Day 16: Southwest France Towards the Pyrenees and Auberge des Coteaux de Gascogne - 29 May
By 9:45 am, we had had our last breakfast at Auberge du Chateau and checked out of the hotel, saying goodbye to Carcassonne and the rugged Languedoc landscape. An altogether exceptional stay!
This morning, we were headed towards the Southwest region of France called Haute Garonne, in the direction of the Pyrenees and Spain. Peter had booked us into a very special accommodation, a 200 year old farmhouse that sat in a little hamlet just out of the tiny town of St Lary Boujean. The GPS couldn’t even find the town of St Lary Boujean, let alone the little hamlet. We were going to have to head in the general direction of the area and rely on the proprietor’s instructions to do the rest.
Saint Gaudens & The Collegiate Church: A couple of hours on the autoroute from Carcassonne and around 8,00 Euros worth of tolls later, we arrived in the town of Saint Gaudens. A quick visit to the local supermarket, E. Leclerc, has us doing a quick shop for some provisions before driving to the main town of Saint Gaudens for a bite to eat and a stretch. Lunch was at a fairly simple local eatery that seemed to be patronized by many of the locals.
The main attraction in Saint Gaudens, and one that is well worth seeing, is the Collegiate Church. Situated on the way to Santiago de Compostella, this church was constructed under the instruction and supervision of the Bishop Bertrand in 1059. Dedicated to Saint Peter and Saint Gaudens, its design was influenced by the Spanish and “Languedoc” styles of the 11th and 12th centuries. Burnt during the Protestant Wars, it was further damaged during the Revolution. Restored in the 19th century, it was finally classified as a historic monument in 1841.
Measuring 40 meters long, 21 meters wide and 16 meters high, the church features romantic capitals made by master-craftsmen from Aragon, a large and imposing organ in oak and lime wood in the style of Louis XIV, and priceless Aubusson tapestries that hang from its side walls. Depicting events surrounding the legend of the martyrdom of Saint Gaudens, the tapestries were previously stolen from the Collegiate Church on the night of 20 December 1989. They were eventually discovered in the United States in 1997 and reinstated.
Auberge des Couteaux de Gascogne: Half an hour after we left Saint Gaudens, we somehow found our way to the little hamlet just outside the town of St Lary Boujean and spotted the sign to our accommodation for the next 4 nights, Auberge des Couteaux de Gascogne. Set in a completely rural setting, this was what we needed. Sweet country air, complete tranquility, and no other sounds but those of the birds and distant mooing of cows. On approach, the Auberge looked like a big and very old - as it turned out 200 year old - farmhouse that was on the rougher side of rustic. “Oh no!’, my mind was crying out in a panic. “No hairdryer? No hot water or internet access?” I began to worry, and as it turned out, needlessly.
Getting down from the car, our shoes crunched on the pebbles as we entered the property driveway through rusted wrought iron gates that were slightly ajar. Finding our way into a well-tended garden, the palette of rustic neutrals of earth, brick and stone gave way to a burst of color: the vivid pinks, reds and corals of fragrant and full blown roses, marigolds, petunias, violets and poppies, framed by lush verdant grass, trees and hedges. I could almost imagine divas, fairies and elves skipping through this enchanted setting. And sitting at the bottom of the garden was, what seemed to be, a new pool - the setting was glorious! Lost in the splendor of their ample backyard, we hadn’t noticed that Sylvie Dufour, our proprietor, had suddenly appeared by the back door to welcome us. “Bonjour!”, she said delightfully in a warm husky voice.
Showing us inside, Sylvie showed us the breakfast room with its huge fireplace, the cozy sitting room, and to the first floor to our delightful and extremely spacious bedroom, the “Paprika Room”. The walls were charming with their uneven textures of exposed mud bricks and the exposed wooden beams along the walls and ceilings added to the “farmhouse” appeal. Every area of the home whispered attention to detail; we instantly fell in love with Auberge des Couteaux de Gascogne. As for the mod cons, I need not have worried; the internet access was far quicker and more efficient than our hotel in Paris. The water was hot and strong in the shower and the hair dryer, located under our bathroom sink, was brand new. In fact, we had everything that we needed, here in the middle of nowhere, to make our stay as comfortable and pleasurable as possible.
“Dinner will be at 8:30 pm. You eat everything, yes?” Sylvie asked by way of a statement. We confirmed our agreement to both. With not another restaurant for several kilometers, we had made arrangements with Sylvie to eat at the Auberge for the next few nights, especially on reading reports of their fabulous cuisine. Being a mild evening, we would be having dinner on the terrace, overlooking the lush garden.
After a hot shower and rest, 8:30 came around quicker than we thought. After a day in transit, we were looking forward to a really great meal. Prepared by Rashid, Sylvie’s husband, our starters consisted of a home made Mackerel dip with bread, followed by Monkfish with slight Middle Eastern flavors in the sauce. Peter purchased a bottle of Red and for me a bottle of Rose from Provence from Sylvie to have over several nights with our dinner. After our dinner, Rachid came out to meet us and stay for a short chat. He shared with us a shot glass of Blueberry licquer, which Sylvie and Rachid had made in house out of the Blueberries from a neighboring property. The whole experience was nothing less than exquisite.
Auberge des Coteaux de Gascogne, 31350, St Lary Boujean.
Posted by Victoria Ugarte on 29th May, 2012 | Trackbacks Categories: France Tags:
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