The Tarn region is located in the southern part of France and two Englishmen who decided to walk away from their life in London, turned a farmhouse into a rural gourmet retreat. Le Manoir de Raynaudes, is a maison d’hotes in a small hamlet between Rodez & Toulouse. Now in the ninth year they have updated it a lot & have turned it into a sophisticated retreat for their British friends. One of the owners Orlando Murrin used to edit the BBC”s food magazine and Le Manoir is an inspiration to guests who want to grow their own food. This is a very special place located in the middle- of- nowhere with a sense of chic and very authentic farm buildings. The other owner , Peter Stegall introduces the cheese & the wine and Murrin introduces the menu.
In the spring , it is cool & quiet with rolling fields of wheat & wild orchids in the meadow. The evenings at the Bastide always takes on a festive air & the most unusual items are on the menu. The aperitif, a sparkling Gaillac very similar to Champagne was served before diner. The dishes are very innovative, tasty such as a pea-and – mascarpone ravioli, salmon poached in olive oil, a very impressive cheese platter and a mascarpone dessert.
In June, the fields were yellow and life was spent outside, to around a very sleek swimming pool. This time the aperitif was served in the courtyard and supper was served under an Italian bean tree on the front terrace. The meal included a ratatouille with vegetables grilled, griddled and roasted. For dessert, a Black Forest gateau served with a pair of black cherries.
Stegall also served a platter of Langres cheese flaming in Brandy and Armagnac like a Christmas pudding. Like the food, the 19th-century stone farmhouse feels like contemporary & authentic. The kitchen with its Bulthaup units and swivel stools is both chic and modest. Everything that comes out of the kitchen is seasonal and homemade, with all the local ingredients that Murrin can find. The veal is from Segala ( Aveyron again), his pigeon from Mont Royal, the finest in France. His Foie Gras from Albi or Monteils.
One course per meal derives from the potager, which is a plot of 1,000-square metre that definitely covers the Manoir’s needs. Murrin also grows herbs, tall white lilies for the house and a collection of succulents. If you take a walk around the property always encounter a herd of brown cows that belong to the property next to them. Both Murrin & Steggall have according to the villagers brought life back into the hamlet. They both are very respectful of their neighbors , this why the relationship works out so well.
Le Manoir is also a wonderful place for peace and relaxation, life slows down and you slow down. Gaillac is the center of the oldest wine district in France, and its small vineyards produce very good wines based on the Mauzac ( white) or Braucol ( red) grapes that grant them AOC ( Apellation d’origine controlee).
Murrin & Steggall have their favorite restaurants and make often a stop at Lou Cantoun in the village of Cestayrols, where a young Paris -trained chef produces reasonably priced set menus of regional classics such as Cassoulet plus a vegetarian dish as an option ( a delicious roquefort & cep salad). Another good restaurant behind Albi Cathedral is a converted schoolroom Le clos de Sainte Cecile. On Friday morning you can head out to Carmaux market for Roquefort cheeses , check out La Cremerie Christian or when it is in season ceps, which Murrin and Steggall buys some of his wines here, too.
Le Manoir de Raynaudes, near Monesties, France ( 00 33 5 63 36 91 90; http://www.raynaudes.com); Self catering apartments and Chambres d’hotes.
Happy Holidays & Happy New Year 2013.