August, 2011 browsing by month


La Villa Saint Simon

Monday, August 8th, 2011

In the beautiful, historic town of Blaye, you will find a gem of a guest house called the Villa Saint Simon.

Allow me to describe the approach to this delightful hotel. On arrival into the town, you notice that the buildings are set closely together, many shades of grey and ochre. These buildings, although many in disrepair, are beautifully set against the blue skies. Here is an eclectic mix: fashion boutiques, bakeries, grocery stores that you know have belonged to the same families for centuries, and curious art galleries. Driving in from the North, you have the UNESCO world heritage site of the Citadel to your right, a massive stone fortification that still has residents and restaurants within its walls. Through the thick tree cover of the park, you catch a glimpse of the fast-flowing Gironde and think that you wouldn’t want to get caught in its tide. You slow down along the high street, craning your neck to look for a sign for the hotel. You don’t know what you’re looking for exactly but when you see a colourful 2CV parked on the street, you instantly know that you have found the Villa Saint Simon. You have found your home away from home for a week, a fortnight, or if lucky, for much longer.

Stretching your legs after the four hour drive from Chinon in the Loire Valley feels good. The Villa looks so welcoming: there are old bicycles leaning against its front wall by the main entrance and the window shutters on all floors are wide open like arms wanting to embrace you. You are focused on getting your luggage inside but at the same time you are having thoughts of freshly baked croissants and baguettes. You enter the Villa and see that the front room is indeed set for meals and there are pastries galore! Your senses are suddenly awakened: there is Flamenco music, the aroma of full-fat semi-salted butter, the sound of laughter coming through from another room, and dark wooden shelves stocked with Bordeaux wines.

You are greeted by a vivacious woman with dark hair and blue-green eyes. Her name is Clarissa and her giggle is infectious. You immediately like her and know that you will enjoy your stay. Later you meet Les, who urges  you to partake in a wine tasting with friends in his cellar or art gallery. He is a smart-talking local businessman who knows everything about wine in this region. This is going to be a fun and educational trip!

So now that I have set the scene (the Villa is as gorgeous and wonderful as I describe), shall I tell you what I love about this special place? I love the people: I love how Julian talks passionately about restoring old cars. I love how Les looks at Clarissa and says that he could live in her eyes forever. I love that the coffee is strong and tastes distinctively French. I love the market that appears out front on Wednesdays and Saturdays and no one speaks any English. I love that the ferry to the Left Bank departs on schedule. I love the feel of white cotton sheets and how the sunshine filters in through the curtains. I love the squeaky floor boards and can hardly believe that this Villa was totally restored as a labour of love. I love that the rooms are named after local vineyards like “Rousselle” or “Monconseil Gazin”. I love running down the spiralling staircase and blurring the modern art pieces in my head. I love choosing any bottle of wine from the front room and knowing that it will be excellent. I love that I sleep all through the night without stirring, and wake up so refreshed. I love that the Villa trusts me.

When your departure draws near, you feel a heaviness in your heart. Your heart and mind are filled with memories and a great sadness overcomes you. All you can do is sit in the front room writing in your journal, staring out the window at the passing traffic, desperate to recall all the significant moments you experienced in this place. Your stay was magical, romantic, hilarious, indulgent … perfect. You look up and see Clarissa’s face. She is stroking a kitten named Ziggy in her arms and she looks hopeful. Although no words are spoken, you are reassured and understand that you will not be gone long and that you will return again next year, if lucky, sooner.

(Is this place for real? Mais, Oui! Seek it out as your base in Bordeaux. It is perfect. The Villa is well-known and beloved among its visitors and is mentioned in a number of publications, including “Les itineraires de Charlotte.” Here I am on the second floor balcony, enjoying the view of the Citadel and showcasing Charlotte’s book of journeys through Bordeaux vineyards.