As we drive down a steep narrow driveway in the Limousin region of France, a beam of sunshine lights up a beautiful stone building at the bottom of the slope. Covered with wisteria and Virginia creeper, with red wooden shutters, and a beautifully abundant lime tree hanging over the garden, I can already tell that our stay here, at Le Moulin de Pensol, will hold a deep connection to nature. A time for relaxing, healing, and simply being at the start of our month-long trip in France.
A gentle stream runs in front of the old mill house and wild flower blooms all around. Heidi, who runs Le Moulin de Pensol with her partner, Nik, shows us to our newly converted B&B room on the second floor of the mill. The windows are wide open and a gentle breeze blows into the room. Its walls are a beautiful lilac, with a cosy antique bed and images of flora and fauna adding a natural touch to the walls. But the evening light is too good to miss, so we leave our bags and head straight outside to explore the grounds.
In a place like Le Moulin de Pensol, all five senses are constantly activated and enjoyed. The feel of the warm evening sun on our English skin; the sound of the gentle stream rumbling past the old mill; the scent of sweet flora changing with every footstep, as something new enters into our trail; the sight of butterflies flitting and lizards play-fighting on the old wooden bridge; and the taste of pure, natural air filling our lungs, somewhere that feels so far from industry, pollution, noise and stress.
Yet this is a place where nature and culture intertwine. That evening we headed into a local village, Marval, for a night of music, laughter and food. Settled in the high-ceilinged room of a traditional French bar, we ate our Croque Monsieur and frites while listening to the sounds of an accordion, guitar, violin and tin whistle creating jovial notes against French and English lyrics from locals and expats in the bar. Despite the language barrier, we had lovely conversation with the locals who were welcoming and thrilled to see tourists enjoying their hidden region. We then wandered the empty streets of Marval as a storm brewed on the horizon; dauntingly looming, yet providing a simply stunning backdrop to the antiquated houses and buildings of the village.
Just as the skies suggested, an aggressive storm came in the following day. It was frustrating to be cooped up inside when we had seen how beautiful the surrounding nature was at Le Moulin de Pensol the previous day - and all we wanted to do was explore it! We spent the morning enjoying cups of coffee, cosied on the sofa with a warming fire, before heading into the nearest ‘big’ town, Piegut-Pluviers, to visit the local, artisan market. Piles of fresh fruit and veg, olives, meat, fish and local produce provided a welcome spark of colour on a grey, drizzly day. We drove back to Le Moulin through deeply forested roads; a bright shade of green in the afternoon rain.
Despite the downpour seemingly getting worse, that afternoon we armoured ourselves in wet-weather gear and headed out walking with Nik, who showed us the exceptional natural beauty of Le Moulin de Pensol, despite the rain. Rain, after all, is what makes this region so beautifully green, rich and biodiverse. These days are wholly necessary for a full and natural rejuvenation. We first headed up to some old caves that sit on the property. What once held an old bread oven and was probably used for food storage, now houses various species of bats that Heidi and Nik are keen to conserve. We walked onwards through fields of long grass; past wild patches of the River Bandiat that the couple are continuing to clear and preserve; through meadows of wildflower; and into a rich woodland of Sweet Chestnut. We end at the newest addition to Le Moulin de Pensol, the Donkey pen, where Vladimir, Bella and Napoleon were looking a little sombre in the rain, yet clearly fortunate in the pastures and woodland of their new home — with a never-ending amount of grazing to be had.
What was more than evident from our walk with Nik, was how passionate the couple are about conserving the life and biodiversity of nature in the 20 acres of Le Moulin de Pensol. Surrounding the mill house are two hectares of sweet chestnut coppice woodland; 52 species of butterfly; an abundance of amphibious life including pool frogs, edible frogs, marbled and great-crested newts; beautiful wildflower of cuckoo flower and King Cups flower that appear in the Spring; and marshland near the River Bandiat with rushes and fen plants. With a background in conservation, the vision of Nik and Heidi is to understand and preserve the rich biodiversity of local nature; to create a retreat in nature where humans and the natural world can live side by side, connected to one another in the most beautiful way possible. I fell in love with their vision, eager to soak in as much of the simple vibes of the place as possible.
That evening was pizza night! A portable pizza oven was set-up outside, and Nik made his famously delicious pizzas enjoyed with salads, nibbles and local wine. To finish was an English touch, rhubarb and custard! Settled inside, due to the weather, all the guests at Le Moulin de Pensol marvelled about the peace and nature of their stay, sharing lovely conversation and new friendships.
We awoke the next morning to sun streaming through our window and warm air on our skin. Unfortunately, we had to leave that morning, but not before enjoying a stroll through the meadows and woods; looking even more beautiful after the downpour of the day before. After rain, we could really enjoy the magic of Le Moulin de Pensol — a place where nature is so wonderfully abundant, where flowers bloom and creepy crawlies thrive. This is a place where you are forced willingly to escape into the sensational natural world of the Limousin Region of France; where the worries, stresses and anxieties of normal life can drift away along the River Bandiat.
For me, visiting places like Le Moulin de Pensol is the ideal way to feel connected to nature; for healing, self-discovery and growth. I feel most at peace when surrounded by the natural world; when feeling new winds on my face and new earth beneath my feet. This was the absolute perfect start to our time in France, and I can’t wait to return to Le Moulin de Pensol for an escape into nature again soon.
A gifted stay with Le Moulin de Pensol
Le Moulin de Pensol is run by Heidi and Nik Smith and can be found in the Limousin region of France.
They have three holiday homes (gites) that sleep 2-6 people and three new B&B rooms. Dogs are also welcome.
From the B&B, there is an abundance of hiking, wild swimming, culture, food and nature to be found, all in a beautiful and relatively unknown part of France. Found out more here.
Thanks to Heidi and Nik for a beautiful stay at Le Moulin de Pensol!