Posted: 2009-08-25


We are staying with some WWOOF hosts in southern France in a small town called St-Paul-en-Forêt.  Our hosts are André and Patricia Surmain, and they have an old French country house outside of the town.  WWOOF hosts can be traditional farmers or they can be organic gardeners who just grow enough for their personal use at home.  The Surmains fall into this latter category. 

We had a picnic for Chad’s birthday

André is a retired restauranteur who has had restaurants in New York; Mallorca, Spain; Palm Beach, Florida; Mougins, France; and Cannes, France.  His New York restaurant, Lutèce, was very famous, and Julia Child called it the best restaurant in the United States.  During his career, André received 2 Michelin stars for his restaurants, a real honor.  It has been fun to get to know him and hear his stories.  He is a World War II veteran, and he has also been an avid car collector.  He has had a full and varied life!

Patricia makes pottery for a living.  She has a studio in the basement equipped with everything she needs, including a kiln to fire the pieces.  She has also been a fashion stylist earlier in life.  She is very creative and likes to do things with her hands, so we have had fun doing some construction work in our room - framing some walls, plastering walls, installing a sink and cabinet.  All of the construction is very sustainable, including the hemp insulation that we put inside the walls for acoustics.  In addition to building sustainably, Patricia makes sure we eat sustainably with organic and local food.

Aramis is the family dog - he likes to follow us around and help us with our projects

Minette likes to remind the dog just who is really in charge

The house is a typical Provençal house.  The thick stone walls, clay tile roof, and shutters on the windows help keep the summer sun out during the heat of the day.  This is a good thing because it hit 113 degrees here on Friday!  The family is about to build an addition on the house, so the garden is smaller this year than it usually is.  (The garden area will be disturbed during the construction process.)  However, Patricia has planted tomatoes, green beans, cucumbers, eggplant, squash, lavender and other herbs.  The property also has olive trees, fig trees, grape vines and a bee hive. 

The front of the house, including the front door, is partly hidden by the vegetation

We eat breakfast and dinner at this outside table under a large tree - lunch is usually inside due to the summer heat

This lily pond in front of the house has a fountain and dozens of koi fish

The summer kitchen is on the east side of the house - all of our cooking is done here to keep the heat out of the house - Chad and I want a summer kitchen

We have our own outside staircase which leads up to our studio on the second floor.  We have a small entry room which has a couple of tables and a shower stall and then our main room.  Because of the basement and then the high ceilings in the first floor, our room on the second floor is higher up in the air than you would find in your normal American house.  This is okay with me, though, because we are up in the tree tops, and the windows let a nice breeze blow through.  Being in the tree tops reminds me of our attic flat in that old Victorian house in Emeryville.

The stairs on the left go to our room upstairs; the 6 steps on the right go to the front door of the house

When you come in our front door, you see our laundry basket and shower stall

Then you turn right to go into our bedroom

We have set up a workstation at the foot of the bed - this is where we make blog posts and keep in touch with the world

Looking back towards the entry room

Our WWOOF handiwork: walls around the toilet; a new sink, faucets and counter; new wall plaster = 7 days…having your own bathroom facilities = priceless!

We are about 30 minutes west of Cannes.  (You’ve heard of the Cannes Film Festival, of course.)  The village of St-Paul-en-Forêt is very small; the internet lists the population as 812.  The town center is really just a couple of curves in the road.  It has one hotel, a couple of restaurants, a church and a chapel, a small bakery/grocery store, a post office and houses crowded in between. 

When we walk into town, we hit the main street and look left to see this…

We look right to see this…

We walk around the corner and see this…

There are also houses outside of town which are scattered on the hillsides in the forest.  It is really a beautiful and peaceful place.

-Julia Abbott



You keep composing wonderful photos to describe and share your travel and living experiences. I can almost feel the air and see the environs. I like the blue shutters (that actually shut and "shutter"). Wish I could actually taste the food. I can only imagine.

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