I went for a drive this week, on the D612 heading north out of St Chinian. My destination? A small village in the Lauragais called Cuq-Toulza. Google it, you’ll see that it’s very small, several dozen houses strung out along the N126, which runs from Castres via Puylaurens to just beyond Cuq-Toulza. But if you look at the marker it is placed just outside the village, and sits atop of the hill where I was headed for: Cuq-le-Chateau! I’ve not verified this, but I would imagine that the original settlement was there, a small village built around the château and the church, at the top of the hill and easy to defend. I had come to visit my friends Philippe and Andonis, who own and run Cuq en Terrasses, a small boutique hotel in the former 18th century presbytery.
The building is one of those wonderful houses which doesn’t give everything away at first glance. There it is, on the little square just across from the church, a lovely honey coloured two-storied house with white shutters. Enter into the hall and you see a staircase going up to the first floor, but there are steps down too.
Philippe showed me up to the yellow room, which had just undergone a transformation with the addition of a new opening on one side, adding a dramatic view to this room.
Once I was unpacked and settled I ventured downstairs – and here’s the surprise. At the front door the building may only look two stories high, but because it’s built on a hillside, there are actually two more stories below, all with a fantastic view over the valley and hills all around!
First a quick look into the salon, which runs the whole depth of the house from front to back, on the ground floor. It’s ever so cozy and there are rows and rows of books and magazines to read, DVDs to watch and CDs to listen to.
So downstairs, passing the “ZEN” landing where the calming tinkling of water is heard…
… until two floors further down I reach the terrace and the restaurant. You’ve already seen the view from the terrace and if you look at that picture again you can just see the corner of the conservatory, which was added the winter before last, to create a stunning dining room. For some strange reason I don’t have a picture of the dining room, but i am sure you can find one on the hotel website.
There was still time before dinner, so I enjoyed the lovely sunshine and explored the garden. Gardening on a hillside can be difficult, but here the challenge has been superbly met and despite the fact that we’re only just coming out of winter there was lots of interest.
On the lowest level to the left, in the furthest corner of the garden, is the potager and right next to it the hen-house.
I counted six happy hens, two of each colour, and I got an inkling of what I might have for breakfast the following day :-)!!
On my way back up to the dining room I saw more of those quirky details which make the place so very charming!
Philippe and Andonis had invited several friends for dinner, and I met up with one I’ve known for a very long time, and made new friends too. It was a delightful evening, not least because of Andonis’ cooking. We had superb food as the sun was setting: a Roquefort flavoured pannacotta with home-grown walnuts, and an asparagus cream with Serrano ham for nibbles; followed by a wonderful salad of avocado, mango and prawns.
For main course there was a delicious chicken dish – chicken breasts encased in Serrano ham and pastry, with a spinach filling, served with a morel sauce. I’m salivating as I type, and I hope you don’t feel too hungry.
We all decided that cheese would be too much, so moved straight onto dessert! Creme brulee served with a tagine of pears and marzipan cigar.
I loved that dessert, it had just the right combination of creamy, crunchy, sweet, and that marzipan cigar was just wonderful. I was so lucky to get some seconds of that – thank you guys!! I went to bed wonderfully replete after a great evening with very special people.
Guess what I had for breakfast the following morning?? A newly laid boiled egg, and yes, I am gloating :-)! There’s nothing like a newly laid egg from real hens, the flavour and texture is incomparable! And I sampled Andonis’ famous home-made orange marmalade, which is to die for!
After breakfast and more chats with our new friends, I had a look at the church just across from the hotel.
Inside all the walls and ceilings are decorated with painted ornamentation and there are many statues. The blue ceiling is particularly unexpected, but apparently not atypical for the region. The whole has a wonderfully serene feeling about it, somewhere to sit and pray or meditate or to just enjoy the peace and quiet.
As with so many old buildings, costly repairs are needed to preserve what’s there, and an association has been formed which organises a series of concerts each summer, to pay for restoration projects. Ask Philippe and Andonis for details!
Thank you Philippe and Andonis for a wonderful stay, it’s a great privilege to count you among my friends!
If you are tempted to experience the magic and charms of Cuq en Terrasses yourselves do mention that your read about it on the midihideaways blog :-)!