HELEN & LESLIE
Romancing the Ordinary is an extraordinary holiday experience inspired and created by Helen Bell and Leslie Mueller who met through a mutual love of sailing, adventure, and nature. When they met in 2017, they also discovered that they shared an appreciation of the beauty that may be found in the ordinary things in life and so the concept of Romancing the Ordinary was nurtured and launched later that year.
Although both will readily admit that they enjoy some of the life luxuries too, they increasingly find themselves seeking out ordinary experiences to share with their guests as a gentle reminder of what is truly important in life - family, friends, health and wellbeing. They live and breathe their motto “seek pleasure in the ordinary and in doing so you will find the extraordinary”.
Leslie the father of two sons, a keen yachtsman and snow skier was born in Skipton, North Yorkshire to an English farmer’s daughter Kathleen who had a long history of farming stretching back several generations and a father Siegfried who was a German prisoner of war. The family became successful dairy cattle and sheep farmers and so Leslie’s formative years were spent exploring the wild and windswept moors of the idyllic Yorkshire Dales where he was fed a diet of fresh air, wide-open spaces and nature.
He graduated as an architect and worked in London for a number of years before moving to the Gloucestershire countryside where he established several successful businesses including breeding alpacas which he describes as adorable and gentle creatures with an almost spiritual nature.
His father loved the South of France and so bought a holiday home in Chateauneuf de Grasse in the French Riviera where the family took their annual holidays and so began Leslie’s love affair with this area of beautiful landscapes, azure blue oceans, steeped in history and art. He purchased his own villa in 2007 and has since made many improvements and changes, for example, he designed and built the whole of the new west wing by himself.
He says” It is my love and intimate knowledge of this area of France and deep connection with nature that inspired me to change direction in life and together conspire with Helen to create an extraordinary experience for our Romancing the Ordinary guests. I wish to share with others the delights of this special little corner of the French Riviera and hope that our guests will find their time with us a unique and special experience that they will never forget. Life is essentially a book, a story with a beginning and an end, although in my case there have been several books. Meeting Helen and establishing Romancing the Ordinary is the final book in my life, I suspect it will have many chapters and may possibly never end”.
Helen the mother of two daughters and three grandchildren who were also born in Yorkshire, has always been an intrepid traveller and adventure seeker. She has ridden the spectacular switchback mountain roads of India on an old Royal Enfield motorcycle, flown and free fall parachuted out of some lovely old vintage aircraft, skied her way down mountain tracks around the world and slept under the stars on live-aboard dive boats in remote locations so that she could dive amongst the early morning feeding sharks and other amazing marine life. More recently she took up sailing which is how she met Leslie with whom she now shares her life and their two homes one in Lincolnshire, England and the other being their beautiful villa that is tucked away in the forests of the French Riviera.
Before Romancing the Ordinary was launched Helen had raced through life as a successful corporate lawyer and partner in a commercial law firm where she found herself immersed in a relentless lifestyle of 12 plus hour working days. Constantly plugged into a digital world of laptops, emails and telephone calls from which there seemed to be no escape, she felt that time with her family and her love of nature and the outdoor life were being severely compromised possibly along with her health too and so one day as she was sitting at her desk staring out of the window she simply made the decision to engage on the path to a new life and gave immediate notice of her intended departure.
“I remember going home from work that day and asking myself what had I done? I really liked the people I was working with and had some great client relationships that had become friends over the years that I would miss and I didn’t have any idea what a new life might look or feel like. I do however believe in fate and in myself and so upon invitation from Leslie with whom I had been communicating from England about a possible joint sailing trip, I caught an aeroplane to the South of France where I lived alone on his boat MARA for two weeks exploring on foot, bus and train some of the hidden treasures of the French Riviera. A first meeting between the two of us some weeks later led to a number of conversations about the possibility of creating a special and unique retreat-style holiday together. I was easily persuaded to stay on a few days more and so we talked some more and have been together ever since creating and developing our dream. It’s an amazing adventure for me to embark upon at my time of life but I do believe in my heart that what we have created is something totally unique and beautiful and which over the years to come will bring great pleasure to others.
“A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together with someone is a reality”
WHAT IS DIFFERENT ABOUT US?
So you’ve done the safari, trekked in far-flung places and cruised on luxury ocean liners and are wondering what’s next on your bucket list but you also like the idea that your next holiday might additionally enhance your health and well being. We are an increasingly health-conscious population that seeks to live longer, look and feel younger than our years as well as achieving a level of health and fitness that enables us to do all of the things we wish to do. The health benefits that can be had from attending a retreat can, therefore, be a very attractive proposition but not everyone wants to be fed a diet of carrot juice and lettuce leaves, meditate and practise yoga twice a day or embark upon an assault-type fitness regime that would leave many a self-respecting athlete standing at the starting line. What we offer seeks to tick both boxes - a retreat-style holiday that is in many ways potentially health-enhancing and definitely different.
Hosted from our delightful Provençal villa located close to Grasse, the perfume capital of the world in the elegant French Riviera, surrounded by tranquil forests and wildflower meadows, we take small groups of no more than eight guests into our home and on a fully and personally escorted journey of wonderful nostalgic and sensory experiences based on the five senses.
We are not tourist guides and we don’t haul you around the glitz and glamour of the French Riviera with hoards of other tourists. Our aim is that you experience the French Riviera steeped in art and history as we do and engage with this stunning area rich in wildlife, beautiful scenery, medieval hilltop villages, forests and mountains, culinary delights, open markets, perfumeries, lavender fields, lakes and mountains. We invite you to experience all of this through engaging intimately with your five senses of taste, touch, smell, listening and sight .... the French Riviera is a sensory dream.
With our guests we get lost in the stillness and timeless beauty of medieval hilltop villages, we savour aromatic and tasting experiences at markets, olive mills and vineyards, delight in enchanting picnics in special places and provide afternoon teas and decadent dinners accompanied by our lovely old 1920’s gramophone and of course seek to engage with nature at every opportunity by walking, cycling and swimming. The choice is yours.
From the moment you step off your aeroplane until the moment you step back on it, we personally attend to you throughout your stay with us. All excursions and experiences are personally escorted by us - there is no waiting for the bus that calls at numerous hotels before picking you up and dropping you off. We take you everywhere door to door.
All of your meals are prepared by us unless of course you dine away from the villa and we can tell you exactly what ingredients go into each and every dish and how we make it.
We think that our holiday serves as a lovely reminder of what is important in life and how pleasure may be gained from noticing the extraordinary in the ordinary as a means of enhancing one’s life. In this troubled world, there is nevertheless so much day to day beauty in our lives all around us, particularly as provided by nature, we just need to remind ourselves of this from time to time. We are not aware of any other holiday that offers what we do - please do take time to read our reviews to see what our guests have said about us.
WHAT'S INCLUDED IN OUR RETREAT
All of our bedrooms are individually themed and tastefully decorated. Retreat guests can expect to sleep on high thread count quality bed linen with snuggly pillows, cushions and throws, a bathrobe and nice fluffy towels. In keeping with our Environmental Policy towels are changed upon request. We provide you with a separate towel for your personal use around the swimming pool and you will always have access to a sun lounger.
Each room also contains a supply of wooden coat hangers, a hairdryer, quality hand washing soap and shower gel. Hair straighteners are also available upon request.
In the warmer months, we provide mosquito nets and plug-in anti-mosquito repellants. All rooms have typically french shuttered windows that enable you to keep your room cooler and protected from the early morning sun should you wish to sleep later.
Three meals a day are included on all of our retreat experiences except for seven-day retreats when for one lunch and one evening you will have the opportunity to dine in a local French restaurant at your own cost. Should you prefer not to take up these opportunities we will provide you with a simple supper. Please note that in the warmer months of the year lunch will often be a lovely picnic taken al fresco at special locations.
All soft drinks, teas (including herbal ones) and coffee. A bean to the coffee station and tea making facilities are available 24 hours. Wine is provided with your evening meal. Located in the Art Studio there is also a dedicated fridge for you to store any personal purchases of alcohol along with an ice-making machine for use during the day.
All travel, entry fees and associated costs relating to the experience programme that you choose.
We are personally committed to healthy eating and subscribe to the Nordic philosophy of “lagom” which means “just the right amount” which in practice means that we don’t restrict anything in our diets but neither do we have anything in excess. The Nordic people follow this concept and this is one of the reasons why they are often so healthy and so we have applied this thinking to our retreat food.
We pride ourselves on the quality of the ingredients we use and every dish is prepared fresh in-house and so we can always tell you if you ask us, what ingredients are contained in all of our dishes and how we make them. For your enhanced enjoyment, we are committed to preparing our food in creative ways but not at the expense of it looking like something that should hang on the wall of an art gallery. You can expect food that will be fresh, seasonal and where possible locally sourced such that we may not know what the menu will be on any particular day until we go out shopping for the ingredients, but you can be assured that it will be delicious and satisfying. Perhaps take a moment to read our reviews and look at our gallery of photos.
It is possible for us to cater for certain dietary requirements such as gluten and dairy-free but we would need to discuss and agree on such arrangements with you before confirming your booking with us.
OUR ECO PRACTICES
We recognise the impact that our business could have on the environment if we do not take care and are committed to developing what we do in a way that promotes environmental sustainability.
We aspire to be a largely paperless business and so communicate by electronic mail where we can and use recycled paper for our stationery where reasonably possible. We compost all of our organic waste which we use in the garden. We also collect rainwater, recycle and upcycle.
We are gradually changing all of our lightings over to utilise low energy lamps and all of our lightings is on timed switches. Bedding and towels are only changed upon request and we are exploring the use of eco-friendly natural cleaning products.
We have a plastics policy which means that we don’t use disposable plastic cups or straws and the bins in our bedrooms do not have bin liners. We have refillable toiletry containers in all of our rooms and when we go shopping we try to shop at local markets and supermarkets that allow us to select products unpackaged and place them straight into our own containers or bags.
We love the soft light that candles bring to some of our retreat experiences and so we get through quite a few. We are currently looking at the possibility of using “soy” candles. Soy wax, made from soya beans is eco-friendly, sustainable and has a cleaner, healthier and longer burn time than traditional petroleum-based paraffin candles.
As lovers of nature, we have placed bird feeding stations around the garden and water is provided for them from a shallow pond where frogs can and do lay their eggs. We have created bug and bee log pile habitats as havens for the local wildlife such as the geckos and insects and we allow the squirrels to feed undisturbed on our walnut tree.
Although we seek to achieve all of the above, we would like to reassure our guests that we do so in a way that does not compromise the high standard of comfort and enjoyment that you would expect.
We seek to welcome people with disabilities and have one ground floor double bedroom with an en-suite facility and sunken bath. We can provide a temporary ramp to this room which enables access directly from the terrace outside. The swimming pool has built-in steps enabling gradual access but does not have supportive handrails.
We would mention that the nature of our retreat activities, particularly those that take place away from the villa, could restrict an individual’s ability to participate in some of the experiences that we offer. The best thing to do is drop us a line to discuss your personal requirements.
Our nearest airport is Nice International which is conveniently located only half an hour away from our villa. We try to include privately chauffeured pick up and return services for all our guests subject to prior discussion and agreement on timings. It is really helpful to us if all arrivals can be together. If it is not reasonably practicable for us to pick you up or return you to the airport, we will let you know before you book your flights. We usually find that we can work something out with you. If however, we are unable to provide you with the transfers we can arrange for a local taxi firm to do so...
We hope that you have enjoyed reading through this information and feel inspired to join us for a week of Romancing the Ordinary. We all live in a highly pressured and digitally controlled world that is not always good for our health and well being. It’s easy to forget what is important in life, what makes us smile and what we should be grateful for and so taking time out to press the “pause button” is also about being kind to yourself. Romance yourself - you are worth it!
The only thing that we ask of you is to bring an open mind and heart along with a willingness to have fun, enjoy laughter and seek the ordinary to find the extraordinary.
We look forward to welcoming you to our home soon.