As tourists, we tend to respond to two versions of luxury. One involves hushed service, marble halls and elaborate cookingthe costly bliss of grand hotels. The other has to do with space, light, and good, plain food, all in the middle of nowhere but (vital, this!) easily accessible. The second version, simplicity de luxe, is of course much harder to find; you have to know where to look. Now I do. Gascony.
Castelnau des Fieumarcon, in the southwest of France, land of foie gras and Armagnac, fits my criteria perfectly. It's just an hour away from the Toulouse airport; the international one at Bordeaux is nearby too. Yet within the stone walls of this privately owned thirteenth-century hilltop village, there are no cars or televisions, and even mobile phones are touch and go. The 16 cottages available for rent, which together accommodate 40-plus guests, are arranged mostly along two little streets. They are sensitively restored, and I find it easy to imagine life in these medieval dwellings, with their kitchen gardens and their doorways bordered with old roses and grapevines, six or seven hundred years ago.
The cottages are not, for the most part, luxurious, though one or two are grandernotably Cassagnet, which was once part of the old castle and has high, beamed ceilings and a huge salon complete with a grand piano. Little is left of the original castle beyond its gigantic stables (now listed as a historic monument), which house a new restaurant and will eventually include a library, an exhibition space and a concert hall. A shelf of land on the edge of the hill the town perches upon will hold an outdoor swimming pool, a steam room and a sauna.