Maison Rose is the fairy tale that comes true. The grace and authenticity of the structure, the beauty and tranquility of the terrace and garden, the quality and comfort of the furnishings, the extensive amenities, the lists of daytrips thoughtfully compiled in the detailed house book, the idyllic yet lively village of Saint-Jean-de-Côle – all combine to provide the framework for an unforgettable vacation with family and friends in this historic and beautiful region of France.
Southwest France is best known for its prehistoric caves, its castles and fortresses and its endless swaths of forests, cliffs and verdant fields dotted with distinctive slanted roofs. The region is also famed for its cuisine, including truffles, foie gras and sturdy red wines. The Dordogne is one of the most beautiful areas of France, and one of the most undiscovered. Maison Rose, tucked in the northern part of the region, offers visitors a chance to explore at a leisurely pace and make their own discoveries.
The house is reached by entering the village, passing the 11th-century abbey with its impressive bell tower and continuing down a quiet lane toward a medieval humpbacked stone bridge over the lazy Côle river. The house was originally constructed in the late 16th or early 17th Century and has known a number of functions since, including housing for the abbott and his monks in the early days and an elementary school in the 19th Century. The American owners, both professional preservationists who live full-time in France, bought the house in 2000 and spent a year restoring it. Their experience and devotion is evident in every detail throughout the house.
An impressive wooden door gives access to the spacious salon. An 18th-century library table lines the rear of the room, and leads the eye to the handsome and solid wooden staircase and the hallway beyond to the dining room and kitchen. The salon is flanked by a wide semi-circle picture window looking to the lane outside and a tall antique breakfront, with 17th-century doors from the sacristy of the Périgueux Cathedral. The top portion of this impressive piece has glass doors with a vast library of books including works of literature and modern fiction, not to mention an exhaustive library of guidebooks for the region. The lower portion houses the TV with VCR and DVD, and a full stereo that is wired throughout the ground floor. A collection of CDs including jazz, classical and popular music is provided for renters’ enjoyment, and there is a dock for plugging in an iPod. A large stone fireplace dominates the last wall of the salon, with the woodpile easily accessible just outside the kitchen doors. The ceilings throughout are lined with heavy beams with spotlights strategically placed. Together with several handsome lamps the illumination is warm and bright for the comfortable sofa and two large wingchairs, all in white. Two antique wooden armchairs bring the seating accommodation in the salon to six.
The kitchen is accessed from the front of the salon and is a welcome sight for amateur or professional cooks. A large island with deep built-in shelves provides separation and a staging spot for the rectangular dining table with high-backed cushioned chairs just beyond it. Several windows line the wall and give out to the covered terrace and the garden beyond. With the windows open the soft trickle of the fountain is audible; close the windows and there is only silence (or the strains of music you have chosen for the stereo) as the windows throughout the house are double-glazed for noise as well as temperature insulation. The beamed ceilings are continued here along with exposed stone walls and a lovely wrought-iron chandelier above the dining table.
The kitchen cupboards were made by a local cabinetmaker and the countertops are marble. Kitchen equipment includes a two-door refrigerator, coffeemaker, four-burner electric cooktop and wall oven, deep sink, dishwasher and an extensive array of spices, cooking oils and the like so that any cook can dive into his or her favorite recipe. Special touches include a set of Kentucky stoneware mugs painted with Maison Rose and ample storage space for a variety of pots and pans, serving pieces and linens. There is no microwave. A door from the kitchen leads out to the terrace, making serving meals outside (perhaps using the fully-equipped picnic hamper provided) a delight.
The dining table has an 18th-century parquet tabletop sitting on two antique trestles and is surrounded by six reproduction Louis XIV upholstered chairs. Beyond the dining room is an attractive powder room and a large closet containing the full-sized American GE washer and dryer. There is another door to the terrace here and hooks for hanging coats with a space for boots below.
The bedrooms and three full baths are all upstairs. One guest bedroom opens from the landing, and the master and third bedroom are reached by three additional steps and a short hallway. All three bedrooms are of roughly equal size and overall level of quality, though each ensuite bathroom has different features that may facilitate the bedroom choice for guests. In each bedroom there are bedside tables with lamps and an antique armoire for hanging and folding clothes storage. Each bathroom has a practical wall fixture crafted by a local cabinetmaker comprising a slim shelf and multiple hooks for towels. The floors throughout the upstairs level are carpeted in sea grass and the walls are a neutral color.
The first bedroom, up three stairs to the right from the landing, has twin beds with Empire headboards, a large antique chest of drawers, an upholstered club chair and an antique Berber rug. The tall window looks out over the garden. The ensuite bathroom has a long vanity table with single basin made by the Italian cabinet maker with the top crafted of 17th-century tiles. There is a bathtub with wall shower (as well as a shower curtain) and a WC.
The second bedroom is the first down the short hallway and has twin beds made by the same Italian cabinet maker, an early 19th-century Périgordine armchair and a lovely armoire. The ensuite bath has a stall shower, sink and WC.
The master bedroom, at the end of the hall, has a queen-sized canopied bed made by an Italian cabinetmaker. Furnishings include an antique armchair, an 18th-century desk with chair, a Louis XIV walnut armoire and a fireplace. A large window looks over the front side of the house to a small park and the former abbey, and the walls are graced with original Redoute engravings and a 19th-century portrait. The master bathroom complete with its own fireplace, has a walk-in, glassed shower with rain shower head, a sink and toilet. On a chilly night the decadence of a crackling fire across the room is a touch of heaven. A small antique table with candelabra and an antique armchair complete the furnishings of this salon de bain.
The idyllic terrace is covered by an intricate wooden arbor thoroughly covered by rose vines for shade. The ground is covered in soft pebbles and there is a round table with chairs for four or six, and a second seating area for six. There is a small portable grill for preparing lamb or fresh fish. The Renaissance-style fountain emits a soft burble and is home to a couple of large goldfish. Beyond the terrace is a large swath of soft grass surrounded by a tall hedge and dotted with yew, boxwood and linden trees.
The village of Saint-Jean-de-Côle is the perfect size for having all the necessaries of daily commerce while preserving its utterly authentic character. It was one of the first villages in the country to be designated a Most Beautiful Village in France, and several of the reasons for its designation are visible from the front of Maison Rose. The practical aspects of the village include a grocery, a pharmacy, two restaurants and a bar. There are tennis courts a few minutes’ walk from the house that are available for a small fee. The owners provide for guests’ use four 21-speed Trek bicycles for touring the local countryside. Surrounding the village is a mostly-wooded 28 kilometer bicycle/riding/walking path.
If visitors can be convinced to leave the comforts of Maison Rose and the charms of Saint-Jean-de-Côle, opportunities for discovery lie near and far. Brantôme, called the Venice of the Périgord, is 15 minutes from Maison Rose and has an extensive abbey dating from the 8th Century. The abbey complex includes a Roman belltower and a stunning view from the cliffside as well as gardens. At Brantôme is the Michelin-starred Moulin de l’Abbaye and the pretty and more casual Au Fil de l’Eau. Just beyond Brantôme at Champagnac de Belair is Le Moulin du Roc, also with a Michelin star, and a few minutes farther is the charming village of Bourdeilles, with two chateaux within the village walls, one dating from the 13th-century and one from the Renaissance that houses an important art collection. Here are the Hostellerie du Griffon with its enchanting setting and terrace and the beloved local restaurant Le Tilleul on the main square. The sites of Puyguilhem, Boschard and Villars are all less than 20 minutes from Maison Rose and offer a château, abbey and prehistoric caves, respectively. Each is worth a visit and Boschaud is a lovely spot for a picnic.
To reach the more well-known sites of the Périgord is a somewhat longer trip, with the Dordogne river and the famous villages lining its banks – Domme, La Roque Gageac and Beynac, as well as Sarlat-la-Canéda – a little over 90 minutes’ drive from Maison Rose. After spending a memorable day visiting castles, walking cobblestone streets and negotiating the crowded roads that line the river visitors will be relieved to return to the tranquility of Saint-Jean and Maison Rose. The caves of Lascaux are also about the same distance from the house and are a must for anyone who has not yet visited this important site. Smaller and more intimate prehistoric caves dot the area around Les Eyzies de Tayac and merit exploration if caves are of interest to your group. A bit closer are the villages of Aubeterre with its unforgettable church and many artisan shops, Périgueux with its Wednesday market and Gallo-Roman museum and Limoges with its famous porcelain factories. The owners provide detailed information for a myriad of destinations in the area, including directions, guidance on tours and sites of interests and restaurants. The owners are also happy to consult with visitors before or during the rental to make plans and can schedule a vineyard tour or a day with a renowned local guide.
Maison Rose can be accessed in several ways. From Paris Charles de Gaulle one can take the TGV to Bordeaux and then drive to the house (2 hours 15 minutes). There are flights from European capitals into Bordeaux. A quicker way is to leave from the Paris Gare de Montparnasse station by TGV to Angoulême. The train ride is 2 hours 30 minutes and then a 75-minute drive to the house. For guests who are arriving once the rental has already begun, another option is to take the train from Paris Gare d’Austerlitz to Thiviers. The train ride is 4.5 hours and Thiviers is just 10 minutes from Maison Rose, but there are no rental car offices in Thiviers so someone will have to pick you up.
In addition to any concierge services requested, the owners provide fresh flowers for arriving renters as well as current issues of The New Yorker and other distinguished American magazines. Homemade raspberry jam and apple juice are among some of the provisions in the kitchen, along with a good supply of coffee and tea. At Maison Rose you can start to write your own fairy tale from the moment you arrive.