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Painting in France

Arrange Your Own Program as a Senior and Get What You Want

Scene in France
A scene in France, painted by the author.

When I retired I decided I wanted to learn something new: painting. For me that meant going to France—alone, for an extended stay. I wanted to be in a small village where I could easily amble the countryside, meet the people, and enjoy the local culture.

Surfing the Internet for painting classes and workshops, I found wonderful listings at www.artshow.com/workshops and www.frenchpaintbox.com. But most workshops were only for a week, with a specific artist; the prices were $1,000-$3,000.

Then I found the site www.artinswfrance.com, an art center in the Languedoc area of France that offers classes all year long with a trained and qualified tutor. While they offer a wide range of topics as well as subject matter for painting, I was most impressed by their “trained tutors,” as opposed to the “artists painting on holiday”—not experienced teachers—who taught most workshops.

After locating Carcassonne and the small village of Montréal de l’Aude on my map, I emailed the folks at the art center (info@artinswfrance.com) and eventually signed up for four weeks of instruction (split into two time blocks) with meals and accommodations for $2,589.

I went during the winter when airline fares were at their lowest. Using the website www.cheapflights.com and www.nofrillsair.com I was able to find really cheap airfares to fly into the smaller towns. So after booking a flight into Heathrow, I reserved a flight from London to Carcassonne and then from Nimes back to London. I planned to travel around and paint in several locations before returning home. To get from Heathrow to Standsted, which the smaller airlines use, I located the $18 bus shuttle, listed on www.nofrillsair.com.

Then began the search for apartments, inexpensive hotels, and rentals, which are overwhelmingly numerous. A couple of useful sites to get started are www.holidaylettings.co.uk and www.selfcateringhols.com. But using any search engine with key words “rentals,” “apartments,” and “France” will turn up many sites that can then be narrowed to the specific towns of interest.

The time spent on the Internet was well worth it. I found an apartment with my own entrance, washing machine, and cooking facilities for a 3-week stay in the home of a retired art teacher from England who had recently moved to St. Chinian, France, another small village. She even had a studio I could use and she gave me the schedule for the local buses I needed to take.

To find the exchange rates to determine the amounts for deposits, I used the universal currency converter. Some places wanted reservations paid in euros, others wanted pounds, and they all wanted the money wired—creating additional costs. My bank charged $22 per wire transfer; the receiving bank also charged the account owner another fee, which I had to make up in the final payments.

You may ask, “wouldn’t a painting group tour have been easier and cheaper?” Probably. But I planned to be abroad for three months. I wanted substantive painting instruction. And I wanted to get acquainted with people and culture in the south of France while learning to paint. There was no way to get what I wanted unless I did it myself. It was a fantastic experience.

Sarah Massey recently retired from the Institute of Texan Cultures, where she developed and published educational materials for the teaching of Texas history. Her books include Black Cowboys of Texas.

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