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House Talk

No. 10 - June, 2003

La Gue de La Roche: A French Bed and Breakfast
by Sheila Sabine

Through the years, the real estate team of Glass/Sabine has been privileged to represent several exquisite French Normandy-style homes, particularly in the Piedmont area. Continuing her study of this architectural style, Sheila Sabine took a long weekend holiday and headed for the French countryside, near the town of Limoges, France. Here, she had the privilege of staying at Le Gue de La Roche, a fantastic 19th century petite chateau owned by Monique and Gerard Cabin. Just behind their small chateau, which sits on three-plus acres of rolling green meadows filled with ancient trees, is a tiny hamlet called La Roche, dating back to 3,000 B.C. where remains of stone arrows have been discovered. 

Rich in history, the area has been the site of emerald and gold mining, and Richard the Lion-Hearted actually died nearby. Across the road is the roaring Nacienne River, ancient waterway for the Romans. The house itself was originally built by a wealthy family who owned riverside mills that were the main suppliers of all the flour for the region. The three-story home contains fifteen rooms and is a classic example of French country living at its best. The exterior is made of stone with a steep pitched roof and fancy iron grillwork on the doors and windows. The rooms have twenty-foot-high ceilings with filigree work (frisée) and all of the many bedrooms have marble fireplaces, private baths and small balconies overlooking the surrounding countryside. The kitchen features an enormous hand-carved granite mantle surrounding the huge fireplace, large enough to roast fresh game as well as cook an entire meal. There are three sitting rooms with elegant chandeliers, marble fireplaces and French doors everywhere.

Monique was a very busy floral and interior designer in Limoges; fifteen years ago, she and her husband decided that it was time to simplify their busy city lives and move to the country. The many empty rooms were filled with the Cabins’ wonderful collection of antiques and eclectic furnishings. Monique is also a gifted painter and many of the walls display her fabulous scenes depicting their travels all over the world. Monique says that in this home she has truly learned how to enjoy the “art de vivre” and wants to share that concept with all of her guests as well as a sense of hospitality without limits. She feels that the chateau has provided a true sense of refuge in difficult times and the spirit of the house often speaks to her directly. She has been guided over and over to share with others what she has learned from the house. Initially she had some hesitation in opening her doors but she describes a time that a friend gave her two large boxes of sterling silverware. For months, the boxes sat on the veranda, neglected and unopened, until one day Monique’s elderly mother walked in, rolled up her sleeves and said that it was time to start polishing the tarnished pieces. Soon after that, guests began arriving. 

Indeed, the Cabins have hosted grateful guests from countries around the globe including Brazil, South Africa, China, Israel, Lebanon, Australia, Italy, Switzerland, England, and America, to name a few. Each guest is given the same warm reception and made to feel as if the small chateau was their very own home. There are no locks on the doors and the kitchen door is often left wide open so that the fresh country air can enter freely. People always seem to gravitate towards the long wooden 18th-century kitchen table that came with the house. In addition, the kitchen features a lovely 18th-century buffet which was the first piece of furniture purchased for the house. Monique and Gerard bought it from the antiques dealer up the road who was actually born at La Gue de la Roche.

 The kitchen is the true heart of the house. At the large table, visitors pour out their life stories over a glass of wine by the warm fire. It’s also here in the kitchen where one experiences the essence of French cuisine prepared with flair and style by Monique. She often comes in from the garden with a handful of fresh herbs, using them as her inspiration for the next meal. At all times, tempting croissants and breads are waiting to be sampled for the petit déjeuner and at sunset, it’s time to relax and enjoy a regional apéritif with Monique as she works her magic in the kitchen. Her cupboards hold many culinary secrets; on the last day of Sheila Sabine’s visit, Monique opened one of those cupboards and pulled out a special paté and a bottle of local wine for Sheila to take home and share with friends and family.

In reflecting on their experiences of managing the chateau, Monique and Gerard emphasized these points:
* The interior of the house truly reflects the spirit of the people who live in the house; it is they who have carefully placed each loving object in its special place. 
* The people who enter the house are always further developing the interior of the house. In a certain sense, each person adds his or her own special energy to the surroundings.
* People discover the house like two lovers meeting each other for the first time; little by little the beautiful and magical secrets begin to reveal themselves.
* The house allows people to feel truly at peace with a sort of tranquility that is rare - and difficult to find. 
* The house can function as a vessel for international diplomacy with people from many different cultures blending together in peace and harmony.
To learn more about this lovely intimate chateau you can e-mail Monique and Gerard Cabin directly at gecabs@net-up.com.

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For further information or questions for our House Talk column, 
please contact Glass/Sabine by email:  Sheila@GlassSabine.com
or call us at 510-326-5055.

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