Les Templiers B&B in Charroux – One of France’s Most Beautiful Villages

Summer is well and truly here, and I find myself reminiscing about our last summer in the beautiful French countryside. PB and I together with my family hired a car and drove down from Paris towards Cantal in Auvergne.  This area is well known for some of France’s best cheeses and meat (beef and lamb). It’s one of the least populated departments in France and can get extremely cold in the winter. But in the summer, it is the perfect time to visit Puy de Dome, the town of Laguiole (where those lovely Laguiole knives are produced), and eat at the fabulous Serge Vieira. If it’s your kind of thing, you can also go to Chaudes Aigues , famous for it’s hot spring waters and also the annual Tattoo Festival! Random, but true.

We wanted to break up the 5 hour drive between Paris and Chaudes Aigues, and thought a visit to Vichy might be nice.  Serendipitously, the nicer hotels in Vichy were booked, so we decided on a small B&B in the nearby Charroux. Classified as one of the most beautiful villages in France, Charroux is a former fortified village famous for it’s mustard.  Sometimes you come across the best places by accident, and Les Templiers in Charroux is one of those places.

Charroux

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A magical place, with it’s very own wishing well

Opened in 2012, this 19th century building has been lovingly restored and converted into a tasteful and modern “chambre d’hôtes”,  keeping all of the original wooden floors, stairs, roof beams and stone walls. With beautifully manicured gardens in the back, crêperie restaurant to the side, and the charming little village of Charroux surrounding it, Les Templiers was the perfect place to stop for one night.

Unfortunately we had to leave after breakfast and didn’t have a chance to have a good amble around the village. From the 12th to 14th century, Charroux was fortified by the lords of Bourbon and once protected by a double rampart. Now, only the east and west gates together with 60 meters of the inner wall remains. It’s a fascinating place to walk around and at certain places find pictureque lookouts over the surrounding countryside.

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The courtyard garden of Les Templiers

Templiers design

Original features of a beautifully restored building

The Combles Room

The Combles Room

We stayed in the Combles Room in the attic, featuring original comble roof beams, a stand alone tub, bathrobes and interesting light fixtures. In fact, the whole property was accented with eye-catching lighting. It is these small details which really make a place stand out, it’s obvious that the owners paid attention to every element of the decor, and I must say they have very good taste.

Breakfast on the following morning was a real treat! Father and son team Rémi and Aurélien are wonderful hosts and are passionate about doing what they do. Aurélien makes his own yoghurt as well as bakes his own delicious almond cake. The jams were supplied by his friend in a neighboring village, and the cheese was the freshest Saint Nectaire I have ever tasted. We had fleeting thoughts about buying a yoghurt maker, but leaving it to sit on the kitchen counter over night is just not a good idea in Hong Kong – maybe in the winter …

A thoroughly homemade breakfast

A thoroughly homemade breakfast

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Hedonism in Paris

he·don·ism  (hdn-zm)

n.

1. Pursuit of or devotion to pleasure, especially to the pleasures of the senses.
2. Philosophy The ethical doctrine holding that only what is pleasant or has pleasant consequences is intrinsically good.

3. Psychology The doctrine holding that behavior is motivated by the desire for pleasure and the avoidance of pain.

Hedonism – isn’t that just the perfect word to dictate what one should do when in Paris? Pursue pleasure, feel pleased when you do it because ultimately, it’s good for you. Well,  perhaps that last statement could be questionable. However, the French Paradox observes that consuming foods with higher levels of saturated fats is not necessarily bad for you, and surprisingly enough, after two weeks in France, I did not gain an ounce of weight.

Le Flaneur, Paul Gavarni

One of my most favorite travel programs about Paris at the moment is Anthony Bourdain’s The Layover – Paris. The backbone theme of this episode is that one shouldn’t go to Paris and plan too much. Visiting all the sights, spending days in museums and galleries, and hours lining up in queues to get into them. The best way to visit this city is to walk around, step into a café here, a bistrot there, buy an ice cream cone, sit in a park, or be a flâneur, and stroll around idly. He proclaims: “If you do nothing in Paris, you can still have a pretty sweet time.”

Two French men then appear on the screen to tell you the following – my favorite statement of the episode: “The real tourist is someone that would arrive totally naked. The good tourist is someone completely open-minded. You have to come naked to Paris and let us dress you. Not completely naked though, you can cover yourself a little bit! If you arrive fully clothed with your scarf, your beanie, your beret, it’s pointless. Stay at home!”

This is pretty much what we did when during our 5 days in Paris, we made no reservations more than a day in advance (even though we did try to get tables at Chateaubriand and Le Jules Verne). It does have to be said though, that it’s always best to get tips from friends about the tried-and-tested places that they’ve been to. It is often the case when we stepped into random restaurants or cafés, that the food wasn’t great, it was a bit of a tourist trap, and prices are a bit high for what you’re paying for. My favorite way to visit Paris is to book the recommended restaurants, and build our activities around the food and wine. Here are some of my Paris food highlights – on this particular trip, we booked places according to the areas where we wanted to go shopping!

Shopping @ Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré

When we arrived in Paris, it was sales time! Sales shopping in Paris is the best and most enjoyable experience for me. I find that they still have the popular designs and sizes in stock, everything is still fairly neat and organised, and the discounts are favorable (with most at an average of 40-50% off, even at the start of sales period). What’s more is that the sales assistants are truly helpful, friendly and efficient, and everyone speak English. If you are looking for the big brand names, then Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré is a good place to start, and they also have a selection of more affordable brands (Maje, The Kooples, Anne Fontaine). Whilst there we stopped off for lunch at Bread & Roses, a modern bakery/restaurant that serves bread, cake, pastries quiches etc., as well as having an a la carte menu. The prices aren’t the best (they aren’t terribly high either), but we were happy with the experience, the food, and the service.

We sat one one of the tables outside and had a good time watching beautiful people in beautiful clothing walk past. I also introduced my brothers to the coffee culture – they remarked at how coffee just doesn’t taste that good in Hong Kong, and from this point on, I could hear them regularly saying “I could do with an espresso right now.”.

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Gillardeau Oysters

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Pastrami Sandwich

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Roast French Chicken with mushroom gravy and the creamiest mashed potatoes – irresistibly good

Dinner at Hotel Le Bristol

Among the best meals of our time in Paris was at 114 Faubourg, located at Hotel Le Bristol, where David Beckham stayed during his short stint at PSG. This restaurant, lead by head chef Eric Desbordes, earned its first Michelin Star this year, and it is a well-deserved star. The Bristol is also home to a 3 star restaurant, but for a more casual experience, this young Parisian chef and his team really surprised us with an incredible meal, and a memorable experience.

Photo from http://www.lebristol.com – this is one of the dishes I wish I had tried – King Crab Egg, ginger and lemon mayonnaise EUR 29

In general, the food is well presented, served with precision and flair – these beautiful little egg cups full of king crab. Beef rib eye, carved elegantly at the table (worlds away from our Jasmine-smoked spare rib carving experience at Hakkasan). There are a couple of items on the menu that are a bit surprising and a touch out of place (the fish and chips, and the beef burger), but I suppose that for a hotel restaurant, they have to have some options that would appeal to guests looking for something familiar and un-fussy.

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Seam Bream Tartare, lime and basmati “blanc manger” EUR 38

The sea bream tartare was light, crisp and fresh – a nice way to prepare the palate for the rest of my meal.

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Andalusian Style Tomato Gazpacho EUR28

This gazpacho was literally bursting with flavour, and was proclaimed to be ‘the best gazpacho [he] had ever had’ by my brother.

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Organic Beef Cheeseburger with Bacon, French Fries, Mustard Sauce EUR31

The burger was less impressive, and left my brother wishing that he had gone for something more adventurous. That’s not to say that it wasn’t tasty – the local beef tasted amazing,  the fries were nice and crispy – but it just didn’t beat the other dishes that were on the table.

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Hand-chopped Beef Tartare with Virgin Olive Oil, French Fries and salad EUR 38

Similarly, my other brother felt like he should have ordered something hot after receiving his main dish. Beef tartare features prominently on a lot of French menus, and this tartare was very nicely mixed, served as a tartare and as a carpaccio.  But after eating a meal at this restaurant, I would highly recommend that you go for something that’s not an easy order – the skills of the chefs shine brighter in the other dishes.

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Orzo cooked like Paella, monkfish and langoustine, slices of chorizo EUR46

I have to say, my main course was definitely the best order out of all! I’m not usually a huge fan of rice-y dishes such as paella or risotto, but the elements in this dish were too tempting to say no to.  The monkfish was so tender, really perfectly cooked, and the broth in which nestled the tender grains of orzo was so packed full of yum that the result was indescribable. It had a strong hint of shrimp stock, but after that, the numerous layers of flavour are hard to guess.

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Roasted cod with verbena, white asparagus, chanterelle mushrooms and fava beans EUR48

This was another beautifully composed dish, but I felt that the cod was perhaps a touch over-cooked.

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Profiteroles with coconut ice cream, Caribbean Chocolate Sauce EUR19

On to desserts, these profiteroles were served by themselves on a white dish, whereupon the waiter approached with a large jug of chocolate sauce and poured it on these chocolate choux morsels. It was decadent, so the coconut ice cream (piped into the choux pastry) balanced out the sweetness. Beware, this is a huge portion! I had told the waiter that I would like to share one portion with my brother, and when it was served I thought there had been some sort of mistake. Apparently not, the original serving is 6 pieces!

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Bourbon vanilla millefeuille, a touch of salted caramel EUR15

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Chocolate Tart

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The magic of Corsica

It’s September and summer is drawing to a close. Everyone has returned from their long holidays and are settling back into work and school, and you wonder how it is that the summer months have yet again passed so quickly! … Continue reading

Cancale, the oyster capital of Brittany

After having returned from 2 gorgeous weeks in France, I was suffering from a bit of post-holiday laziness, to say the least! Typing seemed somewhat alien to my fingers, and I had to squint at the screen – but some … Continue reading

Paris – bon appetit!

HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone! May 2012 bring you happiness and health with good friends, yummy food and excellent wine! A new year, a new blog post. I feel bad to have neglected this little passion of mine, I could blame it on a number of things – work, traveling, the holiday season, and that crazily addictive series of Game of Thrones books that I just cannot put down! I’m literally hiding my current book under the bed to write this. Many thanks to WS for the thumbs up on Saturday night, and encouraging me to get back on the wagon! All the while, I have been taking countless photos of food, and have lots of posts on the back-burner. But for now, I’ll start with my latest adventure – Paris.
Looking down Place de la Concorde
Driving around L’Arc de Triomphe
Aaaaaaaah Paris! There are many, many, advantages of dating a Frenchman, but one on the top of my list has got to be having an excuse to visit his homeland. The food, the wine, the art, enjoying all the simple pleasures in life – such is the splendor of France. Never will you ever catch me complaining about taking a 12 hour flight to spend time with his family.