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We invite you to enjoy our pure cotton sheets, kingsize Egyptian cotton towels, Neutrogena Rainbath soap and shower gel - oh, and don't forget we supply pool towels too. If there are flowers in the garden you'll find a vase of them in your room and the bottle of local wine waiting when you arrive is a present from us.
All the art on your walls is original - many by important young artists, some by Royal Academicians and some from the flea-market - it's up to you to decide which is which. You're welcome to borrow the books you'll find in your room. They range from John Grisham to Plato with a bit of J.K.Rowling thrown in for good measure. If you can't find one you like in your own bookshelves there are thousands more throughout the house.
We try to keep the house as neat as a pin and your room will be cleaned when necessary. If you are staying with us longer than a week we might just be persuaded to throw your clothes in the washing machine too. Tea, coffee and chilled water is available free of charge any time from post-breakfast until bed-time. Cleaning and breakfast are, of course, also included in the nightly charge.
There is high speed wireless internet throughout this old house and Lizzie is on hand to sort out any problems you have with your computer. She had an IT company when she lived in the UK, so you are in safe hands. There is a computer available for you to use too if you don't want to bring your own - along with a printer for printing out those dastardly boarding passes.
We also have some ancient french bikes available for you to borrow, but don't plan a long journey as they a pretty heavy. They're great for posing in a vineyard with a baguette and some wine - for those all-important holiday snaps.
These restaurant reviews, based on our and our friends and guests' visits, are unapologetically subjective. It may come as a shock, but the best restaurants here get very booked up in the summer. Please, please let us know if you'd like a booking made, as far in advance as you can, especially if it's for a special celebration.
Our star system (1-5) is based on food, ambience etc.. It too is horribly subjective. Approximate price includes wine unless you really want to lash out. The restaurants are listed in order of geographical closeness to us.
Note: Almost all French restaurants offer one or more "menu" at a set price. These are astonishingly good value. The "a la carte" menu normally offers the same dishes priced separately. Ordering from this menu means you will get a bigger portion.
Le Grand Café * *- av de Cassan 0467 24 61 34. Sit outside under jolly umbrellas right in the heart of the village - just 300m from Le Couvent. The lovely team serve a menu of the day for 18€ including wine at lunchtimes. Basic, well-cooked and good value. Then omelettes, steaks, salads in the evenings - although not on Sundays or Mondays, other than in July & August. Live bands play too on Wednesday nights - when it is essential to book.
Lou Baralet * * - av de Pézenas 0467 25 16 59. Pretty entrance to this restaurant. Straightforward mediterranean cooking - neither wildly exciting nor awful.
Both these restaurants are within walking distance of Le Couvent.
Le Presbytere * * * * - 0467 24 76 49. Le Presbytere in Vailhan - an eight minute scenic drive from Le Couvent. The food has a light and delicious touch, and thankfully they are open on Sunday and Monday nights - when nothing else is. The view from the presbytery over the lake is stunning and there is a lovely terrace where one can have supper on a balmy night. At the moment we have no trouble booking a table, but it won't be so easy when word gets around.
Les Goutailles * * * * - 6 rue St Alban 0467 24 07 86 - in the next door village, 3 minutes by car, a converted grain-store run by the lovely Karen who speaks perfect English and Didier who cooks. The salade de campagne has driven people to poetry and it's a basic, small, kind, intimate place which guests always want to go back to. Our local, we go often and can't recommend it enough - we've never managed to pay more than €25 a head. It gets very busy in the summer when you can also eat outside in the courtyard across the alley. Restaurant Les Goutailles website
L'Entre Pots * * * * * - 8 avenue Louis Montagne 0467 90 00 00 - excellent, stylish restaurant with small terrace and long, modern interior. The menu is superb, elegant and delicious. The staff speak English and are cute, enchanting and sweetly proud of their food. The real treat is that one can choose half-portions of certain dishes, so finding your way from starter (which are fabulous) to pudding (the chocolate souffle will make you weep) needn't bust your buttons. A great favourite of the smart French residents. About €50 per person, so perfect for a celebration or a treat in which case it's essential to book in advance.
Les Marronniers * * * - 6 avenue de Verdun 0467 90 13 80 - tapas restaurant with big creeper-covered terrace in front and small, cosy tables inside. Unusually for France a big choice of starters (many vegetarian) to pick and mix from, and big plates (if you want them) to follow. Intimate, sweet, a local favourite and good value - about €30 per head.
Le Poisson Verre * * - 3-5 rue de la Foire 0467 90 29 26 - a tardis of a restaurant off a tiny street in the cobbled part of Pezenas. Sit in the tiny terrace outside as the big restaurant behind can feel a bit gloomy. Fresh bright food served by friendly waiters - charming, cheap and open on a Monday night - something of a rarity in France. About €20
La Terrasse * * * - 2 Place Gambetto 0467 98 25 11 - in the main cobbled square. Informal and ruled by a very sociable waiter - do not mention it's your birthday if you're shy because he'll set up an impromptu choir in an instant. Jolly, friendly and perfect if you have a big appetite or like watching people who really love their food. Good place to practise your French as you queue for the only loo. Get there early for lunch. About €23
Les Palmiers * * * * - rue Mercière 0467 09 42 56 - courtyard complete with huge palms, zinc tables, very pretty plates of food and perfectly-behaved, small French dogs sitting under the tables. The restaurant retains the feel of its earlier bohemian incarnation but the chairs don't fall apart now. In the summer huge sails arch over the space to protect you from sun or rain. A favourite haunt of many friends who love the couscous and the "few but there" vegetarian dishes (being vegetarian in France can be a lonely business.) Kinda cool and a bit funky. About €25
Le Pre' St Jean • • • 18 av du Marchal leClerc - Classic, slightly stuffy French restaurant popular with local French people. Friendly but serious restaurant - all napkins and hushed tones. Some people love it. About €40
O Bontemps * * * * * - Olivier Bontemps (now there's a name for a chef) is after his Michelin star we reckon and, my oh my, is he a rising star. If you're brave, do what we do and choose the "Ballade" menu and let him choose for you. The wines as well if you like. Three courses become seven or eight as exquisite "amuse-bouche" (mouth-tempters) arrive - 3 mussels in the lightest imaginable curried sauce, a tiny glass layered with beetroot mousse and basil. His butcher is, patently, the best on the planet and his perfectly-cooked meat is served with talk-stopping showmanship. No problem really as conversation in this small restaurant is limited to, "Oooh, aah, Oh God that's good" and "How does he do that?' The decor is chillily awful but the food takes you to another planet. As I write this in winter, the first Saturday dinner booking available is in 6 weeks time. If you want to book this restaurant you MUST tell us way in advance. Still ridiculously cheap €50 - €60 per head, but will go through the roof when this star gets his star.
Octopus • • • • - 21 rue Boildieu 0467 49 90 00 - Octopus is the old stamping ground of the talented Olivier Bontemps and the two restaurants share much in common. Certainly Octopus is much prettier and the food is imaginative, creative and beautifully presented. A chic, well-dressed clientele it seems to lack a little of the heart of O Bontemps. A lovely covered terrace and a stonkingly good small lunchtime menu. About €25 - 55
Les Antiquaires * * * * - 4 rue Bagatelle 0467 49 33 10 traditional food with a modrn twist where shaded light picks out signed photographs of cine greats on the walls and pretty antiques. €35
Tomate Bley * * * - 23 rue des Anciens Combattants Lovely wine bar / restaurant specialising in excellent local wines. Basic but good French dishes and taps in a nice, friendly atmosphere. €20
Le Tournesol * * *- 2 rue Roger Salengro 0467 96 99 22 - fantastic place for lunch after a trip to the market. Unprepossesing from the outside, it's all cool terraces and welcoming linen-covered tables after you've climbed the stairs. Special food, fantastic fish, incredibly good value, friendly, smart but not at all daunting. Everyone who's been loves it, also great for a special celebration. About €25
Le Jardin de la Mer * * * * 0467 78 33 23 - built right on the lagoon looking out over an extroardinary landscape of oyster-bed rafts, book a table, ideally on the terrace, especially for Sunday lunch, any other lunch or dinner. Great seafood served in tiers and fish barbecued over vine souches. The fish is as fresh as you like and the oysters are packed in the factory behind the restaurant. Very French, lip-smacking clientele. Just lovely. About €35 - 40.
If you park a little further down the road in the sweet port of Bouzigues itself, you'll find lots of smaller restaurants along the main drag. A bit cheaper with less of a view but still charming and amazingly good value. Stroll around the port afterwards and visit the museum devoted entirely to the oyster.
Le Chateau du Port * * * * - 0467 77 31 67 - beside the Noilly Prat factory on the yacht-loaded port, this is a fab place for a special dinner or Sunday lunch. Great ultra-fresh seafood, busy, elegant, full of good talk and happy faces. A biggish menu built on experience, good wines. Stimulating and a place you can dress up a bit if you want. On the less sunny side of the canal. Around €50. (Addendum - On a recent visit with eight friends the fish was wildly overcooked and inedible - our complaints met with blank stares with neither reduction nor apology. We may have struck unlucky - others have raved about it since.)
On the other side of the canal is a line of 4 or 5 restaurants. Not quite the same standard but good nonetheless and less expensive - fish soup, moules, prawns are as good as you'd expect by the sea. All have tables outside under awnings and the atmosphere is perfect South of France lazy lunch on a hot summer's day. All around €25. If you're there during grape-picking, you can watch thin tractors pulling fat trailers piled high with grapes to the local co-operative.
Le Lodge * * * - Plage Richelieu, Cap d'Agde 0467 26 18 34 - on a piece of private beach divided off from the public bit with hireable sun-beds and gorgeous views. Cool, clubby, laidback restaurant/bar for cocktails, food as good as you'll find in any London restaurant and music. Funky, exclusive but not swanky, expensive but not hugely - absolutely adored by all who've been.
In Grau d'Agde there is a line of perhaps 8 restaurants all with umbrella-ed terraces along the canal leading to the Mediterranean. We've tried many of these and they are unbeatable for moules-frites, huge prawns with garlic, paella, fish soup etc. washed down with cold rosé. Don't leave it too late on a Sunday lunchtime or you'll have a stomach-rumbling wait. On spring days, if you're really lucky, you can sit eating oysters while getting a sun-tan and seeing the Pyrenees on the far horizon still covered in snow. Heaven. A 3-minute stroll to the sea, a snooze on the beach or a swim and some shell-hunting followed by an ice-cream on the way back to the car is pretty well impossible to beat.
Le Restaurant du Port * * * - 0467 43 81 16 Big and bustling and chatty with huge awnings, the food is basically Mediterranean seaside - moule frites, cake-stands of shellfish etc.. Nothing enormously special but everyone who goes there always has a jolly nice time. Lots of "menus." Sociable. About €25
Meze has an old-fashioned 50's feel about it. There are loads of restaurants around the port and a lovely small municipal beach around the corner. It's the kind of beach where you still see children with nets on sticks spuddling around in rock-pools.
Le Mimosa * * * * * Grand Rue 0467 96 67 96 - one of the very few restaurants regularly called 'perfect' Le Mimosa is run by an English-New Zealand couple David and Bridget Pugh. Subtle, sophisticated and elegant there is a menu of the day based on ingredients from local suppliers that Bridget's diners will go misty-eyed about years later. Superb desserts, cheeses and wine. There is an Osteria in the village one can book into if you don't want to stint on David's superb wine list. €54 - 90 This is a MUST BOOK restaurant.
SixBix - 6 rue Embouque d'Or 0467 66 35 13 - funky style, djs playing ambient (but not loud) music, v. friendly service. Truly excellent modern French food in gigantic portions perfect for a special night out. We pushed the boat out and the bill was €80 - we would have paid 3 times as much in London.
Place Jean Jaures - a better alternative for drinks/meals than the larger Place de la Comedie. Had a good fixed price menu at Tire de Bouchon - particularly notable for their willingness to allow an enormous, snoozing Great Dane to fill almost half the floorspace during a busy lunchtime.
To be honest we don't know too many Montpellier restaurants. However the terrific Creme du Languedoc website does, so we suggest a look there.
When you come to the Languedoc you are in the biggest vineyard on Earth. People here are passionate about our wine and are very keen for you to try it.
We have local, English-speaking, wine expert Dominic George from Languedoc Wine Tours who offers some very good day tours and tastings. Do have a look at his website if you are interested in taking a full day trip - his excellent tours fill fast.
Alternatively we can take you to our local favourites such as Domaine Bourdic, Domaine de l'Arjolle, Domaine des Trinités and Domaine La Croix Belle. We'll drive so you can taste! If you come on holiday by car you can make fantastic savings by buying wine at cellar prices. You will be amazed at the quality, range and excellent prices.
Oh, and we'll encourage you to join us for aperitifs in the early evening, so there'll be plenty of tasting opportunities.
Great walks & bike rides from Le Couvent
We keep a pile of hand-drawn maps handy for guests who'd like to take a stroll or a bike ride from Le Couvent. There are five bikes to choose from and fabulous countryside to explore. Come in May or June and you'll be blown away by the colossal range of flowers in this huge wild mediterranean garden called the Languedoc.
5000 Vines is the hillside hideaway of Lizzie & Ali. It comprises 10 acres of vines, olives, forest, pathways, vegetable garden and a little mazet (a one-roomed shelter) with beautiful views. Guests at Le Couvent are welcome to take a walk to the vineyards with a picnic and a book - we'll give you a map. Why not take a look at the 5000 Vines website?
If you are here in September you may have the chance to take part in the grape harvest - Le Vendange. It's a time of great humour and back ache.
Le Couvent & the planet
I was listening to a programme about global-warming the other day. Two things struck me in particular. One was the statement from the most up-beat of the five experts, “I am optimistic, but I’m not hopeful.” The other was a fact that, naively, I didn’t know. I thought the main culprits by far were: fossil-fuel consumption, pollution from factories worldwide and the burning of rain-forests. But I was wrong. The one thing all the experts agree on is that the single biggest contributory factor to global-warming is us, each individual one of us, through our collective homes.
When we started converting this old convent we wanted to use as much ‘good’ technology as we could.
In some ways we succeeded.
In the summer we decided on various actions which you may or may not approve of.
We don’t, and will not, have air-conditioning.
We will change your towels every three days and your sheets every five. This is partly because we’re just a b ‘n b and not a 5-star hotel, but mostly because it’s hugely power and water-wasteful to wash them every day. And just how dirty are you going you get?
There is always cold tap water in re-fillable bottles in the kitchen fridge. Help yourselves.
We believe in food metres as opposed to food miles and use as much local or home-grown produce as we can.
In many ways we failed.
Please click to watch the Miniature Earth video