Posted by: Bob Fisher | May 9, 2009

Mindfulness and Constancy in France’s Périgord

Absorbed in European history

The enduring legacy of human civilization, in all its hues and shades, is what the Périgord personifies and exemplifies. Today this former province of France, corresponds to the département of the Dordogne. (There are 100 French départements including four overseas. Each has identical legal status as integral regions of France.) The Dordogne forms the northern part of the official Région of Aquitaine.

The former is itself divided into four sub-regions; the Périgord(s) Noir, Blanc, Vert, and Rouge. Known especially for its stupendous landscapes and natural resources, it is still, I am happy to report, a relatively untouched (by gross commercial hands) region of Europe. And the recently-formed Parc Naturel Périgord-Limousin will go along way to preserving the region’s natural heritage. Aquitaine is one of the 26 geographic and historical regions of France, and contains five départements of which the Dordogne is one. Under the Romans it was known as Gallia Aquitania, and today it is one of the richest regions of France in terms of history and culture.

Renowned also for its cuisine, especially gastronomic products related to ducks and geese (foie gras), the Périgord/Dordogne is also one the best and most historic truffle areas of France. The département is also famous for its Périgourdine wines, such as the celebrated Bergerac and Monbazillac. The préfecture or capital of the Dordogne is the city of Périgueux, itself replete with many layers of history. And in the Périgord/Dordogne you will also find significant archeological treasures such as beautifully restored Roman ruins.

However, the Dordogne is probably best known as being the “birthplace of mankind” because of its many prehistoric sites, of which the most celebrated is the Cave of Lascaux with its exquisite paintings. These paintings created by early humans demonstrate clearly the human need to depict visually the contemporary world, and to tell the human “story”.

The central rivers in the Périgord are the splendid (and clean) Dordogne and Vézère, both ancient trade routes and principal reasons for visiting the area. As you follow these two winding rivers you discover a land of medieval and Renaissance châteaux, manoirs, maisons de maître, churches, and other architecturally stunning buildings of all kinds.

And the rental properties of Simply Périgord are among them.

The experiential nature of self-catering holidays

Perhaps it’s my age, or a “been there done that … but now want more up close and personal” state of mind, but I am finding that as much as I still enjoy the “movin’ on” mode of travel, I am also becoming increasingly fond of the the self-catering holiday in which immediacy and local culture are prime objectives and benefits.

And increasingly I am discovering that this in medias res form of travel is multi-layered and very enlightening, especially when the chosen location turns out to be a hub for content-rich day trips by car, local transportation, or local jaunts on foot.

In brief, the self-catering holiday allows you to get that in-depth experience of a local or regional culture that you can only really get by staying in one spot for a generous amount of time. For my wife and me, this more integrated travel experience has been the case most recently in North East England, Prague, London, and other favourites that I will recommend at the end of this rave.

Simply Périgord, simply sublime

But one of my most recent and most recommended “stay-at-home abroad” experiences has been in France’s resplendent Périgord region.

While on an independent media trip throughout the ancient kingdom of Aquitaine, the Périgord, and the delectable city of Bordeaux (regional capital of Aquitaine), I was fortunate to be the guest of Karen and Allan Higgins, proprietors of Simply Périgord, a superlative role model for the self-catering sector of the hospitality industry.

There are many companies worldwide that offer one-stop-shopping when it comes to self-catering holidays and, in my experience, it is a well-organized and traveller-friendly market, especially with the advent of the Internet. One still needs to apply all the same caveat emptor principles as one would when purchasing any other travel product, but in the self-catering market there is a lot of opportunity to pay virtual visits to the properties and, more importantly, to dialogue with the company or the actual owners of the property, and thus to refine your needs and plan a customized holiday.

For all those who are either involved in the fascinating world of e-commerce or electronic media, the Simply Périgord website is an excellent example of an efficient, content-rich, and traveller-friendly website. The site is also an excellent example of how grassroots communication between travellers and travel suppliers has become so much more effective.

The head office of Simply Périgord is in the small town of Le Bugue. The town is very much the centre of this part of the Périgord, and all of the properties are accessible to the town, and to the staff of Simply Périgord.

The “value added” factor

In the travel business, we often talk about the value added factor, that is, all the amenities that the client does not pay for directly but are in essence very much part of the overall value of the holiday. Although cities like London, Paris, and New York are expensive, I am always careful to factor in what “free” travel experiences I am engaged in as I walk throughout the destination. This is especially true of the very accessible Périgord region, and especially of the Simply Périgord properties. Actually living in one of these properties is a cultural experience in itself. Having said that, I have “done the math” on a sample list of the properties and given that many of them are appropriate for large family groups, several couples sharing, or even business groups, they are in my opinion very cost-effective. This is also true of the smaller properties (often for couples). Having access to all the local amenities, sights, sounds, and events in pedestrian-friendly villages (especially village markets!), cannot be underestimated.

Just me, a nice little Bordeaux wine, and the swans

ROAD NOTES

The trip on the local train from Bordeaux today was delightful. Passing through rural France, especially this historic wine-producing region, is always a non-stop photo-op. The trip was even more delightful because I shared the carriage with a group of excited (but very well-behaved) elementary school students on a nature field trip. (Shades of the wonderful French film Être et Avoir.)

After a busy first day (more about that later), I stop to buy my dinner at the local grocery store, pick up a lovely chilled white Bordeaux, agonize over the foie gras — so many choices — the ready-made organic salads that only the French seem to do well, the in-store charcuterie, and of course the breads and the pâtisseries.

Back at my village house, I am sitting on the patio overlooking the exquisite Dordogne river itself. The land slopes gently to the riverbank where an ancient, but well-preserved, pigeonnier (a smallish tower-like stone structure for housing pigeons) provides the perfect focal point for the view. I reach for my camera but decide to let my mind’s eye capture the moment. It is early March in the Périgord; the spring bulbs are resplendent, the trees are slowly re-awakening, and the tangled vines of the vineyards look robust and ready for another prodigious season.

Off to my right, I see the arched bridge over which the local train that brought me here is now making a return journey. The river is flowing swiftly, animating the landscape and enhancing my reverie. A cool evening breeze wafts up from the river and sylph-like caresses my cheeks and ruffles my hair. At the same moment a flock of pure white swans descends onto the river in a single exquisite manoeuver. Singly or in pairs, they swim against the current and use its momentum to reach the riverbank where they settle themselves into the quite shallows for the night.

From behind me, the resonant tolling of the bell in the tiny medieval fortified church outside my back door announces the day’s sweet dénouement.

Patrimoine: the Simply Périgord tour

For the next week, Karen very kindly takes me on a tour of the company’s properties, everything from small village homes to famous châteaux. For anyone interested in history, architecture, design, heritage renovations, or simply home renovations, and art forms such as textiles it is one “kid in a candy store” moment after another. Especially wonderful is the fact that many of the owners of the properties graciously welcome me into their homes and spend considerable time introducing me to their treasures.

As one of the American owners, Jeannie, explains in our recorded chat, the properties are all about patrimoine, a term and concept that on one level means “heritage” but, as is so often the case with language, loses something in the translation. All the properties are indeed heritage homes but they also embody the profound respect the French have for history, art, and architecture, as well as the natural environments in which heritage treasures are located. Patrimoine is very much about content and context; it is a collective social value, principle, attitude, and behaviour pattern. It is also part of the national identity.

The properties

Of they more than 70 properties in the Simply Périgord “collection,” I visited a cross-section from village houses suitable for couples or families to grand estates that can be shared by larger groups.

A river crossing

Inherent in each of the properties is a story, the narrative qualities of which evoke historical curiosity, some mystery, and a respect for the many generations that lived in them. For centuries, the property where I stayed was most likely a river crossing spot for this busy commercial water route, before the arrival of the railway in 1837. The pigeonnier was probably a significant landmark on the river. It is presumed that, given the fast-flowing Dordogne, the crossing was achieved with the help of a chain-driven mechanism that transported goods from one side of the river to the other.

The house itself was an old barn (at least 200 years old) and divided into two floors with large doors opening onto the river side. It was renovated and modernized beautifully by the owners who took care to include vestiges of its former life. For example, the original steps to the barn (just a few metres from the hamlet’s fortified church) are still there leading up to the front door. The house, and the church, were community meeting places and to a certain degree the church still is. Mass is still celebrated in the church on Sundays and the doors are open during the daytime for anyone who wishes to visit this bit of French history. Toward dusk a local parishioner comes by to lock the doors.

Une histoire d’amour

In the blissful village of Daglan, I meet Madame Ponvianne who tells me a love story, about her family home and the generations of family members who have occupied it. We begin my visit at the front door, which gives directly onto a small street in the very heart of this town of 535 people, and Madame Ponvianne shows me the unique letter box with its tiny wrought iron gate built into the cream-coloured walls. It’s a bit of a metaphor, an invitation to open another kind of gate.

This very idiosyncratic house has been here for two and a half centuries, perhaps more according to Madame Povianne. And it has been in her family for 102 years, since the time that her newly married grandparents Pierre-Élie and Lia acquired it. Pierre-Élie was the town’s tailor and so the house served a dual purpose. It also became the birthplace of Madame Ponvianne’s mother Irène. However it was not long after the birth that Daglan’s tailor was sent to the front in the Great War, as Madame Ponvianne describes it “vers l’enfer martelé au son du canon” (to a hammering Hell of cannon fire). Eventually a new generation took occupancy of the house and the rajeunissement of the house began; literally the “making young again”. At the time the new owners found a wine cellar full of barrels and old bottles. According to Madame Ponvianne, everything was given away, transformed into a new space, or drunk.

But it is in this lower area, today delightful sitting area (séjour) that leads out to the walled back garden, that the central mystery of the house resides. Supporting the arches of this solid stone house is a curious broad piller that is far greater in breadth than the construction would warrant. When a friend whose passion is local history convinced Madame Ponvianne to let him dig out the base, ancient flagstones and ashes were found.

Today the tailor’s shop is another séjour on the upper level. Thanks to Madame Ponvianne, her children, and her grandchildren, this very personal and private house maintains its restful, illumined, and very romantic ambiance.

The forgiving landscape

Three kilometres outside the town of Les Ézyes, the heart of the prehistoric legacy of the Dordogne, we meet Monsieur Goutillard, the owner of La Rougerie. He has kindly put aside time in a busy schedule to meet us and show us not only his home but to tell us about the layers of history that are its foundations.

The house has one of the best views in the Dordogne, overlooking a wide green valley through which an ancient stream meanders. The soft hills that surround the valley, however, belie the turbulent times that this part of France witnessed throughout the centuries. Originally the site was a prehistoric habitat and you can still see traces of this first human presence on the land itself.

During the time of the Roman Empire, the property was a Gallo-Roman encampment. Monsieur Goutillard explains that the name of his house (rouge means red) can be traced to the red banner that Roman legionnaires planted on the highest part of the land.

In Medieval times, La Rougerie became a fortifed castle that was occupied by a line of powerful seigneurs who held the area into the 12th and 14th centuries. In the 14th century an artificial lake was created in the valley below and one can still see traces of it on the landscape. The numerous wars that were visited on the Dordogne throughout the centuries (in particular the Hundred Years War 1342-1453 during which France and England were engaged in a century-long struggle for ownership of the Aquitaine region) took their toll on the property. Today all that remains of the fortified castle are scattered ruins, however La Rougerie which was a substantial home in its own right, survived the pillaging and destruction. Part of the house today is a 14th century square tower with a superb slate roof. Over the main entranceway you can still see the coat of arms of one of the original owners.

For Monsieur Goutillard the restoration and preservation of this splendid structure has been a vocation as much as a renovation project. And as we talked about the violent history that the area has seen, it became clear to me that his dedication to this domaine is also a gesture of peace.

Feeling right at home in the Périgord

John and Jeannie are American citizens who came to the Dordogne on holiday — and somewhat to their surprise — stayed. As you can hear them explain in our chat (click on the icon in the lower part of the right-hand column), the town of Beynac became not a second home but their principal home. It is generally understood that John and Jeannie’s home was built for the bastard son of the Baron of Beynac. One of the more curious historical remnants they have discovered in their home is a family crest sculpted into the main fireplace which was obscured during the days of the French Revolution because, as Jeannie commented, “No one wanted to be associated with aristocracy in those days.”

There is much to discover about this beautiful cliffside town which, by the way, is included in the classification of Les plus beaux villages de France (The most beautiful villages in France), an official designation that guarantees an intimate and very enlightening travel experience.

C’est en forgeant, qu’on devient forgeron

Like all proverbs, French ones encapsulate a universal truth or human experience; and the French seem to do it in a very poetic way. This is going to lose a bit in the translation but this proverb — “You become a true blacksmith by applying the tools of the trade.” — also communicates the concept of experiential learning; of which travel is the highest form. La Forélie tells a very special story, that of the first real industrial revolution that occurred in this region in the 14th century.

This is especially significant given that the pre-history and Bronze Age for which the Périgord is so well known was also the first time that the predecessors to homo sapiens sapiens used fire and earth to effect an “alchemy” that permitted the species to make a great leap forward. The Forélie property is the site of one of the oldest and most important forges of the region. However, as Madame Carrard explains to me, this advance of human civilization was interrupted when the Black Death descended on Europe leaving half the population dead. Ironically it was another scourge, the Hundred Years War, that allowed the forge to continue to flourish.

The nobleman’s house built next to this all-important forge passed through generations of maîtres de forges (masters of the forge) who enjoyed very special privileges in French society of the time; the first industrialists. And then in 1719 the Boucher family made a convenient marriage with the seigneurs of Miremont and a daughter, Catherine d’Aubusson. In another generation a connection with Louis XVI, the king of France, augmented the fortunes of La Forélie. Although the Forélie forge ceased to function during the chaotic years of the French Revolution, it eventually was put back into operation, and functions even today three or four times a year. Ironically during its most prosperous time it was the need for bullets and cannon balls that made the forge prosper.

Today this elegant manoir is listed among the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The art of restoration

Throughout the world, there is a renewed effort to preserve heritage properties; a movement that is occurring on the local, regional, and local levels. An increasing awareness of heritage properties as repositories of so much human history, in particular the social history of a particular time period. Even the smallest communities are realizing that such properties contain important lessons and are in their very unique way tangible and eloquent archives.

Graham and Judy Sherran have devoted themselves to such a project by restoring the 15th-century Château de Queynac. With the help of friends, Judy found the property which Graham declared “a ruin” when he first laid eyes on it. However, they were able to buy it for a mere 70,000 pounds and after investing around 400,000 pounds, the building has been completely restored and its history preserved. Today it is valued at more than one and a half million pounds.

A medieval architectural treasure, the property was rumored to have been built for the mistress of a senior French cleric. The engineering skill involved in restoring the château, especially the massive cross support beams which had been “pillaged” by local farmers, will excite anyone with an interest in that science. Bricked up windows were also restored and over 120 square metres of earth from the two terraces at the back of the house were removed to re-establish the former landscape.

Inside, this impressive stone château is light and airy and the oak floors, staircases, flagstone and terracotta floors, and rough stone walls (deliberately left in that state) give a wonderful texture to the property. The use of original materials and antiques throughout give an important authenticity to the house while at the same time making it feel like a home as opposed to a museum piece. The château is also remarkable for its central round tower, two 18th-century stone fireplaces that were discovered, and its 13 hectares part of which Judy has transformed into an English-style rose garden.

La maison du bonheur

For my next visit to Périgord, I am torn as to which property I would like to stay in. Given that, being a horse owner, I spend a considerable amount of time in a stable, La Brie Basse may be just the place for me.

A château and magnificent park exists nearby the Agricultural and Wine School of Mombazillac. (To visit the château, check out its website by clicking here.) La Brie Basse was originally the barn for the animals on the estate, but today it has been lovingly restored using only original materials; for example, the owner found the tiles in a nearby 17th-century convent. Especially notable are the walls — remember this was a barn — which are made from large finely carved blocks of stone which fit together perfectly. Today we recognize that such buildings are very energy-efficient because they keep the heat in during the cold months, and the coolness in during the summer. In other ways the house is a beautiful example of architectural coherence; the owner’s friends refer to it as “the house of happiness.”

Watching over Périgord

Near the town of Montignac, in the heart of the Vézère Valley and “the cradle of prehistory” is the stupendous Château de Coulonges. Dating as far back as 1116 as a property related to “The Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem,” more commonly known as the Order of St. John, this magnificent structure is also another living legend of the complex and often contradictory history of Europe.

It was the duc d’Orléans who in 1414 commissioned the seigneur of Montignac to maintain a powerful base from which this part of France could be kept under close surveillance and protected from invasion. One historical reference describes the situation at the time as a “Périgord Noir devasted by the English and their mercenaries” during the Hundred Years War. According to the source the seigneur de Coulonges and his troops “liberated the Périgord from the English” even though it would appear that the English never laid siege to the château itself.

However the “fratricidal” Wars of Religion between French Catholics and Protestants (the latter known as Huguenots), would visit even more devastation on the Périgord. But once again, the Château de Coulonges would be spared.

It’s all about perspective

So many choices, so much to see and do!

This last property is also on my “hotlist” for a return visit, in part because of the wonderful view of the vineyards and low-rising hills of the Périgord countryside. And like so many of the Simply Périgord properties as well as the Périgord itself, a self-catering holiday here is all about discovering a new perspective on Europe, on France, and on this region of France.

But the renewed perspective has other dimensions. This particular property is an 18th-century métairie, a rather large farm (given the times) belonging to the local château on which the tenant farmers had gained the right to keep 50 per cent of what they produced. Surrounded by 35 hectares of typical Périgord forest — oaks, hazelnut, ash, and hornbeam — the property epitomizes the spaciousness and natural beauty of the Périgord.

If I were Director of Human Resources

The travel industry on this planet is one of the largest (some claim it to be the largest) and one of the most diverse.

A very important sector of the industry is corporate travel which itself is quite diverse. People travel extensively of course to conduct the commerce of human society. There are also other reasons for business travel.

In the industry the acronym is MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conventions, Exhibitions). Organizations that plan conferences and conventions are always looking for new destinations in which all the required facilities and cultural amenities are available. Many corporations also send employees “out of the office” on professional development seminars. The results have been proven to be very cost-effective.

As someone who has been part of the organization of such events, I know very well why a “change of scene” — especially in an environment in which the workaday mind gets a chance to refresh itself and re-energize — can lead to very productive and innovative business strategies. And if I were required to plan such a corporate getaway where employees could not only function efficiently in a new frame of reference, but also be stimulated aesthetically, culturally, and emotionally, I would begin by talking to Karen and Allen Higgins about some of their larger properties.

So … if they are any creative companies or organizations out there who need a professional development project manager, well just whistle!

For more information on MICE, click here.

Calling all oenophiles

As most people probably already know, the Bordeaux and Périgord/Dordogne region is one of the most famous world-class wine-producing regions. Many people travel to the area just to visit the vineyards; there are in fact many organized group tours for this purpose. This is also part of the growing “agritourism” sector of the travel industry.

Living the self-catering lifestyle in the Périgord also means that excellent wines and vineyards become part of your way of life.

If you wish to visit a vineyard, I recommend Patricia Atkinson’s. (See the link below for a brief video introduction to her vineyard.) As Patricia mentions in the video, she is also an author. Her first book which chronicles her struggles to survive in this very complex and often risky business, also tells a very good story that in the end is a triumph.

In The Ripening Sun you will learn (as I did) a great deal about the day-to-day realities of growing grapes and turning them into fine wines. The way in which Patricia integrates an awareness of the wine-producing industry with her own story is especially enlightening. Her descriptive abilities are to be commended:

“Deep in the river valley in front of me lies the historic town of Bergerac, fought over by Protestants and Catholics in the Wars of Religion and by England and France in the Hundreds Years War. To the right and in the foreground is a copse of trees, behind which lies Pomport where the first battle of that war was fought, and interspersed amongst the villages are fruit trees and vines that have been cultivated here for hundreds of years.

I gaze at the horizon and the land, timeless, yet changing; defined not only by history and culture, but also by an interaction with the land, the vines and nature. The confines of my life for the last twelve years have been these landscapes, both near and far. Having come here precipitately, I put down roots and learned to live off this land and these vines.”

Look and Listen

(a) Patricia Atkinson. To hear about Clos d’Yvigne from Patricia herself, click here. And then be sure to visit her website at www.cdywine.com.

(b) A mini-tour of a stunning Simply Périgord property

To take the first part of the tour click here

To take the second part of the tour click here

How To Research A Self-catering Holiday

Here are a few tips that we have found useful.

(a) Choose your target destination according to your personal interests. If for example wildlife and birding interest you, choose a region in which you can create a day-trip itinerary to indulge those passions. En route you will discover much more.

(b) If you are renting a car, research how driveable the destination is. In general, identify an area or region that has a lot of attractions and amenities within easy driving distance or by public transport. Be sure to investigate local public transportation if you are going that route.

(c) The local or regional official tourism website (in the business we call them CVBs, Convention and Visitor Bureaus) is a prime resource for researching your chosen destination. In our experience, these people really know what they are doing. Self-catering properties have been checked out carefully and in most destinations they must meet certain criteria. Although the CVB websites are there to market their destinations, they are in general not commercial websites.

(d) Always dialogue with the company representatives or the owners themselves. They are in the business to serve your needs and answer your questions before you arrive.

(e) Is there an urban centre nearby that serves as a hub for your regional itinerary or is a destination within a destination itself?

(f) Research local markets and shopping facilities via the self-catering company’s website. Never hesitate to ask specific questions.

(g) Research special discounts available in the area. For example larger urban centres may have discounted transportation passes or museum passes such as CityPass.

(h) The best entry point for the region you have chosen may not be the major national airport. For example, there are excellent air connections to the city of Bordeaux and then on to the Périgord. If you are considering North East England, check out airlines and airfares to some of the northern cities or even cities like Glasgow.

Other Resources

(a) The Aquitaine Tourism Department

(b) Bordeaux Tourism

(c) Dordogne-Périgord Tourism

(d) Best of Dordogne and the Périgord

(e) Interested in the art of French cuisine in the Périgord region? Visit La Borderie and Danièle Mazet-Delpeuch’s award-winning Périgordine cooking school and truffle farm.

(f) Foies Gras Grolière

(g) Parc Naturel Périgord-Limousin

(h) Via Michelin

Business matters: notes from Karen and Allen Higgins

When I first discovered Simply Périgord, I too initiated a dialogue via email with Karen and Allen. I asked them to tell me something about their business, and here in part is what they had to say.

Our properties range from luxurious châteaux, to privately located well-equipped farmhouses, to characterful village houses; so we feel our product/property range is well diversified. A very large percentage of our non-village houses have their own private pool which is very much sought after by our client base. This diversified property range has also helped us survive better than some since when the global economy encounters peaks and troughs the demand for different types of rental property is constantly changing….

[We] do have a lot of internationally-minded American clients who book with us regularly. They expect high quality houses with outstanding service and this is what they get. Our “reward” is that we are often mentioned on Forum-type websites such as Slow Traveler and Fodors where experiences amongst holidaymakers are shared online. Our American clients tend to be 45+ years with the majority being retired, hence no restrictions on holiday time away from work. Their preferred houses are generally in villages within walking distance of some small shops, bakers and restaurants so that they may “immerse” themselves in the “real” France. Four week bookings are not uncommon for these clients.

We have a very high percentage of recommended clients in any one year and a big percentage of those come from Australia and New Zealand, as well as the United States and Canada…. Two years ago we had two New Zealand couples who telephoned on a Sunday morning to say they’d arrived in the area to find the house they’d rented, through a private ad on the Internet, was just not acceptable and asking if we could help. We drove them to view the only three properties we still had available for that fortnight and they were installed in one of them by Sunday lunchtime. As a wonderful “payback” one of the couples spent 11 weeks in one of our rental properties this season and has recommended us to all his well-travelled friends.

We also had a mention in Stephanie Alexander’s beautiful cookery book Cooking & Travelling in South-West France. Australian born, Stephanie is renowned for her large hardback coffee table books which describe in great detail France, the food, where and what to buy for the best ingredients, where to eat, where to stay etc. She and her crew (and her cooking platters/utensils etc etc) were shipped all the way from Australia a couple of years ago. Simply Périgord was able to provide the missing crockery, cooking implements etc so that she could set up and stage beautiful cookery photographs in the French farmhouse they had rented from us. Despite its weight, many Australians arrive to rent their Simply Périgord house clutching the book, having brought it all the way from home!

As our business has developed we have moved into other property-related areas such as house sales, restoration, and renovation. We have our Carte Professionelle so we are fully qualified to run our business.

As things have progressed over the years we have been approached by property owners with various projects which means we are constantly making new professional contacts. A very interesting one upon which we are just about to embark is liaising with a French architect on the restoration and renovation of a 14th-century château on behalf of a Hong Kong-based American client. The red tape involved is somewhat lengthy, as you can imagine, and the requirements to be met for the Bâtiments de France are strict as the façades and roofs of the château are listed. The owner of the château is involved in property himself in the Far East and wants to renovate tastefully, maintaining the feel of the medieval age whilst incorporating every modern amenity (even including a lift for the elderly). It will certainly be a very interesting challenge for us.

One thing we have noticed since 9/11 is the increasing number of Americans who are buying second homes here. We sold a beautiful property to an American couple who are now in the process of renovating one of the outbuildings for friends and family to come and stay. They have an appreciation of art and are immersing themselves in acquiring French antiques to furnish their home as well as taking regular French lessons so they can fully integrate during their regular visits here. We have also had several other serious inquiries this year from Americans looking to acquire second houses here — one couple in particular will be spending three months next year renting in the “off season” to experience the area and weather at a different time of year before taking the plunge.

Some Favourite Self-catering Holidays

The self-catering marketing can be as diverse as the travel industry itself, and there are probably a lot more opportunities for living at a grassroots level that one might imagine. Here are a few of our favourites.

(a) London

In part to attract visitors, more and more London hotels are providing some in-room amenities (small kitchenette) that allow for self-catering. This worked well for us on our last visit, especially the Buckingham Hotel which is part of the Grange Hotel chain. These converted Georgian town houses are in the Bloomsbury area and just around the corner from the British Museum. We were fortunate to have a very large room at the back which gave onto the garden. Bird song in the middle of London!

(b) Durham, Northeast England

The “hub” of a great destination within a destination, this renowned cathedral city was our focal point for exploring the North East of England. We can especially recommend Dove Cottage (Durham Cottages) in the village of Sherburn on the outskirts of the city. (Watch for another multimedia narrative on North East England, coming soon to Travelosophy.)

(c) Abel Tasman Park and New Zealand in General

New Zealand is one of the most self-catering destinations we have visited. Most family-style motels have full kitchen and laundry facilities as well as other outdoor amenities. We did the RV thing (another self-catering possibility) but especially enjoyed staying right on the edge of Abel Tasman Park (one of the best natural reserves in the world) at Abel Tasman Lodge. For more information click here.

(d) Amsterdam

The city is a perfect self-catering opportunity because of the abundance of wonderful day trips that can be taken by very convenient local trains. For more information see Make Yourself at Home — in Amsterdam!

(e) Prague

Like Amsterdam, Prague is especially appropriate for longer stays as you can plan numerous day trips outside the city. (See Karlovy Vary: Through A Lens Obliquely).

(f) Maui

An old favourite that we have visited numerous times (sigh), the island of Maui has many condo-like self-catering properties. Our favourite is Maui Hill. For more information, click here.

(g) Blue Sea Lakeside Villas, Outaouais, Québec

A little over an hour north of Ottawa, Canada’s national capital and a city brimming with art and history, the lac Blue Sea area is a wonderful getaway in any season, very unspoiled and a great nature destination. For more information click here

(h) Lou Récantou in France’s Languedoc Region

The ancient region of Languedoc is also one of the great self-catering destinations in Europe. The history, unique natural environment, and proximity of so many attractions make it a great “home stay” destination. For more information, read Once Upon a Gîte in Languedoc

(i) Seafields Delray Beach, Florida

I find that many travellers have a one-dimensional view of Florida, and therefore can tend to miss out on some very unique destinations in that state. We enjoyed the city of Delray in part because of its proximity to wildlife areas and the wonderful Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens.

(j) Pacific Sands, Tofino, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Vancouver Island on Canada’s Pacific Coast is of course one of this country’s most spectacular travel destinations. See Vancouver Island: Insula Pacifica Gloriosa. For more information on this somewhat upscale self-catering resort, click here.)

Bon voyage and bon séjour!

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