WHEN a group of friends from Brighton decided to leave the rat race behind they found themselves a place in the foothills of the Cévennes mountains.
And that place has become The Dharma House, a centre for people to study ecology, undertake meditation and learn how to lead a more sustainable life.
Nick Blue was one of that original group of friends and has seen the centre grow to become a place for people from around the world to gather, as well as make a connection with the local community.
"We all had quite stressful jobs in Brighton, the usual fast and furious life," Nick said. "I was a social worker and was busy throughout the day and we all fancied doing something different.
"France was high on the list as we all could at least speak a little French and were just attracted to the culture so we looked around and it took about 18 months to find this place and it was ideal really."
The Dharma House sits on a hillside overlooking a nature reserve, with the Cévennes mountains in the distance, and was originally a working farm with both viticulture and a large olive grove.
The nearest town, Alès, is around 25 minutes drive away and with connections to Nîmes, Montpellier and Marseille fairly close the courses that the centre now offers draws people from around the world.
"We wanted to take a pragmatic look at ways people could set things up to live a more sustainable life, for example, how to design your own solar hot water system from things you can find lying around," Nick said.
"Meditation classes are available, which have a Buddhist tradition, but we were keen not to turn the place into a centre for one religion so we hope to appeal to all comers and people from the UK, but also France, the US and Australia see the place as a bit of a refuge, which is what we wanted for ourselves."
An area that The Dharma House is seeing more interest in is self sufficiency and the practice of permaculture, which has its origins in Australia.
"Permaculture was developed by an Australian farmer called Bill Mollison who was disillusioned with standard farming methods and the use of pesticides and fertilisers, so he looked at techniques from the past that allowed people to grow food naturally," said Nick.
"Much of it draws on ancient skills and the work of farmers, carpenters, metalworkers to have an overarching philosophy that can help tackle climate change by looking to promote local food production and reduce our reliance on large trucks to transport produce."
But how was this group of friends with their alternative lifestyle accepted by the local community, especially with its existing traditions of the countryside and conservative outlook on life?
Well The Dharma House team had a secret weapon.
"Whilst researching the move to France we had heard a few horror stories from other centres of local people fearing the arrival of a sect or cult in their area," Nick said.
"But one of our members, who is English, is also fluent in French and had studied business law here so she was dressed up really smart and went off to the mairie to outline our plans.
"She charmed the pants of the mayor and he has been great ever since. There is a bit of a game to these sort of things so you have to play it a little."
Now though The Dharma House has set its sights on new horizons as they are already outgrowing their current home.
"We have been here around three years now and one of the ideas is to buy somewhere bigger, to offer more courses and have a larger community living together," said Nick.
"The dream would be to build more sustainable housing using techniques from both the UK and France, so things like cob housing or straw bale buildings could be used.
"This would let us provide a living example and share knowledge through some type of co-housing; it's a long term plan although I'm sure we will have some paperwork to get through first."