Le Vieux Relais, Aude
He may have worked at some of the best restaurants in the world, but James Martin couldn’t get enough of the food served up at Val and Mike Slowther’s chambres d’hôtes, Le Vieux Relais in Aude. “He loved my dauphinoise potatoes and Mike’s raspberry crème brûlée,” beams Val.
The crew were so impressed with the food that they asked if a special spread had been put on especially for them; but it was just the same as every guest can expect to get. “We’d have been daft to try anything we hadn’t cooked many times before,” says Val, who has been running the business in Pépieux for almost 12 years.
The TV chef dined on Val’s almond and pear tart, Mike’s renowned barbeques and his masterpiece of marinated lamb, and James returned the favour by cooking poached salmon with all the trimmings for the couple and a few of their friends by the lake. Being able to spend time at home, cooking and relaxing with friends, is one of the aspects of French life that convinced Val and Mike to move to France over 10 years ago.
As a business consultant in the UK, Val travelled “here there and everywhere”, and says she was rarely able to enjoy time at home. The couple began looking for a holiday home in Languedoc and it was during this time that they decided to change their way of life completely, as Val remembers.
“We both had the life-changing moment sitting in a café in the sunshine thinking ‘this is it’. We always had the idea of starting our own place and we just thought, ‘what’s holding us back?’.” In October 2005 they made the move.
With Mike’s background in catering and Val’s business experience, a B&B business seemed to combine both their skill sets, and the property that they found in the village of Pépieux in Aude fitted the bill perfectly, as Val explains. “It didn’t come with acres of land – we didn’t want that because we knew we wouldn’t get the opportunity to tend to it – and it came
“James loved my dauphinoise potatoes and crème brûlée”
with old stables which we converted to an outside dining space. Also, it wasn’t half a mile up a dirt track – it was on the edge of the village square, so we could be part of village life,” says Val, before adding, “We’ve been building the business and building our lives ever since.”
It is clear that Val and Mike have formed solid foundations in the village. Having worked for the tourist council for six years, Val is now vice president of the village club committee, organising community get-togethers such as exercise classes, meals and group outings. “We have all sorts going on; it’s like a full-time job for me,” she says. Having moved to France, you might think that the couple would want to take it easy, but Val says she likes to keep busy. “Having worked all my life, I was never at home to get involved with the community. Now I have that opportunity to really get involved.”
Val’s efforts have certainly paid off, and she says it is the community spirit of the village that she most enjoys.
“It’s that whole thing of being known in the village, of being part of something and being able to contribute at a local level,” she says. And now that they have appeared on TV, their local profile has only increased. “Lots of people said, ‘That was you on the television, wasn’t it?’.”
The couple are using their TV appearence as an excuse to get the whole village together, with a screening of their episode on the big screen at the local mairie. If their superb hosting of James Martin and the team is anything to go by, the whole village is in for a real treat.
Mike and Val Slowther with James Martin James Martin arrives at Le Vieux Relais in Aude
Val and Mike introduce James to some of the locals