Le Vieux Re­lais, Aude

Living France - - LIFESTYLE -

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

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