamlessly with its environment. Everything here is organic: from the stone house and barn to the furnishings, the garden and the food. Although not at the expense of comfort! This retreat is no monastic refuge, rather an elegant sanctuary that provides physical sustenance while liberating its creative residents to concentrate on the art within.
Bordeneuve Retreat is the work of one very energetic and inspirational American. A professionally trained musician and cook, Noelle Thompson discovered the Ariège on a working trip to France. Fate brought her together with Bordeneuve’s owner David Thompson, a composer and cabinet-maker, and she fell in love with him, the house and the region. Needless to say, she never left. After David’s unexpected death, Noelle decided to finish renovating the barn next door in order to share the unique and beautiful space that they had created together. Noelle says,“I wanted to create a place where people could delve into their deepest creative states, where inhibitions are lifted and beauty is primordial.” In just two years, Bordeneuve has hosted over 25 artists, writers and musicians from all corners of the globe.
Residents are lodged in an airy loft, with a spectacular cathedral ceiling, large wooden work tables and a balcony that is deep enough to sleep on, for the more adventurous of her guests. The downstairs is tastefully furnished with a rustic travertine floor, deep armchairs and a woodstove for the cold nights. “It is lovely, spacious, and filled with just what you need. Food, silence, books, a deep bath and a wide balcony, places to sit, to draw, to paint, to play, to dance – yes, even enough room to dance,” said Rebecca Stebbins, an oil-painter from California who has already completed two retreats at Bordeneuve.
Meals come straight from Noelle’s garden and orchard most of the year, complemented by food from local artisans and bakers. Residents have the choice of a self-catered stay, but most choose a half- or full-pension option. Retreats range from two weeks to two months. The daily rhythm is one of silence and work “punctuated by a walk or bicycle ride, then the evening and with it comes a glass of wine, an aperitif, and a beautiful shared meal with rich, enlivening conversations with Noelle and Karl,” explained Merna Hecht, a poet from Washington who came with her writer husband, Rob Crawford. The week is bookended by outings to colorful local markets and cafés, the occasional walk in the high mountains or a train-trip into Toulouse for a day of exploring La Ville Rose.
Noelle chooses her residents from a varied applicant pool, “I am looking for people who are not only passionate about their work, but who have a genuine need to experience deep quiet and to find a new rhythm within themselves. We encourage people to work with the rhythm of the day, of the seasons, to sleep a lot, to take long baths, to keep a journal, and to, of course, indulge in the cheese plate!” Shoshanna Ahart, a pastel-artist from Washington D.C. said, “Everything is as you like. It is a completely individualized residency, catered to one’s needs and the best practices for one’s work. It’s a gift of time, of solitude… to challenge, to indulge, to question one’s self.” Or as Irina Pivavorova, a screenwriter from Moscow working on her first novel, put it, “The place was designed for a person like me – I could wander in the forest thinking about fairies and ogres, sit and write by the crackling fire, and draw on a long wooden table. The rest of it was taken care of. The food was amazing, the respect of my silence and concentration was almost sacred.”
In 2014, Noelle is launching a fund-raising initiative to establish a scholarship residency in the name of her aunt, Mary Byrd Davis, a well known American conservationist. She is hoping to raise enough money to offer a fully-funded month long residency for an environmental writer each year. For more information, visit www.bordeneuveretreat.com
Nadia Jordan is the Director of Foothills of France, a property search agency for the Ariège, Haute Garonne and southern Gers.