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New year, new skill…hobbies for all

New year, new skill…hobbies for all

If one of your new year resolutions is to take up a creative or sporty hobby, then read on to disocver what you can do in the Poitou-Charentes. But first our Wheelbarrow Gardener Trevor Bridge explains how he and his wife Jocelyn came to take up painting and open their own art gallery… 

Trevor-at-Château-Ferrières-painterJocelyn and I both trained as landscape architects at art college in the UK and have always drawn for work and painted for pleasure. Our professional lives involved creating landscape designs on the drawing board and computers, which was excellent, but we felt we needed to loosen up.

Twenty years ago, in order to get back to basics, we decided to retrain and embarked on a course with Bharat Makanji, a Manchester-based fine artist. Bharat’s enthusiasm inspired us to take up painting seriously. He taught us to observe things differently, how to study our subjects, and how to interpret them onto paper or canvas.

We both continued to enjoy painting at every available opportunity and went on to participate in art exhibitions in the north of England. Then when I sold my landscape architectural practice and Jocelyn and I settled in the Charente we suddenly had more time on our hands to pursue our craft.

Straight away we joined a painting group based in Poitou-Charentes, which gave us the opportunity to mix with other artists and paint regularly en plein air. The group meets through the summer at various locations such as picturesque villages and châteaux. We also enjoy attending annual summer painting schools in Montbron lead by Angoulême artist Yves Ratier and Jocelyn is a member of a life-drawing group in La Rochefoucauld.

We are inspired by the Poitou-Charentes - the ancient buildings with their honey-coloured stone and tiled roofs; the gently rolling bocage landscape with its languid streams and rivers meandering through wildflower meadows and oak and chestnut woodland. The intensity of the light here just makes us want to paint every day; there is so much clarity and we make full use of the endless summer days with their cobalt blue skies.

We feel fortunate to be able to take advantage of the clear light and good weather and find it more stimulating than working in our studio. Our subject matters vary, but there is preponderance towards local landscapes and architecture. We often arrive at a location with little idea of what we are going to paint. One of us may be drawn to the splendour of a panoramic view; the other could be motivated by the beauty of a medieval church or the cheerful colours of a group of wildflowers.

Since moving to Poitou-Charentes we have both discovered the joys of painting with pastels. We had previously employed a variety of techniques such as water colour, oil and acrylic, but we realised that the vibrant colours and unique transparency of pastels perfectly capture the atmosphere of the region.

We began exhibiting with our painting group and the summer school, then local restaurants and shops asked us if we could hang our work on their walls. People began buying our paintings which gave us the confidence to open our own gallery. We love it when a painting is sold, not from a commercial point of view, but because we are thrilled that people appreciate them enough to take them home to hang on their walls.

We could never have predicted how our hobby would become such a major part of our lives after moving to France, helping us to integrate into the area and giving us such fulfilment.

Galerie Le Fayard is open weekends from 1 June to 30 September and at other times by contacting: Jocelyn and Trevor Bridge, Le Fayard, 16450 St Claud. Tel: 05 45 89 03 45. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


If you’re looking to do something arty there is a huge amount to choose from. There’s painting on canvas, of course, but also painting a piece of china which is then fired in a kiln. Make something completely from scratch with a pottery course or if you think you’re a Rodin in the making, give sculpture a go. At the NAM Galerie ( successful artist Nick Matthews teaches both clay modelling and stone carving. Basic tools and equipment are provided and each course lasts three days and introduces you to the basics of each skill. If you’re the crafty type, then see the Luv Creating Cards ‘n Keepsakes classes, run by Su Ward, where you can make cards and keepsakes; tel 05 45 66 36 58.  At Vitraux Creation ( learn to make stained glass, with courses from an afternoon to a weekend and stretching to six weeks.   

Other creative courses available locally include photography, dress-making and even wood-turning. 


If Trevor Bridge’s story inspires you to give painting a go, then get yourself to Les Jardins des Arts in the Deux-Sèvres. Here Ray, an established painter with teaching experience, will show you how to paint in oils or watercolours; or if you want to try drawing he can teach you that too. The classes at Les Jardins des Arts are small – no more than six people – and are held either in the morning or the afternoon for two-and-a-half hours. ‘It’s very social,’ says Ray. 'A lot of people find that a big part of the experience but we also have people who are very serious about painting.’ For the first few lessons you need bring only yourself – all materials from canvas to paper, brushes and paint are provided. If you do decide to carry on you can either get your own kit or buy what you need at a reduced price from Ray.

Lessons are in a bright and spacious studio and cost €15 for adults and€10 for children. ‘A lot of people think that everyone but them can paint,’ says Ray. ‘But everyone learns quickly and you have to remember that everyone here started as a beginner.’ For more information see

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If you prefer something a little more energetic, then how about trying out a new sport? Archery perhaps? At Les Petits ( qualified instructors Ian Robinson and Sandra Hunter, can teach you the fine art of shooting an arrow. Beginner classes are held in a terraced garden while experienced archers head out to the 1 ½ acres of woodland. More ideas? Learn to ride a horse or surf the waves (for the latter there are plenty of schools along the Atlantic coast of the CharenteMaritime). Then there's martial arts or, on a slightly quieter note, yoga. Take to the air with flying lessons in a small plane or at Wanafly ( in the Vienne you can learn to fly a microlight as well.


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One of the world’s most popular sports, golf combines skill and competition but in the most relaxed setting. This is particularly so at Golf d’Aubeterre, at Le Manoir de Longeveau, a former cognac estate in the south Charente, the 9 hole, par 64 (2x32) FFG course is open to beginners as well as experienced players. The lessons, about 45 minutes long, are given by an English-speaking golf professional and are open to children and adults. Prices are very affordable - 20€ for a single lesson, 50€ for three and 90€ for six. All equipment can be hired so you can try the sport without a huge investment. Plus one of the great attractions of playing golf at Longeveau is its social scene. ‘We like to make everyone feel welcome’, says Managing Director, Richard Peacock. ‘It’s quite laid-back here, with a great group of people, about one-third French, two-thirds British and a healthy mix of men and women.  There are regular weekly and monthly tournaments, or you can just roll up and play in your own time’.

Longeveau is not just about the golf though. The bar and restaurant are open to everyone, there is an active tennis club, 5-aside football and plenty more. For more information see: 

Swim, spa & keep fit!

This new year you're definitely going to do more exercise and get fit? Then Etang Viller near Brossac is a good place to start your new year resolution. At its Clubhouse and Spa you can swim in their 20 metre long heated indoor pool and follow it up with a session in the spa with its jacuzzi, sauna and steam room.

For something more active, there's squash plus you can choose from a range of keep fit classes for all ages. The Clubhouse and Spa is also a place to enjoy meeting people with plenty of events and entertainment all year round including live music, theme meals and children's activities. 'We find our customers become our friends and there’s a real “club” atmosphere here,' says director Eleanor Ramsay. 'There’s a packed program of activities shown online such as live music evenings, dinner clubs, as well as all the sports -related activities. We host outside groups as well, such as the local schools’ music club, so if anyone knows of any clubs, groups or associations that need a host then we’re happy to help if we can.’ This winter sees the introduction of a pool league. ‘If this appeals to you or if you know of existing tournaments then get in touch,’ says Eleanor.
Clubhouse & Spa, Etang Vallier

Resort, Brossac 16480. Tel: 05 45 98 52 60; .


shutterstock 20411593FOOD & WINE

At La Ribaudiére restaurant in Bourg-Charente, near Cognac, Michelin-starred chef Thierry Verrat’s runs a day-long course where you will learn how to make a starter, main course and dessert, with plenty of advice along the way. 

Or start your lesson with a visit to Jarnac market where under the watchful eye of chef Ludovic Merle you choose your ingredients before heading back to the kitchen at Restaurant du Château where you will learn how to cook with them.

Make chocolate at the one or two-hour workshops that are for adults and children at Chocolaterie Letuffe at Trois-Palis. 

The well-known food writer Mary Cadogan’s day courses include making bread and pastry and cooking with typical Charentaise food. 


© All Rights Reserved. Originally printed in Living Poitou-Charentes April 2011