Loft du Vigneron pool

 © Pure France 

30 March 2021  |  Holidays

Without Compromise!

With so many beautiful properties to choose from - grand maisons, châteaux, fermieres, mas, granges or converted pigeonnieres, and in so many beautiful locations.

Hilltop villages, gladed hamlets, fortified towns or rural idylls - surely it would be easy to find that quintessential French dream, right? Wrong!

The road that eventually led us to Le Domaine aux Qua'Saisons in the Languedocienne wine village of Rieux-Minervois was long, winding and often rather bumpy!

Compromise is a word we understand; we're just not very good at putting it into practice! Some years back, we were inspired by celebrity chef Rick Stein's televisual feast that was his French Odyssey as he drifted from Bordeaux on the Atlantic coast aboard a charming hotel barge in a south-easterly direction towards the equally-charming fishing port of Marseillan, where the Canal du Midi spills into the Mediterranean. We were sold! By the time Rick had quaffed his last glass of wine on screen and swallowed his last oyster we knew that we would be following in his footsteps south on an odyssey of our own. Whereas Rick was armed with a shopping list of ingredients as he cooked his way through France (again!), we were armed with a shopping list of property requirements which had every French immobilier running for the hills, if not the Pyrenees. Those who thought they could sell us a property also thought that they could teach us how to compromise, or, as they say in France, 'compromis'; but we pretended not to understand! The only compromis we were in search of was a compromis de vente, which is the initial contract which binds together the vendor and the buyer in France. The sooner we could reach that compromis, the better!

Having been lucky to have travelled extensively staying in beautiful rental properties or luxurious hotels, we were only too aware that so many of them are so often near-perfect, but not quite perfect. Our uncompromising list of requirements would, we hoped, help us to find or to create a property that would not only provide our guests with a perfect base from which to explore one of the most beautiful corners of France, but a home away from home that they could look forward to returning to each afternoon whether they had spent their day swimming in the Mediterranean or sun-soaking around their very own sparkling private pool. Our journey to le Domaine aux Quat'Saisons is perhaps another story, but we finally arrived here because of our uncompromising approach to property-hunting. We knew that if we could find a property that would satisfy our needs then it was likely to fulfil our guests' holiday requirements too. Sadly, the Domaine had been empty for several years and it felt rather unloved, but we were both enchanted by it the moment we walked through its grand oak doors and we knew in an instant that we could breathe new life into it and make it feel loved once more. We were confident that we could entice new guests through its ancient green gates and share with them this remarkable place we are so lucky now to call home. We had promised the vendors that we would buy the Domaine on the spot if we liked it. We didn't like it, we adored it! We knew instantly how we could remodel and restyle it into a retreat our guests would find just as special as we do. We instantly fell in love with it and we delivered on our promise to the vendors and shook hands on the deal following our morning tour. We all duly presented ourselves to the local Notaire on the Monday morning; at last, the only 'compromis' we were prepared to make was finally in sight!

Renovating in France is perhaps another story too, but let's just say that renovating - also without compromise - makes uncompromising house-hunting look like a walk in the park! The bones of the Domaine were in relatively good shape and so we had a strong base from which to start. Our first venture was the Loft du Vigneron. It was habitable, and we lived in it for a while to get the feel of the space and to understand how we would best like to experience it if we were holidaying there. And so little of it survived; we took out the kitchen and the three bathrooms and replaced them using only brands we know our guests like to use in their own homes; we laid new floorings throughout, whilst introducing bespoke hot water systems for each bathroom to ensure a constant flow to fill the over-sized baths and feed the drenching showers. We stripped walls back both internally and outside on the Loft’s glorious terrace to reveal the original stone and we introduced new lighting inside and out to add mood and ambience to the new decor - and all the time using materials whose aesthetics and eco-credentials are equally pleasing. For example, the sisal carpets in the bedrooms are in fact recycled plastic bottles - approximately one thousand bottles per square meter! The Loft provides more than two hundred square meters of living space for six guests in what has been described by some guests as a five star plus standard. Its size and volume - a real advantage in Mediterranean summers - meant that we needed to source some big pieces of furniture and oversized furnishings to fill the space. We very much wanted to achieve a blend of form and function, and guests frequently tell us that this is one of the aspects of the Loft they most like, that it is stylish and practical in equal measure - or, as one guest recently commented ’without compromise!’ We also took great care to source some really tiny articles of furniture, but for tiny people! Our range of baby equipment is some of the best and safest available, ensuring parents and children both sleep soundly, so no compromises either when the welfare of our little guests matters.

Following the Loft's transformation, our first full season was 2016 and we are now halfway through our fourth with a raft of reservations already for 2020, all of which have been booked by repeat guests. We even have some guests who are returning for their fifth stay with us! Some like to stay for a week at a time several times a year to enjoy the seasonal variances of the region, whilst others like to reserve the Loft for longer holidays so that they can invite different friends out to join them for a hosted house party. In just four seasons we have already notched-up twenty-eight weeks of repeat bookings. If anyone had predicted this we would have thought them a little crazy; in the Pure France portfolio alone, there are hundreds of stunning properties each in their own beautiful location. With so much choice, we never thought for one moment that the Loft would establish such a loyal following or so quickly. But it has, and we are delighted that it has done so - in fact one guest wanted to buy the Loft, which is something we had never anticipated, and so it remains an integral part of the Domaine.

We have a Guest Book, and our guests like to share their thoughts and experiences about their holiday by leaving a review. Remarkably, very many of them have said some very kind and gracious things about us - it is a good job that we read them only after our guests have driven out through the big green gates for the last time as we are rather prone to blushing! The Domaine has become our passion, yet for many of our guests it has become theirs’ too, with many of them telling us that they feel a real sense of ownership when they stay here - it's as if the Loft belongs to them and they treat it as such. In return, we love hosting their holidays - indeed it’s a privilege to do so, helping guests to get the very best out of their time away from everyday life so they can recharge their batteries and make some new memories along the way is what it's all about for us. Of course, some guests crave privacy and isolation rather than company and bonhomie, and that’s just fine too - after all it’s their holiday, not ours and so whether its peacefulness or party-central we do everything that we can to ensure the holiday our guests want, is the holiday they get. And if we discover that guests are celebrating something whilst they're here, Karen invariably magics-up a cake, whilst Russell opens a bottle (or two) of bubbly just to help the cake down, of course! Last year, one particular guest was so taken with the Domaine that he asked if he could partake in the renovation of the main house and gave up some of his holiday time to do so, thus leaving behind a little part of himself in this really special place: we shall never forget you Mr. S, nor your lovely family - happy days indeed!

Sixty-seven reviews later and we are constantly thinking how we can further enhance our guests’ experiences. Recently we have framed the mosaic pool with Tuscan travertine blocks to give it a more contemporary look and a new sundeck will soon be available with new Italian poolside furniture. In the two acre Mediterranean garden we have created shady quiet spots with new wicker lounging furniture big enough to curl up on with a good book, a glass of something chilled or perhaps both. Lounge sets closer to the house are ideal for finding shade beneath the soaring maritime pines whilst sleeping off a long, lazy lunch. One of our French guests described the Mediterranean parkland gardens as 'un havre de paix', whilst others have described them as 'a little touch of heaven on earth'. Only the other week we received a text from a guest saying that she was 'descending from heaven into the garden of Eden', as she walked down the stairs from the Loft’s terrace. Frankly, we couldn't have put it better ourselves! For many guests the garden is an oasis of tranquility, especially when woodpeckers come a-pecking or swallows return for their own summer sojourn and can be seen swooping in formation over the pool to steal a drink. They are mesmerising.

Over the last three winters we have continued our renovation journey in the neighbouring maison de maitre, thus ensuring that there is no noise or dust to spoil guests' summer holidays. In the coming months this part of the Domaine will also become available. Sleeping twelve guests, it may be rented together with the Loft du Vigneron (sleeping six guests) to provide a new destinational property for up to eighteen guests for house parties, family celebrations, reunions or a good old-fashioned get-together, with no reason required! Whilst the Loft has been styled to reflect its wine barn heritage, the maison de maitre has been styled to bring together the house’s original and traditional features whilst adding new contemporary twists to bring a new accessibility to vintage grandeur. Many guests from the Loft have enjoyed tours during its various stages of restoration and have been overwhelmed by the style and quality it exudes, and, as always, without compromise! Whenever the entire Domaine is not requested for larger groups, the Loft du Vigneron will continue to be available for private rental as it has been, whilst the bedrooms and suites in the maison de maitre will be offered to couples, friends and solo travellers seeking a stunning new alternative to the region’s established B&Bs, or chambres d’hotes, as they are known in France, which will give future guests the opportunity to enjoy new standards of accommodation in the Minervois. Without compromise, of course!

Full detail property of Loft du Vigneron here.

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Russell Secker

I am the property owner of Loft du Vigneron in Rieux-Minervois, Aude, France.

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