Two women — one from Olympia and one from Mercer Island — are enjoying semi-retired life in one of Europe’s favorite village, medieval St Cirq Lapopie in Southwest France.
Pat Hains and Ann Lokey love where they live so much they set up a business — a wood-fired oven baking class-in-residence they call “Pilgrims au Pain” — to share it with others.
“I would never leave the Northwest unless I found something that suited me better,” said Hains, who used to run a bed and breakfast in Olympia called Hains House.
For “Pilgrims Au Pain,” Hains is the baker, and Lokey is the hostess. Guests stay in Lokey’s “Maison d’Être,” a four-bed, four-and-a-half bath home built in the 15th century, but updated and expanded in 2010.
Lokey first visited St Cirq Lapopie in 1986, on a road trip with her sister.
“I thought it was so beautiful,” she said. “It became one of my favorite places in the world.”
In 2008, “forces conspired” and presented Lokey and husband, Mark Clausen, with an opportunity to buy a home there. Lokey lives there in the spring and fall, and they rent it out for the summer.
“It was so much easier to do than we could have imagined. For me, it was the start of ‘living the dream,’” according to Lokey. “Before long, I realized that I could not defer these years, so I spent more and more time there.”
Hains came to a similar realization when she wanted to sell her 5-acre farm and move to Europe. Hains has studied bread baking in France, Italy and Germany.
“I always wanted to learn a foreign language, but I was busy with five kids,” she said. “I just thought, now is the time to do it. I don’t think I’m too old, but I better hurry up.”
A mutual friend introduced Hains and Lokey to each other about a year ago, and an idea was born: Hains would teach guests how to bake baguettes, fresh focaccia, croissants, pretzels and bagels in Lokey’s ancient bread oven.
The pilgrims had their first class in April — and Hains and Lokey said it went very well, offering people the kind of immersive and authentic experience they were aiming for — and followed it with other classes in May, August and October. They plan to offer four residencies again next year.
Perched on a sheer 300-foot drop above the Lot River, the village offers very few signs of anything more recent than the 18th century. St Cirq Lapopie is ranked premiere among France’s “Most Beautiful Villages” and is under consideration as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Lokey said it is “fantasy land,” but very rural, “like a walk back in time.”
“At this point in my life, I love the tranquility of a small town,” she said.
Her philosophy is shared by the other ex-patriots who have moved to the village, including some from Australia and Hong Kong, though it remains relatively undiscovered by American tourists. Still, Hains and Lokey are thinking of ways to expand their business beyond bread, to provide more experiences for their local community.
“We thought, the French won’t go to a baking class taught by Americans, but ex-pats might,” Lokey said.
They’re also thinking of offering residencies for photographers, artists and cyclists.
“We’re well-equipped to plan it,” Lokey said. “If you have a passion, bring it here, and bring your group.”
The southwest region of France is also known for its wine, truffles and foie gras, and for its cave paintings.
“Pilgrims au Pain” classes also include lodging, visits to local markets and chateaux, a bakers apron and hat and several breakfasts, lunches and other meals, including a pizza dinner and a farewell celebration with local live music and dancing.
Their class is for any age group and level of baking experience, Hains said; everyone is welcome.
“Everyone should visit at least once,” Hains said. “It really is a special place… I hadn’t considered living here, but once I visited, I thought oh yeah, this is really lovely.”
See www.pilgrimsaupain.com for more.