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Deep in the thick vineyards near the west coast of France sits a small bed and breakfast run by an attentive Australian-turned-French woman named Simone. It’s the picture perfect ideal of the words en provence, which the French call anything outside of Paris. The intricate stone building where Simone and her guests stay is at least 500 years old. The courtyard inside is dotted with wild rose bushes and colorful laundry strung about. It’s beautiful and quaint and everything I could have hoped for when searching for the perfect Workaway location!
Workaway is a program that fosters experiences like this. Simone’s bed and breakfast is just the first of many stops my husband and I have planned for our summer in the French countryside. We didn’t come here to gawk at the Eiffel tower or tour the grandest châteaux (although we have!). We are traveling with the intent to improve our French, learn the art of French cooking alongside French homemakers, and appreciate the simple beauty of small villages and sprawling farmland. We wake up with the birds and spend the late evenings playing with baby kittens in the grass. For us techie university students, this is the exact opposite of our regular life. Which is exactly what we were going for.
It’s a quiet way to travel. In exchange for a few hours of work each day, we are allowed to stay here and share meals with Simone and her small team of volunteers and workers. She’s created a family of people that come and go. And I mean it when I say it’s a family! From the moment we met her it felt like home! We help her with cleaning the rooms, doing the laundry, taking care of the animals, preparing meals, and keeping up on the yard work.
But it’s not all work and no play! Simone has given us a local’s perspective on the greatest places in town. We spent last Sunday wandering around Saint-Émilion, the most charming city I’ve ever seen. I don’t feel right even calling it a city because it’s more like a village. The entirety of the infrastructure exists on a single hill, with deep twisting tunnels underneath: one giant labyrinth of a wine cellar. The old stone buildings above ground have been turned into restaurants that offer authentic French cuisine and boutiques for local artisans and craftsmen to sell their goods. Wandering around those streets makes me feel like I’m in a different time. For wine lovers and aesthetic eyes, it’s the real city of love.
I suppose the way I’ve described my experience here sounds surreal, but I think a large part of it is me choosing to see the magic in it. In all honesty, this kind of travel is not for everyone! Maybe doing other people’s laundry and dusting away cobwebs isn’t your idea of a vacation. And I’ll be the first to tell you that it’s not mine either! But I didn’t come here to vacation. I came here to experience an authentic lifestyle in the countryside and if that means getting my hands dirty, I’m here for it. Traveling and vacationing often coincide, but sometimes they do not. Today, I am a traveler. And I soak in every opportunity that comes my way.
I’ve discovered that the real gem in traveling is more than just the memories made and the connections formed. It’s about the way it changes me. My short time here at Simone’s has connected me to nature. I’ve felt beauty in the mundane and inspiration in the simple way we cook and eat together. Traveling is like being a student at a beautiful and historic university. Seeing a new part of the world and taking part of a different culture is impactful on the brain and heart!
I don’t believe traveling is the essence of life, nor do I believe my passport is any kind of reflection of me. But there is great value and pleasure in seeking out opportunities to explore further than your own backyard. It is a privilege, and I’m grateful for it. To anyone who is looking to be imprinted upon by something greater than themselves, traveling is a gold mine. And traveling deeper than capitol cities and grand monuments is a beauty I hope I’ve inspired at least one person to pursue. Chase those golden moments and let them change you.