Our mid-July stay in the tiny medieval town of Caunes-Minervois, France, was one of the very first things we booked on this trip, way back in February. Our friends Grant and Ellen, whom you may remember from our stop in London, have been going to the same vacation spot there every summer for more than a decade, and telling us tales of the laid-back fun they have there since we’ve known them. So when we realized we were going to be in Europe around the right time, we asked if we could tag along on their annual trip. They hooked us up with Andy (the property owner), and we quickly booked ourselves in for a weeklong stay.
On our way there from Nice, we stopped though Lunel to pay a visit to Chantal, an old friend of Dan’s family. She’d lived with Dan’s grandma as an exchange student 40-some years ago, and has remained close with the Young-Johnson clan ever since. She welcomed us in and plied us with delicious lemon pie and grandkid-approved toys while we caught up for an hour. It was a perfect midway break on our long car ride.
From there we drove on, traffic-clogged highways giving way to lonely rural roads lined with vineyards (Fiona, looking out the window as we passed: “Mama, are these those alcohol bushes?” Smart kid.), until we finally arrived at our lodgings in Caunes-Minervois.
Au Pont Romain is a big old stone building tucked away from the road, alongside a pretty little creek, about a 15-minute walk from the village center. It houses five gites, or apartments, which during the week we were there were occupied by: Andy and Su, the English owners who live there permanently; our family; Grant, Ellen, Violet and Ellen’s mom; and two apartments’ worth of a crew Grant and Ellen refer to as “the Belgians,” who are actually just one family (from Belgium), including mom, dad, three grown children and the three partners of those three children. Grant and Ellen usually stay at the same time as the Belgians, who’ve been vacationing there at least as long as they have, so we were dropping into a very established dynamic.
Of course, everyone was incredibly friendly and welcoming. Au Pont Romain is clearly just that kind of place. Every Friday night, Andy hosts a wine tasting, set up on a few long tables under some big trees on the property. He picks four of his favorite wines to share, and keeps much more in stock in his gite, which guests can come by at any time of day to stock up on, the (extremely reasonable) cost of which is simply added to your week’s bill. Every Sunday night there’s a barbecue featuring far too much food—sausage, chicken, salads, bread, cheese and all kinds of other yummy local things—and the Belgians always schedule another night to host a beer tasting with bottles they’ve brought from home. We also attended two 20ish-person meals at the pub in town, attended not only by everyone staying at Au Pont Romain, but some Scottish friends of Andy and Su’s from the village as well (who also joined us for the wine tastings and barbecue). Like I said, it’s a friendly spot.
While we missed the real heat wave that came a bit later, our days in southern France were still pretty darn hot—all in the 90s—but passed very enjoyably all the same. They started with coffee and croissants in our gite, the latter delivered fresh every morning from the local bakery. After that, we usually loaded up the car and ventured to a neighboring town to see a castle, cave or other such tourist attraction, generally guided by Grant and Ellen, who know all the best spots. Afternoons were all about keeping cool inside, until we ventured out for some swimming/floating/playing in the pool or to explore the creek that runs alongside the main building. In the evenings we drank Aperol spritzes, ate dinner, chatted and played games, then went to bed once it got too dark/buggy/late to stay out.
All in all, it was a pretty great week—relaxing, comfortable, convivial—that passed too quickly. We could certainly see why our friends, the Belgians and probably many more lovely folks came back year after year.
Toward the end of our stay we learned that Andy and Su had found a serious buyer for Au Pont Romain. Apparently they’d been looking to retire from the hospitality business and trying to sell for a number of years, and now that reality was finally on the horizon. We’re not sure what lies in store for this singular vacation spot, whether it will retain the special sauce that brings old friends and new visitors together in such a seamless way, inspiring so much fierce loyalty and so many fond memories. But either way, it probably won’t be quite the same without Andy and Su at the helm. We’re so grateful we had the chance to enjoy it when we did.