What’s your favorite destination souvenir?
Some of my friends collect ornaments and then hang them on a “travel tree” each holiday season. Another, an avid golfer, collects logo balls and displays them in his study.
Some like knickknacks; others love artwork. For my spouse, it’s logo hats.
While I’m no stranger to bringing home cool merch, my favorite souvenir can’t be displayed.
I like to bring home experience: the things I see, feel and learn on a trip.
Plymouth art teacher and lover of wanderlust Elizabeth “Lizzie” Rioux may just have created the perfect adventure/escape for those who “collect” as I do. Called “AWE,” (Arts and Wellness Experience; https://awe.space), this trip takes you – for 11 days – to a beautiful French chateau to explore art, yoga, cooking, travel and more, all with a goal of guiding you to new – or renewed—personal experiences.
And while the trip centers on art, it’s not in any way a trip for purely experienced artists.
“The goal is to think about this: How can we take what we’re feeling, experiencing and seeing what we are drawn to and then keep that feeling to connect, create and learn back to the ‘real world,’” Rioux said.
The trip’s home base is Chateau Rouffillac (https://www.chateauderouffillac.com) a recently renovated hilltop chateau in the heart of France’s Dordogne Valley.
Guests settle in with a team of supporters: artists to teach you painting and drawing, a yogi to guide your yoga practice, chefs to prepare amazing French fare, a life coach to help you embrace the experience, and more.
The goal, Rioux said, is to open minds to new experiences in a comfortable, beautiful, inspirational and easy-to-maneuver setting. It is, if you will, a kind of “spa for the soul” experience.
Rioux, who teaches art at Plymouth South Middle School in Massachusetts and is operator of the “Art Bar” program in and around the South Shore, came up with the idea in two stages: First, after she traveled to France for an art teacher conference; one in which she hoped to come away inspired.
“It was with amazing artists and seemed like a great change to grow (as an artist),” she said. Instead, she went home beaten down.
“I left feeling more like a crafter than a fine artist,” she said. “I cried about it, and in that moment, I decided I never wanted anyone else to feel that way.”
Soon after, at the hospice bedside of her late mother, she made a vow.
“I told her, ‘I’m going to take Art Bar and bring it to France and at a new level,” she said.
That was five years ago. Today, AWE, in its third year, attracts guests of all ages, most with little if any art experience but all looking to connect, embrace and expand their lives in some way.
“We have everyone from CEO’s to hippies, and somehow: we all become family,” she said. And art experience isn’t a requirement. “Some have never held a paint brush before.”
But the combo of the glamour of the setting and the breadth of the program opens them up to finding their talents – of many kinds.
The program does have an itinerary: there’s a welcome dinner and champagne toast night one and a kind of “art show” of what all accomplish the last night; sandwiched between are lessons, spa treatments (estheticians are on site), excursions to vineyards and historic spots, hot air ballooning, lots of food, journaling sessions, competition on the boules court and more.
The days are, Rioux said, yours to create, using or ignoring each day’s offerings. You can be as hands-on (or off) as you wish: savor the food or take a hand in cooking it; explore the landscape or paint it or both.
AWE runs from Aug. 5 through Aug. 16 this summer and registration is open. Your fee includes your room (all are ensuite at this chateau), all meals, art supplies, instruction, activities, excursions and transfers to and from the train station there.
Rioux expects some returnees (“Once you’ve gone you want to go again,”) and encourages those interested to reach out about payment plans. A $1,000 deposit is required to reserve a space.
“We like to make it so it’s doable for all,” she said.