The Clos Mirabel Manor

I love traipsing around France in early Spring looking around for new venues. My trip brings me to this wonderful region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, whose vast beauty never ceases to amaze me. Today, I’m a bit south of Pau, the capital of Béarn, more precisely in the village of Jurançon.

The Clos Mirabel manor is situated on the sloping vineyards, a blend of rural charm and sensual landscapes of which I am a fervent admirer, in addition to the modernity of a hostelry and the easy living of a lesser-known region than its neighbour, the Basque region. 

I am about to discover a guesthouse located in the middle of the vineyards. Wine from Jurançon, no less, known around the world. Rachel, the lady of the house, is waiting for me. It was with her that I had the long discussions to set up this collaboration that I am so proud to share with you.

The property is secluded, in spite of being situated above the rows of vines. When I reach the entrance gate, with simple black letters announcing the name of the place, I then enter a long avenue lined with majestic trees, including some Canadian oaks. I am particularly fond of these distinguished avenues – they make me dream because they always lead to discreet bits of paradise.

When I get to the end of the avenue, I see Rachel, who shows me the way to the parking space at the edge of the six-hectare property. During these short minutes, my eyes drink in all the charm of the place, flooded with greenery and luxurious vegetation, surrounded with well-organised plantations of vines. Further away, the Pyreneanmountains form a theatrical backdrop to all this. Here, I am conquered by the light, calm and the splendours of nature.

Le Clos Mirabel is an 18th century manor whose beautiful English style stands out in this opulent terra pastoralis. The landscapes, the framework and location are the epitome of these classical, noble family homes. I love this architecture whose ethereal simplicity is a perfect blend of elegance and sobriety.

However, Rachel, who is waiting for me in front of the main entrance of the manor, is going to tell me all about the manor’s history. In 2018, she and her husband, Xavier, left Paris to take the reins of the family property bought in 2003 by her father in law and his second wife. They have been responsible for its management and development since then. The original building at Clos Mirabel consisted of a simple Bearnais-style farmhouse built between 1732 and 1738. In 1825, a man called Jean Mirabel bought the property and added several acres of land in order to set up the vineyard. 

An Englishman named Lord Hugh Faulkner acquired the property in 1921 and installed electricity in 1933 and water in 1940, doing major structural works in 1947. The Clos Mirabel did not undergo any significant change during the after-war period.

Ann and André, the current owners, started major works in 2005 whilst keeping the historic features of the place.
Rachel had in international career in trends and design in the luxury sector. Her husband, Xavier, studied at the Fine Arts (Beaux Arts) School of Paris and at the Steiner academy of Stuttgart. Together, they have continued to breathe new life into the place in line with Anne & André’s original vision, developing the property as a seminar centre for topics related to health and wellness. The couple offer workshops and masterclasses concerning various aspects of artistic expression. Upon request, Rachel selects the best produce from the organic garden to provide refined cuisine, another one of her many interests.

Clos Mirabel is composed of two main buildings: the manor in which I will live, made up of 5 bedrooms and an apartment; and the wine cellar, which has three bedrooms and a studio. A third house is located at the entrance to the property, the Conciergerie which provides accommodation with three bedrooms and a private garden. When I stayed there, I only had access to the manor as the other two venues were rented out.

While we are getting to know one another and chat at the entrance of the manor, I can’t help looking at the singular style of the architecture of the place. The whitewash, which is so typical of English manor house, glows softly in this green environment. The many-sloped slate roof completes the moderacy of the overall impression. The stepped main facade grabs my attention, as does the former well with forged ironwork.

Upon entering the house, I am gripped by the curiosity to discover more. I love the resonance and vibrations of this big, old buildings. There is a small hall to get to the rest of the house. The access to the loft apartment is in this space. Once through this second entrance, the kitchen where the breakfast is prepared is located on the right. Tiled floors and welcome mat. I notice the massive cupboard that gives a family feeling to the place. 

Then we go through the reading room with its parquet floor, sofa and armchairs laid out around a white vintage tiled stove. Rachel’s office is behind a set of double doors. A warm atmosphere accentuated by the fiery light of the sun coming in through the window. A very cosy, British and country-style atmosphere.

Behind me, I see a line or enfilade of rooms that we will discover later. For the moment, Rachel shows me the room upstairs, passing through an imposing entrance that was the original entrance of the house. The staircase leading to the upper floors is there, wooden and spiral in form, with its original carpeting, banisters and ironwork.

Huge dimensions predominate on the first floor: vast, open, one room covering the whole length of the floor, where warm, red colours abound. 

As happens often, I don’t know which room my hosts are putting me in. My excitement mounts as the moment of discovery approaches. But I try to hide my impatience. On the contrary, I continue to enjoy this spacious landing festooned with benches, old furniture, lamps, carpets. The window at the end leads out to the north of the gardens, which I will discover later during my stay.

And then there we are, at the other end of the landing, just in front of the Master bedroom, as it is called. Rachel thinks it’s the best room in the whole Clos property, large and airy with a direct view of the gardens, the vines, the Pyreneanmountains. I wasn’t expecting such a nice surprise, but I had dreamt of it!

The first thing that struck me in the Master bedroom is its sheer size, the light, the view and the light and restful tones and shades of the décor. Comfort and cosseted all at once.

The moulded double door has pretty golden handles, whereas the two large windows have indoor shutters with old-style glass panes. I also like the panelling that hides the curtain rails. The softness of the carpet, the same shade as the walls, increased my sensation of being cocooned. It’s spacious and noble, a sort of Brummel classicism.

This room has two distinct spaces, a sitting room side with a comfy couch and its Bernard Thorpe cushions, with printed material directly from England, two sober, design-style lamps are there to provide light when reading and brighten up our moments of relaxation; a rug facing the marble fireplace; a small desk ideally placed in front of the window with a view of the vines, the mountains, the garden and the swimming pool.

The boudoir is down the other end of the room, a bed with a headboard decorated with the same material as the cushions, floral and light décor. 

A door on both sides of the bed leads into the dressing room, placed behind the central wall.

In the centre of the room, a door opens into the bathroom, quite roomy and complete – an Italian-style shower with a pink and violet mosaic, and a bath on raised feet that I love so much.

In spite of the gloomy skies on the day I arrive, the sun’s rays just linger on in the afternoon. I go down to enjoy the air on the terrace with a nice cup of welcome tea, served by Rachel herself. 

The view is fantastic, with surprising nuances of grey sky and green as far as the eye can see. The landscapes are breath-taking from my open-air belvedere, in which several chairs and tables are spread around the terrace under the trees. 

The swimming-pool is also ideally placed on the same promontory beside the house. A good-sized pool to swim in, with loungers placed around the edge.

Tea time is kicking off well, country joys and lovely greenery, bucolic atmosphere guaranteed when I pay a visit to the cute rabbit whose mini-menagerie is situated near the vines.

I continue my walk and discover the vegetable garden laid out by André, another of the owner’s passions. Rachel finds here inspiration here and also her produce for the guest meals programmed on certain evenings upon request. My breakfast risks being frugal tomorrow as tonight I feel like stuffing myself. Breakfast time has already been set and will be served at 9 am in the dining room.

As I want to fully enjoy the quality of the place, Rachel allows me into the kitchen for dinner this evening, such a generous and instinctive invitation. Nothing pleases me more than to discover these hidden, intimate places that very often reveal the soul of a house.

I am drawn by and enjoy sharing this family intimacy. The kitchen is this central place that tells a house’s story so well. It always shows you the signature of a place. It’s a room for meeting and living in, people pass through but everyone meets there.

The kitchen in the Clos Mirabel manor is functional and spacious, full of light thanks to its generous windows, with a central table and all necessary appliances, with an English-style sideboard overflowing with Portmeirion white china sprigged with flowers, the Botanic Garden stuff that I’m crazy about! Chinaware for celebrating springtime! 

Summertime light is already here on this June day, which spills onto the floor of the various reception rooms, the other rooms on the ground floor and even the attics. I like this house. Its decoration tells a special, simple and useful story. It doesn’t look like any other, at least nothing I usually see or even anything you see in decoration or design publishing. Here, everything is so family-style, personal and personified. I feel as if I’ve been invited into a family home with a rich, past, a warm, comforting house full of life. 

I linger in the reception rooms on the ground floor bathed in beautiful light, passing around the large wooden table for family feasts. My eyes ferret out the details on the sculpted wooden and brick chimneypiece. I test the big sofa in front of it, the rocking chair, the stereo system. I read through some art and design books. An upright piano waits for those extended parties or for solitary creative time in the afternoon. Some of Xavier’s art are on the walls.

Do you want to sleep in absolute calm and enjoy a revigorating and comforting night? Then you’ve found the right address, it’s waiting for you right here at the Clos Mirabel Manor! What an immense pleasure to open my eyes and discover this light that’s only there in the morning. Before I hurry to open the inner shutters and discover the morning landscape of the Pyrenean mountains, I am wrapped in the softness of the light of the sunrise. I open the windows and draw in greedy lungfuls of the fresh air. 

It’s a dream, this morning I’m alone for breakfast. The intimate room next to the kitchen gives me the impression of being the master of the house being waited on by his own staff. It’s a comic but rather pleasant sensation. Once again, the atmosphere is set by the light. I think that this will be my abiding memory of Clos Mirabel, its layout always thought of in terms of light, the number of windows installed rationally.

I find the same wooden floors as in the rest of the whole house, a wooden table surrounded by cane chairs, built-in wooden cupboards, a fine-looking fireplace and mantle, topped off with a large mirror. Little details that I love, these stands on which big, succulent plants repose. Little touches of colour thrown in by the globes of the central chandelier. The breakfast is shining out at me from the already-set table – refined presentation, generous portions, served in the exquisite English china that I noticed yesterday.

Food is a passion for Rachel & Xavier. That’s why they chose to acquaint their guests with organic and local produce over breakfast. Today, I can taste the honey made by the beekeeper who keeps his hives on the Clos Mirabel property. The hives are in the gardens – you can see them when you enter the property. I can also taste the homemade nut cake, the Bearnais cheese in an infinite variety, produce from the nearby Larqué farm that is one of their official suppliers. A frugal breakfast with local savours and flavours that I do my best to do justice to.

During my stay, some of the rooms at the Manor were empty and so Rachel suggested that I go and browse around. This is a selection of the photos taken during my visit.

I take a little walk around the gardens to help digest my breakfast and cannot help releasing my inner child to play on the swings that I found under the ancient oaks. A little later, I go for a dip in the semi-heated pool where the 12×6 metres allow me to work off some steam.

I availed of my stay to go visit Pau, the capital of the former principality of Bearn, the city of Henry IV, king of France and the birthplace of Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, the French Marshal who went on to become king of Sweden and Norway.

Pau was the citadel of the kings of Navarre and its vernacular architecture, historical centre and Boulevard des Pyrénées leading to the medieval and Renaissance Castle, its national park, its cable car and …. the nuggets that I found on the way. 

I will start with an atypical shop located a few yards from the Castle where its window drew my attention: Les Chauvins! Or how to rethink and sometimes reinvent the idea of “souvenirs and other pleasant ideas”. It was nice to meet Valérie, the creator of the shop, who generously opened up her shop and secrets to me. Thank you for your welcome, patience and good shopping advice. I couldn’t resist the t-shirts, candles and teas specially made for the shop, named after King Henri IV and his favourite.

It’s tea time so I go to Maison Constanti on the edge of the Boulevard des Pyrénées, a few short steps from City Hall, with an amazing view of the mountains. A place that also offers breakfasts, brunches and tea-times. A really tasty place to recommend to you.

The last place ferreted out during my walk was the café-grocery “Aquiu”, which aims at inspiring the world. The concept is a local eco-responsible grocery store selling seasonal produce from small local producers, as unpackaged as possible. Aquiu is also a café where you can come in and talk, discuss and work, which proposes debates, conferences, workshops and exhibitions. A place with unusual décor that you just have to see. A place that is vibrant and full of life, that even has a small rail with vintage clothing. You can also come with your own containers and fill them with loose produce or buy them on site. 

During my visit at the Clos Mirabel, I had the immense good fortune to visit the Emmaus Village at Pau-Lescar. Of course, I knew the Emmaus movement like everyone else, the association founded in 1971 by Abbé Pierre that is now present in 36 countries. An enlightened and generous idea that has being reinventing itself since it was founded.

However, I didn’t know that Emmaus had created a village like this to host its “companions” and to breathe life into a community by opening a practically self-sufficient, independent village on over 7 hectares that manages not only its well know bric-a-brac activities but also a recycling plant and an alternative farm.

The accommodation is eco-habitat with a community, participatory way of life the that companions or denizens hold so dearly. The village hosts an average of two thousand visitors a day who come to buy natural products manufactured and packaged on site or coming from local organic producers, or they come to eat in the restaurant or visit the farm while browsing through the vintage and second-hand articles recycled by Emmaus’ as part of its core activity. This discovery was a revelation for me: not just the genius of the creator, but the fact that at the Emmaus Village at Pau-Lescar, the residents prove that an alternative mode of society is indeed possible! 

Warm, heartfelt thanks to Rachel without whom this marvellous experience would not have been possible. Thank you for the many discussions whilst preparing and during the collaboration. Thank you also for your precious advice and support. Thank you for having made this article possible and for having believed in the future of this blog. Thank you for your trust and for having given me the keys to your magnificent Manor – I felt totally at ease and at home whilst creating. The same thanks of course to your husband, Xavier. 

  • Translation : Ross Winters Nicholl – rwnperso@yahoo.fr

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