Every month, we introduce you to an interesting woman living in Languedoc. Curious as we are, we like to find out why she lives in this beautiful region, what she does for a living and some of her Languedoc favourites. This month we would like you to meet Sarah Hart as Ramoneta of the Month. During my interview at her home, we gazed over picturesque Lagrasse while Sarah told me about her beautiful baskets and lino-prints and how she ended up in the South of France.
Originally from England, I worked- and still work- as an autism specialist, having written six books on the subject. I used to lead a crazy life, as my work involved a lot of travelling to deliver training and attend conferences. Together with my husband Keith, we decided to change course and move to rural Portugal. From here, we could still work in the UK while travelling back and forward to unwind at our ‘quinta’ surrounded by olive trees. However, we have also always wanted to live in France.
First time visiting the region
Four years ago, Keith and I walked from Toulouse to Narbonne along the Canal du Midi (1) with my daughter. She had found the village of Lagrasse (2) in a book on wild swimming. We decided to check it out and immediately fell in love. Since then, everywhere Keith and I went to look for a place to live, we compared it to Lagrasse. Even though we had seen some lovely villages, it never was as beautiful as Lagrasse. This is where we wanted to be.
Settling in Languedoc
Like so many other people, the sunny weather drew us to the South of France. Also, we wanted to feel somewhere foreign. As the top half of France is quite similar to the UK, we preferred a totally different and Mediterranean environment. After our Portugal adventure, Keith and I spent some time in Wales. There, I had more time for myself and I decided to do a basketry course, including a certification.
The running joke between Keith and me was that I would become a basketmaker in Lagrasse, as there weren’t any. Our family and friends never took this seriously, nor did I, as this crazy idea was so far from possible. But after lots of twists and turns, I now can proudly say that I’m the only basketmaker in Lagrasse!
Sarah Hart Vannerie
Lagrasse is a picturesque village where crafts are paramount, hence the many residing artists and craftspeople. As France acknowledged my basketry certification, I could officially set up my basketry business Sarah Hart Vannerie (3). To create my traditional baskets, I partly use my own grown willow. These varieties bring an interesting colour scheme to my work, such as blueish-grey, purply red and black colour tones. I also love going on a forage in nature and collecting wood, bark and leaves to make different kinds of baskets. There is so much to find that lets my creativity flow.
Since last month, I have opened a shop in Lagrasse for the summer. Here, you can buy my baskets as well as the lino-prints (4) I make and Keith’s hand-carved wooden spoons. Besides our shop, I also sell my crafts at the Chambre de Métiers et Artisanat in Carcassonne, where 20 artisans actually run the boutique. For five months, I do my bit working there one day a week.
Living in the South of France
It’s better than I ever dreamt it would be! All the clichés are true: the quality of life and the food, the sunny days. I enjoy going out and buying our food at markets and directly from producers, that’s where the good stuff is. Here, we eat seasonally and support local businesses at the same time.
However, if you don’t speak French, it limits you from making contact. But I have to say it helped that our fellow villagers realised that we were here permanently. And also, that both Keith and I are artisans, which of course is highly valued in creative Lagrasse. We take French classes, but you have to practice in real-life situations. For me, my level of French gets boosted every time I work at the Chambre des Métiers. It forces me to speak French and ask for words that I don’t know- and don’t use daily- like the teething ring sold by one of the artists (it’s ‘anneau de dentition’ in case you’re wondering). At the end of a working day, I even think in French!
Best Languedoc wine
An absolute local favourite of ours is the Albarino white wine from Château Les Auzines (5) in Lagrasse. This variety of grapes normally doesn’t grow in the South of France, but winemaker Laurent Miquel has decided to give it a go- with great success.
There is another one, however I’m not sure if I want to share it as it has limited stock. The dessert wine from Domaine la Rune in Talairan, called ‘Secret Murmuré’, is simply fantastic.
You could say that we are regular customers at the restaurant Le Bastion, which happens to be down the road from where we live. Well, we save it for special occasions, but the food is so good that we try to go regularly. The food at La Petite Maison, also in Lagrasse, is super too. It’s more of a relaxed boho atmosphere, they offer a variety of dishes of which always one vegetarian choice.
Perfect day out in Languedoc
As I love Lagrasse, I would stay in the area and walk from my home to neighbouring Ribaute (6) for a swim in the Orbieu river. After a refreshing dip, I would walk back to Lagrasse, have a beautiful lunch, and walk through the many shops. There’s always something new to discover with all these creative people around!