Published by Corinne Bourrières, historian, 2018
The name Labarthe comes from the Occitan word ‘bartas’ meaning a place covered with undergrowth, brambles and other wild plants. It shows that this rich land along the Reignac stream was left to run wild for a time, and nature reclaimed its rights. One of the historic backgrounds favourable to a situation like this was the Hundred Years War, which caused huge losses in the 15th century. Quercy suffered heavily, and numerous towns were deserted.
The history of the estate dates back to the 16th century. It was then a smallholding owned by a city dweller who made money from far away by renting it to a tenant farmer. It comprised arable land, fields and gardens, and farm buildings, and produced mainly food crops. All that is left today is the eastern house with its long vaulted cellar and the two-storey Auvergne-style barn, whose lower level housed the animals and upper level was a huge hayloft.
In 1736, the smallholding fell into the hands of a merchant, Pierre Valet, and was quickly absorbed into an ambitious plan based on the sale of wine produced on the estate and intended for the Bordeaux market. To this end, in the 1750s, quantities of vines from Auxerre were planted there, and a huge 40m wine store was installed, set at right angles on the northern edge of the barn. It almost doubled the length of the barn and, from one end to the other, probably contained all the wherewithal to produce wine.
Pierre Valet’s contacts with his counterparts in the Bordeaux area and their specific way of life are the origin of a building, all the more remarkable for its rarity in Quercy, the charter house. Inspired by equivalent buildings in Aquitaine, it borrowed some of the notions of comfort and communion with nature in their country surroundings: one living floor, numerous windows letting in plenty of light and facilitating circulation, easy access up a few steps from the courtyard, and on a level with the garden. The oblong edifice was built at right angles to one end of the old preserved house. To add harmony, arched windows were put in the upper floor topped with skylights in the attics. The resulting spans repeat the regularly-spaced arches of the charter house façades.
with its vaulted cellar for storing wine, and one of its buildings to host those most precious aids in the vines: the pigeons. Its oblong layout ends in a square pavilion to the west. Pigeons lived in the upper part, as shown by the stone ledge (or randière) around the tower to prevent rodents from getting to the nests.
A second pavilion symmetrical with the first would normally have stood at the other end of the charter house, today occupied by an upper terrace. The presence of stones sticking out of the wall of the old house indicates that this was probably the planned but never completed.
The guest rooms at Labarthe overlook the grounds. They are light and so quiet that the only thing that might wake you is the birdsong. The old thick walls of Quercy stone keep the rooms peaceful and cool in summer.All the rooms, three of which are on the ground floor, have been recently renovated and each has its own toilet and bathroom. They have antique furniture, soft colours and contemporary details, to give an overall feeling of comfort and sophistication. The bedding is excellent, beds are made in the traditional manner with fine cotton sheets and light or thick woollen blankets depending on the season.
Of the original 17th century estate, some magnificent outbuildings have survived the years. Once used for farming and wine producing, they are now restored and transformed into comfortable, independent gites.
They can be rented for a few days or by the week.