South of France Restored Guest House

The vast quiet speaks volumes as a couple from the South of France affectionately restored a guest house in remote Aubrac.

It’s a long journey from Marseille by car – four hours, easy – to reach the tiny countryside village of Aubrac. But like every sun-dipped, snow-tipped destination, it is the long road, the distance traveled, that is part of the lure. Every mile takes you farther from daily life and closer to a tranquil path, this one lined with tall silver firs. Places like L’Annexe, brought up to date yet still steeped in history, nature and peace, hold onto your heart and beckon you back again and again.

This story started in 1882, when ancient granite stones were stacked to build a guesthouse for travelers. Over a century later, Didier D. Daarwin, a photographer, took Virginie Salazard, a model, to Aubrac to take pictures of the beautiful wolves in the area. They stopped at the village’s only guest house.

For five years, the couple returned regularly, for romantic weekends or with their children on school holidays. The five-bedroom dwelling captivated them. When they heard it was for sale, the stars were in their courses.

They opened the inn in 2013 and make their home there.

Off the beaten path, the property attracts skiers in the winter and nature lovers all year. The interior design is rustic and chic at once.

“The landscapes, the road to Santiago de Compostela, the need for nature – all of these bring a lot of people here,” smiles Salazard, who greets visitors with open arms. She and her partner know that travelers have had a long trip by foot or car and that time by the fire will be soothing.

The original “L’Annexe d’Aubrac” sign is still here; in its past life, this was the annex of the grand Hotel d’Aubrac across the way. The hotel staff stayed in these rooms.

SKY LIGHTS. The winter days are short, but the light play – when black night descends on white snow – is breathtaking.

SHOPPING. Not only does Salazard have a shop onsite offering vintage finds, but the region is famous for Laguiole en Aubrac knives, an iconic brand that dates to 1829.

WILDLIFE. Another sure sign of a rich journey is one where you see animals roam – look for foxes, wild boars and deer under that open sky.

While packing up their Marseille apartments and negotiating the Aubrac purchase over two years, the couple gathered flea-market furnishings, including crockery (since they would be serving meals, too).

“I like to say it’s atypical and warm here, like a hunting house filled with furs and trophies. But everyone interprets it in his own way,” comments Salazard.

The guest house has three large living rooms with huge fireplaces for a castle feel. Step in from viewing the village in its winter dress to recharge in one of five chambres, or “bedrooms,” named Edelweiss, Transylvania, Romanov, Aubrac and L’Annexe.

Edelweiss evokes the snowy landscapes. For the headboard, Salazard installed a dresser she painted immaculate white. Goat skins add softness to this room nestled under the roof.

For the Aubrac room, clean and captivating, Salazard turned two pedestals from a church into bedside tables and added wooden fences on the wall.

The young woman remembers signing papers for the property. “The house was frosted inside. It reminded me of a scene from ‘Doctor Zhivago,’” she notes.

She is not just a designer but also an excellent cook, preparing regional comforts, traditional with a twist – perhaps a quiche custard filling baked in a free-form crust. Guests can dine in the restaurant, garden, lounges or barn.

A blue wood door without glass, reclaimed wood in the bathroom, porcelain handles and a retro faucet – original details abound.

Esprit, or spirit, permeates the space.

Stylist: Marie Maud Levron
Photography: Yann Deret

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