We were wobbly with pleasure after 48 hours at Château La Thuilière. Slack-jawed and wobbly. Little tears, little soft tears of joy leaked out, as curly-mopped Patch the spaniel emerged onto the landing to bid us farewell in his own regal, poochy manner. Beautiful Eduard placed our receipt in a discreetly branded envelope of impeccable paper stock, along with two exquisite buttons of semi-sweet chocolate. Warm, kind Eduard. Jordi, he informed us, passed on his best wishes, but had gone to the market in Mussidan to pick up the ingredients of that evening’s five courser. Of course Jordi had. Lovely, twinkly Jordi, whose garden pea cappuccino with goats’ cheese foam had induced uncontrollable, goofy sighs of delight. It’s fair to say we were a little emotional as we left. No, not that kind of ‘emotional’ – not that. Although our honesty bar bill revealed that we had indeed been very, very honest over the course of our stay. No, it wasn’t that. We were just extremely relaxed. And now perhaps a little distraught. Now in the car, holding hands in silence, each of us staring ahead, slowly sucking our complimentary chocolates in silent, mournful dissolve.
‘You are two people? You have little luggage? You would like a... fun car?’ said the hire clerk at the airport, with a little wink and an arch of the eyebrow. Filthy. Course we did. As we fun-carred through the gates in our convertible, the sight of Château La Thuilière brought us to a halt. A long, white gravel driveway snaked under huge pines, past a sunken swimming pool and an ancient glasshouse full of tomato plants. At the summit of the gently sloping parkland approach stood the Château itself, a grand 19th-century objet d’amour over four stories, built as a wedding gift by a local marquis for his beloved. In the cool, dark wood-panelled reception hall, Jordi, Eduard and Patch greeted us from behind a beautiful old antique bureau. Patch and Eduard gave us a tour of the ground floor: the elegant billiard room; the tapis-walled dining room with its magnificent, long communal dining table; the lounge and music room, piled high with books on design, art and our hosts’ homeland of Catalonia. The local legend of Saint Front – a daring apostle who, legend has it, killed the pesky village dragon – had certainly inspired the marquis. Eduard pointed out dragons carved into various panels and on the ends of the bannister. The old boy had also commissioned a suitably fabulous stained-glass portrait of himself back in the day, done up in full knight’s armour, the cheeky devil.
With the shutters and windows open in our large, airy suite, voices drifted up from the balcony below – guests returned from the pool, freshening up for dinner. Another two guests had plonked themselves in hammocks, highballs poking out above the canvas. Strutting out from beneath them came Frank, a gallus, flamboyantly trousered cockerel, performing his daily pre-prandial inspection. Eduard came over to smile at us (and possibly just at life itself), before softly reading that evening’s menu.
Oh, there was a rich potatoey parmentier with a soft-poached golden yolk (apparently delivered by one of Frank’s concubines earlier that morning); an insanely succulent, singsonging piece of red-peppercorn-infused cod, cooked sous vide (posh boil-in-the-bag). There was a splendid bottle of something from nearby Bergerac to accompany. Jordi appeared at our table in his immaculate chef’s whites, suddenly, wide-eyed and Wonka-like, to gleefully introduce that evening’s cheeses, the names of the local producers and a few tasting tips. There was dessert, and that was, well, whatever – by that point we had melted into our blankets in a kind of blissful fugue state. Torches and candles had been lit around us and coffee and digestifs would shortly be served in the lounge.
Dinner is normally served at the communal dining room table but, for the two nights we were there, was served at separate tables in the garden. Yet there was ample opportunity to get to know our fellow guests, each night after dinner, as we sprawled across beautifully curated pieces of furniture, replete and knowing. In the course of our stay we got to know, among others, a German architect, a Brazilian food scientist, an English antique collector and a Belgian philosophy professor. Clever old us. That said, both days, apart from during cocktail hour, after dinner, or at the communal breakfast table, we really didn’t see much of anyone. With just seven rooms and such brilliantly discreet – but completely attentive – service, you feel as though you’ve been invited to stay at the home of a wonderfully sophisticated, thoughtful and generous friend.
We made a couple of modest excursions, purely out of a sense of duty. We walked from the Château grounds through fields of sunflowers to a nearby ninth-century church, the key to which Jordi kept in a secret drawer. We drove into town and popped into Super U – who can resist a French supermarket? We bought flan and carottes râpées and pastis and tins of French diluting juice. There were speakers in the car park trolley bays. Speakers, blaring out funk. So we danced.
Back at the gaff, it was time for Tanqueray. And Frank. And Patch. And Eduard with the menu. And Armagnac and cigarettes and music and chat and bed again. And after an, er, light breakfast of coffee, croissants, organic yoghurt with homemade apricot compote, local cheeses and saucisson, home-baked bread and white chocolate cake, it was time to say goodbye.
And we sat in our fun car for a long time under the trees, holding hands. Devising a wedding. And a car park reception.