For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to stay on a gîte – the French word for a holiday vacation home, often on a farm or vineyard. When a colleague mentioned she knew someone who’d opened a gîte on a vineyard near France’s southwestern city of Carcassonne, I immediately inquired.
A few months later, there I was with my teenage daughters, Nicole and Emily, riding the three-hour train from Paris to Montpellier, where we picked up a rental car and drove an hour and a half to Chateau Cânet, a working wine and olive oil domaine in France’s Languedoc region.
Upon our arrival, we were greeted by a lovely summer intern named Anna, who gave us a tour of the grounds – the swimming pool, tennis court, ping pong table, barbeque – and showed us around our accommodation, a quaint cottage with two bedrooms, a kitchenette and a private outdoor patio.
Chateau Cânet is the dream project of its proprieters, Floris Lemstra and Victoria Lemstra-Bake. With their two children and two large dogs in tow, they manage every aspect of Cânet’s 250 acres, its wine and olive oil production and its nine gîtes which accommodate 42 guests.
“The appeal here is that’s its very personal, family run and not trying to be anything that we’re not”, Victoria explains. “The accomodations are not 5-star, but it’s a place with internet, and a region with good wine and good food.” Most of the guests at Cânet are European, with about 40 percent coming from northern Europe (Belgium, Holland, Germany), 20 percent from the U.K., 15 percent from France, 10 percent from Canada and the remaining from the rest of the world. “Many of the guests come here because they want to be in southern France but away from the crowds in Provence and the Côte d’Azur”, says Victoria.
The beauty of staying on a gîte is that while your holiday is your own, there’s management to help you sort out activities – here, that may include a cooking class, treasure hunt, fencing lesson, local excursions, bread baking – as well as other guests if you, or your kids, feel like socializing. During our stay, we saw one group of people enjoying early evening aperitifs together in a common courtyard, and another making use of the guest barbecue.
One of the charming benefits of life on en gîte is taking on the daily rituals. I looked forward to the mornings, when I’d awaken before the girls and drive a few kilometers to the nearest town, Badens, to pick up morning croissants and fresh baguette.
During our stay, we also made good use of the bikes (top-end hybrids purchased from Butterfield & Robinson where Victoria worked for 15 years) that Cânet rents to its guests for 25 euros per day. Despite the 90-plus degree heat, we enjoyed cycling through the local vineyards and along the Canal du Midi which is lined with majestic Plane trees, providing the ideal amount of shade on a hot, summer day. We followed the canal into the village of Trèbes,where we enjoyed several meals at the Moulin de Trèbes – a local, family run restaurant next to the canal. Beautiful vegetarian salads and fish dishes, local rose wine, and the riverboats passing by made for a lovely stop.
During our time on the gîte, we also visited the 12th century citadel of Carcassone (a thirty minute car ride), walked up a hill through the vineyards to watch the sunset, pausing for some meditation (see my previous post, “Taking the Om on the Road”), and took a cooking lesson in the nearby town of Montelieu. But the highlight for me was just being there – surrounded by olive groves and grape vines – enjoying my daughters, the good food, the good wine, and the beautiful canal that weaves its way through the French countryside.