Take time out to find what makes you happy…
When Retreat owner Amy offers three lucky competition winners a holiday on the Cote d’Azur, she has no idea that this act of kindness will have life changing repercussions on her own life and those who join her…
Young entrepreneur Chelsea, is still grieving the tragic loss of her mother and has just been subjected to a very public relationship breakup. She needs to get away and lick her wounds.
MP’s wife Victoria is at a crossroads in her life now that the children have left home. Much to her husbands shock, she realises she has ambitions of her own and is desperate to reconnect/find her own identity. She needs some ‘me time’.
Recently widowed Matilda, is assessing life without her beloved husband. Their dream had always been to retire to France. Can she find the courage to follow their dream on her own?
Over the course of the ten days they spend together, the four women, despite their differences, support and bond, making memories and forming friendships that will last for years.
A restless Amy Martin wandered alone through Belle Vue Villa one Sunday afternoon in late March, lost deep in her memories and regrets. Today, the fifth anniversary of the opening of ‘Bell Vue Retreat’, was bittersweet in so many ways. She opened the kitchen door and stood on the terrace looking out over the garden towards the Mediterranean Sea glinting in the afternoon sunshine in the distance. Situated high up in the hills behind Cannes, Belle Vue Villa, one of the smaller belle époque villas along the coast, had enviable views overlooking the sea and over to the Esterel Mountains.
Standing there, Amy sniffed the air and looked around her appreciatively. The perfume from the several mimosa trees in the garden wafted past her, courtesy of the gentle onshore breeze. Amy thought, not for the first time, how life could surprise you with its endless unexpected twists and turns. Some bad. Some good.
The death of Aunt Tasha, her mother Fleur’s older sister, had been so sad, but leaving her Belle Vue had been a wonderful surprise – and something of a lifesaver. The two siblings had remained close throughout their lives, but whilst Fleur had stayed near to home when she married, Tasha had followed the love of her life to France and embraced everything that country had to offer. Amy remembered countless family summers spent in Belle Vue Villa, listening to the two sisters reminiscing about their eccentric childhood in the wilds of Somerset.
Fleur had been devastated by her sister’s early death, telling Amy she’d always known that the villa was to be left to her because a childless Tasha had adored her. ‘It’s just that none of us expected it to happen so soon,’ she’d cried.
Walking alone into the hauntingly silent villa the day the notaire had handed her the keys, knowing it was now hers, Amy had failed to stop the tears flowing. Tears of sorrow but also of guilt. She’d seen so little of Tasha in the last few years. They’d talked regularly and Fleur had kept her up to date with Tasha’s news and later her illness, but Amy had rarely visited. Pressure of work had been her prime excuse, although sadly not the full truth. The guilt that had flooded her body after that last hospital visit to see Tasha had been painful.
The fact that Belle Vue had enabled her to escape her old life and create a new one for herself gave her an overwhelming feeling of gratitude. Knowing it was the direct result of Aunt Tasha dying though was the hardest thing to bear and accept. A true bittersweet inheritance.
Tasha had run Belle Vue Villa as a successful auberge after Francois, her husband, had died and Amy knew that the villa would have to continue to earn its keep for her in the future. Rather than having holidaymakers turn up willy-nilly looking for a bed, Amy decided to focus on offering short retreats for writers and painters throughout the year. That way she’d always know how busy she’d be – with the added bonus of not having to worry about unexpected or unwanted strangers knocking on the door at all times of the day or night.
Lots of Tasha’s guests had left comments in the visitor’s book over the years, saying how special the house felt; how serene the atmosphere around the place was; several had said the villa was definitely a little French paradise. Amy had vowed to herself that she would do her utmost to keep the lovely ambiance that Tasha had masterfully created in and around the villa, while she endeavoured to put her own stamp on the place.
Five years on, Amy knew she could feel proud of what she’d achieved at Belle Vue. The auberge was now a popular venue as a retreat for artists and writers and it was her guests who left compliments in the visitor’s book and were returning time and time again. One particular writer had returned four times last year, saying she wrote more in a week when staying there than she wrote in a month at home. Amy knew Tasha would be proud and thrilled for her at the way the retreat had found its place in a niche market and taken off so well.
Turning back into the kitchen, Amy picked up the photo of her aunt that stood on the dresser and gently touched it. She owed Tasha so much. Thoughtfully, she replaced the photo. But how to show that gratitude? Tasha had always drummed into her the notion ‘it’s easy to take, but you must always, always give back too’. Amy knew that if Tasha had still been alive, she’d have wholeheartedly endorsed the current ‘do a random act of kindness for a stranger’ memes that seemed to appear every day on social media.
Amy smiled, remembering how Tasha had thoroughly embraced social media, joining groups, signing up for causes and having hundreds of friends on Facebook. Amy also knew her grateful act of ‘paying it back’ was long overdue, but despite thinking about it for weeks, months, not a single idea had surfaced. Nothing she thought of seemed grateful enough.
She glanced at the kitchen clock. A little early, but she’d open the bottle of wine she’d bought especially for today and leave it to breathe for a while. Opening a bottle of wine and silently toasting Tasha while watching the DVD of the film Enchanted April was a ritual that always finished off this particular day for Amy. Tasha had introduced her to the film and together they had watched it countless times.
As the credits rolled at the end of the film, Amy switched off the DVD, poured the last of the wine into her glass and opened her laptop, her head spinning not only from the wine she’d drunk but also with the perfect idea of how to give something back. To finally thank the universe for her good fortune.
Like the film she’d just watched, where an advertisement drew four women together, all strangers to each other, for a holiday in an Italian castle in the 1920s, her random act of kindness would begin with an advertisement too. Not in a newspaper but on twenty-first century social media.
Are you a woman who longs to spend time in retreat? Or simply in need of a holiday?
Answer the following question: Who wrote the book Enchanted April, and in less than one hundred words say which character you identify with most and why you need to win a holiday (June 6–16) at a retreat in the countryside behind the French Riviera. Travel expenses not included but low-cost flights are available to Nice. Transport to and from the airport will be arranged. Please note the date of the holiday on offer is NOT changeable or transferable.
Competition closes midnight the 31st of this month. Three lucky winners will be notified by email within one week of the competition closing.
Thank you, Jennifer Bohnet and Boldwood Books
About the author
Jennifer Bohnet is the bestselling author of over 10 women’s fiction titles, including Rosie’s Little Cafe on the Riviera and The Little Kiosk By The Sea. She is originally from the West Country but now lives in the wilds of rural Brittany, France.
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