Switch off in Southern France


Between the walled town of Carcassonne in Southern France’s Languedoc region and buzzy Montpellier heading north on the coast, lies a mellow wine resort with a difference. It aims to transform smartphone zombies into civilised creatures who can converse, dawdle, dream and drink in a timeless village in the vineyards. Switch off, tune in to nature and tuck in to Michelin-starred cuisine at quirky Chateau & Village Castigno – Wine Hotel & Resort.

“Switch off and listen to the birds” is Julie Malves’ advice for newcomers to this serene stone village.

As the manager of a hamlet reborn as a wine resort, Malves surveys a harmonious collection of higgledy-piggledy properties: “Chateau Castigno represents rural luxury, meaning remarkable experiences and real connections rather than internet connections.” It’s a return to a simpler age of unmanufactured entertainment. Think recharging batteries, roll-top baths and retro scooters rather than tedious  television and virtual reality. The peace is palpable.

Photo: Wine Hotel & Resort & Alexia Roux.

Dream in dusky pink

Surrounded by centuries-old vineyards, this village is designed in a wine-themed palette of dusky pinks, mauves and burgundies. The boutique wine resort sits close to the Languedoc’s Canal du Midi but within easy reach of the Mediterranean coast at Sete. Castigno feels off the beaten track yet is close enough for canal cruises or visits to Cathar castles. As Malves explains, it’s almost an accidental resort: “The Flemish owners fell in love with both the region and the estate and planned to keep it for their friends – but then couldn’t resist dreaming big and opening it up to guests.”

Visitors are met by a collection of stone houses clustered around a quaint square. The properties may be ancient but the concept is fresh, celebrating a communal approach to living. The estate is a hybrid, less a hotel than an organic wine resort with an equally organic approach to everything else. Funky beamed bedroom suites are tucked into former stables while whimsical hideaways are concealed in converted grape-pickers’ cottages. The mood is boutique retreat meets farmhouse, with swish bathrooms and eclectic artwork but also recycled doors and vineyard views. As Malves says, “We’re special in that we’re not a traditional hotel – with all the rooms dotted around the village square, it really feels like a timeless village.”

Photo: Wine Hotel & Resort & Verne.

Photo: Wine Hotel & Resort & Verne.

Fine-dining in the vineyards

The organic approach to living continues in the resort’s three restaurants, with locally-sourced cooking and a refusal to follow the rules for form’s sake. The Michelin-starred La Table Castigno features two Belgian brothers in the kitchen. Co-chefs Pieter et Ruben De Maesschalck follow their whims rather than a fixed menu: “Going to a restaurant without knowing what you’re going to eat is part of the experience we wish to offer,” adds chef Pieter. Enhanced by wine-pairings, this is seasonal farm-to-fork food, ranging from scallops and lagoon seafood to suckling pig or truffles. As Malves says, “We serve a lot of our own produce – apart from the herb garden, the chefs have their own kitchen garden, with herbs also going into our detox juices served by the pool.”

La Petite Table is the bistro and grill, with comfort food marked up on slate boards, and breakfast also served here on the village square. Fish and vegetable grills are washed down with fruity or full-bodied estate wines, and accompanied by live music during the July music festival. Adding a touch of exoticism is the Thai restaurant, with its courtyard hung by red lanterns matched by an array of spicy soups, lemon-scented stir-fries or slow-cooked curries.

Photo: Wine Hotel & Resort & Alexia Roux.

Photo: Wine Hotel & Resort & Alexia Roux.

Wine therapy?

Ultimately there’s no escaping the wine. The owners began with the 86-acre wine estate and the chateau before taking over the village itself. “It’s all organic and about small quantities but great quality,” explains Malves. “Given that we have different terroir, we produce a wide range of wines, with all the grapes harvested by hand.”

The winery itself is a sculptural, bottle-shaped, bark-covered building. “I designed this project like a kid building a little beach hut out of branches and driftwood,” says architect, Lionel Jadot.

Apart from indulging in tastings, you can sample a wine-making experience, take a wine safari or end a wine-grower’s hike with a gourmet feast in the vines. Other options include a Vespa vineyards ride or simply enjoying a glass of Grace des Anges rosé poolside. Romantics can go for a horse-drawn carriage ride or a sunrise stroll with a breathing coach. Keen swimmers meanwhile have a wide choice of local lakes and rivers, whilst at nearby Sete on the coast, there are visits to an oyster farm in the Thau lagoon.

Still, it might be hard to tear yourself away from dinner or an Ayurvedic massage in the spa. “It’s wonderful to think that this magical chateau estate came about because of the owners’ love of sharing,” enthuses Malves. “Some call it a digital detox but we call it the art of living.”

Web: www.villagecastigno.com

Instagram @castignochateauvillage

Facebook: castigno

Chateau & Village Castigno Wine Hotel & Resort

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