A Perfect Christmas Eve

October 2012 - paul

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.

Overnight in Sarlat

October 2010

During our stay at Gibeau, we planned an overnight trip to the town of Sarlat-la-Canéda, sandwiched between visits to the caves of Pech Merle and the Château de Beynac.

We were up and out of Gibeau just after breakfast. It was a beautiful summer morning and the drive took us through gently rolling hills to more dramatic river bluffs and limestone cliffs. Descending into the cool dark of the Pech Merle caves, I felt transported to the time when the prehistoric paintings there were created. Cavernous underground spaces, illuminated paintings of horses, woolly mammoths and bison. Most marvelous of all were the painted outlines of  handprints in red and charcoal. They served as a sort of signature, as if the artists were saying, I was here.

After the short drive to Sarlat, we settled into our hotel at the edge of the city’s medieval section, then headed out to explore. The 14th century architecture has been beautifully preserved and the cobbled streets were for the most part delightfully car-free. We lingered over aperitifs and dinner at an outdoor café in the main square, taking in the carved windows and doorways, the steeply slanted stone-tiled roofs. The warm afternoon light mellowed into a sweet orange. After dinner, we bought gelato from a shop at the edge of the square and ended the long day with an evening stroll through side streets and secluded little plazas.

The next morning, we drove the historic route to Beynac. The 12th century fortress is situated strategically overlooking the valley and the Dordogne river below. The approach to the castle from the valley floor was impressive, and the panoramic view from its wall of the surrounding countryside was stunning. We explored the ramparts and then the interior, its crafted doorways and fireplaces. The spiral stone stairways still bear deep grooves carved by the banging swords of soldiers rushing to the rooftop battlements.

Paired with our six days at Gibeau, our excursion to Sarlat made for one of my most vivid travel memories, each leg like opening in my mind like a favorite old book.

Arriving at Gibeau

October 2007 - Tom Moore

We drove down from Duras and descended into rolling hills and valleys tamed centuries ago to the tasks of working life. Turning off a road more main than others, but more minor than most, we wound our way to Gibeau. It was September, blue sky and windblown clouds, a comfortable coolness in afternoon air. We passed working farms, pastures and stables, barns and hay bales stacked high. We passed orchards and vineyards and woodlands, land for growing, land for hunting, the road narrowing until it ended and our tires crunched to a stop over a pebbled drive.

We got out, stood and took the measure of the place. The property was about one hectare, but seemed more expansive. North, past the pool and abri, farm fields stretched to the little town of Levignac. Westward, a meadow ran down to a stream. Across, it climbed back up to a neighboring farm and the coming sunset. South, on the other side of the house, lay a private shady grove, perfect for lazy picnic lunches. East, fruit trees stood beside the road back to a world that seemed suddenly, wonderfully, distant.

The house was stone the color of bread, its old bones evident amidst loving renovation. Inside, all was airy and inviting. It felt timeless. Dusk light moved across the thick walls, and windows framed the contented landscape. A long farm table stood underneath the vaulted ceiling. Here was the focal point, the gathering place to share the pleasures of this rural world.

For those who seek La France Profonde, look no further. It is here — the food and wine, the calm, the light, the fresh, sweet smell of the countryside, the deep sense of being relaxed and removed.

My Day-trip Cycling in the Lot-et-Garonne

August 2007 - Steve Hamilton

Gibeau is surrounded by beautiful, gently rolling countryside, including miles of vineyards and fields of robust sunflowers the size of corn in Kansas. It is a cyclist’s paradise, offering a great variety of daytrips filled with wonderful discoveries and beautiful resting spots.

I began my daytrip renting a comfortable hybrid bicycle from the MBK store in nearby Duras. I purchased a local map and traced out a meandering ride on mostly back roads from Gibeau in a loop, with plenty of time for relaxing and taking in the scenery.

My first stop led me up a small side road to Monteton. Upon entering the Ninth Century Romanesque church there, I was treated to the morning sun’s rays filtering through the delicate stained glass windows. A lookout next to the church provided a stunning panoramic view of the entire valley.

I cycled on to Allemans-du-Dropt. A brief rain shower had me ducking into another local church, where I discovered its delicate 15th Century frescos. The medieval farmers and villagers who worshipped here would have recognized the figures on these walls to be people much like themselves. The once vibrant crimson, gold and white had softened to saffron, ochre and ivory. I sat in the stillness for several minutes, then headed out of town, crossing the lazy Dropt over a wonderful old bridge.

By the time I reached the bastide town of Eymet, I was ready for a break with a café au lait and a fresh pain au chocolat. I sat outside the café on one side of the square and took in its central fountain and the delightfully easy pace of late morning.

I headed leisurely back to Gibeau, just in time to hop into the pool for a refreshing dip. Then came a simple lunch – a fresh bâtard, pâtè, vibrant, sweet tomatoes and rose champagne – all purchased that morning at the farmer’s market in Duras. After it all, a well-deserved nap.

You can head in any direction on a bicycle from the house for a delightful outing and not get lost, thanks to the meticulous signage at virtually every highway and road crossing in this part of France. The possibilities are endless and the memories are forever.

Barbara's Pies

May 2007

I have many delicious recollections of Barbara’s pies, but the sweetest has to be of the tart tatin she made one late summer day. The gnarly old apple tree there, badly in need of pruning, still produces an abundance of small, red-skinned, slightly tart fruit.

One afternoon, Barbara and Tom and I gathered up a huge bowl of fallen apples. By the time it was peeled and cored, and its bad spots cut away, a single apple didn’t yield more than a bite or two, but we had plenty of apples and plenty of time, and there was virtue in using something beautiful that would otherwise have gone to waste.

While the oven was heating up, Barbara cooked a caramel of butter and brown sugar in a skillet, then tipped in the apples. While they were cooking, she mixed the flour, salt and butter together with her fingers, then rolled out the dough with a wine bottle. She draped the pastry over the simmering apples, tucked in the edges, then put the skillet into the oven.

About a half-hour later, it was done. Barbara put a plate on top of the pastry, then flipped the skillet over to lay the tart on top of the plate. She lifted the skillet away and we beheld perfection: golden flaky crust under tender apples in a rich amber caramel. I couldn’t’ tell you what else we ate for dinner that night, but the memory of that tart, how it looked, how it tasted, the smell of it filling the old house, are all still fresh in my mind. Barbara said it was the best one she’d ever made, and gave credit to the apples and the gnarly old tree. The tree, for its part, remained silent, but proud.

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