A local’s view
Originally from South Africa, Lisa and Steve Cavanagh moved to rural Aveyron in May 2010 where they run a cooking and cycling holiday business
How did you come to settle in Aveyron?
We were living in South Africa where we were self-employed herb and edible flower farmers. We were looking for a family adventure and a better place to bring up our children. We visited France for 10 days in October 2008, viewed many properties and bought this one; a farmhouse with outbuildings near the village of Goutrens.
Steve moved over in March 2009 to make the house habitable – it was an empty shell, with no electricity, running water or septic tank, but it did have a sound roof. I followed in May with the kids, then aged seven and five and our ‘menagerie’ (two dogs, six cats and a parrot) arrived two days later.
What attracted you to France, and Aveyron in particular?
Steve had been to France before and always enthused about the landscape, the climate and the people. Being avid Tour de France fans, we were also seduced by the wonderful images we saw on the TV coverage. As a tourist destination, France has it all, from the Alps and Pyrénées to the beautiful beaches in the south. It has history, culture and wide-open spaces. In Aveyron, there are gorgeous rolling hills and a rural way of life. It is the traditional France of yesteryear; a place where farmers still gather at 8 o’clock on a Sunday morning to eat a traditional meal at huge communal tables in the village hall. It is a place where neighbours look after each other, and men still wear berets. It is a France untouched by globalisation.
Did you find it easy to find a suitable property. What were your criteria?
We had a checklist: we knew we were looking for a corps de ferme and wanted three hectares of land, with a house and outbuildings that could be converted. Even though it was abandoned and overgrown, this property had all of that and is well situated between two villages, so we’re near schools.
What led you to set up the cycling and cooking holidays?
These are our passions; Steve loves to cycle and I love food. We thought it’d be a good way for people to experience our beautiful corner of Aveyron, and do something different that’s not in the guidebooks.
What is it like throughout the seasons?
No two seasons are the same. Summers can vary – we’ve had very hot ones and even a rainy one. Winters can be mild or -15ºC. We are not always guaranteed snow but love it when it comes.
What do you most enjoy about living here?
We love the people; they are so kind and caring and have made us feel so welcome. The area is beautiful, from forests to mountains, rivers and wild-open spaces, to some of Frances most beautiful villages – Aveyron has it all.
Is there any aspect of living here that surprised you?
The people and their willingness to help us has, at times, left us speechless.
Is there a special place that you particularly like to visit?
We love the wide-open spaces of the Aubrac and the ruggedness of the Millau area.
How easy have you found it to integrate into the local community?
Having never spoken French, the pressure was immense. I don’t think either of us will ever forget the anxiety that came with standing in a queue at the shop or post office, waiting to place an order, and knowing that every ear in the place was keenly tuned in to what the new arrivals were about to say! Having kids has helped; we had no choice and had to integrate and become part of the community.
Where is your favourite market?
My favourite market has to be Villefranchede-Rouergue. It takes place in the centre of the beautiful bastide town; it’s so colourful and busy with producers from every corner of the region. It’s a real social event every Thursday morning.
Is there a restaurant you like to eat out at?
Yes, Le Vieux Pont, a family-run restaurant in the beautiful village of Belcastel. Nicole Fagegaltier and her team really showcase the amazing fresh produce of Aveyron in a fine dining experience.
Cavanagh Lisa and Steve
The couple renovated the entire property