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4 New French Inns

Mathew Hranek A curious local in the Dordogne

Photo: Mathew Hranek

"It’s that feeling of being somewhere else, yet perfectly at home," says Gourlot of the cloistered mini-universe he and Godeau Ledieu summoned from scratch. "L’Ange et L’Éléphant is an anachronism. Some people put their nose through the gate and walk away, so there’s an auto-selection process that actually suits us. In this way the only people here are people who want to be here. We’re not for everyone."

That is just as well, as there are only two guest rooms. One is perfectly sweet, though it gives directly onto the pool and is not much bigger than a cocktail napkin. The shower stall, open on one side, is so near the bed you are always afraid of turning on the water for fear of soaking the taffeta curtain (folo) that drapes it. Nothing sums up Godeau Ledieu’s improvised style like the bedcover, unless it’s the hand towels, which someone has very patiently edged with little silk knots that look just like my Charvet cuff links.

Reached via a private, exterior corkscrew staircase from India in elaborately worked iron, the 750-square-foot suite has two bedrooms (one on a mezzanine), a salon that drifts into an open kitchen, and a vast terrace that keeps an eye on all the goings-on in the courtyard below. The chef d’oeuvre here is the bathroom’s waist-high unglazed terra-cotta jar from Rajasthan cradling a sink from Morocco in maillechort, a copper, zinc, and nickel alloy. My bed had an acid-dipped metal headboard in the shape of an ogee arch. Taking up the book on the nightstand before going to sleep, I saw that the previous guest had gotten to page 229 of Le Tour du Monde en 80 Jours.

9 Rue de la Reine Jeanne; 33-4/90-54-18-34; doubles from $112.

Le Canard a Trois Pattes, Tamniès, Dordogne

Flush with medieval and Renaissance monuments, Sarlat is the tourism capital of the Dordogne, and everything you have heard about it is true. The only language spoken is English, iterated with an English accent. Every perpetrator has a camper, a baby stroller, and at least one dog, and in summer they make Saturday, market day, a misery.

The antidote lies in a hamlet 7½ miles to the north, at a gently perched 15th-century farmhouse with five guest rooms and an arcadian view of soft hills flecked with cows as big as medium-size rental cars. No one is more aware than I am that this is exactly the kind of vignette country people make fun of city people for even registering, but I’m going to describe it anyway: The cows pass in front of the house twice a day, on their way to and from being pastured. A farmer leads the herd (though herd is much too big a word for his troop of four or five), putting up as he goes a string barrier to keep the animals from devastating the neighbors’ grass. His son brings up the rear, taking the string down as quickly as it went up. All this takes place under your nose, while you look out of your bedroom window.

If that scene doesn’t have you reaching for the Internet to make a reservation at Le Canard a Trois Pattes, this may: the principal structure is an exceptional example of colloquial perigourdin architecture, with a façade of limestone blocks in a deep, drenched-ocher color; schist roof shingles; and knobbly pisé floors—schist chiseled into small, triangular stones driven pointy-side-down into wet, beaten earth. Framing the house, and staging a prickly confrontation with it, are two blunt cubic pavilions with flat roofs built on the footprints of a pigpen and a bread house. Studio Carré Rouge and La Habanna, which sleeps five and has a small hardworking kitchen, are not totally disinterested in tradition, however: their wide pine siding makes reference to the region’s tobacco-drying sheds.

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