La Bastide en Gascogne : Though the name brings to mind the chaos of the Hundred Years’ War, no place is more soothing and welcoming than this former 18th-century charterhouse.
Despite the disconcerting caloric reputation of France’s Gers département, as evidenced by the exceptional Wednesday market, one leaves the table at La Bastide feeling satisfyingly full, yet still comfortable. This five-star hotel—directly connected by a footbridge to the elegant Barbotan hydropathic center, one of the jewels of the Chaîne Thermale du Soleil spa network—exudes disarming simplicity and pervasive positivity. In this relaxing atmosphere, residents are advised to let go of their need to figure things out and, without further ado, simply let the world turn, per the Guérard family’s philosophy of hospitality.
In Cazaubon, 87-year-old Michel Guérard, the gastronomic giant mentor of Chef Jérôme Artiguebe, his wife Christine, and their eldest daughter, Éléonore, have designed and brought to life a warm, bright, spirited country lodge. Could that be the truth of what luxury really is? Pursuing small, unostentatious objectives—made available to those who know how to enjoy them—as though they were butterflies?
Cheerful touches of color contrast prettily with snowy stones and pristine flooring: on a long oak table, the amber of the Bas-Armagnac spirit distilled by the Château de Sandemagnan and, in a bud vase, a tobacco-tinted dahlia gathered from the rose garden. Enjoy the sound of the light switch in the astonishing bathroom of the d’Artagnan Suite, a soft shlunk that brings to mind the comfort of a family home. At lunch, discover a new dish each day, along with the unsuspected potential of fennel; then, at dinner, experience the indispensable pan-fried Hereford prime rib and small soufflés of potent chocolate. Above all, observe the diligence of the staff, all smiling beneath their masks, conscientiously protecting guests’ health without generating tension. The manager—who is on the floor, never in his office—makes a point of anticipating everyone’s wishes and guides the dining room staff in the delicate art of serving and recommending while remaining well-distanced from guests.
For the three weeks of a long course of treatment, highly recommended by a French faculty of rheumatology and phlebology, La Bastide is a base camp hors pair. The large rooms—all refurbished—and the swimming pool shaded by plane trees also make it perfect for a long weekend from Bordeaux, Toulouse, London, or Paris. Should this be the getaway of choice, another “course of treatment” is possible: Following in the footsteps of a legendary cellar master, a young New Zealand oenologist now offers informative commentary during tastings of vintages older than he is. Gascony clearly has a knack for breaking with and shaking up convention: the Armagnac Hors d’Âge, celebrating Michel Guérard’s three Michelin stars, is a 1974-1975-1977 blend, rich and lively, balanced, old and yet young!