We wanted turrets, log fires and good food – Château de Labro delivered all of these… and much, much more!
Two hours north of Mazamet, in our neighbouring Département of the Aveyron, sits the city of Rodez (just one hour north of Albi). The city, like its Tarnais neighbour, has a stunning 13th century cathedral which dominates the skyline as you approach from any direction. Whereas Albi is built around the banks for the river Tarn, Rodez sits on a huge rocky outcrop, 650m above the rolling Aveyron hills.
We were in need for a weekend break after a busy post-season period at La Villa and an online search drew us to Château de Labro – a quintessentially, 16th century, turreted château, just a stone’s throw from Rodez. Arriving on a very blustery late Autumn afternoon, as we approached along the long gravel drive, the facade of this grande dame revealed herself, in all her glory.
Along with various outbuildings, the château has (by its current owners since 2001) been lovingly restored as a luxury hotel and now offers 20 sumptuous bedrooms, each unique, along with two guest lounges, bar & restaurant, a separate breakfast room and a small spa with massage treatments. Outside, there are acres of grounds to explore and (in warmer months) a beautifully positioned swimming pool, set amongst rows of vines within a walled garden.
Our bedroom was located in the main château, the two turrets acting as both an ensuite and a study – you really could not get anymore châteauesque than this! Unpacking for a weekend never takes long. We were soon relaxing, with our books, in one of the guests lounges (created in the former kitchen) with an honesty bar from which we enjoyed glasses of rosé, from the château’s very own domaine.
The glass of wine had whetted our appetite for the evening ahead at Le Clos, the château’s on-site restaurant, just a few paces away in a converted barn. Another warm welcome awaited us and we were soon sat in the wonderful surrounds of the Piano Bar with a local (Laguiole) G&T in hand – the perfect start to our evening. One of the team presented the menu and informed us that their new season menu commenced that evening – a choice of three starters, mains & desserts which ALL looked tempting. You can opt for either a three course dinner (33€ pp) which we enjoyed on our first evening, or five, (reserved for our second, at 49€ pp), which includes a delicate pan-seared foie gras with poached pear and, between main & dessert, a selection of local cheese (both the wonderful Roquefort & Laguiole coming from this region).
The dinner was excellent at every level from amuse-bouche to petit fours… just sorry not to have taken any photos to illustrate just how beautifully presented dish after dish was plated by the chef. Awarded an ‘Assiette’ from Michelin, we are convinced that this restaurant (also open to non-residents) will go from strength to strength and be coveted with many additional accolades too.
As we said our bon nuits to the restaurant team, we headed back across the courtyard and up the spiral staircase to our room, ready for a restful night’s sleep between the turrets. We did not stir until 7.30am when the timely hooting of an owl welcomed in a new day. Breakfast, served in another separate building, like the restaurant a former barn (this one the piggery), was fantastic – a buffet of the usual French morning staples, in addition to some great local treats & home made goodies from the kitchen. Fuelled with great coffee we will ready for our day exploring Rodez (just a 10 mins drive).
A guest at La Villa earlier in the year had recommended the Musée Soulages, dedicated to the life-works of artist (and Rodez resident) Pierre Soulages. The building itself is ultra-modern and gallery spaces within carefully designed to house his artwork. His unique style will certainly not be to everyone’s taste and we much preferred the works containing more colour than those (which dominate the installation) in shades of black.
Buying an 11€ ticket for the Soulages museum, you also gain entry into Rodez’s two other museums, the Denys-Peuch sculptures and (as we discovered) a fascinating museum tracing the architectural & archaeological history of the Aveyron, the Musée Fenaille. The Fenaille is housed over three floors, around a central Jacobean courtyard, and commences on the third floor with Stone Age and Neolithic remains, ascending (although descending the floors) through the medieval period and ending in the 18th century – really well worth a visit.
The Saturday marché was still in full swing when we emerged from our cultural fix. It’s always great to compare the regional & seasonal produce on sale when travelling in France and, as with most local markets, the marché was full of fresh fruit, vegetables, meats, cheeses & fish, sat side-by-side with local delicacies like the ‘farçous’ we had earlier enjoyed at breakfast (a delicious herb-packed fritta).
The marché fills the streets surrounding the stunning 13th Cathédrale Notre-Dame de l’Assomption de Rodez. Once part of the defensive city walls, the mainly gothic cathedral, unlike is counterpart in Albi, has more modest interiors – yet still with beautiful stained glass windows amongst its medieval masonry.
After coffee & cake in a lovely side-street salon du thé, we headed back to the château, ready for some more relaxing in the lounge ahead of dinner which, as the night before, was a culinary feast. After a second good night’s rest & breakfast, before we knew it, our weekend was drawing to a close – time to head south and back into the Tarn. Our weekend away had far exceeded our expectations and had re-charged our batteries ahead of our first pre-Christmas weekend at La Villa.
What stood out for us about our time at Château de Labro was the young team who, with great passion & professionalism, run the property. Each and every team member greeting us with a smile, always engaging and friendly. Owning & running La Villa, and travelling extensively too over the years, we appreciate the work that goes into making both the physical fabric of a property and the service element which work hand in hand so that each guest feels valued.
Rodez too was a great discovery and will certainly draw us back to explore further. Some of the villages around, like the beguiling Belcastel, Najac and Sauverterre-de-Rouergue (all a short detour off the N88 linking Albi to Rodez) are three of the ten Plus Beaux Villages of the Aveyron worth discovering too. Using Château de Labro as a base, there’s so much to see & do in this part of the Aveyron – including the Millau viaduc just one hour away.
We can whole-heartedly recommend a stay at Château de Labro, a visit to Rodez and the wider area too – we are already trying to squeeze in another stay before we welcome our own guests again in 2020.