On Retreat in South West France

Post written by Laura

I’ve recently returned from a fabulous 5 day retreat tucked away in the gently rolling emerald countryside of southwest France with the Pyrenees in distant view.

Outdoor dining

Having participated last year and returned full of enthusiasm my friend Bridget kindly extended an invitation for me to join her and 7 others for France 23 which resulted in a few days of relaxation and indulgence at the wonderful Domaine du Pignoulet!

Welcome drinks

After a delayed arrival, 9 of us had met at Lourdes airport and were driven in a hired mini bus to Pignoulet which is located in a tiny hamlet in rural French countryside. We were warmly welcomed by Pignoulet hosts Susie and James with our first Kir Royale, a refreshing cocktail of Cassis and chilled Prosecco.

Outdoor dining room

We were also in time for our first delicious homecooked lunch which we enjoyed sitting at their beautiful wooden dining table which was under cover in a gorgeous outside dining room.

Inside yoga

After lunch Susie took us on a tour of their charming house which enabled us to quickly feel at home and get our bearings. She later told us the house is named ‘Pignoulet’ after the type of mini windows situated in the roof… little pignoulet windows!

Outdoor yoga

Within the barns were two fully equipped yoga studios; both under cover but one with open sides. Our first couple of sessions took place inside as the weather was overcast and a little chilly, but thankfully the weather improved each day and we were soon in the outdoor open air space.

Susie has been teaching yoga and pilates for many years and led a couple of classes each day. She was patient with near beginners (like me) and took care to ensure we were doing things properly. Susie also did a HIT (high intensity) class late one afternoon followed immediately by some relaxing stretches. We felt we had earned the canapes, fizz and dinner that evening!


There are several bedrooms and the one Bridget and I shared was huge and comfortable with its two delux single beds, big soft squidgy sofa and another spare bed next to the window. We had a large bathroom adjacent to our room for our exclusive use which was complete with a good shower and a bath.

Garden and pool

To supplement the fresh locally sourced produce used for cooking Susie and James grow some of their own vegetables in a separate garden. They also have a tranquil spacious main garden with its lovely pool which we enjoyed throughout our stay.

We were spoiled each lunch and dinner time with a fabulous cheese board containing a range delicious local cheeses to taste. And there was always plenty of local red, white and rose wine available with each meal.

Local beer

Having heard that a few of us had tried the local beer when we first met at the airport, James kindly brought a case. Nothing was too much trouble and he temporarily halted preparation of another amazing lunch and handed us chilled pre-lunch beers to enjoy as a few of us sat relaxing and chatting in the sunny courtyard.

Fish bites and tartare dip

Every evening we enjoyed canapes which were always deliciously homemade. One evening James even made tiny little round naan breads himself which were each topped with a spicy king prawn in a tasty sauce.

The canapes were served with glasses of Kir Royale or Prosseco each evening and as soon as they were almost empty they were rapidly topped up again.

Evening in the dining room
Fish with bean casserole and potato

Different dietary requirements were expertly catered for. One person had an onion issue and two of us were ‘vegetarians who eat fish’ and every single meal was superb with incredible melt-in-the mouth flavours.

Domaine du Pignoulet


Relaxing around the pool

As part of the programme Susie generally provided two classes each day for about an hour each. There was no pressure to participate in any of the activities and as the Tuesday afternoon was warm and sunny most of us lazed by the pool reading books and going in for a refreshing dip.

One evening just after canapes we split into teams and Susie did a fun French themed quiz which was fuelled with more Prosseco.

Surrounding countryside

As well as eating, drinking, pilates, yoga and HIT we took the opportunity to explore our surroundings with a short trip out each morning.


The first morning 8 of us drove in the mini bus for about 30 minutes through scenic undulating countryside to visit the Medieval village of Bassoues (pronounced ‘Basu’).


Picturesque Bassoues was founded in 1295 by the archbishop of Auch who decided to build a new village on his property.

At the top of the village is the former castle where Bridget and I climbed the 197 steps to the top of the 43 m stone watch tower with its 6 meter thick walls. From the top of this well preserved original structure we had panoramic 360 degree views of the lush green countryside.

Bassoues from the top of the tower
Top of the tower at Bassoues
Top of the tower at Bassoues

Bassoues is a rustic village with cobbled streets and pottery shops.

Pottery shop
Timber framed 16th century market hall
Church of Notre Dame de la Nativite

The 13th century gothic Church of Notre Dame de la Nativite (Our Lady of the Nativity) is located next to the main square.

Local walks

For our second morning Susie led us for 5 km from Ladeveze-Riviere (where Pignoulet is located) on a circular walk to La Madeleine village and back.

Grape vines
Undulating countryside

On the last morning Bridget, Sarah and myself did the same walk but in reverse and in much clearer and sunnier weather.

Pyrenees in the distance

The weather the second time was much brighter and clearer and we could see the Pyrenees in the distance.



For our third morning 5 of us drove in the mini bus to Maubourguet which is a pretty market town about 20 minutes from Pignoulet.


We had a look around the market which sold a selection of local produce. Strangely there was also a knife stall selling a range of fierce looking knives and daggers!

Local honey for sale
Pyrenees in the distance

Marbourguet is closer to the Pyrenees than Pignoulet and the white tipped mountain peaks could be seen from the town.


We each had a cup of hot chocolate in an outside cafe before returning to Pignoulet.


Logistics: Stansted to Lourdes

Around 45 minutes drive to Pignoulet, Lourdes is the closest airport.

Our crack of dawn flight from London Stansted was a little eventful! Having taken off on time the pilot had made good progress and we were due to land just over 1.5 hours later… except we didn’t! The plane had descended to just a couple of hundred feet of the runway but as we thought we were landing it’s nose was pointing up and we were taking off again!

The Pyrenees as we circled above the clouds

Long story short… we finally landed at Lourdes 5 hours after take off having had another failed landing attempt at Lourdes, an actual landing and an hour on the tarmac at Toulouse then finally a successful arrival into Lourdes! Thinking we were going to collect the hire vehicle and be off on our way we were stopped in our tracks as Europcar had just closed at midday for its 2 hour lunch break.

Thankfully the airport bar was open which was a good opportunity for some accelerated bonding as a newly formed group of 9 who had all arrived on the same flight.


What a fabulous trip with an amazing and fun group of people. Each evening I laughed so much my jaw ached especially with the impromptu ‘disco’ on the last night. Overall this was a wonderful experience with expert exercise classes and first class food, hospitality and accommodation. A lovely memory to treasure.

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