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The Discreet Charm of La Benjamine

By - March 8, 2007 (Updated: November 28, 2014)


Andrew and I just returned from south-western France, where we spent a fantastic week in a “B&B du charme”. Our week in this fantastic setting helped me rediscover what is important to me in travel and in life – taking time to seek out a little charm.

In Canada, Andrew and I both spent some time working in business parks. You know the type – big box chain stores, fast food drive-thrus and grey, concrete office blocks as far as the eye can see. For the sake of convenience, not only did we work there, but we often shopped and ate there as well.

Moving to Belgium (not to mention, forced unemployment) has afforded me the time to rediscover the local, one of a kind businesses that I didn’t have time to frequent in Halifax. Despite my best efforts at shopping locally however, I’ve found it’s all too easy to slip into the box-store habits of home.

Although Andrew and I have been very fortunate in our ability to travel since moving to Belgium, our trip last week to Pau, France was our first holiday that didn’t involve Andrew’s work or travelling with guests.

When we travel for Andrew’s job, the main criterion in a place to stay is location. This usually results in a chain hotel somewhere near an airport. While these sorts of hotels are usually pleasant and clean, they often don’t offer much in the way of character.

When our parents came to visit (mine last spring and Andrew’s last fall), we did two different marathon drives around Europe. For these trips, location was an important factor but so was price.

Because Andrew travels for work frequently, he has acquired loyalty points through most of the major hotel chains. When booking our stays, I tried to maintain a balance between chain hotels, where we could stay free with Andrew’s accumulated points, and small hotels with character. One of the later, La Benjamine, was my lucky discovery last fall.

While travelling with Andrew’s parents, we wanted to stop in Pau to visit family friends. The reviews for La Benjamine could not be ignored – every one was filled with praise.

Although we only stayed at the B&B for two nights, it left an impression on us all – the setting below the Pyrenees, surrounded by vineyards was stunning; the food was incredible; the rooms were beautiful; and our hosts were so warm and kind. Andrew and I vowed to return.

So, for my birthday, Andrew surprised me with our week at La Benjamine. Our second stay was even better than our first. We were welcomed like old friends.

One evening we were discussing hotels and B&Bs with La Benjamine’s owners and Cedric commented that he and Dawn wanted La Benjamine to be something special, more than just a B&B; he wanted a “B&B du charme.”

That was when I realised what is often missing in our lives these days. Because we are so busy rushing about, for the sake of convenience, we often sacrifice the charm.

Later that week Cedric took us to a wine tasting at a local vineyard. It was a small scale winery where only two wines are produced – both of which are the sweet white Jurançon wines that are famous in the region. While drinking generous samples of the flavourful wine, the gregarious owner Jean commented on his winery vs. the large scale growers and how he was able to oversee all of the details of his production. Andrew smiled and said “Ah, a winery du charme.”

On our final day, Andrew and I attended the huge Saturday market in Pau. It was wall to wall with local producers of everything: meat, fish, cheese, vegetables, wine and of course, foie gras. As we left lugging bags of treats to take home, I wondered why I’m not taking advantage of the opportunity to shop like this more often. I often comment on the availability of local products but rarely make the effort to seek them out.

As we left Cedric and Dawn on Sunday morning, with our car laden down with wine, cheese and other local goodies, I made a vow to take more time to find the producers du charme in Belgium.

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Alison Cornford-Matheson
Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
Alison Cornford-Matheson
- 3 months ago
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