France Special: Domaine de BassibÃ©
Sleepover: A night in France
Sunday 19 May 2002
Where is it?
Where is it?
In the heart of Gers, south-west France, a short drive off the main road from Toulouse to Biarritz.
What's it like?
A grand old house among the cornfields – one well-travelled member of our party proclaimed it the prettiest hotel she had ever stayed in. This splendid grange, draped with ivy, shutters thrown open to let the sunshine stream in, dates from the 18th century. Inside, the grand salon, furnished with antiques and objets d'art, provides a cool retreat from the heat of the day. Outside, the old stables and vine press frame a courtyard where you can dine in the shade of plane trees. A new extension to the rear of the main house has been designed to complement the style of the original buildings.
What's its USP?
It's a sylvan idyll. The chirrup of birds is only occasionally disturbed by the sound of the bellhop pulling a trolley laden with suitcases across the gravel. Throw open your windows and gasp at the view of the Pyrénées. You can almost touch them.
Most of the staff are very approachable and happily tolerated – and deciphered – my dreadful French.
Eleven rooms and seven suites from €122 to €183 (£77 to £115) per night. We stayed in the extension, which looks better from a distance and feels disappointingly new close up. Our suite was comfortably furnished with bright floral fabrics. However, the bathroom was quite basic, and had a rather grotty bath.
Food and drink?
As well as the al fresco option, you can dine in the beautiful setting of the old vine press. This is supposed to be a top-class restaurant but the standard of the food was variable. Highlights included a plate of the freshest anchovies and a dish of duck with candied pears. Local ingredients feature strongly on the menu, including the ubiquitous foie gras and piquant mountain cheeses served with prune compôte. On the down side, the chicken in one salad at lunch was tough, and cannelloni stuffed with Bayonne ham was stodgy and swimming in sauce. Take breakfast on the pretty, vine-covered verandah of the main house. Menu from €40 (£25).
Chic Parisian couples (my, don't the French dress up when they dress down?). Middle-aged English folk.
Things to do?
Ramble around the glorious semi-wild grounds, through rose gardens and wooded copses, crushing fragrant wild mint under foot as you go. The hotel has an open-air swimming pool and there is golf and horseriding in the area. The historic city of Pau is nearby, with its marvellous views of the Pyrénées from the boulevard named after them. The local town Marcaic hosts a popular jazz festival in August. Or visit one of the many markets that take place in the area throughout the week.
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