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Press review

  • Below 2 selected articles. Full review here.

  • FINANCIAL TIMES - A little bit of French flair in Donegal - Kieran Cooke - Saturday 15th January 2000



Paul Chatenoud wanted to win the Nobel Price for literature. Instead, he's running a B&B and loving it. Kieran Cook tells his story.

The Atlantic winds chase across the sea from the east coast of the US of rampaging rugby players. In mid Ocean they pause and regroup, before hurtling themselves at the coast of the West of Ireland, the first land mass for thousands of miles. The gale rocked the car from side as I negotiated the narrow drive in a remote coastal region of County Donegal. The wipers were giving up, tired by the amount of water thrown at them. Through the scything rain, I ran to the cottage door. My city shoes were soaked in an instant.

"Hell", I shouted. "Anyone there?" I rattled the big bell. No response. I pressed the latch. Inside the cottage's thick walls, all was serene. There was

 a smell of burning turf, overlaid with the pungent aroma of French cigarettes. from upstairs came the sound of an aria from La Traviatta. Finally, full of apologies, my host appeared.  


Paul Chatenoud has the furrowed face of a philosopher but the twinkling eyes and ready smile of an entertainer, a cross between Jean-Paul Sartre and Charles Aznavour. Ten years ago he sold his flat on the L'île Saint-Louis in the centre of Paris and moved to Donegal. He now runs one of Ireland's more unusual bed and breakfast establishments. Chairs are pulled up to the fire. "Yes, it is raining a little but it is good for the time of year. " Chatenoud has learned the Irish art of understatement; in country areas the arrival of a hurricane would be described as heralding "a nice, soft day". 
"My friends thought I was mad when I moved here," says Chatenoud, a Gauloise hanging from the side of his mouth. "But I never regret being in

Donegal for one moment."


The B&B, called The Green Gate, has four bedrooms arranged in two outbuildings. They are warm and comfortable, with bathrooms attached. Chatenoud was born in Morocco. Various Arab and African artefacts decorate the walls of what were once cowsheds. Most of the renovation work was done by Chatenoud himself. He even made his own mattresses. We go out to eat. Chatenoud looks rather incongruous in the midst of the wild country in a long Maigret-style Parisian raincoat. His old car bumps and grinds down the drive. "You know people here are so kind," he says. "My car, it was broken so one morning, a man came here and gave me this. He insisted I keep it. When things like that happen I feel as if I am part of life here."


The Green Gate is near the town of Ardara, and about 15 miles from Donegal town. There is a small French community in the area: Ardara has a French Doctor. We eat a meal of five-Star quality at Castle Murray House, a hotel and restaurant run by Claire and Thierry Delcros. Claire's accent is like a layer cake: on top there is the sing-song softness of Donegal, then schoolroom English underlaid by the lilt of her native Cognac. I fall asleep on the way home as Chatenoud discusses Descartes. On a good day it is possible to lie in the bed and look at the sea. Way out there across the waves is New York. Unfortunately, the mist is so thick next morning I can hardly see the path in front of me as I go to breakfast. Chatenoud has gone to Ardara to buy freshly baked croissants. "They are better than you eat in Paris." The local bakery also makes Irish soda bread, which is flown to London each day for sale in Harrods food hall.


Chatenoud studied philosophy at the Sorbonne. The Green Gate may be the only B&B in Ireland to have a complete set of the works of Freud on its bookshelves. There is also an extensive collection of classical music recordings; in the late 1970s, Chatenoud opened Librarie Musicale, the first shop in Paris specializing in books of music. 

"When I sold up in Paris I had plenty of money. I bought a Jaguar sports car, gambled on the stock market, lived expensively. Most of my cash was soon gone. I came to Donegal and rented a cottage to write a book - about life and love. I thought I would win the Nobel Prize; but it is still not published. I had to make a living so I opened a B&B."


There is a long, philosophical pause. Another sod of turf is placed on the fire. Christopher, the pet robin, lands on the window still. "Life is so strange. I am glad I lost that money. If I still had had it I would probably be drinking myself to death in Paris. I would certainly not be here." I drive off to explore the surroundings. I walk on a long, deserted beach, a friendly local sheepdog for company. Donegal is known as Ireland's forgotten county. Geographically part of the province of Ulster, it is shunned by most southerners. Yet it probably has the most beautifully rugged coastline in all of Ireland. I can just make out the cliffs through the Atlantic spray and fog. 

I am the only guest. On my second night, we go down to Nancy's bar in Ardara. There is a big fire, a dog called Guinness, crab claws to eat and chat full of local gossip and scandal. Margaret McHugh, the immaculately turned out woman of the house, is a well-preserved grandmother with a quicksilver brain and a naughty sense of humour.


Chatenoud is divorced. His 16-kear-oldson comes to visit him regularly from Paris. "I'll have to get you fixed with some woman, so I will," says McHugh. "The question is are you good for anything?" She giggles like a schoolgirl. 

Donegal plays games with the visitor. the next day, as I prepare to leave, the sun bounces off the sea and turns the wild grass of the bog a brilliant rusty color. It looks like the pelt of some mighty animal of the prairie. Chatenoud leaves me with some Proust. He tries to translate. "Before we know solitude,  we are pre-occupied with finding out how it will be combined with other pleasures. But once we have found solitude, those other pleasures drift away and seem irrelevant."


Ther is plenty to savour and think about the long driveback to Dublin.


  • Week-end rustique dans le Donegal - Jeudi 11 Octobre 2001 - Jean-Pierre Langellier (rédacteur en chef adjoint) 






C'est une colline venteuse et romantique, à l'extrême occident de l'Irlande, et de l'Europe, où le ciel, d’humeur changeante,offre, dit-on ici, « les quatre saisons en un seul jour ». Au bout du jardin, assis sur un banc d'écolier, on y savoure une vue prodigieuse sur la « côte sauvage » du Donegal, entre la baie de Laughros et les austères (alaises de Slieve League. En bas, niche le bourg d'Ardara, la capitale du tweed, aux pubs joyeux. En haut, au bout d'une allée de fuch­sias, The Green Gate, un des bed and break­fast les plus originaux d’Irlande. Rarement un

 homme et un lieu ont eu, à ce point, des­tin lié. L'homme, c'est Paul Chatenoud, l'« hôte », au sens absolu du terme. Ce lieu, il l'a construit et façonné à son image et, aujourd'hui, il l'habite et l'anime à son goût. Avant l'Irlande, ce Français, né à Casablanca, eut d'autres vies. Elève du philosophe Jankélévitch à la Sorbonne, chauffeur de taxi chez Castel, coauteur d'une chanson à succès pour Reggiani, il découvre par

 hasard le Donegalet se promet d'y revenir un jour. Passionné de livres et d'opéra, il ouvre, en 1978 la première librairie musicale de Paris. En 1988,il s'installe à Ardvally, rachète une ancienne ferme qu'il restaure, et écrit un essai, non publié, Le Regard du ventriloque. En 1994, The Green

Gate accueille son premier visiteur. Un cottage au toit de chaume abrite trois petites chambres au confort rustique, un autre, la « suite nuptiale », d'où l'on peut contempler la mer, allongé dans son bain. Dans le troisième, aux murs chaulés, se déroule la cérémonie du breakfast à l'irlandaise, qu'on prend ici à toute heure, au presque. Paul prépare lui-même les oeufs et les saucisses qu'il apportera sur la vieille table auvergnate où trônent les quinze confitures « maison » concoctées par Sara, une voisine.

L'été, il sert ses invités dans le jardin ; l'hiver - assez doux, grâce au Gulf Stream -, le petit déjeuner se prolonge rituellement  devant un feu de tourbe au dans le salon bibliothèque où trônent, entre autres Freud et Shakespeare au grand complet ainsi que quelque 1500 disques. En toute saison, Christopher, le rouge-gorge de la maison, nettoie jusqu'à la dernière miette. Levé tôt, dormant peu, Paul, oeil d'azur et cheveux en broussaille, Gitane au bec, gouaille soixante-huitarde et accent « frenchy », cultive, inlassable, l'art de ta conversation.

Sensible à l'étrangeté de la vie et à l'importance des petites choses, il adore raconter des histoires. Il aime par-dessus tout les gens du

Donegal, simples et généreux, qui l'ont adapté d'emblée. Dans le livre d'or du lieu, riche en commentaires ravis, en poèmes et dessins, un visiteur remercie son hôte d'avoir créé ici « un jardin pour l'âme ». 

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