Charm of B&Bs trumps pricey hotels

A one-night stay turned into five wonderful days at this home turned B&B.  An outstanding breakfast...

A one-night stay turned into five wonderful days at this home turned B&B. An outstanding breakfast was also served at the mini mansion of Villa Fleurie in Poudenas, a French village of some 246. (Bill Brady Special to QM Agency)

BILL BRADY, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:44 AM ET

To B&B or not to B&B - that is the question.

Whether to stop at an over-priced hotel or opt for the hospitality and adventure that comes with staying in a private home.

We are just back from five weeks in France having found outstanding home-style accommodations.

No more hotel rooms, elevators and concierges for us. We have discovered the joy of staying with new friends in gracious homes.

Imagine five weeks and not one disappointment.

Even now I recall the moment of rising in the morning to smell the aroma of freshly baked croissants and anticipate the crusty baguette, sweet Normandy butter and the warmth of genuine French hospitality.

At our first stop, a Dutch couple made us feel like family - as did their two delightful cats - in a home more like a small mansion in Poudenas, a village of some 246 in the Department of Lot-et-Garonne in the Aquitaine region. We spend five nights there instead of our planned overnight stop; it was so special and reasonably priced.

Found on the Internet months before leaving home, Villa Fleurie B&B is a true gem sited a few metres from an ancient stone bridge spanning the River Gelise.

Inn owners Gert and Janny Taken, much to the surprise of family and friends packed up and moved to this idyllic spot in rural France from their home in Holland nine years ago. The Takens made us so welcome and the full hot breakfast every morning (included in our room rate) was delicious. Their cats "adopted" us and we discovered how special they are.

"They have their own passports", Janny told us, so that they can more easily travel with them to Holland on their several visits back home each year. Gert's extensive library is impressive as is he, a retired graphic designer and artist.

The bonus in Poudenas is its sole restaurant just over the bridge and a short walk from our B&B. Here we discovered the best pizza ever; ultra-thin crust from dough made fresh just an hour before baking in a wood oven. Le Norvegien pizza is topped with smoked salmon decadently caressed by creme fraiche.

We knew exactly where we were going when we reluctantly left Villa Fleurie driving south to a memory of our stay several years earlier. I had made contact with the owners of this extraordinary Chambres d'hotes, as B & B's are known in France exchanging emails, mine in fractured French.

Au Chateau is a working dairy farm deep in the French countryside near Marciac, a town famous for its annual jazz festival. What's not to love about an elegant bedroom, delicious breakfasts and for a small extra sum, sitting at a table in a 200-year-old house dining on exquisite French cuisine with a group of fellow B&B-ers?

For 20 Euros we were served a multi-course dinner prepared with local produce, some of it grown on the farm. The wine was also local and very good. These dinners took place at a long refectory table situated in front of a huge fireplace. What a movie set for a French film this location could be.

And a bonus: a tree outside our bedroom window was bountiful with plump, juicy figs.

We enjoyed our other farm experience in an entirely different setting near the village of Chavin, three hours south of Paris. Edward and Malcolm are genial hosts who operate this 19th-century farmhouse which has been renovated while retaining its original features.

Appleton's Farmhouse B&B is on one hectare of beautifully landscaped countryside, with a variety of trees, shrubs and lovely flowering borders. There are free-range chickens and ducks and guests are welcome to help gather eggs for breakfast.

As at Au Chateau, dinner is an optional extra and we found it memorable, served alfresco under the garden pergola.

We got lost several times after being sent to a B&B by the tourism office in the city of Bergerac. We needed to find the remote village of Saint Julien de Crempse and after many inquiries, at last we discovered Le Quayre the charming home of Monique Blondit sitting atop a rise overlooking rolling hills and orchards. Breakfast was served in an elegant dining room tastefully furnished with antiques.

For our final three weeks in France we returned to a house we had rented before. Los Maillois is a modern, fully equipped home in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains.

This region has it all - sun, sea, mountains and Spain within easy reach.

The villa is just outside Montauriol, a quiet village 30 minutes southwest of Perpignan, about 30 minutes from the Spanish border and 40 minutes from the Mediterranean coast.

Pauline and Adrian Tee have become friends and we always manage to get invited to dinner at their home just down the slope of the mountain. Adrian is a wonderful cook. Staying here in the fall during the vendage (when the wine is being made) is an unforgettable adventure.

The Internet will take you to hundreds of choices: B&Bs in the mountains, in towns and cities, working farms and in isolated villages. Websites will show you photos and descriptions.

Do the research then discover what I think is the only way to go; next time, resolve to B&B it.

Bill Brady is a London freelance writer.

IF YOU GO

Le Quayre (near Bergerac) 24140 Saint Julien de Crempse

Tel: 05 53 24 23 61; Monique Blondit

Contact: contact@pays-de-bergerac.com

Rate: 50 Euros, includes breakfast

Appleton’s Farmhouse B & B Chavin

Tel: 02 54 47 73 40

E-mail: info@appletonshotel.com

Rate: 65 Euros, dinner optional, 26 Euros. Free WiFi

Web address: http://www.appletonsfarmhousebandb.com/

Villa Fleurie — Gert and Janny Taken 47170 Poudenas, France

E-mail: chambres@villafleurie.com

Rate: 65 Euros, outstanding breakfasts. Free WiFi

Web address: http://www.villafleurie.com/booking.html

Au Château — Juillac (Gers)

Contact: Yves and Hélène Rességuier, 32230 Juillac France

E-mail: deresseguier@marciac.net

Rate: 50 to 60 euros, Optional dinner, 20 Euros

Web address: www.auchateaujuillac.com

Los Maillios, the villa in the Pyrenées-Orientales

2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, fully equipped kitchen.

Adrian Tee E-mail: losmaillols@orange.fr

Seasonal rates: £ 350 to 950 £ (mid August) $540 - $1400 Canadian per week.

Web address: http://www.holidaylettings.co.uk/rentals/montauriol/31771


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