We are Derek Barton and Margaret McPhee. We have known the hamlet of Mercadiol and this part of south-west France for more than thirty years. At the moment we are based mostly in Sydney, but spend about three months a year in Mercadiol, in a nearby house.
In the mid-1980s we lived in London and most summers we stayed in Mercadiol, in an old house across the lane from La Vieille Grange. We have wonderful memories of this time, especially of the long summer evenings when, after eating, we would carry our chairs out into the lane running through the hamlet to join the neighbours, Andre and Henriette, and two French families who were also summer regulars, for an hour or two of chat while the stars came out. In late summer we sometimes helped prepare vegetables for preserving—baskets of beans were topped and tailed in the twilight, and yarns exchanged while children played.
By the 1990s, back in Australia, we knew we wanted a place of our own, and so spent part of each visit to Mercadiol with agents, touring the countryside for likely candidates. Then our friend and next door neighbour Henriette invited us to buy her barn, and we jumped at the opportunity. Sadly, Henriette died in late 2014 at the age of 93, but the village she lived in for most of her life has not changed much. You can meet her in the pages of Stephanie Alexander’s Cooking and Travelling in South West France (Stephanie stayed in La Vieille Grange for part of her time researching this book).
Using a local builder, we renovated the old stone barn and turned it into a comfortable house perfect for a relaxing holiday. We let the house mainly to Australians, and we try to offer as much help as we can with information on the area, suggestions on where to eat (we are happy to make bookings for guests in local restaurants), walks, local markets and so on. If we are not on hand in Mercadiol ourselves when guests are staying, we ring to make sure everything is in order.
We love this area and are keen to share anything we have gleaned over the past decades with those who stay in our house.