I have a secret place. Hidden in plain sight, tucked away from the happenings of the world is a place I call home. La Crueize.
La Crueize is a place like no other I’ve known, except for perhaps the place where I grew up back in Wrightsville, Arkansas.
I first came to La Crueize as a volunteer WWOOF‘er (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) back in 2004. To be honest, what most appealed to me at the time was in the description. It exclaimed that meals were meat based here on this pig and sheep farm, while many of the other farms touted catchwords like, “Raw Vegetable” and “Vegan”. But I’m sure I’m not the first man to blindly follow his stomach. And on this occasion, it led me to the perfect place.
Much of my time at La Crueize was spent clearing invasive pine trees to allow for the reforestation of the native Chestnut trees. A blight brought to the area by way of diseased ammunition crates imported to Europe by American forces in WWII (according to Augustine) had decimated the Chestnut population over the decades and this, coupled with the introduction of fast-growing pine trees for use in the growing mining industry resulted in a drastic change to the natural habitat of the surrounding forest.
Each visit I spend a bit of time walking around the forest with Augustine.
He tells me about the exotic trees that he’s planted all over this vast estate in his efforts to regenerate and diversify the forest. He’s worked tirelessly over the years to revitalise the area and I marvelled at his achievements during my visit this past summer.
This video is from my visit in 2018.
From my first visit back in 2004, the forest now appears completely anew. Where there was once large voids and the expanse left by scores of pines, there is now a lush green canopy of regenerated Chestnuts. And to this forest, he must be a patron saint of sorts, aptly Augustine, all the same.
The owner of La Crueize, Dutch linguist Augustine Thyssen moved to the site back in 1972 or so. The site itself dates back to the 11th century and was a small community of around 17 individual stone “huts” with a small temple at the pinnacle of the mountain. When he first moved here with his pregnant wife, the site was an accumulation of ruins. There was no running water and the area was a complete wilderness. Arriving in late summer, Augustine restored the initial structure just before the first snow and named the building “The Oasis”, as the fresh water source, a natural spring well was just outside the door.
A few years back, I dropped by La Crueize for an impromptu visit. I was in the area on a last minute road trip and I gave Augustine a shout to see if he was up for a bit of company. He was actually hosting a family of holidaymakers at the time (Augustine operates a holiday let when availability allows at a price of 300 Euro per week, with July and August being 450 Euro per week) and although it was inconvenient, he welcomed me just the same.
This family has actually spent every summer at La Crueize since 2004 and Augustine considers them more family than guests. Their patriarch, Erik, is a guitar maker, a photographer, engineer and is quite simply remarkable. He has captured some amazing 360-degree views of La Crueize which you can find here.
That summer I became dear friends with the young master of the family, Moritz. Moritz is an excellent photographer in his own right and we bonded instantly over our mutual love for creating images – not to mention that this kind soul exuded a rare quality of maturity and thoughtfulness for such a young age. He actually made me quite jealous in that he captured a magnificent photo of a hanging spearfish (soon to be fed to Augustine’s pigs), the likes of which I simply could not recreate!
Moritz’s older brother, the equally bright and brilliant Lauren was the first to teach me a bit about coding. The family was gracious enough to invite me to their following visit at La Crueize in 2017. I can’t say enough how grateful I am to be a part of this extended La Crueize family.
Augustine, Joe & Kevan
This past year, my very best friend in this world (professor Joseph Allen) came through Europe on a working tour. I’d sent him to work on Augustine’s farm back in 2008 and he likewise became part of La Crueize family. We were blessed to spend a bit of quality time with Guus and the opportunity to spend time together with the closest members of my chosen family is one that I will always cherish.
I could go on, telling dozens of stories, but ultimately La Crueize is a magical sentiment that’s best experienced firsthand. In the absence of opportunity, I will leave you for with a few images from this sacred place and encourage you to fill your mind, body and spirit by getting in touch with Augustine in hopes that he might be able to host you in creating some magical memories of your own.