Forming a dream out of clay
At the very end of Pico Island between the village of Piedade and Engrade, you can find the space the Lebon Family has built. François, his wife, his son Jérémy and his partner Anne-Lise Leduc have been working together by combining their skills and creativity to mold them into beautiful projects. You can find pottery, horses, macramé art, beautiful houses and adorable dogs here. The family is living their dream, formed from their own hands.
From a small country to a tiny island
François Lebon and his family are originally from Belgium, a small country in central Europe. Thirty years ago they came to the Azores and fell in love with Pico Island. More specifically the people, the culture and the ocean. Right away they felt accepted and welcomed, embraced in the generosity and kindness of the locals.
They could not stop thinking about the simple way of life, the green nature, the speer fishing and the community of this place. So, at one point, they made the choice to leave everything they knew and moved to the place they felt drawn to the most. Piedade. Even tho it was hard in the beginning they made the best out of it and are now an important and beloved part of the village.
Love made them stay
The Story of François
23 years ago, in 1998, François bought the old stone house at the edge of this far-away island. He and his wife, who are married for 46 years, gave up their jobs as hairdressers in favor of a new beginning. When they first moved in they only had a leaking improvised roof, no electricity and lived off of carrots and onions for half a year as there was no shop close by and the garden not ready to harvest. The container from Belgium with all their belongings didn’t arrive for an entire month, which is not unusual for the Azores, but was a challenge nonetheless. It took a long time to renovate their home, a lot of hard work was poured into this dream. Still, they never looked back and whoever meets François will see him with a big smile on his face.
The Story of Jérémy
As the son of François he knew Pico Island well and helped his parents in the first six months of settling in. After the house was livable, he returned to Belgium. His education and work were a priority but in those years he often visited the newfound home of his parents. Spending more and more time on the island, he eventually took the leap and moved to Pico as well. Shortly after that he met Anne-Lise and “the rest is history”, as he says with a smile.
The Story of Anne-Lise
Soon after François and his wife had moved to Pico, someone else set foot on the island for the first time. Anne-Lise Leduc, originally from France, visited the Azores as a tourist at the age of sixteen and fell in love with the unique nature. Seven years after her first visit she came back to work on her Master Thesis in Geography, doing research on the volcano for three months.
This is when she first met Jérémy and his parents. One big love story, a finished degree and a few months later, she moved in with him and became a part of the family. Now, fourteen years after this decision, she is involved in all the projects and could not be happier.
Building homes – one at a time
What is now a collection of guest houses for tourists started out as a project for family. When relatives and friends came for a visit, the Lebons wanted them to feel welcomed and right at home. So they, too, could experience the true island life they loved so much and without the guests feeling they were overstaying in somebody else’s place. The Lebons built smaller houses next to theirs, made them cozy and beautiful and a place for their loved ones to spend a week up to a few months, however they liked. The houses are an extension of their own home, nestled into the landscape close by.
Now, the houses are not exclusive to family anymore. It was Jérémy who, in 2005, had the idea to rent the rooms in the time family was not around. In little steps they opened “O Zimbreiro” to more and more people and with time built more rooms, more houses and the pool. When Anne-Lise came to join them, they took care of the garden and introduced horses to the land. Together they are now the managers of the guest houses.
“We built the houses for our family.”– François about starting the guest houses
The five rooms are open for travelers to rent during their stay on the island. The feeling of “being a part of the family” and having your own little home remained, even for strangers that just pass by for a few days.
The pottery of François is found in many places on the land, in the houses of O Zimbreiro and all around the island. He worked with clay for thirteen years as a hobby before he came to the island. But back in Belgium it was never an option to make his passion into his career.
When he changed his life, he took the chance and became “O Oleiro”, the potter. Now, he is well known by almost everyone. Even people who have never met him know exactly who “the potter” or “the potter of Piedade” is. Either through his art, his story or his joyful personality.
Leaves and Knots
As a creative outlet and due to the lack of tourism during the pandemic, Anne-Lise started a little artistic business, called “Leaves and Knots” with macramé art. Modern macramé is a craft that transforms simple rope into art pieces and functional beautiful items, for example to hang up a plant pot. She did not have a teacher, instead decided to learn it on her own. With talented hands and an open mind she quickly adapted and is now making stunning and simplistic pieces.
“I really like modern macramé, so I tried it and enjoyed it a lot.”– Anne-Lise about the choice of her side business
Being one with the community
Today the family knows everyone in their neighborhood and everyone knows “o Oleiro” and his family in return. The connections are strong and a big aspect of the quality of life the family likes so much about the island. The food they consume comes from their garden or the local farmers and is processed at home, for example their self-made cheese.
Because of her horses, Anne-Lise also has many interactions with the farmers, chatting about animals.
“We try our best to look after our place and the surroundings. We do not want plastics or chemicals or any of those things”– Anne-Lise about sustainability
Just the way it is
When asked about the future, the focus of the family lies on sustaining what is given. They are content with what they have and try to maintain the Pico they fell in love with: Lush nature, simple life, strong community.
They are against mass tourism and are feeling grateful to live this life with all their projects. Especially during these challenging pandemic times, they know how lucky they are.
“Life is always changing. But for the moment, this is the dream.”– Jérémy about the future
The only thing they miss sometimes from their old life in France and Belgium is the snow in the winter. They try to compensate by bringing Christmas traditions into their house. When I visited them for this interview, I already had a mulled wine and hot waffles in my hand before I was even through the door. A warm welcome even without a frozen landscape.
But despite the lack of snow they embrace their rural life in Piedade every single day with the same love they had from day one. You can feel the love, by the way they smile and radiate positive energy and by the glowing light in their eyes when they look around in their little self-made paradise.