“All my life I’ve been biting off more than I can chew, and it’s what has pushed me on to projects I hardly thought myself capable of. Of all those things which I’ve finished and now I’m proudest to have taken on, there isn’t one that I haven’t at some point regretted ever starting.”
~ Matthew Parris from A Castle in Spain
During our short time there, we learned that l’Avenc de Tavertet isn’t simply a lovely hotel. It’s a story. A story of how a shared passion can bring people together as they discover a purpose they didn’t know they were destined for. The tranquil retreat and walk through history that this beautiful place offers its guests are the results of a family’s undaunted commitment to their passion. Belinda, one of the owners and operators of l’Avenc, along with her brother, husband and other relatives, saw a piece of history on the brink of death and together they used their time, money and continuous efforts to breathe life back into its walls. These owners aren’t in the hotel business to make money. They are committed to rooting a piece of history firmly into the future. As Belinda so eloquently put it in the second edition of the book A Castle in Spain, which chronicles the family’s journey in restoring the property, these owners “have grounded l’Avenc de Tavertet on to what over a thousand years it has so often struggled to find: an enduring reason to exist.”
It is this passion in their purpose that makes l’Avenc a truly special place. The trials, tribulations, triumphs and ongoing challenges that this family faces as they work to maintain and improve the property have instilled a unique energy into the grounds. When staying at l’Avenc, you feel privileged to be a part of the story in some small way. That’s what led us to talk to Belinda about doing one of our service projects with them. She obliged and let us spend a morning feeding chickens and prepping some garden boxes for planting. The blisters on my hands can attest to the fact that this was serious gardening. As I hacked away at the hard packed earth, the girls picked out the weeds and pulled out rocks. All of us were sweating in the morning sun and hours later my body is getting sore from the effort. This was a labor of love…a minuscule contribution we made to a place that has quickly found its way into our hearts.
After our morning effort, we enjoyed a wonderful breakfast and then got a tour of the famed l’Avenc house from Belinda herself. She, her husband and their pets now reside in the beautifully restored main house, which stands adjacent to a number of stone cottages available to hotel guests. The meticulous attention to detail in restoring the residence is a testament to their respect for its history and the mysteries it continues to insert into their lives. Is this stonework simply decorative trim or do these shapes suggest the owner was involved in the cacao trade? Does this faded painting of a boat on the wall mean that someone in the family was a sailor? I think owning a home eight centuries old would be like living in a life-sized puzzle. Our girls are still talking about the things they learned from Belinda and postulating their own theories on the mysteries she shared with us. Although, I had to let Alison down easy when she suggested that the dark wear marks on a wooden cupboard could be from a black crayon.
Although we won’t be returning to l’Avenc for quite some time, I know we will go back someday. I’m now reading the copy of A Castle in Spain that Belinda gave to us. It discusses the blind faith the family had as they leapt into this massive restoration project, which reminds me a little of the blind faith our family has as we take this journey together. For this reason, I love the quote from the book’s author, Belinda’s brother, that starts this blog post. Here’s to biting off more than we can chew and the rewards that come with it!