It all started back in early June last year when I saw a fellow Australian dog photographer (Dani of Happy Flying Dog Photography) post a photo on her Instagram account of a photo of her Barkjour welcome card.
I knew about Barkjour, I’d read all about it, but not for a nanosecond did I ever consider I’d be able to go. This was the kind of experience that sits at the top of life’s bucket list. “An out of this world pet photography retreat” being facilitated by three of the best pet photographers and teachers on our planet.
But when I saw Dani’s photo on Instagram, my mind jumped into action and I started to realise that this wasn’t an impossibility, I hadn’t had an overseas trip in years and I’d just gone through a very tough three years with the loss of my dog Ruby, my brother Peter, my Dad, my father in law Tom, and then my Mum… all within a 30 month period. I needed this… I knew I had to go. By going, it would mean I would spend the first anniversary of my Mum’s passing doing what I loved, what I was passionate about. So I applied, and I got accepted!
My husband Neal found the opportunity far too tempting not to go too, so I booked him also and within 48 hours everything was organised!
We spent the next few months getting psyched and this included learning a little basic French and booking our #3dogkateers into the pet resort.
Fast forward to our arrival in Paris after a very long 27 hours of flying and we dragged ourselves and our luggage to the little hotel we’d booked, and then headed out on a hot Sunday afternoon, to partake in some French dining. I should say stumbled out, as we were exhausted, but we were also heightened by the excitement of being in Paris. We walked and walked and found a great little restaurant “Pizza Sant’Antonio” in Le Marais where we ate wonderful food and drank glorious French Rose and on the walk home we ate French gelato shaped into roses.
We had every intention of going back to the hotel, having a quick nap, and then heading out again to take in more of the atmosphere and sights of this beautiful city. Intent is one thing, but our bodies and their need for rest won over this time and we slept right through for about 13 hours. Next morning it was time to make our way to Provence for Barkjour!
We booked first class seats on a very fast train and the trip down was an amazing experience. We sipped Rose as we looked out to the countryside flashing by. Historic medieval towns appeared every so often and we gazed in awe of their history and beauty.
We picked up our hire car when we departed the train at Avignon and our roadtrip to Barkjour began. The temperature was soaring at over 40 degrees celcius. The stunning countryside of southern France was awe-inspiring and the anticipation of getting to Uzes and what the next 7 days had in store for us was unbearable. Then, we arrived… to a tiny medieval town named St Maximin… I had to pinch myself, we were really here!
We spent the afternoon and evening settling in and getting to know the facilitators and participants. Neal and I landed the best room in the 1000 year old chateau… we had an entire building to ourselves!
The next day, the real fun began… we started off with an early morning walk through town, back for a breakfast of amazing temptations including chocolate croissant. Barkjour kicked off with a few awesome classroom sessions and then late that afternoon, we headed to our first location shoot.
SHOOT 1: Sunset in a local vineyard
SHOOT 2: An afternoon at La vallée de l’Eure Uzes
SHOOT 3: Sunset at the historic Pont du Gard, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
REST DAY – THURSDAY 31 AUGUST – A YEAR TO THE DAY
My Mum passed away on the 31st of August in 2016… the worst day of my life. The day I lost my best friend. So here, one year later, it was a day where I would remember Mum by doing one of my favourite things in the world… riding a horse, and to top it off, riding a horse in the Camargue in the south of France. I’ve loved horses since I was a little girl and my bedroom was always plastered with posters of horses. I used to ride quite a bit and sometimes with Mum and Dad and my brothers when we were on holidays down the south coast of NSW. So South of France was the next best thing… with added Flamingos too which made it even more special.
SHOOT 4: Early morning at The Chateau Provence in St Maximin – Barkjour HQ
The last full day at Barkjour
Before we knew it, Barkjour was over. The week just flew by and was so incredibly amazing. We learned so much, made new friends, ate amazing food by our very own Master Chef (Theo Cooks) and stayed in an incredible icon of the past.
What did Neal do the whole time you ask? Well he spent his days cycling the various routes of Provence and enjoyed sampling the local delicacies along the way.
Bonvoyage Barkjour – Exploring Languedoc-Roussillon
After we all said goodbye at Barkjour and everyone headed on the next leg of their journey, we headed back down south to the Camargue as one of my dreams when planning for this trip was to find and photograph the Flamingos at the salt lakes. So we headed south to the Saltworks of Aigues Mortes in the Camargue. We spent quite a few hours searching for the closest Flamingos as most were a long way out and even with my 70-200mm lens, were too far for any impactful images.
Before too long we found them! While Neal parked the car I was already pacing down to the river’s edge and set myself up with my gear. There were four incredibly beautiful Flamingos right in front of me. I took so many photos anticipating every moment and what they might do. It was so hard choosing which one to show but here it is…
Mission accomplised, I was one very happy and satisfied pet photographer, so with that, we headed off to explore the medieval walled city.
After a few hours exploring, it was time to head north to our next leg of the trip… the Luberon Valley.
We’d booked a quaint little country hotel in Roussillon near Gordes. It was called Hotel la Cle des Champs and it was absolutely divine. That first night we headed up to Gordes for dinner and a little exploring.
The next day was spent exploring some of the trails that Neal had taken on his cycling adventures.
Our final day in the South of France started early… we decided we must pack in as much as we could before heading back for our last night in Paris before flying home
Roussillon, the ochre village.
Afterwards, we headed back up to Gordes for the Farmers Market… so much to see along with a little sadness around animal exploitation
Then in a flash, it was time to get the train back to Paris for our 24 hours.
This experience was exactly as described and more … an out of this world pet photography retreat. Neal and I have been wanting to go to Europe since 2007 and yet something always happened to divert us off this path. This time it was meant to be and everything fell into place. I am blessed we were able to go and take it all in. My photography has improved so much since then and I am constantly learning and improving to be the best artist I can be for myself and my clients, and all those animals in the shelter and rescue groups who need my help. We never stop learning and growing no matter how old or young we are.
Thank you for making it all the way through this blog. I hope you enjoyed the journey through my story and photography, and I’m excited to let you know that there is another Barka around the corner… in April next year! Barkzealand… and I’ve already applied and can’t wait to learn more in the magical surrounds of Queenstown.
Click here if you’d like to find out more about what sessions I offer, and if you’d like to make a booking I’d love to hear from you. If you happened to find this blog online, you can join my pack here to receive the latest news on blog posts, limited edition sessions, model calls and more!
PS: Click here to see our reunion with the #3dogkateers when we got back to Australia