Growing your own small business is always a challenge. You often feel like a small… very small… fish in an ocean swarming with sharks. However, even on the bleakest of days, there are the memories of good moments. The moments that push you onward into the depths of the shark infested ocean. In my particular industry travel is imperative.
Earlier this year, my husband and I decided to pack all of our belongings into storage and purchase one way tickets to travel and promote our brand around the globe. We often encounter days where we are utterly exhausted from the constant moving and upheaval from one bed to another, but every once in awhile we find ourselves in a dreamlike situation. Thanks to Sud de France at the Maison de la Région Occitanie in New York, we had an amazing opportunity to relax and explore La Tour du Chateau in Southeastern France.
After obtaining a reasonable airfare with Ryanair from London to Carcassonne, it was merely a 30-minute drive alongside a shaded tree-lined avenue with the Canal du Midi winding its way softly through the ancient towns until we found ourselves presented with the ancient tower of La Tour du Chateau. Arriving in the early evening hours, the soft shades of dusk were lighting the ancient stones of the tower in orange, purple, and blue hues which made me immediately begin imagining myself a well-to-do duchess visiting the French countryside with my valet and husband in tow.
Once atop the stone staircase leading to a gated terrace, vast views of the Canal du Midi and local vineyards took my breath away. But that was temporary, as a soft warm embrace and traditional French greeting of two soft kisses from owner Jodi Gaffey, recalled my senses and had me smiling broadly. Through the tall glass doors Jodi and her husband Peter’s personalities are well represented throughout the Chateau Tower.
A quick walk around the first-floor of the 13th-century home showed ample details of a sophisticated renovation with expert attention to decorative details. The decor embraces Provencal French patterns and colors throughout the fabric and tiles, while offering small American comforts such as a big screen television and a full-size American refrigerator and freezer in the kitchen. Jodi and Peter often spend their Saturday’s combing the local vide-greniers and brocantes, (outdoor markets and resale shops), for well-preserved antique French figurines, china, furniture, art, and books to display throughout the restored guesthouse. Original Juliet balconies with exquisite iron railing dot the first floor windows, allowing incomparable views of the Languedoc-Roussillon countryside.
Walking up an enclosed grey stone staircase to the guest quarters renewed my imagination of being a high-born prominent figure, feelings which only heightened as I rounded the broad wooden door frame into the sitting area where sunlight was streaming through the windows caressing a posh sete, marble-top coffee table and end table with flower arrangements and antique French books in sight.
The tall wooden doors to each of the three bedrooms were flung open offering full views of the clean white linens and large American King size beds. I wasn’t sure which bed to pounce in first! But please know… I did pick one and with a running start, jumped in it as if I were a 5 year old girl again. The bed was every bit as plush as it looked. The linens were crisp, yet soft and silky. I was enveloped in a moment of sheer bliss.
Jodi provided bottles of still and sparkling water with a carafe and two glasses on a basin table. A bottle of local Minervois white wine with a note describing the vineyard was smiling at me from the atop the antique dresser. Yes… Jodi and Peter managed to create a slice of Utopia for this weary traveler and her husband.
After an incomparable night of sleep, I awoke to the heady scent of French coffee and the high-pitched giggles of my 6 year old downstairs. Jodi had managed to persuade my little one to help make breakfast … I have officially concluded that lady has magical powers. A lovely breakfast of fresh local eggs, crusty baguette, and a selection of sweet spreads accompanied with rich black coffee had me ready and excited for a day of cooking.
Many of the local businesses partner with La Tour du Chateau to ensure guests receive a full experience of the region and are given the opportunity to fall in love with Southern France. Some of the activities which Jodi can arrange include: intimate vineyard tours, wine tastings with a master sommelier, quiet hotel barge trips, exotic truffle hunting, and yes… educational and fun cooking classes. For a former pastry chef like myself, this was the way to my heart.
Cooking by the Canal du Midi far exceeded any expectations I had. The 5 hours were spent full of learning, laughter, and fine French wines. Owner and Chef, Heather Hayes, expertly guided the intimate group of “students” through each step of preparing a delicious starter, entree, and dessert. Once each component of the afternoon meal was completed, we all enjoyed the spoils of the day at a delicately set table with more fine wine, good conversation and lots of laughter.
Although cooking is certainly one of my passions, it isn’t for my husband. Peter kindly arranged a day trip to another French Mediterranean town, Guissan, a 20 minute drive down scenic routes and small French villages. They were awestruck at the enormous mounds of pink hued salt where locals purchase several varieties for reasonable rates. The men soon found themselves at a local seafood restaurant where they were plied with wine, beer, and succulent mussels while enjoying exquisite views over the strikingly pink salt marshes.
After an exciting, albeit long day, we headed to a local hotel barge for a delicious and fun-filled evening on the Canal du Midi. Barge Louisa owners, Jenny and David, welcomed Peter, Jodi, and my little family onto their stunningly renovated hotel barge for an elaborate dinner. Oftentimes, these hotel barges can become confined for guests, so having opportunity to spend a day or an evening on land can be quite welcome. As La Tour du Chateau is located en route for hotel barges on the Canal du Midi, they often open their doors to such passengers.
I could live on Jenny and David’s beloved Barge Louisa, without needing to step on dry land except for food and wine runs. Once aboard the richly stained wood lined deck, guests are welcome to relax and enjoy a beer or cocktail while soaking in the Mediterranean sunlight or recline under the canvas awning at a table suited for a king and queen. Below deck, you may find it a challenge to recall you are onboard a boat. A full kitchen with all amenities was in all of its glory with Jenny preparing a lavish meal, while an expertly set dining table waited its turn to present her meal. Through a narrow doorway, we discovered several ensuite bedrooms ranging in size with double beds or single beds. No matter where we found ourselves on Barge Louisa, I could tell that David and Jenny worked hard to ensure the pickiest of guests would not be able to find fault.
After two nights with in La Tour du Chateau, we did not want to leave. Peter and Jodi’s warm and inviting guesthouse was an exact mirror of themselves. I can’t wait for spring to arrive, for the opportunity to visit again, this time for a few nights longer.
Special thanks to Sud de France at the Maison de la Région Occitanie in New York for coordinating this visit. Although services provided were in exchange for a review, all opinions and views are the honest perspective of the author.