I can’t adequately express how much of a good time we had. Our host’s home was far and away more than we had thought it would be. For starters, what he had told my wife was, “You should come visit me in France. I have a house I rent there.”
Now what we had envisioned was some little stone house with roses crawling up the walls. What we had heard was roughly, “Hey there’s this place I rent every year and stay the summers. Come visit and you can sleep in the guest room”, or something along that line. What we encountered was a huge and old rambling farmhouse consisting of an attached barn, two complete guest apartments in addition to the one he stayed in and something like 80 acres of terraced hill side covered in ancient almond trees. Oh yes, and what he meant was “I have a house in France, and I rent OUT bits of it to other people.” Ahhhh. That’s a bit different than we had initially pictured in our minds.
The house was made of the native pail brown stone and squatted on the top of one of the highest ridges in this bit of the Ardeche. Its many terra cotta clad roofs sat in several pitches at various heights, each covering a different addition made to this house over various years. An inviting lawn on the top terrace over looked a comfy and partially shaded courtyard where French resistance fighters once hid from Nazi soldiers based in the village below. During renovation work, our host found an old French service revolver, still loaded and rusted solid, stuffed in a chimney flu; it’s day for use never having arrived.
The view from the house was spectacular. On one side you looked at snow covered peaks on distant Alps. In another direction, you looked down to the valleys of Provence. This often over looked region of France, called the Ardeche, is dry, scrubby, hot and beautiful. Roman ruins dot the country side here and there and though a car is needed to get around, the drives are always pleasant affairs.
We spent many a happy hour walking the sheep paths that line the slopes and old orchards. Gnarled live oak strain to grow in the bottoms of valleys and we pondered about where those wonderful truffles might be hiding, nestled among their roots.
We did go to various “must see” locations. The Pont d’Arc was amazing as was the great Roman aqueduct, the Pont du Guard. Wonderful meals were had in small towns that lived within easy reach, but for the most part, our happiest memories came from out time spent at the House. Many a bottle of fine wine and kilos of wonderful cheese disappeared from the table as the three of us solved the worlds problems. It is a memory I cherish deeply.
It has been many years since that trip and our friend is still there, asking us when we will return. I don’t know the answer to that, but I do hope it isn’t too much longer. If you ever travel through Gras, ask someone if they can point the way up the goat track to the mason, Les Joies. If you make it up the road unscathed and find that wonderful house and host, take a moment to chat with him. He’s a great man and a good friend and perhaps, you might find your self asking if he has an apartment to let. If you do, and he does, it will be the best present you could give your self in years.