In May I had the amazing opportunity to join my mom on a once in a lifetime trip to France. Yes, France! I have NEVER been to Europe, or really outside of the U.S. at all (to me, Mexico & Canada don't count). Several months ago my dad called me up and said, hey mom really wants to go on this trip with Heather Bullard to France - will you go with her? I have to admit that I hesitated, because my mind is always full of logistics & reality -- May is like the busiest month of the school year & is Scott really going to be able to manage full-time dad & work duty for a whole week?
So I brought it up at dinner and he was like, "duh, you're going."
Maybe he didn't say "duh?" but that's what he meant.
So the trip was a go and I was really going to finally use that blank passport I purchased 8 years ago. Plane tickets were booked in February and before I knew it it was May and time to go!
In the meantime, I had a lot of people ask me about the trip - where are you going, what are you doing, and why? It was a little difficult to try to explain what this trip - The Academy - was all about. But now that I've experienced it, I can give you a synopsis.
Basically, Heather Bullard (who is a Contributing Editor for Country Living Magazine) had this great idea 1 year ago to bring together a group of women in France (why not?) to share & teach her expertise in creative & editorial styling, all the while experiencing the french culture, cuisine, and countryside. Sounds amazing, right?
She called it The Academy.
We stayed in a 13th Century Chateau. It was called Chateau de Mondesir - in Villefranche-de-Longchapt - a small village about 1 hour outside of Bordeaux.
There were 12 women in attendance from all over the world. Texas, Colorado, Oregon, California, Nevada, New York, Canada, and Australia.
Each of these women had various business ventures & interests ranging from interior design, picnic supplies, sourdough bakery, vacation property management, blogging, antique sales, and some were there simply looking for an epiphany. You know, sometimes you just need to do something different to shake things up so new possibilities can be opened to you.
Each day Heather shared wonderful gifts with us. Just look at was waiting for us in our bedrooms! She told us that she curated these gifts as if she were gathering gifts for her girlfriends. I thought that was so special.
During our stay we visited a French Brocante to gather our own antique/vintage finds
There were class days when Heather taught us about photography, design, & the nitty gritty details of what her job (prop stylist) entails. We set up our own vignettes (with our purchases from the Brocante), practiced framing those shots, & learned that getting a pretty photo takes a lot of work.
There were field trips to nearby villages & markets to practice lifestyle photography and telling a story with our photos. And so many wonderful sights, experiences, and wonderful moments were packed into those field trips. Countless alleyways just like this one. I mean, come on.
We ate like queens! French queens. :) Every meal was amazing, some were an adventure, and I just loved the experience of trying so many new foods as well as familiar foods cooked in new ways. All of the food was so colorful and presented beautifully. We ate out for some meals, breakfasts & a special dinner were prepared by the chateau owners Laurent & Martine, and many more were prepared by Heather's assistant, Jill. She has an absolute gift in the kitchen! Everything was so delicious!
Jaci (Jill's daughter) was there as photographer, chronicling all the events and pretties. After much begging, I think (hope!) we convinced Heather to put all of the photos together in a book (along with Jill's recipes) and we would be more than happy to purchase it ourselves!
(Martine, Laurent, & Jaci // I realized I don't have a single photo of Jill! Oh no!)
The last member of Heather's entourage was Teri who lives in the village Villefranche-de-Longchapt where the Chateau is located. She had a wealth of local knowledge to help guide us through our excursions & to help us make sense of what we were eating at times. :) She is an American and also hosts antique & shopping trips to France.
Jill also added beautiful touches to several of our gifts with her amazing calligraphy.
photo credit: @heatherbullard
I think what I loved the most about this trip was the opportunity to partake in unique, hand-picked experiences that were off the beaten tourist path. The kind of things that I would NEVER know about or even consider if I were planning a trip to France myself. The fact that I went to France and never stepped foot in Paris doesn't make me feel sad one bit! Because I feel like the experience that I had here - at the Academy - was just so rich & full.
The X's on this map indicate the towns that we visited - Bordeaux (airport), Saint Emilion, Riberac, Perigeuex, and Eymet. And the house icon shows where we stayed.
I loved that we had a schedule for each day, outings & lessons planned, meals & transportation provided -- we didn't have to think about anything (other than making sure we had enough Euros for the next market) and so we could just relax and enjoy and soak it all in.
And because it was imagined by Heather every single part was beautiful, thoughtful, and perfect. What an absolute treat!
I plan to share more posts with LOTS of photos from each of our outings, classes, and the food definitely deserves a post all it's own. Stay tuned!
Before my summary post is over I want to point out a small thing that became part of the experience for me. 5 days before leaving for France I broke my big toe. I was really really hoping it was a bad sprain, but no, it was broken. So the doctor gave me this walking boot (so thankful I could walk - a cast would have catastrophic!) and told me I had to wear it for 6 weeks.
I was actually surprised by how well I managed the trip! My toe didn't bother me at all that week. A tender mercy! I could go and do every thing that the group did. I was just a little bit slower, especially on stairs. And clunkier.
The only place that I thought the boot might be a hindrance was the airport. So I requested wheelchair service for all legs of my trip and it was a dream! I highly recommend it if you ever fall into a similar predicament. The BEST was when I stepped off the plane and there would be a person standing right there in the jetway with a wheelchair waiting for me. One time, they were even holding an iPad with my name on it! It was almost like airport limo service. Almost. ;)
Once I sat down they already knew exactly where to go for my connecting flight. I never had to check monitors, figure out terminals or gates, or think about anything! The boot came in so handy we may need to keep it for future trips. ;)