Working on a Castle – Volunteer Travel in France

categories: europe travel


  • Viewing Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower
  • Sipping Champagne in Epernay
  • Shopping in Cannes

None of these activities are what Heather Hansen was looking for when she planned her recent trip to France. She and a friend chose a volunteer vacation. Instead of the usual tourist activities, they learned medieval stone laying methods while they helped repair the grounds of an old castle in the medieval village of St. Victor La Coste.

Heather says of the trip. “This was a way to experience France in a more personal and much more memorable way. ”

The stay was more rustic than luxurious as they woke in the morning to the cooing of the pigeons in the coop next to their room on the 3rd story of a medieval stone house. They spent their days rebuilding a stone path and a drystone wall under the tutelage of Pascal, a master stone setter. Pascal was very particular about getting the right stone in the right place and making sure the path was level and sloped to handle rain runoff. In the afternoons and evenings, Pascal became their tour guide. Bories%20-%20shepard%20houses

He showed them conical stone houses called bories built by shepherds, local castles, an ancient Roman aqueduct, and the ubiquitous local vineyards. As they toured the town’s castle Pascal described the original structure, the modifications, and the building techniques.

One evening after dinner, they played petanque (French lawn bowling) with their cook Priscilla and the other the locals in the town square until it was too dark to see the balls.

On the last day, they worked next to Genoux, the owner. The more they would say “no parle Francias” the faster he talked. He explained everything in great detail in French as they tried to follow his hand motions.

What made this vacation memorable? “I enjoyed living in the medieval village, eating traditional food, it was like going back in time to a simpler way of life.  Also, I enjoyed listening to the French talk about their history and how it shapes their views of current politics.  It’s a very different perspective than one gets from the media in this country. I feel connected to a piece of history that lives on in rural France.  I have great memories that will last forever.  When I came home, I built a dry stone wall along the flower bed in my front yard.  It reminds me of France.”

For more information about volunteer opportunities in France see La Sabranenque.

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by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast. He has been a travel creator since 2005 and has won awards including being named the "Best Independent Travel Journalist" by Travel+Leisure Magazine.

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