Christmas at Gibeau

Christmas at Gibeau

There is a peacefulness and calm at Gibeau all year round, but it seems especially so at Christmastime. The fields around the house are asleep for the winter. Shed of their leaves, deciduous trees stretch bare, except for balls of mistletoe that hang from their giant limbs like ornaments. The countryside is quiet and still, except for the sounds of the church bells in small bastides of Levignac and Monsègur, which seem to carry more clearly across the crisp cold air.

Free of summer’s tourists, the villages and towns return in winter to a more natural rhythm. Farmers and vintners have time to relax, their long days of hard work to bring in the harvest now done. The holiday commercialism in the US and Britain, that seems to come sooner and louder every year, doesn’t really happen here. The decorations in the town squares are scaled down and sweet and often don’t even appear until around the middle of December.

Many say the cuisine of the Périgord is at its best in wintertime. The season is perfect for cassoulet, perhaps the region’s defining dish. But the list of hearty seasonal fare is long, It includes hearty soups; slow braises of pork, duck or goose confit – one-pot meals that make the house smell like heaven while they cook and taste even better reheated; succulent roasts, savory gratins. You’ll find all these on the menus in cafes and simple restaurants in all the nearby towns. For cooks, the ingredients are all readily available in the public markets that continue in squares throughout the winter. In fact, these markets are even better closer to Christmas, with many vendors offering special once-a-year delicacies.

The weeks around Christmas are a wonderful season to experience Gibeau and authentic rustic beauty and charm of Southwest France. It is often also easier economically. Fares for airlines, trains and rental car are usually lower compared to the summer high season, as are the rental rates for Gibeau. 


A Perfect Christmas Eve

After being told that December snow is rare in the area — and being from South Florida — my wife and I were thrilled to awaken Christmas Eve morning at Gibeau to a heavy dusting that accented the  beautiful stone farmhouse.

We bundled up in seldom-used coats and scarfs for an early-morning walk to enjoy the crisp, clean air and the beauty of the winter landscape: harvested fields lying fallow, bare limbs of plum trees and grape vines, deer crossing from one tree line to the next and, farther north, a clear view of the hilltop town of Duras.

Our single chore for the day was shopping for le Réveillon – the traditional Christmas Eve late-night meal. We were glad to see the Friday morning public market in the lovely nearby bastide town of Monsèguropen for business and drawing a lively crowd of locals.  Everything we needed was there -- stands selling meat, poultry, cheeses and vegetables. Especially popular were the local women dressed as Père Noëloffering fresh-baked breads and pastries. Oysters are a customary part of Christmas eating in the Aquitaine, and we were happy to see the huîtriers, in their thick cable sweaters and high white aprons, shucking and selling oysters harvested fresh from the Bassin d'Arcachonless than two hours away.

We provisioned ourselves for our miniature feast and bought a last-minute gift from an antique shop on the town square. Then we stopped into the cafe next door to warm up with a cafe crème, and watched a table of local townsmen trade gossip over cards.

Back from our adventure, we built a crackling fire in the fireplace and settled in for the day. We decorated Gibeau’s long wooden table with greenery and red berries plucked from the shrubs around the farmhouse.

As bookends to our stay at Gibeau, we spent long weekends in Paris, the "City of Lights" even more spectacular when lit up for the holidays. But for a Christmas Eve that truly is a silent night, holy night, there could be no better place than Gibeau.

Tyler Treadway and Sheri Walker

Stuart, Fla.

Gibeau. An authentic country home for vacation rental in Southwest France. Inquire about availability