Wednesday, September 06, 2006

La Villa Duflot - One for the Road

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Last summer (how sad that sounds), while waiting to meet my brother for lunch off 5th Avenue in Manhattan, I spent an unproductive 30 minutes in Borders searching travel guides for a pleasant place to stay off Interstate 95 on my return trip to North Carolina. The whole damn highway seems to have been colonised by Mariott Courtyards and the like. What I was looking for but couldn’t find was a hotel that wasn’t a chain, which was connected to its location and was run by owners. In the end, I spent a dreary night in a Hampton Inn in Spotsylvania.

By way of contrast, later in the summer, I spent a charming evening at La Villa Duflot, an individually owned and operated four-star hotel in Perpignan, France that was also just off a major highway (the A9 which links Montpellier to Spain) and next to one of the ugliest commercial zones you will ever encounter. Formerly an architect’s villa, the hotel consists of 25 rooms built around a beautiful park-like garden with sufficient foliage to hide the fact that the next door neighbour is the Auchan hypermarket.

Set in a secret garden, the retro building and eccentric artwork immediately communicate that this is a hotel run by and for “individuals” and that’s what I like about it. The rooms are of generous size, well equipped and decorated in a slightly weird but appealing art deco style. The nicest rooms are located off of the garden which has striking and unusual statues and a large and pretty pool where you can lounge around in white robes like film stars and order drinks. In summer, the glass dining room doors open completely and tables spill out into the garden beside and around the pool which provides a really romantic dining experience “en plein air”. The food is sophisticated and delicious and the restaurant is consistently filled with tables of celebrating locals.

As for cost, La Villa Duflot provides good value for money in the luxury category. We went for the Mini Suite (on the garden) with half-board which for €256 for two, considering how good the food was, seemed more than fair. In years past, we have stayed at the Domaine d’Auriac, a Relais and Chateau property down the road near Carcassone that cost double what we spent at Villa Duflot, granted it was next to a golf course rather than a supermarket.

And on a note related to its commercial location, I would be withholding information if I did not tell the little story about cavorting rats. Yes, that’s right, rats. The story goes like this. I was sitting beside the pool admiring the garden and enjoying a brilliant breakfast, when my attention was drawn to a number of small objects scurrying about on the far side of the garden. It took the longest time to believe my eyes. Mon Dieu – these are no little woodland creatures – these are rodents from next door! Anyway, it seems the rats know their place and restrict themselves to providing breakfast time entertainment on the far side of the park.

In any event, the cavorting rats did not put me off Villa Duflot. On so many criteria, this hotel delivers. It is an oasis where you least expect to find one. It is idiosyncratic and at the same time has a retro glamour that is big fun. It is comfortable, has an excellent kitchen, attentive staff and fair prices. Compared to the offerings of Interstate 95, it is paradise. What it does need, however, is a cat.

La Villa Duflot
Rond-point Albert Donnezan
66000 Perpignan
Tel: 04 68 56 67 67
Fax: 04 68 56 54 05

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