ManCon’s own musketeer has a duel with with the finest Armagnac
ONE good reason for visiting Barbotan-les-Thermes, a spa town in South West France, is that it may well have been the home in Gascogne (Gascony) of one of this writer’s childhood heroes, D’Artagnan, he of Three Musketeers fame. Gordo, aged eight, dreamt of fighting alongside the world’s most handsome man and his three pals, protecting the honour of the Queen.
The foie gras is superbly cooked, with a background perfume of Armagnac – dinner will have you purring
The other reason is a fabulous hotel – La Bastide, owned by culinary royalty, a family headed by another hero, Michel Guérard, the legendary Michelin three star chef.
La Bastide is run by Guérard’s daughter, Eléonore and her husband.
Reached through stunning countryside and originally a Cistercian monastery, today it’s a Relais & Chateaux hotel. If you aren’t familiar with that stamp of approval, get ready for perfect lushness in all the properties that bear the badge.
Beautiful bedrooms, a spa and a world class restaurant where you can imagine Louis XIV’s mistress, Athénaïs de Rochechouert de Montemart, planning some diabolical deed with ruffians to embarrass the Sun Queen. It was said of Athénaïs that “her powder lights very quickly”.
Gordo, in later life, discovered that didn’t mean she had a bad temper. It would be far more interesting today to meet naughty Athénaïs than Queenie, prissy Marie-Therese.
La Bastide is a place of fantasies in its own right. Huge fireplaces, with small log fires and their fabulous homely aroma, tiled floors, antique furniture and magnificent paintings are everywhere. Flop down in the hall in a chair that hugs you and won’t let go. This place loves you. Yes, the whole house is there for no one else but YOU. It’s the magic of the Guérards (check out my report on their legendary 3-star too, Living The Michelin Dream).
The food is serious yet modern and doesn’t turn its back on its Gascogne heritage. The foie gras is superbly cooked, with a background perfume of Armagnac, crunchy toasted bread, a tiny green salad dressed with great lightness of touch and superb chutneys of figs and dried fruit. Dinner will have you purring.
Go with the wine flights. The front of house are immensely proud of their local vineyards and, while the region is famed for its Armagnac, the Gros and Petit Manseng grape varieties, whilst sounding like a Chinese medicine, produce elegant, floral whites these days; a glass of Domaine du Tariquet, Premières Grives, was a belter.
Breakfast is a joy. Fantastic butter for a start. When you get this quality you know everything is going to be right with the day, the pastries come as clouds and the breads are baked by artisans. The two boiled eggs and soldiers gained a perfect score of 10/10.
A word about the staff. No amount of training can produce the levels of genuine hospitality that surrounds this team. The lady who served that breakfast made Gordo smile all day.
The spa can’t be commented on, as the choice of visiting that or a tasting of Chef Guérard’s armagnac at his distillery up the road at Château de Sandemagnan was a bit of a no-brainer for this seasoned lush.
Max, head of the distillery gave Gordo a personal tasting. It remains one of the best experiences of 2017, an utterly charming place. Be warned, it’s in French. And Max isn’t shy when it comes to ensuring you’ve had a very thorough experience.
Perhaps a spa treatment might have been a reviver. The Thermal Spa, artfully concealed in the gardens is built around a central gallery reminiscent of Roman Baths; indeed the hot springs that give Barbotan its suffix are believed to be over 20,000 years old.
Gordo was delighted with his own walk-in shower in a typically vast bathroom, a crowning glory of some gorgeous accommodation. Bedrooms and suites are flooded with light; large double beds made for cuddling and dreaming with superb quality fabrics everywhere. Happiness is specially woven into the linen. They’re made for adventures with Athénaïs.
Go. It’s a simple as that.
Not to be missed in the area
IF you must stray from this haven, there’s much of interest in the surrounding Gers department to visit. The hotel recommends: 13th century fortified Village and Castle of Larressingle ; Eauze and the Archaeological Museum; Montréal-du-Gers – first Gascony bastide (fortified village), built in 1255; Gallo-Roman villa of Séviac; Cistercian Abbey of Flaran and the circular bastide of Fourcès.
Gordo (aka Mark Garner) stayed at La Bastide en Gascogne. 25 rooms and suites. Double rooms from €195 (£170) in low season; and from €230 (£200) in high. Breakfast not included, costs €24 (£22) for an adult or €15 (£13) for a child. Closed December to February.
Getting there: the nearest TGV (high speed train) stations are Agen (1hr 15 mins) and Bordeaux (1hr 30mins). Airports: Pau (1hr 15 mins), Bordeaux 1hr 40 mins) and Toulouse (2 hrs).