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Romantic Hideaways - Le Couvent des Cordeliers

Romantic Hideaways - Le Couvent des Cordeliers

We discover stylish accommodation & fine dining, in the most unforgettable of settings...

Couvent des Cordeliers

As more and more people are now discovering, the village of Verteuil-sur-Charente looks and feels like a vision from a classic fairytale, complete with a noble château set high on the banks of one of the river’s more tranquil stretches. Stroll across the nearby bridge, however, and you’ll discover something much less obvious: an exquisitely-preserved former Franciscan monastery, now off ering stylish chambres d’hôtes accommodation and restaurant, in the most romantic of settings.

Present owners Jan and Jean-Claude Hand-Gree were poised to buy a château in Dordogne, when Jan chanced upon an advertisement for the Verteuil property in summer 2011. A combination of the site’s uniqueness and immense potential proved irresistible, so the couple bought Le Couvent in September and immediately began an extensive campaign of painstaking restoration and refurbishment. Le Couvent finally reopened in May 2012, as Jean-Claude recalls: “For fifteen years people wondered what was behind the big, closed gates - to locals it was just a private chambres d’hôtes business. So we created the terrace overlooking the river, redesigned the courtyard for external dining and opened the gates to the public. It’s working very well, it’s so pleasing to the eye and there’s so much history here.”

What they have achieved is impressive. All the guest rooms (a family suite, plus four other en-suite bedrooms) have been refurbished, and now have satellite TV and WiFi. “They’re all quite substantial in size, and each one has its own distinctive feel and character...” says Jan. “Another big difference is that we’re now fully-licensed as a restaurant, and we’re open for evening meals, rather than just off ering tables d’hôtes. Next year we’ll also be available for weddings. It’s a really fabulous setting, as we have the church, of course – we’ve already got quite a few enquiries”.

Couvent des Cordeliers Verteuil Charentes

Then there’s the chapel, too, which is soon to become a boutique selling French and English gifts and produce. “There are around seven hundred people living in and around the village, and a third of them are English...” says Jean-Claude. “You could say that it’s quite an English area, but we also do very well with the French, and we’d like to see if we can achieve a 50/50 balance between the two. To enter the church you have to go through the chapel, and after the summer season is over we’ll develop things for Christmas and other special occasions”. Jan is equally encouraged: “We’re already fully-booked for Christmas and New Year, including all meals – breakfast, lunch and dinner – and we’re getting lots of bookings for private or corporate dining. So we’re doing very, very well. This morning we had a booking for a formal, black-tie event for twenty-eight people, which will be nice to put on”.

Success like this is obviously good for the village, says Jean-Claude: “It brings people in – there’s now an antique shop, and soon we’ll have a florist, plus a ladies’ and men’s outfitter. The more who come, the better it will be for everyone”. In fact, Verteuil itself became something of a celebrity when the popular Racines et les Ailes French TV programme profi led the village. “It had been filmed in July last year and we came in September..” recalls Jean-Claude. “We had no idea, so we just couldn’t believe the thousands of people who had seen the programme and who came for the annual flower festival. Jan and I were having breakfast and people were taking pictures of us... they took pictures of everything! But they were very nice people, with a great interest in French history”.

Couvent-des-Cordeliers Poitou Charentes

Of course, the summer tourism season can’t last forever. “In the winter we’ll make it really welcoming, a nice place to come on a cold night, with a lovely log fire in the huge old fireplace and fine dining. We already have some very nice people coming to dine here... not just visitors, but local people, too. People who live nearby are important, as they allow usto keep open long after the summer visitors have gone. In time we’ll get to know everyone, but of course we’re still new here, and much of our time has been spent overseeing restoration work, making it look really good and opening our doors”.

Le Couvent opens seven days a week for chambres d’hôtes, but closes the evening restaurant on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. “We’ve started doing full English afternoon teas – you wouldn’t believe how popular they are...”, enthuses Jan. “We have a great day-chef, who does all the baking for traditional cakes... the kind of thing you wouldn’t get here normally, plus sandwiches, of course, all on big tiered plates. We thought it might appeal only to the English, but the French people just love it. It’s all rather elegant, and we get a lot of people coming back on the same day each week just to have afternoon tea, or simply to enjoy morning coffee and a croissant. Then they bring their friends with them – soon they come for lunch and eventually they’ll book for dinner”.

And, as Jean-Claude observes: “The French love to order Champagne, so we keep some really good ones. I think winter will be good for us, because people will no longer have to drive to Angoulême or Poitiers for quality dining-out”.

For now, however, the cloister-like setting of the terrace is the popular place to be, with a distinctly Mediterranean atmosphere, thanks to sensitive landscaping and the relaxing presence of the waters of an old mill-leat fed by the nearby Charente. At nightfall, when candlelight adds a magical touch, this really is a very special place to be. Add comfortable, secluded accommodation and the perfect hosts (and their attentive, hand-picked staff ), and you might never want to leave.

Couvent-des-Cordeliers-Poitou-Charentes

 

 

Find out more...

Le Couvent des Cordeliers

8 rue du Docteur Deux Després

16510 Verteuil-sur-Charente

05 45 31 01 19

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A little history...

Founded in 1471 to receive the mortal remains of the La Rochefoucauld family (whose descendants are still very much in residence at the château), the site, with its medieval Gothic chapel and church was sold to become a farm during the French Revolution but was restored in 1970 as a Monument Historique. Among the more important finds to date are two large 16th century wall paintings in the old Monks’ Refectory.

 

Published in Living Poitou-Charentes in 2012 © All Rights Reserved