27 May

Pause Guitare Music Festival: When cultural Albi really comes to life

The old town of Albi in South West France is beautiful, historic and interesting whatever time of the year you go there. To discover Albi at its busiest and most vibrant, early July would be a good time to visit when the Pause Guitare Music Festival takes place.

From 7 – 12 July, 2014 festival goers from around France and beyond will gather at this scenic French town. Female group sensations Yodelice will be joining the artists playing at Albi this year. Louis Cedid, Christophe and Adebert are all scheduled to play. They will join M, The Hives, Zaz, to name just several of the great musicians playing at this year’s Pause Guitare Music Festival.

Whether you are in striking distance to Albi or further afield, this festival is definitely worth travelling to see, as is Albi itself.

This elegant medieval town was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. History and culture radiate down the town’s picturesque streets, squares and alleyways. The great French artist known as Toulouse-Lautrec was born in Albi, which has continued to be a Mecca for artists. The 13th century Cathedrale Sainte-Cecile was built when the heretical Cathars were defeated. Consequently, the cathedral has a distinct military look. Adjacent to the cathedral is the stout Palais de la Berbie.  Today this impressive building hosts the town’s museum, which contains works of art by Toulouse-Lautrec, Matisse, Dufy, Gaugin and many more.

Albi’s ancient, traffic-free, medieval streets are a delight to walk around. Superb and reasonably-priced restaurants are a dominant feature of the town’s tourism make-up. Another impressive site that is worth seeing in Albi is the Chateau du Bosc, the place where Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec spent a happy childhood.

With flat-bottomed boats making their way down the Tarn and a whole host of cultural, historic and artistic sites to explore, there are many reasons to visit Albi – the Pause Guitare Music Festival is just one of them.

For more information on this popular summer festival in South West France visit: http://www.pauseguitare.net/.


 

21 May

Maison de Lussas – One of the most secluded villas in South West France

Vintage Travel is pleased to announce the addition of Maison de Lussas to our portfolio of villas in South West France. This beautifully simple house for six is situated in the most stunning of Dordogne countryside, not far from the old town of Nontron.

Being in the heart of the Perigord Limousin’s regional Natural Park, Nontron is a wonderful place to enjoy forest walks and guided tours of the old town.

One of the first things you notice when arriving at this pretty lakeside house is how much grass surrounds the place. There is an open country feel to it, almost as if it has been built besides some fairway on a luxury golf course. The house overlooks a beautiful lake, which is well stocked with carp and fishing and is encouraged for ‘rod and reel’ fishing ventures. The scene is natural and tranquil.  Maison de Lussas is definitely a calming house in the verdant French countryside where memories of high pressure jobs will evaporate as total relaxation takes over.

The house itself is quite an unusual design. The three bedrooms are plain, simple, smart and stylish. With an en-suite master bedroom, a further double bedroom and a twin room, up to six guests can spread out in roomy comfort. All three bedrooms have a light and airy feel about them, a theme which continues throughout the whole house. The house is essentially a bungalow and the bedrooms are situated on what is called the upper ground floor.

Surrounded by glass panels and a solid roof, the light and airy dining room is almost – but not quite – a conservatory. Perhaps a sun room would be an apter description. Whatever label is put on this fine room it is without doubt a great place to dine, with pleasant views of the swimming pool and deep into the green yonder.

The open plan kitchen is equipped with everything you’ll need to indulge is some great cooking in the heart of the Dordogne. This classy kitchen has a stylish colour scheme of stone, greys and the palest magnolias. Adjoining the kitchen is the lounge which has an open fire place for those out of high season visits. Fine ceramic tiles complement this stylish open plan room superbly.

Outside, an incredible mature palm tree besides the house is testament of the favourable climatic conditions that can be expected in this part of France. The pool is a decently sized 10 x 5 metres with a large surrounding sunbathing terrace. Outside dining is a must on those balmy summer nights and there is a terrace dedicated for eating, drinking and merriment under a starry Dordogne summer night sky.

31 kilometres from Maison de Lussas is the village of Saint-Jean-de-Cole, which has been cited as one of the prettiest in all of France, quite an accolade to say the least! A medieval bridge crosses the River Cole with bull-nosed, cut-waters projecting into the water. Ochre walled houses with brown tiled roofs adds to Saint-Jean-de-Cole’s idyllic and charming appeal.  Nontron is only six kilometres from the house. Surrounded by trickling streams and vast lush valleys, Nonrton certainly boasts an enviable position in the Dordogne. This fascinating town is bursting with cafés, shops and restaurants and has an  incredible history attached.

For more information, photos and to make a reservation to stay in Masion de Lussas click HERE.


 

18 Nov

Who needs the Alps when you can ski in the French Pyrenees?

It could be argued that skiing in the French Pyrenees is a more personable and laidback experience than skiing in the Alps where resorts seem to be more expensive and are congested by a chic throng of poseurs. You don’t need the latest coloured ski suit in order to walk with your head held high and a Pyrenean ski experience will not break the bank.

Another reason to favour Pyrenees skiing over the Alps is that the pistes are located at lower Pyrenean altitudes. Being more accessible from the plain lands essentially means that if you don’t want to stay in an arguably characterless ski resort, you can travel and make use of a resort’s facilities as you desire.

In short, staying at a stunning Vintage Travel luxury villa in South West France and heading to a purpose-built ski village in the Pyrenees for a day is achievable.

One of the greatest components of skiing in the Pyrenees is the fact you are surrounded by awe-inspiring mountains.

For example, the Pic du Midi de Bigore with its summit-crested observatory offers the experienced skier a fantastic ride through pristine off-piste virgin snow. If you book in advance it is possible to stay the night at the observatory as it allows a limited amount of overnight skiers – accommodation that is resonant of a mountain hut but with a telescope.

The locals at the Pic du Midi de Bigore are friendly and accommodating and the food is unpretentious and hearty, as is the wine. The south-west typical duck dishes are especially recommended, such as ‘Garbure’, a vegetable broth filled with sausage and duck leg and washed down with copious amounts of local French wine.

They might be less fashionable than the Alpine resorts but the Pyrenees ski resorts have lots to offer skiers and snowboarders of every ability. Being comparatively less expensive, friendly, accommodating and situated in the most breathtaking of surroundings it is hard to figure out why only 1% of all skiers here are British.

Though it has to be said that being visited less frequently as far as Britons are concerned, skiing in the Pyrenees is an undiscovered gem.

 


 

10 Nov

A beautiful stone cottage in South West France – La Petite Maison, Castillonnes

Vintage Travel is delighted to augment its already impressive South West France portfolio further with the arrival of a beautiful stone cottage in South West France, La Petite Maison.

Nestled in French countryside at its most serene, within walking distance of the town of Castillonnes that overlooks the leafy valley of the Dropt, you’d be hard pushed to find a more idyllic spot.

This open plan and modernised cottage can sleep 4-5 guests comfortably.  The wooden spiral stairs that lead up to the mezzanine promote the cottage’s quaintness. Likewise the original roof trusses give the feeling of authenticity and history. The kitchen, living room and dining room are in one large open plan space, which is airy and light.

The master bedroom is also on the ground floor with its own convenient shower room.

Upstairs on the mezzanine there is a further bedroom built around a lovely rustic roof truss. This beautiful mezzanine has a useful landing area, perfect for reading, relaxing and deliberating the quaintness and character of this delightful cottage.

Outside the sparkling pool invites you to take a plunge, while the pretty garden with well-kept lawns is wonderful place to laze away the day. The exterior eating area is covered by a pergola terrace but with an ample poolside terrace just yards away, one is really spoilt for choice as where to settle down to eat and drink in the fresh and clear rural South-Western France air.

If you can manage to drag yourself away from La Petite Maison and all its charms, the Bastide de Castillonnes is just a short walk away. Castillonnes was founded in the 13th century and there are numerous historic buildings to explore and muse away a morning or afternoon. Quality bars and restaurants are also plentiful in this interesting town if you decide not eat in the beautiful surroundings of La Petite Maison.

If you would like to find out more about this wonderful stone cottage in South west France, just click the link.


 

17 Oct

Les Toques Blanches du Roussilon in South West France – Eat in style without breaking the bank

When it comes to a commitment to world-class cooking, the French are second to none. Paying testament to this unrivalled loyalty is the fact that since 2003 some 40 chefs have gathered in south west France in a force known as Les Toques Blanches du Roussilon.

This sought after and renowned event is aimed at strengthening the culinary art of the southernmost department of France – the Pyrenees-Orientales.

The mission of the Toques Blanches du Roussilon is threefold – to maintain and promote the traditional cuisine of the Pyrenees-Orientales, to encourage commitment to the profession by training young chefs and to use and promote local produce.

The chefs participating in the Toques Blanches du Roussilon are keen to cook with the varied ingredients from this diverse French department, including the Mediterranean, the rambling plain lands and the snow-capped mountains. The Pyrenees-Orientales area considers itself to be Catalan and as such feels that it has much in common with the Spanish province of Catalonia on the southern side of the Pyrenees. Cuisine here therefore reflects these Spanish associations, resulting in an interesting concoction of French and Spanish dishes.

Part of the Toques Blanches du Roussilon venture includes a major gastronomic event held in the exhibition centre in Perpignan every year. Known as Palais Gourmand visitors get the chance to try out a huge variety of more than 40 or so dishes all made of local ingredients such as wine made in the vicinity.

Many of the best restaurants in the area participate in the Toques Blanches du Roussilon, including the La Littorine in Banyuls-Sur-Mer and a coastal restaurant called Domain de Falgos in St-Laurent-de-Cerdans.

Bellavista restaurant in Prats-de-la-Mollo-Preste is another top eatery that participates in this prestigious culinary event. Situated at the foot of the ramparts this Catalan restaurant respects the tradition of local produce. Hot on its tail is Auberge du Cellier in Montnar, located at the gates of Cathar country, dedicated to serving gourmet cuisine.

This glamorous French culinary venture enables visitors to eat the very best the south west of France has to offer without breaking the bank, which in the south of France can be a fairly difficult feat to achieve.

 


 

26 Aug

The local markets of France and Spain – Just another reason why the Mediterranean diet is so healthy

It is a well-known fact that the people who live in Mediterranean countries generally eat well and can often live for a longer time than their non-Mediterranean counterparts. Much of the world-renowned health and longevity of the residents of the Med is pinned on olive oil. Although it’s not just olive oil that is responsible for the long life-enduring properties of a Mediterranean diet.

Garlic was frowned upon for years by the likes of us Brits, who were all too conscious of bad breath rather than good health. The health properties of garlic are now well documented and a celebrity French chef recently pointed out that more garlic is sold in the UK than is sold in France.

Red wine may well be in our British supermarkets in vast and varied supplies but back in the seventies stocks were limited. By contrast, the Spanish, the French and Italians have, for decades, had ample varieties of red wine readily available. When drank in moderation, there are several health benefits of this antioxidant-rich alcoholic drink.

When you order a meal in the likes of Spain and France, it is almost always accompanied with a huge bowl of crispy and delicious fresh salad. Salad is naturally brimming with vital vitamins and nutrients and is certainly a core component of the longevity-enhancing Mediterranean diet.

Fish never fails to be on the menu in the bars and restaurants of the Med. Oily, fresh fish is certainly conducive with good health and contributes inexorably with the people of the Mediterranean’s healthy diet.

Then of course there are vegetables. In the British supermarkets, force-grown courgettes, tomatoes, peppers and aubergines are all vibrantly-coloured, firm in texture and blemish-free. The organic, simple and pesticide-free vegetables that can be found on markets in France and Spain rarely look like what we find in our supermarkets.

The best produce is grown naturally on the farms in the Mediterranean countryside and come in all shapes, sizes, colours and condition. Organic, home-grown, natural veg might not look as good but it certainly tastes better and without any chemicals used, is healthier.

Sadly the Mediterranean supermarkets of today seem to be following the same path of the international supermarkets, with all fruit and vegetables being uniform in size and blemish free. This said, local markets are still an integral part of Mediterranean culture where farmers and local produce growers still thrive.

Visiting the local markets of France and Spain is an experience in itself. There is usually a dishevelled-looking old man at the market with a few old cola bottles full of cloudy “uninviting” olive oil, or a woman with a huge misshapen butternut squash, which she sells in slices rather than whole.

These are the type of items, which you should purchase for your larder back in your Vintage Travel villa.


 

23 Jun

Carcassonne in South West France – Sleeping Beauty’s ‘real life’ castle?

 

If you find yourself staying in a Vintage Holiday’s villa in a secluded part of South West France, then you really must try and fit a visit to Carcassonne into your holiday itinerary.

Some say it was the fairy tale castle of Carcassonne that inspired Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. The medieval walled “Cite” was added to the UNESCO world heritage site list in 1997.

 

Carcassonne is actually two cities in one. There is, as well as the famous and glamorous high walled “Cite”, a medieval lower town, which is also a vastly attractive place to visit. In fact the Bastide Saint Louis, as the lower town is called, is the perfect antidote to its extremely popular big brother up above.

 

The fortified city of Carcassone was first identified as a place of strategic importance by the Romans and later the invading Visigoths added to the fortifications.

A French noble family by the name of Raymond-Roger de Trencavel lived in the fort for over a century, added further buildings to the town. During the time of the crusades against the Cathars, Trencavel was imprisoned in his own dungeon by the cruel catholic crusade leader, Simon du Montfort and was allowed to die there.

 

The fortress played a key role in the Hundred Year’s War between England and France and the notorious “Black Prince” failed in his bid to take the city in 1335.

 

The city walls were a border between France and Spain until 1659 when a large chunk of land on the French side of the Pyrenees was given back to France. After the land was given back, Carcassonne was isolated without purpose, many miles away from the new Spanish border and the city walls started to fall into disrepair. Two centuries later rescue came in the form of Eugene Viollet-Le-Duc, a French architect and theorist, who was given the job of renovating the historical building.

 

It is largely thanks to the work of this man and his team, that the medieval fortress of Carcassonne is what it is today.

 

After you have taken a good look at the city walls and muse over the fortress’s fascinating history, there are a great many shops bars and restaurants to enjoy and relax in.

 

It is difficult to disagree that Carcassonne is an unforgettable sight from the very first minute that you lay your eyes on those remarkable city walls.

 

And that is reason enough to visit this wonderful corner of the world. If you are looking for luxury accommodation in South West France, click the link.

 


 

15 Jun

Tour de France 2013 comes to Brittany and the Pyrenees

If you are lucky enough to be staying in a Vintage Travel villa in South West France or Brittany this coming July, you may want to think about joining the thousands of Tour de France supporters who line the route of the gruelling climbs of the Pyrenees or the roads through the sleek landscape of Brittany.

This colourful spectacle of thousands of flag-waving cycling fans is a sight to behold, and who knows, you might even get yourself on television!

On 5 July 2013 the legendary Tour races from Montpelier to Albi, a beautiful historic town in a region known as the Midi-Pyrenees that is well worth seeing. Albi was added to the UNESCO world heritage site list in 2010 and there is a myriad of historic buildings to see here after you have cheered the riders on.

July 6 is a probable defining day for the riders who must cycle from Castres to Aix 3 Domaines, crossing the Col De Pailheres, at a gruelling 2001 metres altitude, along the way. This is definitely a stretch where the known climbers, such as Wiggins, Nebali, Evans and Froome, will be wanting to gain valuable time over the rest of the field and could therefore be a dramatic stage to witness.

The next day – the ninth stage – will also present the riders with a punishing ride in the Pyrenees and once again it will be the climbing specialists who will want to break away and demoralise the Pelaton. The climbs in the Pyrenees are to be held earlier than usual this year and could play a significant role tactically. The ninth stage will see the riders cross no less than six different summits, taking them from St Girons to Bagneres de Bigorre. The riders will have a rest day after this and they will need one!

July 10 sees the Tour de France 2013 arrive in Brittany at St Gildas-de-Bois and from here the riders will pelt along to St Malo through the stunning yet comparatively flat Brittany countryside. Unless there is a firm breakaway this will most likely be a day of glory for the sprinters. So if you want to see Mark Cavendish, aka the Manx Missile, produce his turbo finish, make sure you’re in St Malo on July 10, 2013!

The following day is a time trial day from Avranches to the Mont St Michael, which is just over the border from Brittany in Normandy. The good thing about watching a time trial in the Tour De France if you are British is that it is highly likely that you will see a Briton win because right now the Brits are the reigning champions of this particular cycling discipline.

Witnessing the energy and passion of the Tour de France 2013 will undoubtedly make an interesting and memorable day out in you are planning to be in France this July.

If you would like to see Vintage Travel’s luxury villas in France, just click the link.


 

13 Jun

Luxury villa in La Fouillade – Villa La Serenite

Villa La Serenite, La Fouillade, South West France – Possibly the most perfect place for serving Coq au Vin! With its huge stone walls, wooden shutters and low exposed beams conjuring up visions of plates of Cassoulet and Coq au Vin, it is safe to say that the stunning villa of La Serenite is designed within an unpretentious French farmhouse style.

One of the first things that you notice about this luxury villa in La Fouillade is the lovingly restored bare walls and the high pitch roof. The naturalism of the villa is wholly in-keeping with the area it resides, a particularly idyllic rural location close to the village of La Fouillade not far from Najac in South West France.

The house can sleep up to eight guests and has four spacious bedrooms on two separate floors, each having its own en-suite facilities and each very different to the next. The downstairs double bedroom has direct access to the pool terrace.

The lounge is as cosy as you could hope to find and comes equipped with a wood burner for those chilly out of season nights. La Serenite is loaded with character and fits effortlessly and naturally into its habitat, a great trait of the people responsible for restoring this magnificent house.

With its lavender lined lawns, walnut and ash trees set in 2-acres of prime, lush French countryside for a garden, spectacular views in an unspoilt part of Europe, a stay at this luxury villa in La Fouillard is what anyone would wish for from a holiday rental.  The pool is ample in size and has some much-needed shade for the high summertime when temperatures can soar in this part of France.

With a climate this enviable and scenery so stunning, wining and dining outside is simply a must at La Serenite and there is a covered outdoor dining area for those perfect evenings at home.

Dragging yourself and your party away from accommodation this cosy and inspiring may be difficult but given what lies upon La Serenite’s doorstep, venturing further a field than the villa’s grounds is certainly recommended.

Quirky and interesting cafes and shops can be explored in La Fouillade, which is just 3km from the villa. For a livelier day or night out Najac is just 6km away, which has been described as being one of the most picturesque ‘bastides’ in France.

Asides the top-notch restaurants and buoyant Sunday market, the Chateau Najac is a highlight of the town. Built in 1253, this majestic site is in a breathtaking position high above the village. In 1925, Chateau Najaz was declared a ‘monument historique.’


 

11 Jun

Luxury villa in South West France – La Vallee

Set amongst one of the sleekest landscapes on our planet, the villa La Vallee in South West France is at one with its surroundings, radiating a sense of extravagance and bucolic simplicity simultaneously.

The high vaulted ceiling gives a feeling of history, grandeur and the raw stone walls and bare wooden floors add to the feeling that you are staying in a place with stories to tell.

Luxury villa in South West France, La Vallee has been recently added to the impressive Vintage Travel orchestra of villas, which is available to rent for that exceptional holiday of a lifetime. La Vallee has four en-suite bedrooms and officially sleeps eight. The bedrooms are beautifully turned out, tastefully in-keeping with the bygone feel of the house.

Although it has to be said that it is La Vallee’s upper floor, which is king in the house. A lounge and TV room are to be enjoyed under a magnificent vaulted ceiling. There are French doors at the gable end, which leads onto a sun terrace commanding unsurpassed views over the Aveyron Valley. Peace and tranquillity smother you up and allow your spirit to soar. The land is heavenly and all your troubles and pressures become something of a distant past.

Of course the luxury villa in South West France comes with all the usual mod cons, including a utility room for the laundry and a telephone for local and incoming calls.

The grounds outside La Vallee are ample, well-kept and utterly delightful. There is a large heated swimming pool with Roman steps, lined by fragrant lavender bushes, its crystal clear water providing a luxurious place to gaze over mile upon mile of an undulating and verdant French landscape.  All in all there are 1.6 hectares of land for visitors of La Vallee to play around in.

The nearby town of Najac is hailed by some as one of the prettiest villages in France. There is a medieval castle at the town’s high point. Romantic and picturesque, the castle conjures up thoughts of knights, jousting, black horses and damsels without distress!

Several of the restaurants in Najac are highly esteemed and have been awarded with the ‘Bib Gourmand’ honour, a designation that denotes great cuisine at reasonable prices.

Or if you’d prefer to stay closer to home then enjoying a barbecue in La Vallee’s stunning grounds would be surpassed by little. There are no cheap distractions here, no cacophony of noise, only Mother Nature at its utmost best.