Travel not just for travel’s sake but to learn a new skill or develop an existing passion is hot stuff right now. Retreats for yoga or meditation, arts and crafts weekends or cooking courses; there’s a lot of choice and you can understand why; it’s the perfect way to learn – leave your hang-ups at home and submerge yourself in something new, as well as having a holiday in a gorgeous setting.
Getting in on this action are Big In France; who, as the name slightly gives away, run travel breaks with a focus, all set in the beautiful country of France. With small groups staying in beautiful big houses in scenic areas of France; the company hold yoga retreats, photography courses and celebrity chef cookery courses. Several of their properties are also available for private rent and are ideal if you are travelling in a group.
Their portfolio of celebrity chefs includes household names and faces such as Jean Christoph Novelli and Mark Greenaway. There are only spaces for about 15 people on their cookery courses which works really well and allows the course to be really hands-on and for the chefs to focus on everyone individually. All the courses are held in beautiful villas and houses, generally in rural settings which create a relaxed atmosphere and give lots of scope for relaxing and soaking up your surroundings in-between cooking.
One of their most notable chefs is John Torode who runs an up and coming course in a stunning farmhouse near the village of Le Mazeau in Vendee. The village is set in the beautiful Marais Poitevin Natural Regional Park; a rich habitat with magical marshlands and an intricate network of canals.
John Torode is best known as the straight-talking co-host and judge of twelve seasons of BBC1’s MasterChef, Celebrity MasterChef and Junior MasterChef. He has also had several successful restaurant ventures and is passionate about sourcing the best of British produce, particularly within the meat industry, where he has long been a champion of rare breeds.
On the course itself, there are two masterclasses each day, one in the morning and one in the early evening. They are perfectly timed to allow just enough long enough for your delicious meal to be cooked before it’s time for lunch or dinner and you get to eat what you have prepared! There is also an excursion each day; perhaps a trip to a local vineyard to pick up a bottle of something suitable to match the food that you then prepare that night. All the classes are taught by John Torode himself; it is rare to have such a relaxed, intimate setting to learn from such a high-profile chef and he’s renowned as being quite a character so the course is lots of fun! Most of the preparation and cooking is done outside in the wonderful outdoor kitchen. Recently redesigned, it includes a wood-fired plancha, pizza oven and BBQ facilities, plus the backdrop to your work area is the swimming pool and river, which all together makes for one of the most unique situations that you’ll probably ever have the opportunity to cook!
It’s not all about the cooking, the beautiful farmhouse is full of rustic charm, it has been recently renovated and the interior design is luxurious while keeping the rustic feel. The house is in a stunning, peaceful location and the lush grounds lead down to one of the many rivers that are in the area. There are 8 bedrooms, 5 bathrooms, a huge sitting room, a large kitchen and of course the magnificent outdoor kitchen. You can dine outdoors too; a large handmade table is big enough to fit everyone and is placed to overlook the gardens and river. Outside you’ll also find a heated swimming pool, wonderful for a relaxing dip after all your hard work cooking! There’s a bespoke seating area alongside the pool for relaxing and dreaming of your next meal. There is Sky TV and Wi-Fi at the house.
For a once in a life time learning experience, combined with a fabulous getaway to the stunning French countryside, book onto a celebrity chef cookery course with Big In France.
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