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We at Le Monastère, in the exceptionally beautiful, quiet and historically intriguing area in the South of France near the Pyrenees, Spain and the Mediterranean Sea, have been providing wonderful painters retreats for 27 years. These retreats are typically organised by an art instructor, or even just a group of painters who know each other, without instruction.

It all started in 1996 when an instructor, Sonja Cummings, the mother of a former Canadian government colleague of the owner of Le Monastère – Chris Georgas – asked Chris if it would be possible to organise a painters vacation at his center in Limoux.  Chris knew absolutely nothing about painting at that time, but he was just starting up his cycling vacation business in Limoux and had lots of space available.  So he told Sonja that that would be fine but she would have to tell him what would make the best painting vacation anywhere. The deal was struck!  Since then and during the past 27 years Chris was been advised and taught how to make that happen by over 20 instructors, all from Canada and the US.  All groups come back after the first time and some have come over 20 times. The vacations are typically reserved up to 2 years in advance. Below tells you why.

The Plein Air Locations

I, Chris am a cyclist – a former racer, coach and director of elite racing teams.  I have continually roamed the area within about a 50 mile radius from Limoux on my bike. During these outings I stop in wonder whenever a particular scene creates an emotion in me and strikes my imagination. I stop a lot.

What I’ve learned from Painters #1: Painting isn’t the same as photography. A lot of it once was, but we have cameras now. A successful painting transmits the emotion you feel when to see a subject, or even just imagine a subject, be it, for example, a thing, a landscape, a town profile, a village street or a persons and activities in the picture.

In this way I’ve selected and researched over 40 separate villages and towns within my cycling territory that provide something special for painters to work with and reflect upon. With 40 villages, we have 200+ possible subjects to paint.

What I’ve learned from Painters #2: For the type of recreational painters that come to Le Monastere,  it is very important that the painting site be comfortable in a number of ways.  I grew up on Georgian Bay in the Great Lakes region of Canada.  As youngsters we were told stories of the Group of Seven, great painters focussing on wilderness scenes. My particular town, Owen Sound, is famous for Tom Thompson, who died in a canoe accident while on an expedition. So, when I agreed to do painters retreats I thought that I maybe should rent some canoes, hiking boots and other wild country equipment. (We do have wild country here as well_).  

  • However, Sonja Cummings told me that the most important thing is that each site has a toilet!. 

  • So where to paint each day?  This is when the 40 villages/towns come into play. Limoux is at the very center of at least 4 micro climates. To the east are the Corbieres wine territory and the Mediterranean Sea.  To the West is the Ariege – land of sunflowers, corn, grain, fruit and ancient cave drawings.  To the South are the Pyrenees mountains, with its’ profusion of wildflowers and dramatic scenery and to the North is the Minervois, prized lands of retired Roman soldiers and more vineyards and olive groves.  This variety gives me the ability to choose each day where to go where the weather is best. Shade or altitude when it is hot, protection or low wind when another area is windy and sunny and dry when other areas are cloudy and rainy.

  • But good weather isn’t the only contributor to comfort.  Many towns also have stores, cafés and restaurants. Also, places to walk around and take photographs and cultural sites to visit. As well, we have comfortable vehicles to take you where you are going to paint and I leave one of my helpers with you for the day to advise and help you out in a number of ways.

What I’ve learned from Painters #3: All of the above is useless if you don’t have something interesting and inspiring to paint.  In and around each of my towns I look for four types of subjects that you can choose from.

  • Stunning landscape: Flowering fields – Sunflowers, Canola, Wheat fields, Mountains, Field Wildflowers, Vineyards, Rivers and Waterfalls, the Sea, the Midi Canal, etc.

  • The profile of the town or village taken from outside of the town or village, featuring church towers, Southern French ancient windmills and other architectural features

  • Buildings and objects: Churches, Monasteries, Ancient Bridges, Mediterranean Ports, Boats

  • Medieval Village Streets and Squares, potted flowers, interesting old doors, coloured stonework 

But whatever you are painting it should show you are in the South of France. Otherwise why come here?  For example – a sunflower field with a village profile or a small stone building in the background.

What I’ve learned from Painters #4: You need two weeks here. One week is not enough. For one week, you are tired when you arrive and after the third day you are starting to think about departure arrangements. Too much stress.  To do good work you need to be relaxed with the knowledge you have enough time to finish at least some of your work and to fully absorb your new surroundings. Ironically, when our painters know they have two weeks they actually get going with enthusiasm right away.  Also, the two weeks gives me flexibility to cover enough sites for you to have a complete picture of our beautiful region.  For this reason I’ve priced the painters retreats for two weeks what I charge cyclists for one week. A good deal for everyone, especially those guests on a limited income.

What I’ve learned from Painters #5: Luxury and low stress contribute to creativity, especially when it is good value. Le Monastère and its’ annexes are 4 star accommodations. For what you pay for your total vacation you would only get a room in Paris with breakfast and dinner.  The cuisine is great and varied and there is no nickel and diming – all the good wine you want with your meals. Respect for food preferences.  We have comfortable vehicles to pick you up on arrival, departure and for our outings.  We supply easels, boards and chairs and you have access to a professionally lit studio.

What I’ve learned from Painters #6: Physical subjects to paint aren’t enough alone.  They are brought to life through stories about their history and the deep rooted mythology of our region. Imagine 

  • What was in the minds of the creators of the Niaux cave paintings?

  • Who built and who lived in those hilltop castles?

  • What power did the Monasteries hold over the people?

  • Is there really a Templar treasure under your feet?

  • How did Jules Verne imagine the Journey to the Center of the Earth from the Celtic legends of Bugarach mountain?

  • What inspired Dan Brown at Rennes le Chateau to write the Da Vinci Code?

  • What inspired the Cathars to be burned alive instead of renouncing their alternative Christian faith at Minerve and Montsegur?

  • What inspired Picasso and his colleagues to paint in and around Collioure?

  • How did the monks of Limoux and Saint Hilaire create the first natural sparkling wine in the 1400’s?

  • And much more! If you are curious about the history of our area you might want to google the following. These are just a few but each has an interesting story and some pictures.

    • Bugarach and the flipping of the Mayan calendar, Jules Verne, The upside down mountain

    • The Cathar wars – Minerve, Montsegur

    • Templar treasures in the Aude

    • Celtic Fairies of the Aude 

    • The Cave Paintings of Niaux

    • Collioure, Ceret and Picasso

    • The mystery of Rennes le Chateau

    • The Abbey of Lagrasse

    • Alet les Bains and the Wars of Religion and Nostradamus

    • Cucugnan, the Bakery and Queribus

    • Narbonne and the Romans

    • Montolieu, village of books

    • Camon, village of roses

    • Blanquette de Limoux and Saint Hilaire

    • Notre Dame de Marceille and the Black Virgin 

    • Aude and La Chanson de Roland

    • Fanjeaux and Saint Dominic

    • Alaric’s Mountain

    • Carcassonne

    • Saint Hilaire Aude

    • Mirepoix Ariege

    • Puivert

    • Mont Louis

OK. Enough! I think you get the picture. This is the deal:

Price per person is $2950(USD) per person for the two weeks here. A $500 deposit secures the reservation and the rest is normally due two months before arrival. But in this uncertain year for travel, we don’t need the balance until a couple of weeks before you actually arrive. For this

  • We pick you up on arrival and drop you off on departure at Toulouse International  Airport or at a hotel in Toulouse if you want to visit the city before or after our vacation.  Arrival is Saturday the 17th of July and departure Saturday July 31, 2021.

  • Accommodation double occupancy at Le Monastere or the Vine or Fern House. Everyone has their own bed – and big beds for couples. All large bathrooms and showers are in each room.

  • All breakfasts and all evening meals, except Wednesday evening meals

  • Accompanied outings to painting sites on all days except Wednesdays and Saturdays.

  • Individual and group critques from Dale

  • Access to the studio

  • Chairs, easels and boards

As you will find, we significantly under price for what we offer.  This leaves lots of room to buy whatever travel insurance you need.  We never cancel, but governments can forbid access.  We don’t expect this to happen, but you never know.

Also, our setup is the safest you will find if you are nervous about COVID.  First, Le Monastere isn’t open to the general public. You will be the only ones in residence and our staff will be fully vaccinated.  It is quiet where we paint, and all outdoors.  All of our meals this year are either in house at Le Monastere or private dinners prepared by excellent chefs. The airports are safe and we pick you up directly from your flights and do the same on return.  I am the boss and make all of the decisions based on your requirements. Very flexible.

Chris Georgas