Welcome to this virtual visit in Issamoulenc, Ardèche, France! Here we stayed for several weeks doing work exchange, meaning we worked a few hours a day in exchange for food and lodging. Read on if you’re curious! Bonus: Recipe on mouth-watering vegan chocolate muffins!
Au Fil de Soi
Hidden amongst the rivers and mountains of Northern Ardèche, in the heart of the National Park, “Parc des Monts d’Ardèche”, lies an old silk factory which has been restored as a guesthouse using eco-friendly materials. The gîte (French version of a guesthouse) is called Au Fil de Soi, which is a play on words meaning “silk thread” and/or “towards yourself”. Here you can come to relax in calm surroundings with cats, chickens and horses running around, and you can even stay in the awesome tree house!
Here we did work exchange for the welcoming hosts Anne and Jérôme. All the food they serve is organic and made from scratch, and they even grind the flour for the bread themselves! For heating they use a wood boiler and solar panels, and toilets and washing machines are run on collected rainwater. The electricity comes from their own water turbine, that also produces enough to serve another 10-25 households. No wonder they’ve received the European Ecolabel. Thank you for hosting us and sharing your knowledge with us!
Typically enough have both Jean and I taken photos from mostly outdoors, so if you’re interested in seeing more of the luxurious interior, you can check out the photo gallery at their website.
What we did
We picked apples. Like, more than a ton of them. Yes, literally. We then transported the apples to Atelier Nectardéchois which is an association where you can press your apples and other fruits into juice. Info I gathered from their website: Nectardéchois is a cooperative, created at the initiative of locals to make better use of the fruits of the area. The workshop is managed by volunteers, four employees and service providers. They serve both individuals and professionals, from as little as 100 kg of fruit each. You bring your fruit, while they carry out pressing, pasteurization, bottling and labelling. The workshop is approved for making organic juices and nectars.
Other chores we had while at Au Fil de Soi (all of which we shared with our hosts):
- Clean gîtes and rooms for guests
- Chip wood for the wood boiler
- Pick chestnuts and some late mushrooms
- Cook meals
- Replant garden plants
- Take care of the animals
- Keep the wood fire burning
- Construct a floor
- Clear an area from loads of wild bushes, and encircle young fruit trees with mulch and stone barriers
- Transform a huge lawn with a few trees and bushes into a field ready for growing veggies in spring – By far the most time-consuming chore of all!
For our own part I worked on my French and I created my first ever newsletter, and Jean worked on graphic design, character design and website design. We also did research on different associations in France, like Nature & Progrès and Terre de Liens, and contacted many ecovillages, partly due to info from the magazine Kaizen.
Northern Ardèche has beautiful landscapes and charming houses. Many of the valleys are quite narrow, and the people are known to be sturdy, hard-working and a bit stubborn. We went hiking several times in nice autumn weather, before late November brought us heavy rainfalls, and even snow!
Our host Jérôme has spent years volunteering in restoring an old castle, and he was more than happy to give us a tour. Impressive work!
We also visited neighbours and friends of our hosts: One couple that has built their own mudhouse, and another couple that also receive “workawayers” (volunteers) to help with their veggie garden. Another Ardèchian was pleased to show us his wood workshop with beautiful, old machines.
Vegan Chocolate Muffins
1 ripe banana
1,5 dl sugar (brown if available)
2,5 dl flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
(1 teaspoon vanilla essence or vanilla sugar)
1 tablespoon cacao powder
0,5 dl plant milk (I use rice and/or soy milk)
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
75 g melted vegan butter
(or neutral oil like sunflower oil – if so, add a bit of salt)
1. Mash the banana in a bowl.
2. Whisk banana and sugar together.
3. Mix all dry ingredients in a measuring cup before adding them to the bowl.
4. Add milk and melted butter (or oil).
5. Whisk it all together.
6. Poor into muffin liners (12 if small) or a small cake pan.
7. Bake them in the middle of the oven. How long? At what temperature? I’ve been using different ovens, both electric and gas, old and new, and I do what fits best for that specific oven… Use a wooden toothpick or the end of a match to check if the muffins or cake is done.
Last time I made it as a cake, and I added some sparkling water and a dash of multifruit juice. Did wonders! A couple of other times I’ve added chocolate chips and blueberries. Another time I added a mashed kiwi. Also yummy!
You could experiment as well, and see this recipe as mainly a guidance.
Bonne chance & bon appétit !