Nestled in the heart of the French countryside in the picturesque hamlet of Lahitte Toupiere, Vintage Vert is a true rural escape, where only the sounds of birdsong and the gentle buzzing of bees disturb the silence. A great deal of Vintage Vert’s character comes from its owners, Christine Crowder and Anthony Collins, who have transformed this former farmhouse into a stylishly laid-back getaway. It’s a place, in the owners’ words, ‘to enjoy life in the slow lane, where you take time to smell the wild garlic and marvel at nature whilst enjoying a glass of local wine.’ We sat down with Christine and Anthony to learn more about the inspirations behind this boutique gem.
The idea of Vintage Vert was born out of Christine’s own passion for small independent hotels, a world away from the large, corporate establishments she was more used to staying in during her frequent business trips. ‘I liked to stay in small, unique places when I was on holiday that were less corporate and more stylish,’ Christine tells us. ‘I fell in love with all these beautiful properties, and I dreamt of owning my own little piece of paradise and, more importantly, creating a relaxing destination for others to enjoy.’ Christine took the plunge and decided to make a drastic step-change in her life by retraining as an upholsterer and relocating to France. She was later joined by Anthony, and the two decided to renovate a crumbling old farmhouse in Gascony.
The picturesque farmhouse is one of Vintage Vert’s biggest charms, and Christine explains that it has a great deal of history behind it. ‘It was built over 250 years ago by a very respected family who owned a lot of land for miles around, and passed through the generations,’ she tells us. The farmhouse’s sturdy construction keeps it at an ideal temperature throughout the year, with half-metre thick walls of locally-sourced river stone helping it to keep cool in the summer. Formerly a farm, with crops, livestock and even vineyards (the remains of an old wine press are still in one of the barns), Vintage Vert retains the tranquillity and natural beauty of a countryside retreat. ‘We have an abundance of lavender, Oleander, jasmine and many more pretty flowers throughout the year in our garden,’ Christine tells us. The hotel also boasts a rather wonderful courtyard terrace – Anthony’s favourite spot on the property. ‘It was the old cobbled entrance to the farm,’ he tells us, ‘but it’s now filled with relaxing areas where guests can enjoy listening to birdsong and the hum of bees.’
When Christine and Anthony first set about renovating the farmhouse, it had been empty for nearly twenty years. While this meant months of painstaking restoration, it also gave Christine the freedom to explore her passion and flair for interior design. ‘We both love vintage and antiques, so this was the starting point,’ Christine tells us. The bright, airy interiors of the farmhouse provided additional inspiration. ‘I worked with the natural light in the house to choose the colours for each bedroom,’ Christine says, ‘I chose heritage colours and created a mood board to ensure the colours flowed throughout the house.’ Does she have a favourite? ‘Each of our bedrooms has a unique feel so it’s difficult to pick a favourite, but I love the Emerald suite’s huge bed and peacock-blue slipper chaise lounge. The furniture is an eclectic but tasteful mixture of English and French, antique and contemporary. ‘I like to mix old with new so we have a few little twists,’ Christine tells us. For the older pieces of furniture, Christine was able to draw on her training as an upholsterer, restoring all of the upholstered beds and chairs in the house, and painting or French polishing many pieces of furniture. Each item of furniture has a story to tell. ‘The beds in the Lime room were upholstered using flour sacks from a local flour mill that had closed down,’ Christine tells us. ‘I went to visit the mill to choose the sacks and the whole family turned up to give me a tour.’
Gascony is famous for its gastronomy, so it’s no surprise that deliciously home-cooked meals form a large part of Vintage Vert’s appeal. ‘We both love to cook, and finding good ingredients is easy here,’ Christine and Anthony tell us. ‘We have an abundance of markets each week in our surrounding towns and villages where we can purchase directly from the producers. We also have a large organic vegetable garden where we grow many things – we try to use our homegrown produce when possible, and everything here is 100% local.’ Breakfasts are also a particular highlight. ‘Our guests are always wowed by breakfast,’ Christine tells us. ‘We bake our own bread, brioche and sweet treats as well as make our own yoghurt, jams and fruit compote, usually with our homegrown fruit.’ There’s a wide range of choice, but there is one dish that Christine insists that guests try. ‘Don’t miss out on the cake for breakfast!’ she tells us, laughing. ‘Our French guests love homemade cake each morning, but it is not traditional for British guests. I now realise I was missing out and I am converted to cake for breakfast as I have made so many different breakfast cakes for guests.’
This remote corner of rural Gascony is perfect for those looking for relaxation and tranquillity. Christine and Anthony offer memorable experiences that give guests the chance to connect with the local culture, such as a meal at a local Chateau where you’ll dine with the wine growers. ‘The tables are set up amongst the vines and the growers share a meal of local produce and wines,’ Christine tells us. The fabulous scenery and great roads make the surrounding valleys a haven for cyclists – the Tour de France passes close by every year, stopping in overnight Pau, a beautiful city with a magnificent view of the Pyrenees. Christine and Anthony also suggest visiting the nearby town of Lourdes and its beautiful cathedral or timing your trip to coincide with the world famous Jazz festival in Marciac. Their best advice? Simply venture forth and explore: ‘We live close to many different villages and pretty towns, and the mountains are nearby. It’s an opportunity to experience the real France, off the beaten track.’
From the idiosyncratic interiors to the handmade breakfasts, Christine and Anthony’s passion and pride shine through every aspect of Vintage Vert. ‘We love what we do, and we really want everyone to enjoy their time here,’ they tell us. ‘It is an honour when someone chooses to reserve your property and we never forget the trust put in us, striving to ensure each guest receives the best service possible.’ It obviously works – many of the hotel’s guests return year after year; ‘We never forget to have their favourite things ready for their return,’ Christine tells us. Ultimately, Vintage Vert is a chance to kick back, an out of the ordinary haven that perfectly encapsulates everything that led Christine to fall in love with small, boutique hotels all those years ago.