David Collin tells us about his stay at L'Etoile Guesthouse in Lozere; a trip with atmosphere and a particularly good feeling. Far from the traditional hotel trade, L'Etoile is a true experience in itself. Let us embark and travel on board this ship...
L'Etoile A steamship in the large green
The steamship ! That’s what I would call the delicious holiday house which was in times gone by the Hotel Ranc or the Hotel du Parc, a boat alongside the quay: gangways, bridge, crew cabins, machine rooms and ship’s kitchens. A white house saved from the water by a generous gold digger: Philippe Papadimitriou. He is the Captain of the Gite (Guest-House), the master of the keys and the hatchway, a giant Greco- Belgian who pilots, builds, cooks and holds on to visitors that he’d like to keep a few more days in the Lozere.
The Etoile Guesthouse navigates peacefully two cables’ lengths away from the
big green, from these oceans of nature which the Belgian or Flemish pilgrims who share our table this evening are crossing. You do not meet here without sharing your dreams.
It is always to the Captain’s table that we are invited. A prolonged invitation as it is where friendships are formed: this is what links us to the place and to those that we find there.
I came with Eric Poindron on the trail of his journey in the Lozere, on the trail of Robert Louis Stevenson and of his admirable detours; friendly detours where you take the time to get to know one another and where encounters are savoured and cultivated. The friendship that Eric offers us and which Philippe relays is also a sharing of images of faraway paths which we cross before the rustling hearth of the steamship, a big room where the laughter and songs of the Captain go on forever between two juicy pears.
I discover Sergio and his adventures at the ends of the earth, Sergio the big-hearted Shaman, a doctor of seduction who is also navigating the Cevennes in his truck.
Before giving life to the piano, Philippe starts playing the guitar, like in the books, like in Eric’s Belles Etoiles, where everything which would one day be written comes to life in front of my eyes. There is in this gite a bit of magic which nourishes.
Then leaving the table and digesting a gargantuan meal (we would come back just for the gratin dauphinois worthy of the best "tables d'hotes"): after the
meal, we go into the night and enter the silent forest of the monks of Notre Dame des Neiges (Our ladie of Snow) on the Ardeche side. (Stating that the pear arrived before the walk, I realise on
writing it down my inversion of things but the order of memories is hardly important; whatever the setting, memory meanders into other forests just as enigmatic and remains finally just a succession
of encounters and miraculous moments).
A stop in the forest, four men and a dog – Billy – listen to the silence two steps away from L’Etoile Guest-House, a few metres from a monastic cenacle which distils in the cellars the excellent aperitif ‘Quineige tonic wine’ of the hard working monks. We listen to the night evoking the beast of Gevaudan which came from Lozere, making out imaginary shadows of the ghosts of the place in the depths of the forest.
But it is not at the Gite that the ghosts stop us sleeping, neither those of the monster nor those of the rich families from the turn of the century, women
and children, sent here to leave the chief of the tribe who has stayed on the Cote d’Azur in peace, sent here to do nothing, apart from walk, listen to the murmur of the Allier river (the border between the Ardeche and the Lozere) to sleep in the garden at siesta time and watch the trains passing.
We could hardly have slept better. We too are tempted to prolong the two modest days which seem to have begun a long time ago. Thanks to the encounters and the friendly sense of well-being. We have to go Philippe but you know well Philippe, that we are sentenced to come back. A fine prophecy ‘you always go back to the Etoile’ and a gentle sentence to come, to come back.
Regarding Eric Poindron’s ‘Belles Etoiles’:
To lose one’s way or to have the time to lose one’s time, such is the intention of the real traveller, taught perhaps despite himself by a young Robert Louis Stevenson who was crossing behind his donkey, Modestine, the foggy Lozere of a grey autumn.
One fine day, Eric, the pedlar, - pilgrim-editor-chronicler, writer - decides finally to follow the steps of Stevenson. At least more or less, because in nuance and distance, real encounters are found. The ingratitude of the never-ending ascents and the October rains will soon be compensated for by a wonderful series of encounters which Eric Poindron sublimates, fosters and revives as soon as he has the opportunity to come back to the places of this long pilgrimage across the Haute-Loire, the Ardeche, the Lozere and the Gard.
Whatever the circumstances, nothing holds back the friendly spirit of this amicable giant who with the rugby-player’s face of the robust walker, likes to link up, pass by, introduce and create around himself a world of friends who bring together travel, the adventure of the lost or found trail, secret but not too secret, and the sharing of good moments around a well stocked table ( you can find a list of gites and chambres d’hotes for the route on www.gr70-stevenson.com).
Eric Poindron on the Stevenson trail and myself or perhaps another masked man, on the trail of Eric Poindron, with him and the known unknown people or people ‘unknown in their village, their street or their building’ as Chris so prettily put it, who love life above everything. The time to take the time, that’s life, the immediate smile of a premise of a meeting, that’s life, the terrine of fricandeau with herbs, that’s life, the vin du pays and laughter too.
So as not too stay too far away from this bright dream, the best thing is to read Eric Poindron, his book which is savoured like a really ripe melon, like a
pear at L'Etoile Guesthouse, like a well-seasoned sausage from its nice namesake, like the amused look of a seductive shaman.
Go and see, jump from chapter to chapter, go back to lose yourself amongst the ghosts, to feel the imaginary walls of raised stone against the palms of your hands, to feel the moss and the wind, the departure towards the light of the beginning of a miraculous summer. Collection Gulliver, edited by Michel Le Bris, Flammarion. Buy the book.
Old romantic Hotel, L'Etoile Guest-House is a mountain retreat in the South of France. With a beautiful park along the Allier River, L'Etoile Guesthouse is located in La Bastide-Puylaurent between Lozere, Ardeche and Cevennes. Many hiking trails like GR7, GR70 Stevenson trail, GR72, GR700 Regordane way, Cevenol, Allier river, Margeride, Gevaudan. Many hiking loops around L'Etoile Guesthouse. The right place to relax.