Happily, no helicopters were needed for our renovations. But such are the challenges of maintaining ancient buildings that lie within walled cities whose streets were laid out a millennium before cars.
A few weeks ago, I was walking around la Cité and heard an incredible racket. With the narrow streets, the sound bounced around such that I wasn’t sure at first what it was or where it was coming from. Then I realized it was a helicopter and got a little worried about why it was so close to la Cité. Carcassonne is home to the Third Regiment of Parachutists of the Marine Infantry (RPIMa), so planes and helicopters are not unknown in skies around here. And when wildfires break out, we get some very low-flying planes that drop water.
Outside la Cité’s walls I understood–the helicopter was making a special delivery of long beams for a renovation project. Such beams would have been too long to thread through the winding paths, not at all straight, of la Cité. Having gulped at the cost of delivery of renovation materials by truck (during certain times on certain days!), I imagined many zeroes popping up behind some number, like in a cartoon. Nothing is easy or cheap with old buildings.
It made me reflect again on what we went through, putting in new wiring and plumbing in apartments built for neither.
You can see the saga of our renovations under the heading Our Vacation Apartments. We hope you get to visit in person, too!
How do you choose where to stay when you travel? I have some criteria to help you decide:
—Food: do you have limited interest in restaurants and prefer to eat some meals in? Or do you like room service, or the convenience of going downstairs to an excellent hotel restaurant?
Answer: please eat out in France! You can cook at home! But yes, eating out for every meal makes the pocketbook get thin and the waistline get wide.
Do you always miss the hotel breakfast hours? Then AirBnB. You have what you want for breakfast, when you want it.
Otherwise, it can be convenient to have breakfast in the hotel and then head out for the day. Breakfast at a café may cost more than the hotel—it depends on how fancy the hotel is—but going out and picking up croissants to have at your AirBnB with coffee you made yourself will definitely cost less. Plus, some hotel breakfasts consist of one croissant and half a baguette with butter and jam; maybe you want TWO croissants and no baguette! Or pain au chocolate (but call it a chocolatine down here). Or maybe you want eggs.
—Independence: do you know where you’re going? Are you OK making reservations? Can you figure things out? Can you call a cab or Uber?
If so, then you’re fine with AirBnB. As AirBnB hosts, we’re always happy to make recommendations or even call for dinner reservations for guests who ask. But we, like many hosts, aren’t at a 24-hour desk on site. If you want help—getting taxis, asking directions, getting recommendations, then hotel. Of course, there are AirBnBs where you stay in a bedroom in somebody’s home and the host is there. But that is too much sharing for me.
—Length of stay: are you traveling for a month, in which case few people can stand to eat three meals a day in a restaurant? Also, you would need to do laundry, which can be pricey at a hotel.
If yes, then AirBnB. Otherwise, if you’re in a place for a short time, either AirBnB or a hotel is fine.—Size of the traveling group: Are you traveling with family, friends or solo?
Do you have kids with you? Then AirBnB. Before it was created, we traveled to New York with our kid, who was then in a stroller. We were on a budget and stayed in a hotel where the room was only slightly larger than the bed; hotels with suites were crazy expensive. Our kid slept between us. But at that age, they go to bed at about 7 or 8 p.m., so that meant I had to go to bed at 7 or 8 p.m. There was no option to sit up and read—the room was too small. I am not the kind of parent who would wait for my kid to fall asleep and then sneak out to the lobby for a nightcap. When AirBnB started, we tried it out on another trip to New York, staying in a brownstone in Park Slope. Our kid had a separate bedroom. We could sit and have a glass of wine and read over things to do for the next day. Perfect.Traveling solo is the opposite. When I lived in Brussels, a colleague in Paris had offered his apartment on weekends when he was at his country place. I took him up on the offer a couple of times a month. I loved it. However, a few times I trekked across Paris, long after the last metro and unable to find a taxi, and I thought, nobody will know if I don’t make it, not until Monday when I don’t show up at work.
A hotel with 24-hour desk staff means someone is checking on you. Also, if you’re traveling for a long period, it’s nice to have people to chat with—usually hotel staff are very friendly and full of suggestions.
Traveling with friends or a bigger family group can go either way. It can be nice to have separate rooms to get a little alone time, which can work with a hotel or a large AirBnB. It also can be nice to have a central gathering spot–a hotel with a good lobby or the living room or kitchen of a rental apartment.—Privacy and Walter Mitty factor: Do you put the “do not disturb” tag on the door because having to put your stuff away even a minimum irks you more than the great pleasure of somebody else making your bed? If so, AirBnB.
Do you want to pretend you’re a local, to feel like you’re coming home, to get comfortable? If so, AirBnB.
I understand that someone who has never traveled abroad might opt for a tour where everything is taken care of, and if that’s what they need to go see the world, then better a tour than not traveling.
To me, travel is about immersing myself in a new place, thinking about how the people live. I love museums and architecture and am happy to walk the streets, soaking in the atmosphere of a foreign place. But I also love figuring things out, talking to locals, and pretending to be one. I used to go to tango dances in whatever city I was visiting, and they were a great way to slip into the local scene, to discover hidden venues, sometimes in unlikely suburban locations.
Much of the fun comes from getting outside your comfort zone (believe me, I was nervous walking solo into some tango clubs—I remember a basement dancehall in Madrid, a former warehouse in Amsterdam, a garden with a live band in the Olympic Village neighborhood of Rome). There are other ways to get outside your comfort zone, all completely safe. Grocery shopping can be perplexing in a foreign place, but it’s far from dangerous. The worst that can happen is you buy something and don’t like the taste. The best that can happen is you start a conversation with the grocer or another shopper and, in a combination of who knows what languages plus mime, they help you discover some great local delicacy.If you want to explore the south of France, the “other south of France” that is still authentic and not all polished and plastic, then consider Carcassonne, and do check out our rental apartments. They are the same size, each about 900+ square feet/85 square meters. L’ancienne Tannerie, in addition to a generous bedroom, has a tiny bedroom with a twin bed plus a sofabed, so it sleeps up to five people (plus it has a sauna! and a huge kitchen). La Suite Barbès has a ridiculously huge bedroom (380 square feet/35 square meters). Both have chandeliers dripping with crystals and antique furnishings and marble fireplaces and elaborate moldings and 13-foot/four meter ceilings.Lastly, if you choose AirBnB, please book one that is paying its taxes. Undeclared rentals hurt cities by depriving them of tax revenue. They hurt the legitimate hosts who do pay taxes. They hurt the hotel industry, which employs lots of people. They may hurt you, because they haven’t been inspected. AirBnB is supposed to start reporting the total rental income for listings in France, but that won’t happen until next year.
So are you Team Hotel or Team AirBnB? Or do you switch, depending on your trip?
On Tuesday, you met Oliver Gee, of the Earful Tower podcast, who visited Carcassonne as part of the honeymoon tour of France with his bride, Lina Nordin Gee. The lovely Lina is interesting in her own right, as a shoe designer, company founder, and chic Parisienne.
I ran into Oliver and Lina at the Saturday market in Carcassonne, where I was waiting to meet up with a friend and her husband–the same couple whose love story I described here. My friends were delighted to meet Oliver and Lina, and C kept leaning over to me to whisper about Lina: “She’s so beautiful!” “Seriously, she is very beautiful!”
And it’s true. From the bits of time I got to talk with Lina, I learned that her heart is as beautiful as her face. And she’s a businesswoman! Her brand is Deuxième Studios, and the shoes show that you don’t need heels to be chic.
—How did you get into shoe design?
When I grew up, my mother started her own brand, designing and selling traditional clogs. I started helping out at weekends and after school. A few years later I graduated from Istituto Marangoni in London (and a year in Milan) with a BA in Fashion Design, I continued to work with my mother as well as taking on freelance work for other brands. I also started designing and making custom wedding dresses on request. In 2016, I decided to start my own brand, designing and selling my own line of shoes.—How did you end up in Paris?
I have moved around quite a bit since I turned 18. As soon as I finished high school, I moved to London to study fashion design, from there I moved on to Milan and Abu Dhabi, only to move back to Stockholm (where I grew up) a few years later. I spent about a year back in my home town, but it wasn’t long until I got restless, so I sent off an application to study a semester of french at the Sorbonne in Paris. In December I got the letter from the university welcoming me to Paris, and I moved a couple of weeks later.
—How did you start your company?
It took about a year of preparations and planning before I launched my brand. In 2016 – my first year in Paris, I started thinking about starting my own shoe brand. At the time me and my now-husband Oliver–then boyfriend–were living in a tiny chambre de bonne (basically shoebox sized) apartment in the second arrondissement (deuxième arrondissement in French), in the very bullseye of Paris. I guess it must’ve made an impression on me because I settled on ”Deuxième Studios” as the name for my brand. I was still working with my mother’s brand, and therefore had all the connections with suppliers (shoes, leather, shoeboxes, etc.) I needed to start. So I went ahead to register my new name, I flew to Portugal to develop and order my first shoe samples, I ordered shoe boxes and made a website.After about a whole year I was ready to show my first collection to the Swedish press. It went well, and I got in contact with some of the biggest fashion influencers in Sweden. They showed and shared my shoes in their channels, and before I even opened my webshop, I had customers waiting to order.
The first collection existed of basically one model (in an array of colours, hot pink to powdery beige) – a fluffy slipper. I have just finished the new samples for autumn/winter 2019, the number of models have increased over the four seasons I’ve been active, from the first fluffy slipper to a full collection of boots, ballerinas, pumps and sandals! —Tell us about your philosophy/ideals about the perfect shoe.
I started Deuxième with the idea of offering shoes that didn’t have to have a towering heel to look fun. Living in Paris and marching the cobbled streets every day, heels is not always the best option. I wanted to make shoes that can transform an outfit, something simple yet special. A shoe that can take you from day to night. Oh – and it had to be comfy! I basically wanted a shoevolution, haha. Sounds pretty ambitious, but I guess you need to dream big to dare to take the step of actually starting your own company. It helps if you’re a little crazy!—How are your shoes made?
My shoes are made in the north of Portugal, around Porto and Guimaraes, to be precise. They are produced in a small family run factory run by the owner named Paulo. I source some of the materials myself, and some are sourced via the factory’s connections, but it’s ultimately me who will ok a material before it’s used. It’s so interesting to see a a shoe being assembled by all these pieces and processes, from initial sketch to a pair of beautifully made shoes wrapped in silk paper, ready to be shipped to their new owner.
I am pretty vigilant when it comes to quality. It pays off to choose a more expensive leather/sole/lining in the long run. The shoes ages better and will by the same logic live longer. It’s extremely important to me to offer a sustainable option in the fashion world.
I am currently working on extending the Deuxième family further, I’m in the process of making a few models of bags! About six months ago I contacted a hardware manufacturer in Milan, and I recently got the finished samples of the custom bag clasps I designed. 2019 will be an exciting year for me, new shoe models, very new bags, and I might just be in talks with a well-known department store in Sweden.
This summer we had the pleasure of meeting Oliver Gee and his lovely bride, Lina Nordin Gee, when they passed through Carcassonne on their honeymoon trip around France on an adorable red scooter. They stayed in our AirBnB apartment, L’ancienne Tannerie.
Oliver is the founder of “The Earful Tower,” a podcast and blog as well as fun Instagram about France, especially Paris. The stories are excellent–in fact, when I discovered The Earful Tower, I immediately binged all the episodes and have been listening ever since. Often I go back and listen again, because there are so many great details. And plenty of puns. I can now confirm what I suspected when listening–that he has a mischievous twinkle in his eye, what the French call espiègle, quick to spot humor in a situation.
Oliver was gracious enough to submit to a little interview:
Who are you and what in the world are you doing?
I’m Oliver Gee, an Australian who has called Paris home for almost four years. Around a year ago, I quit my job as a journalist to focus on a podcast I’d been running called The Earful Tower. It’s been quite the gamble, but my goal was to make the project my full-time gig and I’m pretty much there.What are some of the biggest differences you observed between Paris and small-town/rural France?
The biggest difference I noticed was that people have more time for you outside of Paris. Paris is hectic, almost chaotic, as most big cities are. The baker doesn’t (usually) care to comment on the fact that you might be speaking French with an accent, they’ve probably heard that accent before anyway. In the countryside, there’s not a long line of people waiting for their food, drink, car to be serviced… whatever. What was really great about this for me was that it meant I had the chance to really converse with people in a day-to-day way, which is an excellent way to improve my French!
Do you find it easier to eat well outside Paris? I have been to some fantastic restaurants in Paris, but they were pricey, whereas in the middle of France profonde you can get some awesome meals and they’re cheap.
I have to say that the best meal I’ve had in France was in the middle of nowhere, in Puymirol at a two-star Michelin restaurant. It was my birthday so we splashed out while on the honeymoon trip. But the food options in Paris are so exponentially greater than in the countryside that – statistically at least – you’re more likely to find what you want in Paris than elsewhere in France. What about culture? Paris is chock-full of cultural sites and activities. Would culture-loving travellers find enough to satisfy them outside Paris?
There’s all kinds of cultural things to do around France that are very unique, and that you won’t find in the capital. We found old caves in Burgundy, very well-preserved Roman arenas in Provence, and unique museums like the tapestry from the 11th century in Bayeux, or the D-Day beach museums. Paris, of course, has a way bigger and better collection of monuments and museums – but there’s plenty for a traveller outside of the capital.
What are some things that travelers should consider doing on a trip beyond Paris? I think for a lot of people, France consists of Paris and Provence, and in Provence they go to the markets, see the lavender and visit cute villages, all of which are undeniably satisfying. But how about some other reasons to venture out? Maybe historical sites? Or jaw-dropping scenery?
France is extremely diverse. Once you’ve got Paris and Provence out of your system, explore the other sides of France that are very different from what you typically imagine when you picture France. The Alps, the vineyards, the Mediterranean coastline, Carcassonne, the picturesque island Ile de Ré, the dense forests of the national parks… The big thing I learned from this trip was just how wildly diverse France can be.
What is one famous and one obscure thing in Paris and in France profonde that travelers shouldn’t miss? Some things get derided as being touristy, but they draw tourists because they are truly amazing, so I’m thinking of the things that are worth braving the crowds. And then the hidden treasures that don’t have crowds until we ruin them by telling everybody.
In Paris, go and walk along the remnants of the Philippe Auguste wall, it’s a fascinating insight into France from 800 years ago and most people don’t know anything about it. For the more famous side of the city, you’d be mad not to take a stroll through the Marais district, down onto the islands on the Seine River, then along the river sides.
As for France, I found the tiny village of Vezelay to be really interesting, though I don’t think it’s a huge tourist destination unless you’re doing a pilgrimage. They’ve got a bone on display in the crypt of the cathedral that legend says was Mary Magdalene’s. As for a more-known option, check out Annecy in the Alps. Absolutely the most beautiful town in France, end of story.
Did you have any movie moments during your trip, where you saw or experienced France as it’s portrayed in films? I sometimes see little old men wearing berets and riding bikes, with a baguette strapped to the back—absolutely like the iconic photo, though I think several times it has been the same guy.
When I was struck down by Lyme disease and had to visit two separate doctors in two separate villages, I felt like it could have been a movie scene. They were so friendly, and just as keen to talk about our trip as to cure me. Otherwise, we met so many colourful characters that it felt like it could have been a movie in itself. Small-town mayors, dairy farmers, talkative bartenders, and scores of friendly villagers… I’d love to see the movie version of our own trip!
So, francophiles, do yourself a favor and head on over to the Earful Tower! An interview with the lovely Lina, who is a shoe designer, coming soon!
We’ve noticed a trend in our AirBnB apartments. Our guests often are celebrating honeymoons, wedding anniversaries and special birthdays.
The best part about being an AirBnB host is meeting people. I don’t want to jinx ourselves (touche du bois–touch wood, or knock on wood), but our guests have been a delight. In some cases, I’ve been sad they live so far away because I would like to see them again.
The Carnivore is Mr. AirBnB, and he is constantly tickled by the reaction when guests enter either apartment for the first time. I think our photos are great, but they always say the real thing is much better.
He also is tickled by how happy they are. On vacation, care-free, celebrating. Lots of good karma.
Some of the reviews. First l’Ancienne Tannerie (a link to the listing is here):
This was our second stay at Serge’s place, and had we not found our own year-round apartment, we would definitely stay here for a third time. In fact, it was his meticulous attention to detail that allowed my husband and I to see the possibilities or restoring a voluminous historic apartment and turning into a museum-quality gem. Each of Serge’s apartments is outstanding and we’ve stayed in both. Location is just near Place Carnot and a 10-15 minute walk to the Old City. The kitchen view over the courtyard is charming. Our first visit was in mid-December 2017; originally we rented the front apartment, La Suite Barbès, for a week and then we extended it, in total, by almost another 3 weeks. This visit at L’ancienne Tannerie was for 5 nights. As a host, Serge does everything right; he’s there to greet you and welcome you into one of the most tastefully and faithfully restored apartments in Carcassonne (over the last year I have stayed in 4 others). Everything is at your fingertips, with a bright, spacious and recently appointed kitchen with clothes washer, dishwasher, induction cooktop, sparkling bathroom with large 2-door shower, two bedrooms, TV, fast internet and don’t forget the sauna! Fresh towels for sauna and bath are provided. Everything throughout the apartment is immaculate and you will feel as if you’re his very first guest. And that’s a very rare feeling. Thank you again Serge! Hope to see you in town.And Igor, who was our first guest in l’Ancienne Tannerie:
Serge is a very helpful host and helped us with all we needed. The house is located in an excellent place, a few steps from Place Carnot but on a quiet street. There are some parking lots, markets and plenty of places to eat and shop around too. The apartment is very fancy. Serge kept the looks of a 17-18th century house, but everything is brand new. The bathroom is spacious and the shower is superb. You can walk about 25min to the Citadel, take the bus a few minutes from the house or do a 5min trip by car. Very good location. Our stay in Carcassonne couldn’t be better. Thanks, Serge!
Visitez Carcassonne en châtelain ! Notre appartement rénové avec goût et selon critères des Monuments historiques est lumineux, calme et extrêmement propre. Vous allez goûter aux très hauts plafonds, aux grandes fenêtres à l’ancienne, au salon cosy et à la grande cuisine ; profitez ! Deux chambres complètent le confort. Deux cheminées, des meubles de style, la décoration est à la hauteur de la rénovation. Tout l’équipement est à votre disposition et rien ne manque.
We would absolutely stay here again. No doubt about it. This apartment has everything going for it. 6-7 minute walk from the train station. It sure is nice to get to the destination so quickly after a travel day. The neighbourhood is fantastic Really, walk out the front door and you are right where you want to be. Little shops on every street. 1 minute walk to a more than lovely square lined with restaurants bistros and brasseries. Its a fabulous walk to the walled city. On and on. Really, we now have a crush on Carcassonne, we stayed three days and would have stayed much much longer had we known is was so easy and comfortable to be here. Totally safe place. The food here, was honestly the best we had during our whole month in France.
Serge’s apartment is amazing. It’s in a building dating from around 1640 and has been faithfully and tastefully restored. The rooms are huge, the amenities are excellent, with a very well equipped kitchen (including cook books!) and two bathrooms. It’s also within easy walking distance of the major tourist sites, cafes and restaurants. We took Serge’s advice and went to his favourite restaurant, where we had our best meal in France so far.
Fantastic location 2 minutes from place Carnot where local produce markets are held 3 x week. There are also a couple of bars and restaurants and the obligatory fountain in the middle. A great spot to sit and people watch. The appartment is an easy 15 minute stroll to the historic Cité. If you love the idea of pretending you are French aristocracy this place is for you, beautiful French mirrors, rugs and antique furniture. It’s not cheap but neither are the surroundings.
What an amazing place, fantastic location, wonderful host and close to restaurants, bars, shopping and a short stroll to the walled city. My wife and I were amazed at this apartment, and it was way better than we ever expected. The host Serge, he was amazing, spending time with us explaining the local area, restaurants and sites to see. This was by far one of the most unique, classy and beautifully furnished places we have stayed while travelling through Europe. If you are looking for somewhere very special to stay, then do yourself a favour and stay here, you will not be disappointed!
I have to admit I was a little cautious at first about staying at a new Airbnb without any reviews, but I am so glad I did and absolutely wanted to write the first one so others could enjoy it as much as we did! By chance, we were privileged to be Serge’s very first guests. Even the stunning photos online do not do the apartment justice; it is so beautifully furnished with such care by Serge and his wife, with every detail of antique furnishing and fittings approved by heritage architects. You will feel like you are sleeping in one of the royal bedrooms you see in palace museums! The apartment located within the Bastide, only a few hundred metres from Place Carnot, where there is a large outdoor food market on Saturdays. It is only a 15-20 minute walk from the Cité, which means it is nicely away from the tourist crowds but gives you the chance to grab the stunning view of the city on the hill as you cross over the Pont Vieux each morning or evening. Serge was so friendly, helpful and accommodating in the lead up to the stay and very flexible with check out on the final day. Serge’s English is perfect, so even all of the complicated French forms and accommodation contracts were a breeze. I would heartily recommend this apartment to anyone travelling to Carcassonne who likes a bit of luxury!
I love AirBnB–we’ve used it on trips, and it’s great when you want a kitchen or more than one bedroom, things that are rare in hotels. Especially on longer trips, eating out three meals a day is just too much.
We searched for just the right property for more than a year. When we started looking, there were about 100 AirBnB listings around Carcassonne. Once we found the most beautiful apartments in Carcassonne–decorative moldings as elaborate as ours are very rare, as are ceilings that soar as high–we completely renovated them, with new wiring and plumbing, and restored the original tomette floors. We furnished the apartments with locally sourced antiques. The renovation took another year.
By the time we listed our apartments, there were more than 300 listings. Unfortunately, when we went to pay our taxes (there are two–the taxe de séjour–a hotel tax–and income tax), the folks working in the tax department expressed surprise when we mentioned how the number of listings had exploded in such a short time. They had under 100 listings. The others were renting illegally. “The law of the jungle,” a minister called it.
This hurts the city by depriving it of revenue and it hurts the AirBnB hosts who do play by the rules (and hotels, which are important employers and taxpayers). As of July. 1, AirBnB will collect the taxe de séjour (but not the income tax) on rentals and pay it Jan. 1 directly to municipalities in France. The move may cause the number of illegal listings to drop, though I imagine some will continue, betting that it might take a long time before anybody gets around to auditing them.How can you tell whether a listing is legal? Look for the stars–not the AirBnB stars given by guests, but the official stars. The government gives a tax break to property owners that get classified by stars (if you don’t pay any taxes, you don’t care about a tax break, eh). To get it, the rental property must be inspected–which is an important guarantee to you as a renter. The inspection is not just for amenities and taste but also for safety. It’s probably the clearest way to see that a rental is legal. Of course, if a property gets a bad rating, they might not want to show how many stars they have (or don’t have). Both our apartments have four stars, which is as high as we can get without having a pool or elevator–neither possible in a 17th century building in the center of the part of town that dates to 1260.
Having restored our 17th century apartments to their former grandeur, the spaces speak to me, as if we’re now friends and confidantes.
Bacchus would have been a dinner party regular….
The fireplace, the hearth of the kitchen, is big enough to stand in. To think that originally, it was the place for cooking. Even now, the French term for a house-warming party is pendaison de crémaillère–hanging of the notched tool that held the cooking pot above the fire–rather than increase or decrease the heat, you had to lower or raise the pot. You can see the transformation of the kitchen here. I can almost hear the voices and laughter of the generations who gathered around the table. The hands upon hands upon hands that smoothed its wood.
On the kitchen mantle.
Not far from Bacchus’s reach is a bottle rack. Our guests have joined in the game of adding to it.
We encourage them…
Wine tip: when choosing a bottle, feel the indentation, called la piqûre–the punt. It reinforces the bottle, and costs more than a flat bottom. If the winemaker is shelling out for a better bottle, you can figure what’s inside is pretty good.
What is so satisfying about tracking down just the right thing–as opposed to ordering with a click–is that everything has a story.
Like this Louis XVI armchair, so perfect for reading (feet up on the pouf), that matches the sofa and makes me wonder how the tiny lady who sold it to us is faring these days. And I smile at the little desk she threw in, which had seen better days but was revived with some fresh paint. Because that drawer really deserves it. They don’t make drawers like they used to.Or this cupboard, which had served generations in the huge, familial kitchen. Sometimes we stay here ourselves, to enjoy a night on the town, so to speak. It feels like vacation. Especially the sauna, followed by a cool-down in the huge shower, with its funny niche that we kept. Check out what was there before.
I love how the bathroom turned out. The Venetian mirror. The pedestal sink. The second mirror, that shows a glimpse of the sauna in its reflection. The cabochon floor.
We found another Venetian mirror for the powder room.
It’s hard to choose between black and white and blue and white. So we have both.
By the sauna, above, and then the blue and white china, assembled from so many brocantes!
The things you can find at brocantes! Young ladies…
More blue and white…and cool mantle ornaments. Befitting of a cool mantle.
A few things didn’t quite work in our house and found a home here. Like this table I bought many years ago in Lamu, a little island near Kenya’s border with Somalia, now too dangerous to go back, unfortunately. I have many happy memories of Lamu, including how I first admired the work of the carpenter who hand-carved this table back in the mid-’80s. Alas, I was a broke Peace Corps worker who could barely afford $1 a night for a mattress on the roof at a dive hotel (mosquito net included). Years later, I returned, dead set on buying a Lamu coffee table. Lo and behold, the same carpenter was working in the same place. He didn’t have any coffee tables, but he also wasn’t going to miss a sale. He got this one out of his own house, unscrewed the legs and wrapped it up for me to take home. While the cobbler’s children are the worst shod, I hope he got around to making himself a new coffee table.
It is just perfect in the apartment–the right size, not visually heavy, the carving remarkably similar to that on the Louis XVI sofa and to the swirls on the antique carpet.
While I enjoy watching the bustle on the street from the balcony in the other apartment, I also appreciate the quiet and the view in this apartment, which overlooks the communal courtyard, full of flowers and plants maintained by one of the neighbors. The apartment faces north, which, with the two-foot-thick stone walls, keeps it surprisingly cool in summer. In winter, who cares–there’s a sauna! And lots of radiators.
The very francophile blog Hello Lovely has a feature on our AirBnB rental apartment, la Suite Barbès. Michele, Hello Lovely’s author, has given us a royal spread. I hope you’ll stop by her blog to check it out….and it’s one to subscribe to if you like a steady diet of beautiful interiors. Michele offers up a daily moment of zen with the calm, collected spaces she features. And her positive attitude and warm personality come through her writing. It’s a read I look forward to every day.
In the bedroom of la Suite Barbès.
The direct link to la Suite Barbès on AirBnB is here. And our other apartment, l’Ancienne Tannerie, on the same floor, decorated in the same style, is here. They both have four stars from the tourism ministry!
First lesson: “At school one learns lots of good and useful things: one learns to correctly speak and write one’s mother tongue; one learns the history and geography of one’s country; one learns above all to know and love chores of all sorts that morality commands us.”So begins a 1919 French home economics book aimed at middle school girls. It was among the trove of treasures we found in various cupboards, cellars and attics of the apartments we renovated. It instructs in detail, well, everything. For example, how to set a table: “First, place a cotton cover on the table, over which you lay the tablecloth. This cover absorbs the noise caused by contact with utensils, and prevents glasses from breaking.”
“Then, you place the plates, leaving an interval of at least 60 centimeters between them. The guests shouldn’t bump elbows or feel restricted in their movements.”
I guess today we have the Internet for these kinds of details, though what’s out there is mostly about selling something.The treasure trove also contained portfolios done by the previous owner herself, on sewing, cutting (separate from sewing!) and layette. Girls were steered along a narrow path 75 years ago.
The ones related to sewing fascinated me. I grew up learning to sew. My mom made a lot of my clothes, very much like Ramona’s in Beverly Cleary’s books. I remember going to the fabric store and flipping through the pattern catalogs, where anything was possible. The suits I wore to my first post-college job I made myself. They were dreadful. And I HATE sewing. But while I might not enjoy it, it is useful to know.
I can’t sew without a pattern (unless it’s a simple rectangle, like curtains), just as I can’t play piano without sheet music. Sewing without a pattern–creating a pattern–is like composing music or at least like improvising jazz. I am in awe.
And then there’s the absolute worst: ironing.
Did you take home ec? I refused. I also refused to take typing, upsetting my mother to no end, though I eventually took it in summer school and now can type as fast as a person talks. I’m still not sure an entire year-long class on sewing, ironing and baby care is a good use of school time, but we might be a lot healthier and less wasteful if people knew how to cook and how to repair their clothes. The wonderful blogger Garance Doré (a must for francophiles!) interviewed Jean Touitou, the founder of A.P.C., who said that everyone should know how to mend their clothes, to not throw away perfectly good pieces that are, say, missing a button.
The young generation seems to be into DIY; the last time I was in a fabric store here, the other customers were very young, pierced and tattooed. I had the impression they knew not just how to mend but how to create and improvise–play jazz with material.
We don’t do things by half measures. We have two vacation rental apartments, and both have earned four-star ratings. We featured la Suite Barbès on Tuesday. Today is the turn of l’Ancienne Tannerie. On AirBnB, you can find la Suite Barbès here and l’Ancienne Tannerie here.
The apartment’s name comes from the fact that, back in medieval times, the inner courtyard was a tannery. The tiny alley behind the building is called ruelle des Tanneurs–Tanners’ Lane. Our apartments are in the “new” town of Carcassonne, which was built around 1260 under the orders of King Louis IX, aka St. Louis, to house the refugees expelled from la Cité after the Albigensian Crusade of 1209. Our building, however, must have replaced an older one (that likely burned down–fires were a big problem), because the high ceilings (13 feet) and large windows are in later architecture.
BTW, here’s a list of the residents in our building in 1624. You can see several were tanners, well into the Renaissance. (There’s also a captain, “called Captain Galaton of Pezens,” although Carcassonne isn’t on the coast.)
As with the other apartment, we preserved the historical details while adding modern conveniences (sauna, anyone?). And, to make sure visitors know they’re in France, it’s furnished with locally sourced antiques. Like this marvelous crystal chandelier that we drove to a little village to the south of here to buy.
We kept the old piano with ivory keys. I love the sconces on it, though I imagine that one would have had to play carefully if candles were burning.
What’s new: all the wiring, double-paned windows, plumbing…. plus the original terra-cotta tomettes were cleaned and treated.
The apartment sleeps up to five. There’s a spacious bedroom, a small bedroom, and a sofabed.
The kitchen is my favorite room. The fireplace is big enough to stand in. I love having the table in the middle.
Among the paintings we found was one of the kitchen. It shows the clock and the fireplace.Another painting we found in the apartment depicts Square Gambetta, which is two blocks away, before World War II. During the war, German troops destroyed the pool and its fountain, pictured.The square was redone a few years ago for construction of an underground parking garage. First, it was completely covered with gravel, and everybody hated it. So it was done over, with squares of formal gardens, a small restaurant, the old carousel and a fountain where kids can play in the water in summer. The same allée of plane trees still stands.
Visitors always ooh and ahh over the bathroom. It has a giant glass shower that doesn’t photograph well at all, being clear. The sauna always brings smiles, too.
It has been such a pleasure to hunt for pretty furnishings and accessories that establish an ambience of French tradition and authenticity. And it has been an even greater pleasure to meet people who appreciate it all as much as we do.A quick reminder of the main draw of Carcassonne, the majestic Cité, just a few minutes’ walk away from the apartments:We’d love to welcome you and your friends!