“I’m going to France to live in a cave,” I declared to my friends and family. It was the heart of winter and my loved ones rolled their eyes, passing the notion off as another whimsical idea . . . until I packed up and went.
I’d spent the previous year traveling and was desperate for some solitude to focus on my writing. Courtesy of Google I discovered an exciting property nestled in a small village overlooking the Loire River in the center of France.
It was a house fascia crafted onto a cliff face, a genuine troglodyte cave house. I stepped over the threshold and signed the lease without pause.
An interesting few months lay ahead, but I didn’t appreciate how good living in a cave was going to be for me and the new skills that I would acquire:
1) Coming to Enjoy Solitude
I thrive most when I’m surrounded by people, and being tucked away on top of a cliff, a steep and snowy walk from the village plunged me into a state of solitude.
For four long weeks, with few acquaintances in the area and the promise of friends visiting as far away as spring, I started to worry about the prospect of loneliness.
However, each day I came to enjoy my own company more: Time to read a book I’d bought months ago, listening to long forgotten music tracks and finally dedicating time to write.
I found the solitude and silence promoted peace and calm within me.
2) Learning to Cook Seasonally
For the first time in a long time I didn’t have access to good transport. The buses appeared once a week when the mood suited and a rental car was too costly.
Without access to a large supermarket I had to shop locally, which equated to the weekly farmer’s market. After my first visit, French basked loaded with goodies, I assessed my purchases: a ripe round of Camembert, a fresh baguette, a bag of mushrooms, a bunch of earth-covered carrots and a bottle of fresh apple juice.
That week’s meals were interesting, and a great lesson in planning and concocting meals from whatever was available locally and seasonally.
Understanding the local produce. Photo by Urban Hafner.
3) Understanding How to Light a Real Log Fire (and Keep it Burning)
If there’s one thing I learned about living in a cave, it is how damn cold they are.
As modern as my cave was, complete with all the modern utilities, the cave walls had a unique ability to leech away the heat. A roaring wood fire was burning when I arrived thanks to my landlord, but when I tried to replicate the same the flames the next day, all I got was a fast burning firelighter and slowly smoldering kindling.
It took weeks of persistence, blackened hands and a lot of billowing to get my first fire up to standard. It’s a skill I hope I’ll never loose.
Building a fire that will burn, not burn out. Photo by wwarby.
4) Appreciating Good Wine
Did I mention that my cave came complete with a wine cellar? And a very generous offer to help myself.
At first I was reticent to take advantage, and with many of the bottles cast in cave dust and with partially eroded labels due to age, I wasn’t sure where to begin. A short while into my stay I finally ventured into the cellar and picked a bottle at random.
It didn’t taste good; it tasted amazing. Over the next weeks I slowly sampled my way around the cellar learning the different tones of the various bottles.
Without brands and grape names to guide me, I came to rely on taste alone, broadening my willingness to experiment and find new wines.
Learning to appreciate new wines. Photo by hchalkley.
5) Meeting a Different World of People
I’d never lived in a small village before, and without my usual circle of family and friends, I was forced to meet new people.
Necessities determined the first people I met—the butcher who came to know my preferred cut of beef, the baker who would put aside a baguette for me each day, the man in the bar who knew how to brew up fiercely strong coffee.
My generous landlords introduced me to their friends, and I spent a wonderful evening dwelling in the cave of a once famous illustrator who had a penchant for small-scale Sherlock Holmes sets.
These were people I would seldom meet in a city, lives I would never have come to understood and people whom I was delighted to have met.
Meeting people from every walk of life at the local flea market. Photo by photos-chinon.cite-creative.
When I packed up and left the cave that had been my home for three months, I was sad to say good-bye, but with a myriad of new skills, I knew that it had been a short time well spent.
Have you spent a lot of time in solitude? What skills or life lessons did you learn? Let me know in the comments below.
If you liked this article, you might also like: 6 Things I Learned about Myself through 100 Hours of Meditation.
Main photo: maison troglodyte by nicolas.boullosa.