B & B, Studios and 9 person Gîte

An interview with Bella

You have a great formula here. Where did you get the idea ?

My travels in various places gave me the idea. It works very well, everyone appreciates it. Our chambres d’hôtes and studios all open their double doors onto the gardens. For self-catering we have a well equipped kitchen , barbecues in the garden, plancha and even a large paella unit. Eating out , al fresco ; with family or friends, under the abris, is a speciality of Beau Vallon. Not only that, the studios are well equipped and the appartment lacks for nothing. I like to think our customers are ‘At Home’ or ‘Chez Nous’. Customers or guests, are independant, comfortable, free and very welcome.
Underneath the abri you are at home à Beau Vallon.

Everyone says the garden is wonderful. What is your philosophy ?

It is not a sculptured garden , I know very little about gardening, so I have a mix of wild areas and simple cultivated areas. It has nothing to do with my gardening ability , it is the surrounding nature that gives Beau Vallon its beauty. The location sets the scene, the beautiful mature trees , the stone walls, the green lawns nutured by the canal d’arrosage, the lavender and Virginia creeper which succour the bees and butterflies . I grow Cosmos between the lavender as it reminds me of the Transvaal’s golden grasslands in South Africa with its swathes of multicoloured cosmos whispering in the wind.

I call the garden 'Milo's Garden' because he used to spend so much time there writing to family and talking to guests. His last occassion was he sat in his wheelchair breaking up fallen twigs for the fire.

The garden is wonderful for children as it is flat, lawned and surrounded by stone walls and large shade trees. Dogs love it as they can romp around freely, occassionaly barking at me accussingly for tresspassing on the new found territory.*

How long have you been here ?

Milo (Emile) and I arrived in June 2002. Since then the garden has developed from being almost desert like, to being rich in plants, trees and wildlife. The eco system is back in balance. The bees do not attack because the are too busy gathering pollen, the birds like to use the grand lawn for fly-bys , the wild boars enjoy a winter nightime recce and the badger can be found beside the canal path deep into the night, silently watching as I take a night walk to enjoy the amazing starry sky.

Where are you from ?

I was born in Rhodesia of British parents who settled there after the war. My father was a major in the British Indian Army. His ancestory reaches back to British Guiana and the Booker McConnell Company.
I went to school in Bulawayo, married there and gave birth to one of my lovely sons in the same hospital in which I was born !

Milo was French Mauritian. He was a hunter in East Africa before he moved to South Africa and finally here. The de L'Enfer-na de la Motte family has its origins is in the Champagne area of France.

Why did you choose this area ?

I could never really settle or feel at home anywhere after leaving Rhodesia until I came here. I was not enthusiastic about the property, because it was so stark and barren, and then I saw the arched verandahs and the beautiful piece of land surrounded by stone walls and stunning trees. The granite rocks are what really grounded me. At home, in Rhodesia, I loved the granite kopjies of the Matopos National Park. Here, these large granite boulders surrounding the property captured my soul. I am here to stay unless someone takes me away on some odyssey somewhere.

How did you choose the name ?

As a boy Emile lived on a Mauritian sugar estate called Beau Vallon managed by his father. When we arrived it immediately struck me what a beautiful valley we were entering. The Vallée de la Rotja is truly a Beau Vallon. I prefer names that have some relevance.

You work alone. Why ? you must get loney ?

Yes, sometimes. Although I am blessed by being surrounded by some very special people, without whom I would be lost. I have never lived alone so there are many times I wish I had someone with which to share my life. The love of my life, my beloved Emile, my Milo, died in December 2013. Since then I have been alone. I do most of the gardening myself, except the heavy stuff. It takes a rare man to cope with Bella Lenferna de la Motte and live this lifestyle. It is not easy ! The myth of the exotic life living and running a B&B in the south France, does not exist.
I have my six chickens, Melissa, Melouse, Mimi (Rousse) and Agrippine, Octavia and Penelope (Gris Cendre). I just lack Odysse - but he was a Homeric philanderer.

Where do your customers come from ?

Mostly French and Spanish with other Europeans. Some South Americans, American, Japanes and even Koreans ! It is the variety of customers that I enjoy. They make it all worthwhile. It is a pleasure to have such a diverse range of visitors. Tourists, hunters, cyclists, bikers, walkers ; musicians, writers and birdlovers. All sorts of people from all sorts of countries. Summer explodes with the cries and giggles of the children, the festival goers , the family groups… plus the appealing odours of the barbecue cooking and the laughter of people enjoying dining under the evening lights of the pergolas. People play boules, tables tennis and badminton on the lawn or just sit out of an evening enjoying the sultry sunset.
Many times when custmers leave I feel sad. People come here on holiday, they are happy relaxed, so joyful and then they leave. It leaves a big hole. This year when my favourite French lady left , I shed a tear and two. She is known as Madame with the name ‘just like the cat’.

What do you do for entertainment ?

I go to the wonderful cosy cinema in Prades to watch French films and often fall asleep. The fabulous Pablo Casals festival in July and August each year is a must and I try to go to as many concerts as I can. I love the concerts at the Kipling Church in Vernet les Bains and Les Nits du Nuit at Eus are excellent.
In between times I read, mostly non-fiction : economics, history, science and classics. My favourite book at the moment is Ian Morris : War. I much admire Steven Pinker and as soon as I finish the wonderful Mary Beard’s book SPQR, I intend to start The Infernal Machine, An alternative history of terrorism by Matthew Carr who stayed here this year . I have an excellent ability to forget things, so everything I read is wasted on me It goes into cerebral storage and my brain’s search engine fails dismally to retrieve anything.
I am a big fan of Fareed Zakaria (GPS on CNN), who sends me his articles regularly That is a ‘Trumpism’ Fareed Zakaria doesn’t actunally send me anything, I signed up for his blog so I am on the email list His ‘takes’ on current affairs are very lucid.

Furthermore, there is so much to learn about this area it is almost overwhelming. Catalonia is extremely rich in history as it was the cultural gateway to Europe from the first settlements in Iberia. We got it first, the trade, music, maths, paper, religion, art.

Do You speak French ?

Yes. I watch French TV, films and all documentation and my computer is in French. I have a terrible ability to mangle the language. But I get by with doctors, lawyers, telephone operators , artisans and visitors. My first language here is French. I understand most things and perhaps in 20 years or so, people will be able to understand me!

What are your best moments here ?

Well, there are so many stories from the wonderful spontaneous lawn parties with the guests . Singing traditional French and Catalan songs, the boule parties . One erudite medic thought Milo and I must be the original ‘Out of Africa’ pair (almost true). Emile used to hunt in East Africa. He certainly tracked me down !
We have had Tai Chi gurus, sopranos practising at the bottom of the lawn, the discussions about books or music with guests, Milo’s 80th birthday party to which everyone invited themselves, walking with my lovely dog Choky and my cat Mimeow. All gone now, except the six chickens, the three MMMs and OAP.
We have had many more bizarre times such as the poor little man who was threatened with being dunked upside down in the canal because he had supposedly opened the canal when he should not have. The case of the sorrowful girl with mental health issues desperately appealing for help. The mad plumbers flushing toilets with hot water and complaining very expressively about bad jobs, toilet pipes failing and leaking on to my head, tresulting in he ceiling having to be replaced twice. I am becoming adept at disaster management. It is like water off a duck’s back. I just go a bit mentally awol in the afterwards. Things happen in threes at times of high occupancy. Consequently, I have learnt a wide range of French swear words. I now expressive myself in the same manner with arms waving wildly, shaking my head with the horror of it all and exasperately saying ‘Quel bordel ! Meaning it is more than a mess.

Life is eventful.