I dream. All winter long, I dream. I dream of springtime again in south west France. For it once more reawakens the pleasures of outdoor living in a region robust with picturesque places to stay. I recollect an idyllic country retreat lovingly restored. A sun-dappled courtyard. A good read. A long refreshing drink. The pleasantly subtle perfume of a pergola woven with vanilla-scented wisteria permeating the stillness. Such a perfect silence save for the soothing sounds of nature swathing me. Perhaps a chugging tractor and the odd church bell too. Oh, and the satisfying shrieks and splashes from my boys frisking in a pool a feather’s breath yonder. It’s all so heavenly. Simply being. Me and my family happy and on holiday.
Having the luxury of living in south west France, this is a scene I can conjure up over and over again. Each season we make an effort to maximize the myriad of delightfully charming bed and breakfasts on our doorstep. Some have been shameful let downs, masquerading as self-styled boutique properties with neither clue, comfort nor charisma. But there are a select few that shine through and win us over.
One such alluring address is Le Manoir de Malagorse, a gorgeously refurbished former farmhouse dating from the 19th century, and since 1999 affectionately run as a stylish family-friendly retreat in the rural landscape of the Lot département by Anglo-French couple, Anna and Abel. Secreted away in the scenically splendid Dordogne Valley close to the sleepy commune of Cuzance, about 30 kilometres south of Brive-la-Gaillarde, the manor house is unearthed in all its glory by way of a series of winding country lanes. You don’t get lost per se – satnav systems these days see to it that the destination is rarely disregarded – but you do unreservedly lose yourself in the serenity of the surroundings the second you set yourself right after a long drive and reflect on the unspoilt locale.
There are plenty of child-friendly activities at Le Manoir de Malagorse
We pull to a stop on the gravel lane outside the property, and in a lickety-split second, Jem – at the time a sprightly two-and-a-half-year-old – gratefully set free from his car seat, spies a trampoline and a teepee at the far end of a green and golden meadow alive with crooning cicadas, and darts off in their direction. Mr Gallivant goes on after him – he’ll have his work cut out keeping the toddler away from both the canvas and bouncy contraption over the coming days – while I go and check us in.
Beyond a gate, and the courtyard is abundant with late spring foliage. Birds sing and the afternoon sun has limbered up sufficiently to make it a wonderfully warm May day. Anna steps out to welcome me. And all at once I feel at home. For Le Manoir de Malagorse has a magnetism about it. If home indeed could be a magnificently restored French farmhouse flaunting honey-hued stonework and delicate duck-egg green shutters. My dream. It’s this very façade that drew me to the property in the first place when raking through reams of desirable boutique B&Bs in the Dordogne Valley on the internet. And stepping out of the dazzling sunshine into the dusky hallway, the interior is every bit as alluring. There are four spacious rooms in the main building all individually decorated using local materials and French fabrics, and furnished with an eclectic miscellany stumbled upon in antique markets in the surrounds; all statements of unassuming style. There are also two suites and a self-contained Loft on the property, stylish refurbishments of the former barn and stables and every bit as elegantly appointed.
Chambre Jonquille © http://www.manoir-de-malagorse.fr
The boys join and we settle into our room, Jonquille (on the second floor of the manor house), which accommodates all three of us with space to swing a cat and more. It’s light and airy with a superb original ceiling structured with wooden rafters, and a neutral décor that beautifully offsets the oak beams to create a calm and capacious setting.
It’s late in the afternoon and there’s still time for a splash about in the pool before preparing for dinner. Assuming a serene spot on the property, the pool terrace sits to the side of a sweeping meadow, sun loungers invitingly set around the water, which is lightly lapping in the breeze until Jem and Mr G bounce in and begin larking about gleefully in the glorious sunshine.
That evening, Anna and Abel kindly offer to feed an exhausted Jem a little earlier, and he happily feasts on steak-frites with the couple’s twins in the magnificent kitchen complete with mammoth fireplace containing a range cooker on which Abel, a former chef, conjures up the children’s scrumptious supper.
la cuisine © http://www.manoir-de-malagorse.fr
The guests all gather in the grounds of the manoir in the warm evening air – beset with the scent of blossoms and boisterous cicadas – for an apéritif and the chance to socialise after a day of sightseeing. It’s a splendid ambience of the kind that only seems to be created in charming Maisons d’Hôtes such as this closeted away in the allure of the French countryside where compatible folk come together for their love of France and the finer things in life.
And then we dine en terrasse, a delicious four-course affair articulating the certified culinary skills of Abel, all freshly prepared and presenting the seasonal flavours of the local terroir. As with the food, the table settings have a beautiful attention to detail about them too from the napkins tied with fresh lavender sprigs to the quiver of candlelight sparkling in the stillness of the night. Dinner is served either in the courtyard or the restaurant depending on the weather, and we got to eat both indoors and out during our stay, the dining room elegantly dressed in simple, natural colours echoing the French campagne with a decadent twist.
We sink into our snug beds that evening altogether content and intoxicated on country living. Being away from it all in a beautiful environs with balmy weather, affable people and the chance for blissful respite are what bank holiday weekends are made for.
And each morning we wake up brand new and ready and willing. Breakfast – taken outdoors on the small terraced patio overlooking the poolside, and perfectly shaded from the bright sunshine and abuzz with insects and birdsong – is a buffet selection of beautifully homemade produce and is wonderful and leisurely against the backdrop of the whispers of nature. And then it’s time to take in some of the many sights in the region before returning later in the day for some poolside repose.
Le Manoir de Malagorse is located in the Lot and is also lucky enough to share very close borders with both the Corrèze and Dordogne départements, which makes it enormously accessible to so many places of interest in the area. To the west, the highlights of Dordogne are a handy distance away, including the historic delights of the Perigord Noir – Sarlat-la-Canéda, Domme, Beynac-et-Cazenac, La Roque-Gageac, Castelnaud-la-Chapelle … the list goes on.
We have been bowled over by the beauty of them all on previous visits to the Dordogne, so this trip sees us venturing south to see the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Rocamadour, sitting in regal splendour on a rocky overhang high above the River Dordogne, and north to the plus beaux villages of Turenne and Collanges-la-Rouge in Corrèze. It was in fact the fairytale red sandstone commune of Collanges-la-Rouge which began the whole Plus Beaux Villages de France story in 1982 when the mayor envisaged a way to promote tourism in the most beautiful villages of the country, and today the association is a prestigious platform for showcasing France’s prettiest places.
It’s been a few years now since our stay at this stylish retreat hushed away in the haven of the Dordogne Valley. We keep wanting to go back, and we will one day. We still receive Christmas cards from Anna and Abel every year, such is the consideration they afford their guests. And it is this very attention to detail that makes somewhere so special. Le Manoir de Malagorse is precisely the kind of place that goes all-out to please – they’re not easy to find – but when you do encounter such excellence, the recollections stay with you always.
*Prices at Manoir de Malagorse from 160 euros per room per night (including breakfast)