Heart and Soul
By Lead Travel Writer, Renee Fontaine
“True beauty is found in the heart and soul”
— author unknown
France — this sound is music to my ears. Paris offers glamour and metropolitan appeal. The Cote d’Azur invites highlife beach atmosphere. The French Alps provides a sophisticated winter experience. Yet, the “heart and soul” of France is located in a luxury villa called Villa La Tosca, in a small village on the Bay of Arcachon. Located in southwestern France, 30 minutes from the Bordeaux airport, this villa, my hosts, the scenery, and nearby towns captured my heart.
Discovering the purest and most concentrated essence of something is where true beauty is found. As a frequent traveler, I find some destinations to be overrun with tourists and holding no depth — Disneyland style facades. Any place or person can put on an attractive veneer, but it is what lies beneath that captures the quintessence of it. This unquantifiable spirit is rare and precious, yet shining bright at Villa La Tosca.
“If eyes are the windows to our souls, then windows are the eyes into the soul of a house.”
— Rose Tarlow
Villa La Tosca warmly welcomed my arrival on a crisp, cool autumn morning. Nestled down a small passage way, the gate beckoned my entrance. Trees with yellow and orange leaves mingled with the green pines creating an impressive frame to the Villa. Situated at the center of this spacious seaside lot is Villa La Tosca. The stunning beauty of the home with meticulously maintained stone exterior, arched terraces and, terra cotta accents is undeniable. The Arcachonnaise Architecture, a Victorian style popular in the early 1900s, is united with an Italian flare that creates an impressive appearance. Yet, beneath this exquisite grandeur I saw something more — a kind old soul that has stood gracefully on this seashore lot for more than a century.
Property host, Aurelien, welcomed me as I disembarked the taxi. Finely dressed in a wool coat and scarf, his genuine warmth and goodwill was easy to see in his smile and striking blue eyes. After helping me with my luggage, we sat down for tea. I learned that Aurelien, a native to the Bay of Arcachon, shared a common past with the Midwestern, United States. He had studied in Michigan, not that far from Minnesota where I grew up. After sharing stories of frigid Midwest winters and culture, Aurelien led me on a tour of the villa.
He explained that the mansion was built by the Prosecutor of the Republic of Bordeaux in 1903. For more than a century, the home has traded ownership only four times. The current owners, Karin and Marc, renovated the home to a five-star level, opening their doors to guests desiring the ultimate vacation rental experience. The Zen style combination of colors, quality of furnishings, art pieces and décor emanates tranquility. Some of the fine details include a state-ofthe- art kitchen with quality Neff stainless steel appliances; several wood burning fireplaces — some from the original construction; a spacious dining room with private dining terrace; an airy main floor living room; an antique wooden bar tucked next to the original grand wooded staircase; a cozy library; and a media room.
I stopped to marvel at the two Asian- style wood carvings hung above the fireplace in the main living room. Aurelien explained that they once belonged to part of an old Chinese door, more than600 years old. One of the carvings represents work and money. The other represents family and love. Together they exemplify the key elements required to sustain balance and harmony in life.
Eight unique and exquisitely decorated luxury bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms are found throughout the five levels of the Villa, each a distinctive treasure. Some of the highlights include: a cozy third floor suite with skylight above the bed from which to stargaze at night; a second floor suite with a private balcony overlooking the sea and large Jacuzzi tub; the tower suite with windows on four walls and breathtaking views of the sea and town; and the main floor suite which is handicapped accessible.
Stepping outside, the beautiful aura of the Villa extends to the landscaped grounds. An ecological pool, creeks, fountains, organic, garden and fruit trees blend in harmony with the natural landscape. The statue and carvings of an Asian goddess, which symbolizes protection of the home, are found throughout the décor in the home, and in the gardens. At the back terrace entrance are two Shisas statues — a cross between a dog and a lion. In Asian culture, they are believed to protect the home. The one with an open mouth wards off evil spirits and the one with the closed mouth keeps good spirits in. Whether it is the statues or the tenderness that Karin and Marc put into the renovation and décor, the villa enumerates the essence of a beautiful soul.
“True heroes are those that go that extra mile for someone. That put their heart and soul in helping
As we finished the tour, Aurelien kindly offered to drive me through the nearby towns so I could become familiar with the area. As we drove, he explained that there are ten seaside towns that line the bay. Taussat, being at the bay’s center, is known as the Coeur du Bassind’Arcachon — the Heart of Arcachon Bay. I immediately felt a kinship to this quiet, small town with a hometown flare. Local businesses line the main street with a church at the center of town and a port on the north side.
We continued to Andernos-Les-Bains, just four kilometers to the north, which is larger supporting many restaurants and shops. As we drove past the area beaches, tennis clubs, and golf courses, Aurelien explained that the leisure activities in the area are abundant. These include sailing,archery, biking, golf, tennis, karting, horse-riding, kite boarding, rowing, kayaking, fishing, and nature walks. He added that private cultural, historic, and vineyard visits can be arranged along with tickets and dinner reservations.
After stopping for lunch at L’Etoile, a quaint restaurant in Andernos-Les-Bains, we returned to the Villa. Aurelien explained that any service desired could be arranged including a private chef, personal trainer, massage, language classes, business services, hairdresser, grocery shopping, and breakfast served in your suite — offering services that far exceed those of any five-star hotel!
I settled into one of the second floor master suites, took a long bath in the oversized Jacuzzi tub and spent the afternoon enjoying the ambience of the Villa. As evening drew near, I relaxed on the back terrace in the cool evening air and watched the sun set in shades of bright pink and orange over the bay. Flocks of chirping birds flew above the water adding music to the wonderful scenery.
Over the next ten days, I became acquainted with the other staff members of the Villa. Raphalle and Aicha prepared my breakfast each morning and left fresh fruit and candies in my room; Isabelle, who helps manage the home, is always smiling and cheerful. The sentiments and fervor of the staff are genuine and heartfelt. These rare and admirable traits made me feel like a treasured family member rather than a guest.
“Laughter is the sound of the soul dancing. My soul probably looks like Fred Astaire.”
— Jarod Kintz, This Book is Not for Sale
I love discovering a new place on foot or bike and mingling with the locals. Feeling the earth beneath my feet, the breeze on my face, and the sound of foreign languages and laughter in my ears nourishes my soul. So, each morning, after enjoying a tasteful and beautifully displayed French style breakfast of fresh fruits, pastries, breads, yogurt and tea, I set out for my daily adventures.
Some days when the tide was low, I strolled along the beach toward the Taussat Pier. The tides in the bay vary significantly throughout the day, receding by 110 km at low tide. This unique ecological system creates marshes that attract an abundance of wildlife. Walking along the beach and marshes, I felt the stillness of the sea air and the melody of chirping birds radiate a feeling of tranquility with the earth.
Other days, I biked to nearby villages. Beautiful foliage of oak, maple, and birch trees framed the path ahead. The crisp autumn air mingled with sea air capturing the soul of the landscape.
I often returned to L’Etoile for lunch. Annich and Bayliss, proprietors for 23 years, clearly enjoy their business offering traditional French cuisine in a family style atmosphere. Other days, I biked to the main pier in Adernos-Les-Bains, browsed through the small shops and stopped for lunch at one of the quaint restaurants such as a La Petite Assiette. Boulevard 136, on the main road, soon became my favorite dining spot. The staff soon remembered me — perhaps it was my arrival at all the wrong times, either before or after lunch or dinner hours, or my rusty French that stumbled out of my mouth in the form of a mélange of French, Spanish and English. Nevertheless, I soon became welcomed like a local with a kiss on both cheeks and warm smile.
Friday morning, I biked to Andernos-Les-Bains for the weekly market. The town was bustling with bikers and pedestrians on the path, all heading for the same destination. Men in floppy berets, women with baskets on bicycles, and families pushing baby carriages, passed by greeting me with “bonjour” and a smile. At the market, stands of fresh fruits, vegetables, and spices, blended together filling the air with a fragrant aroma. The colorful fare set amongst the park atmosphere and autumn foliage, reminded me of impressionist style paintings. Little by little, I filled my basket with specialty items from each stand, such as fresh lettuce, pumpkin, potatoes, avocados, and salmon. Stopping at the spice stand, the merchant suggested a mixture of sesame seeds, spices and herbs for the salmon. Back at the villa that evening, I prepared the salmon on the Neff stove top grill and savored the autumn influenced dinner with a fresh salad, pumpkin puree, and steamed potatoes.
Sunday marked a big celebration in town. It is called Cabanes en Fête. This yearly oyster and wine festival is held on the main fishing pier in Andernos-Les-Bains. I learned that 80% of the oysters produced and consumed in France come from the Basin d’Arcachon. Furthermore, 80% of the world’s most exclusive wines are produced in the Bordeaux region such as Mouton Rothschild, Latour, and Cheval Blanc. Oysters and wine — what an amazing combination! No wonder France is known as the country of romance! As I meandered along the piers from hut to hut, the aroma of herb coated oysters and vinchaud (spiced hot wine) pleased my senses. Music played as jovial people sang and danced. Laughter filled the air uniting the soul of the community.
“Let your soul expand, let your heart reach out to others in loving and generous warmth, the great and lasting will be your joy, and all prosperity will come to you.”
— James Allen
The evening before my departure, I watched the brilliant pink sunset over the bay for one last time. The peaceful, kind soul of the bay reverberated through the air. I felt an appreciation for having discovered the true essence of France — Villa La Tosca which is the personification of tranquility. The sentiments of my hosts and the local people made me feel like a member of the community; and the landscape provided nourishment to my soul. Having found the heart and soul of France, I vowed to return soon. À Bientôt!
This property was chosen for the Retreat & Event Vacation Rentals category because of the superior quality, design, location and décor of the mansion. This property is also well suited for the categories of Outstandingly Located, Ultra Luxurious, Unusually Unique, Family Focused, Beach Area and Super Romantic Vacation Rentals.
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