When we arrived, fresh from two trains and a warm drive in a rented Mercedes, our kids hadn't eaten anything but toast and chips in nearly a day and we were alarmed to discover that our 1st floor suite didn't have air conditioning. There was only a half-roll of toilet paper (and I'm on my period - sorry to announce that, TMI, I know, but that's why the TP mattered so much to me... that, and my plan to get my kids to eat a hell of a lot of fruit in France, and you know what that means...). But the reception we got from the girl behind the desk was warm and welcoming and the room was spotless (if a little less than modern... not suprising after our stay in the ultra-hip Hotel Neri), so what the heck, right?
Raf took off with Emme and Nina to find sustenance in the next town over, Trebes, while Marlowe dragged me to the pool. It wasn't as large as I'd imagined from the picture on the website, but it was something to cool off in, so we jumped in... and it was FREEZING! Okay, I'm dramatic, but it was not just cool to the touch, it was cold. After a moment or two, it became "refreshing" and then, by the time I was used to it, I was ready to bask in the sun and then go back in. Right, so not so bad.
The receptionist had asked if we'd wanted dinner reservations and we accepted. Expecting the sort of gourmet-but-untouchable menu we'd had at the Hotel Neri, we were surprised that the food was more rustic French cooking, with buttery vegetables and melt-in-your-mouth meats and fish. Yummy with the local wine we'd selected. The kids' menu had beef, fish or chicken served with either rice or pasta, fresh fruit, yogurt or ice cream -- but the kids pooped out before dessert, so the waitress asked if she could deliver their fruit to the room (across the terrace) for us. Heavenly. Raf and I had our own dessert of crisp crepes (sort of like a crepe taquito) filled with sliced bananas and a dark chocolate sauce, along with coffee and milk.
Normally, this is not the kind of place we would choose. It's not modern and hip, it's not old-school luxurious, it doesn't offer any sort of amenities that we (as Americans) are used to. Room service is really just calling the front desk and then watching through your windows as the receptionist runs to the lounge and pops the caps off some cold beers or sparkling water bottles and walks carefully with them on a tray to the corresponding room. The pool cafe (mentioned on the website and in the room info) was closed. There isn't a spa. The gym (also mentioned on the website) is really just the swimming pool and the tennis court, as far as I can tell. Last night, Raf saw a giant bug with pinchers crawling up the sheet that covered Emme's leg and startled himself by swatting her hard; he didn't tell her what it was, just let her think he was play-fighting with her, but he slept with Marlowe's blanket over his head to keep the bugs out. Our inside joke is that we're camping our way, in the South of France, at an estate with pressed French embroidered linens on the beds. (Even the girls' beds have exquisite dust ruffles, embroidered with the alphabet - perfectly pressed and whiter than white, obviously dried in the sun to attain maximum brightness.)
But there's something to this vacation-within-our-vacation. Far from the bustle of Barcelona and before our foray into Paris, the Chateau offers a lavender-scented solitude that we didn't know we needed. This morning, after we ate fresh croissants and drank a pot of delicious French coffee and orange juice that I squeezed in the breakfast room myself, we took the girls for a swim in the icy water of the pool, which we had to ourselves. I got a suntan and read French magazines while Raf started a new novel and the girls wandered back through their "secret garden" terrace to the room to watch "Up" (the DVD of which Raf bought as "La-Haut" at the SuperU market). The citrusy lavender air, the sparkling blue sky, the sound of the gypsy breeze that blows through the Langeduc-Rousillon region of France... it's all quite heavenly.