Cooking classes in France – a week of feasting and exploring


Join celebrated South African chef and cookbook author Marlene van der Westhuizen for a week of delicious cooking classes in France. Feasting and exploring the 12th-century medieval village of Charroux, Allier and the surrounding area are just some of the tasty things to look forward to on this ultimate foodie holiday.

Set in the rugged Auvergne region deep in the heart of Bourbonnais near Vichy, the Van der Westhuizens’ charming 15th century home, Bagatelle, is now the setting of Marlene’s immersive cooking classes in France.

Her French cooking experience includes long early morning walks, gentle bicycle rides, the odd picnic, visits to local food markets and antique dealers, communal cooking and, of course, long, lingering lunches and dinners with plenty of local wine.

Cooking classes in France, a foodie adventure of a life-time

As a truly passionate gourmand with an unquenchable yen for travelling, Marlene van der Westhuizen has spent the larger part of three decades cooking her way around the world, with a particular emphasis on France and its exceptional cuisine.

What started as her Cooks Club food demonstrations and gatherings around her kitchen table in Cape Town, soon turned into cooking classes in France in an ancient village in the middle of the Auvergne, where she introduces spellbound audiences to the essence of French cooking.

The Van der Westhuizens bought Bagatelle, their charming 15th century home in Charroux, near the French spa town of Vichy, in 2004 as a place to spend family holidays. It didn’t take long for Marlene to fall head over heels for the medieval town and move her French kitchen to Bagatelle, where her huge old chef’s cauldron now steams away in front of the window facing the ancient mustard shop in Rue de la Poulaillerie.

Naturally, small-group cooking tours to Charroux weren’t far behind. “Charroux, at heart, is a food destination,” says Marlene. “The town only has about 350 permanent residents, many of whom are artisanal producers.

We have a mustard man, walnut oil purveyor, chocolatier, jam maker, deli proprietor and the best foie gras chef in all of France. I simply couldn’t keep this bounty all to myself!” And so, it was decided to throw open the doors to Bagatelle to welcome adventurous cooks who want to experience the true allure of French cuisine as part of an immersive travelling experience.

Each cooking adventure is wholly unique and makes the most of the season. For six days, Marlene’s guests get to experience life as it truly is in the French countryside. She lifts the corner of the metaphorical tablecloth to allow a glimpse into the beating heart of this fascinating region and it’s many foodie charms.

This includes everything from tastings at secret little wineries and forays to fresh food markets, to antiquing, picnics, strolls along the ancient cobbled streets of Charroux and, of course, lots and lots of cooking around the kitchen table. Every day is an opportunity to revel in the singular pleasures of this gorgeous destination and there are plenty of delightful surprises along the way.

With only two of these wonderful cooking adventures scheduled a year, it’s highly recommended that you book your spot ahead of time to avoid disappointment. Go ahead, we know you want to!


  • Convivial, small-group culinary experience in a drop-dead gorgeous location
  • Cooking classes at the hand of one of South Africa’s best-loved chefs
  • Visits to fresh food markets to gather ingredients
  • Lovely lunches & dinners around the huge hard pear table in Bagatelle’s kitchen
  • Foodie outings to local producers and places of interest
  • An immersive introduction to the French way of life

Photography: Deryck van Steenderen | Writing: Anna-Bet Stemmet

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