Blame it on Peter Mayle, the Englishman who upped sticks, bought a run-down farmhouse in Provence, and wrote his first book A Year in Provence on his amusing contretemps with the French carpentry, building and plumbing trades. Ever since then many a Brit has wanted more of France than a week in a Brittany Gite and baguettes from Waitrose.
Domaine de Perches is second generation restoration: a “Country Living” guide on how to get it right. This is a modern design classic. A loving and respectful recreation of a former oatmeal-coloured wine Chateau that breathes new life into what was once a fading, neglected relic. Now it sits proudly in its four hectare site complete with tennis court, lily pond swimming pool and vineyard.
Just forty miles north-east of Toulouse Airport, quiet roads take you to an idyllic sunflowers-and-vineyards peaceful corner of France. The perfect spot for a holiday, even better as a heavenly place to live.
For Domaine de Perches’ owners Alain and Howard, who both speak impeccable French, this was their third restoration project in France and they knew the ropes. Or did they?
“We were looking for something a little smaller,” admits Howard as he casts his eye over the now fully restored house, “but we fell in love with this place. It was more of a project than we had planned.” They had not anticipated the stubborn resistance of two gigantic concrete wine vats. “The demolition man refused to touch them. He feared removing them might bring the whole house down.”
That was the low point where Grand Designs’ Kevin McCloud would have given one of his mournful soliloquies to camera.
Today the vats remain on the ground floor and the expansive boutique hotel rambles on around them. Although this is a B&B you would be foolish not to enjoy Alain and Howard’s hospitality for dinner. They have a talent for making every guest feel that they have been friends for decades.
Depending on season and weather the evening’s entertainment is literally a movable feast. In Spring you will begin with a generous glass of something chilled and a little fizzy, with canapés, on decking by the swimming pool. In high Summer you will dine by the pool with the heady aroma of jasmine drifting away towards the Montaigne Noire on the horizon.
Perhaps you will start with a chilled gazpacho followed by a seared tuna steak with the crispest of seasonal salads. Alain or Howard will tell the story behind each of the Gaillac wines: an estate with a dynamic new vintner or local gossip about a vineyard that struggled to recruit enough pickers. Of course the evening ends with the offer of a glass or two of Armagnac, the region’s liqueur created from twice distilled wine.
Breakfast is another movable feast depending on the season and the light but the staples remain the same: home made bread, jams and yogurt.
After breakfast a moment to compose yourself in the sunlit Morning Room is recommended. This is interior-designer heaven. Every reflection off of the wooden floor and the leather-bound books seems harmoniously planned. This is just one of four Reception Rooms where cushions are always plump and the vases are generously filled.
But wait, this isn’t Provence this is Occitanie, a newly created region that most of us know better as the former Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées: quieter and less expensive than bustling Provence. The medieval town of Albi with its Toulouse-Lautrec Museum is the nearest attraction but with the beautiful elevated village of Cordes-she-ciel floating in the clouds, a calm Cistercian Monastery, a duck farm, Armagnac distilleries and vineyards for tasting there is plenty to occupy visitors for several days.
Alain and Howard make you feel as if you belong in this serene and sunny pocket of rural France. “There are a lot of people living round here from somewhere else,” they argue persuasively as you begin your quest for your very own crumbling mansion to restore.
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Easy jet fly to Toulouse from GatwickLast modified: June 10, 2021