An era of famous Périgordine hospitality came to an unwelcome end in January 2019 with the death at 93 of Bernard Giraudel, the hotelier known as the “marchand de bonheur”, the merchant of happiness. Giraudel had presided over the renowned Le Vieux Logis in Trémolat for 40 years, carrying on the traditions first established by his parents back in the 1950s. After the hardships of the war, his parents’ idea was to open up the doors of their charming family home in the heart of a historic village, to share with visitors the allure of good home-cooking and the pleasures of the Dordogne countryside.
Giraudel took over from his parents and oversaw every detail of the country hotel, welcoming returning guests like family, ensuring everything ran like clockwork, building up the restaurant to earn its Michelin star, creating a corner of paradise amid the old stone buildings and the rippling stream that runs through the beautiful gardens.
What does the future hold for a venerable institution when its father figure passes away? Well, it turns out that Monsieur Giraudel had given quite a lot of thought to this matter himself. In France the ownership of an estate would normally pass to the children, but le patron, determined to ensure the successful continuity of the business, handed the whole operation over to the four faithful employees he determined would ensure future success and uphold his traditions and values.
On a recent visit I chatted to Estelle Lepers, Directrice and super-friendly front of house at Le Vieux Logis. As one of the four key staff identified by Giraudel (the others are chef Vincent Arnould, maître d’hôtel, Yves Clement, and Muriel Massaloux, Administration) she told me how shocked they all were with the news that their legendary boss and father figure had died at the wheel of his car one morning in January 2019. Even at 93 years of age the hotel remained his pride and joy and the major part of his very active everyday life. Now the four employees (with over 80 years combined service at Le Vieux Logis between them) were still coming to terms with events and the dawning recognition of the responsibilities they had inherited.
Only time will tell if they can live up to the challenge, but Estelle speaks with determination of their vision for the future: to retain the family values and the special atmosphere of the Logis, yet at the same time to avoid resting on its laurels. Already they are thinking towards the future, looking outwards for inspiration, sharing ideas with other members of the Relais & Châteaux network (Le Vieux Logis was the 8th member of Relais & Châteaux, joining way back in the 1950s), looking to make their personal mark on the place, to refresh some of the décor and facilities whilst retaining its appealing old-style country ambiance.
Over the decades Le Vieux Logis has become a favourite destination for visitors from all over the world. Open all year round, seven days a week, it offers an idyllic escape for city-dwellers in search of relaxed weekends, cosy lounges, log fires and superb dining. Spring and summer offer a chance to enjoy the architect-designed gardens, the pretty village, the swimming pool or to dine on the terrace under the canopy of lime trees, listening to the bird song, the stream and the abbey bells. In January and February there are the popular truffle hunting weekends, the fun of the market and every permutation of truffle on the special menu.
The French are rightly proud of family values, of heritage and what they call “patrimoine”. It’s not unusual to encounter businesses that are handed down the family generations, but it is quite a different story for an entrepreneur to bequeath his precious business to employees. Yet, with so much experience between them I’m confident the new owners will continue the success and I look forward to returning in future years to see how the next chapter unfolds.
Le Vieux Logis, centre-ville, 24510 Trémolat. Tel: +33 (0)5 53 22 80 06. A member of Relais & Châteaux. Rooms from around 175 euros