French House Party, Carcassonne
It has to be said that when it comes to being creative in the kitchen, I get a lot of assistance from Aunt Bessie and Uncle Ben.
So when the opportunity arose to learn how to cook under the instruction of a top French chef, I jumped at the chance.
That is why my partner and I found ourselves in what is bound to be one of Europes smallest commercial airports one recent Friday morning. We were through passport control & luggage collection and standing in the Carcassonne airport car park within 40 steps of leaving the plane.
We were whisked off to the nearby village of Pexiora and soon were enjoying a welcome lunch and sampling some local wines at the stunning rural farm house that is home to the French House Party.
The owner of the property is author Moira Martingale and she has developed the concept over a number of years in the house which she originally bought as a family holiday home.
After meeting the other guests and hearing the plans for our Gourmet Explorer holiday, it was straight to the kitchen, where we were tasked with creating canapés for the evening meal by Chef Robert. With a little free time after that, we explored the patio area, swimming pool and tennis court before taking a short walk into the village.
It was quite refreshing to find ourselves off the tourist trail and pottering around a French village, unfettered with the usual tourist paraphernalia. Indeed, Moira refers to herself as "the only English person in the village".
Back at the house, after a very nice dinner prepared by chef Robert, we enjoyed a chat over more wine with our fellow guests, who included a Chemical Engineer and a Solicitor. The experience actually felt like a house party as the conversation, and the games of Pétanque and Snooker, went on long into the night.
The next morning we found ourselves in Revel, which is one of France's most historic market towns, where Chef Robert took us around the stalls overflowing with local produce, to buy the ingredients we would be preparing for lunch and dinner. We had the chance to meander around the market trying the local cheeses and meats as we walked.
Back in the kitchen later, we found ourselves filleting seabream and mackerel and then preparing a pigeon. Now, bearing in mind the French butchers supply birds plucked, but with their heads, wings and legs still attached, preparing them is a bit of a task, which nearly turned me vegetarian.
However, once cooked, the finished product tasted amazing. I found the desserts much easier and am now a dab hand at roasting apricots and baking strawberries.
The great benefit to holidaying with the French House Party is that from when you arrive at the airport until you leave, everything is all-inclusive. That includes visits to local food producers like vineyards and honey farms, meals in local quality restaurants as well as all the ingredients you cook and the wine you drink! Of course cookery is only one of the courses available, throughout the year, there are creative writing, songwriting and photography courses among others.
As the house is so close to the historic city of Carcassonne, it is always on the visits list. This UNESCO World heritage site is truly stunning. Tall turreted walls protect a warren of alleys filled with quaint bars & restaurants and artisan shops.
It's one of those places that gives you the "wow" factor on every corner you turn. Its easy to see how movie makers used the city as the main location for Robin Hood Prince of Thieves. It's also said that that the 2,500 yr old medieval fortress helped inspire Walt Disney while he envisioned Cinderella's Castle.
With flights with Ryanair from Dublin to Carcassonne, and Aer Lingus from Dublin to Toulouse - it's very easy to travel to the French House Party for one of their courses.
You can see the dates online at www.frenchhouseparty.eu