I escape to the south of France for a stay at the luxurious Domaine de Verchant – a grand boutique hotel near Montpellier with its own wine estate
It’s winter. Yet the special light in the South of France is enchanting. A golden glow highlighting the honey-coloured stone mansion here at the Domaine de Verchant Hotel & Spa. This magnificent wine estate-turned-boutique hotel is Montpellier’s only Relais & Chateaux property. Just 20-minutes from the Place de la Comédie, the main house and outbuildings are nestled among 11 hectares of sun-dappled vineyards.
The aroma of vine, oak and pine trees in the summer must be intoxicating. Today, north winds are upon us, yet the Domaine de Verchant’s public rooms and suites are well insulated and heated. I feel deliciously cocooned against the elements.
Near enough to Montpellier’s attractions yet far enough to feel timeless, the Domaine de Verchant is a luxury retreat in which to eschew all things digital, kick back and relax. Owners Chantel and Pierre Mestre are both keen travellers, which is reflected in the hotel’s exquisite interiors: bamboo, marble, dark tiles, dressed stonework and whitewashed walls: a marriage of east and west aesthetics with exquisite local craftsmanship. A backdrop of stone walls, weathered shutters, wooden flooring and mosaics with sophisticated modern amenities.
The couple both hail from wine-growing families and say that it was love at first sight when they first saw the Domaine de Verchant. “Its exceptional history going back over 2000 years, its extraordinary land and exceptional position on the doorstep of Montpellier seduced us.”
And I can see why.
The original wine estate was built on the remains of a Roman Villa – there’s evidence of it in a building block in the foyer, incredibly marked with the name of the family who lived there at the time.
The Domaine de Verchant’s 26 guest rooms and apartments (varying in size from 30 to 90 m2) have been beautifully restored with an elegance and sophistication. The main house, which is host to the smaller restaurant, has nine guest rooms and suites, while the outhouses, creatively re-imagined into stunning accommodations are home to another 14 guest rooms, including two apartments.
For extra space choose the 52m² Blossom Suite that overlooks the outdoor pool. It has its own roof terrace and private Jacuzzi – perfect for weekends à deux as you unwind on the giant futon and daydream across vineyard views. Architect Raymond Morel’s design is minimalist yet warm and sexy. A theme that is echoed in the reception, lounges and lounge bar.
My deluxe room was gorgeous: sleek yet welcoming with an abundance of natural materials. I loved the dressed golden stone walls, unique headboards, and the most comfortable bed. An open screen wall divides the bedroom and bathroom – the latter replete with the deepest bath (Starck for Duravit) and giant rain shower. It’s designed for romance. Relais & Chateaux amenities, soft towels and robes; and a bed I was reluctant to leave for dinner. I had lovely views across the front lawn, while the entrance had a dreamy vista across the vineyards.
I enjoyed supper in the Gourmet restaurant Verchant on the ground floor of the main house. There are several dining rooms from the open kitchen room, to the more intimate library where I dined. The Mediterranean menu from head chef Damien Cousseau is imaginative and uses local provenance. He has a penchant for fish and shellfish apparently, so the à la carte menu features tempting Brittany lobster, as well as oysters, and Dublin Bay prawns. The venison, with ginger bread, black cherry and parsnip and pistachio cream looked out of this world.
My surprise menu – comprising seasonal flavours of the month – was fascinating. The ball-shaped amuse bouches flavoursome: beetroot with Granny Smith apples, a decadent puffed pastry filled with cheese and béchamel. And a delicious beef ball. This was followed by an egg mimosa, in an egg shell. Smooth and rich.
This, my first experience of a surprise menu, was exciting: I loved my octopus, cabbage and green apple salad with a subtle mango curry dressing. Beautifully garnished with wild flowers. The main Simmental beef with mushroom sauce and jus was superbly cooked.
Alas I didn’t have room for the poached pear with home-made vervaine, coconut and dark chocolate ice cream, but it looked very tempting at a neighbouring table.
I sampled vines from the Verchant’s own vineyard: a fruity sparkling rosé, followed by an unctuous red. The Verchant vineyard dates back to the 19th century and is made up of Syrah and Grenache Med varieties, alongside the Bordeaux: Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. There is also a Petaile de Rose. Some 10% of the Verchant vineyards are devoted to white using Roussane, Viognier and Vermentino. The cellars are open to guests and well worth a visit.
To sleep in pitch darkness, and to wake naturally, without the roar of London traffic was complete bliss. There’s the option to have breakfast in your suite, but I took a seat in the Verchant restaurant, with glorious views over the gardens and the outdoor pool. This must be heaven in summer when you can take petit déjeuner on the terrace. Today we are inside and warm, next to the open kitchen.
I ventured for a spin on the Verchant’s electric bike after petit déjeuner. Not on the roads, rather a circuit on the vineyard tracks as the sun began to heat the cold morning air. The Domaine de Verchant is sited along the Languedoc-Roussillon route de vins, linking various Pic St Loup chateaux and wine estates with those of the Mejanelle, before entering the Pyrénées–Orientales. In total, there are 18 wine appellations in the area to explore.
The Domaine de Verchant is renowned for its beautiful 2000m² spa, and I thoroughly enjoyed my massage. Designed by architects Studio Marc Hertrich & Nicolas Adnet, this is a zen-like space that combines treatments, sports, wellness and relaxation against a stunning vineyard backdrop. The reception lounge is cosy with teas and nibbles, and there’s a sauna, steam room and indoor pool with counter-current lane. Products by Anne Semonin, Valmot, Theme and Toofruit skincare for children are also available to buy in the spa shop.
The new fitness area is the most expansive I have seen in any luxury hotel. A full 400m² of cutting edge TechnoGym stations and separate training areas. Personal coaching is also available. However, if teeing off is more your thing, there are three golf courses within easy reach of the Verchant: Montpellier Massane, the Grand Motte and Nîmes Campagne.
Lunch was a relaxing affair at the La Plage Dans Les Vignes – the Verchant’s second restaurant situated next to the spa. There’s a distinct beach vibe here, with vines replacing the sandy beaches of the Mediterranean (itself only 15-minute drive from the hotel). With a DJ bar, tapas and sunbeds for the summer months. The menu is distinctly French and very appetising: my cod fillet with artichoke and gnocchi puree was succulent followed by an enticing fig and noisette with lemon cream dessert.
It’s hard to leave the Verchant, but Montpellier was calling. Especially Ecusson, the delightful old town with its beautiful architecture, independent shops, funky bars and cafes, and a selection of renowned restaurants. Culturally Montpellier has a lot to offer visitors: The Fabre Museum is a must – with its Beaux Art collections, and I loved the Panacée (the contemporary culture centre) that supports local artists and visiting exhibitions. Just walking around the squares and admiring the monuments is a pleasure in itself.
That evening, Montpellier played host to its Son et Lumière light festival. Digital image mapping and music projected onto 11 of the city’s historic churches and monuments. I joined friends as we wandered in awe from the Arc de Triomphe, down Rue Foch to the Prefecture, then to the Musée Fabre and back up to the Cathedral, Place Notre Dame and the St Roch Church. Extraordinarily beautiful.
Supper was at the delightful Le Petit Jardin located at 20 Rue Jean Jacques Rousseau in Ecusson. The outside terrace in the summer is beautiful. Tonight, my friend and I were snugly in the main restaurant. Entrées included fish soup and onion tarte. I chose delicious langoustines on a bed of parmesan with pesto legumes. Followed by a succulent roasted sea bass with cardamom carrot puree and fennel. Desert was a magnificent Grand Marnier soufflé, all accompanied with a superb Marcel Richaud Côtes du Rhône.
Montpellier is an easy day trip to the Camargue, the Cevennes, as well as Avignon, and the beaches of the Med are just 6km from the city. You can even get to Barcelona from Montpellier St Roch station in 3.5 hours. Small wonder that Montpellier is the fastest growing city in France. Property is cheaper here than Provence, it has a great cultural life, climate and lifestyle – with a beautifully well-preserved medieval heart.
A stay at the Domaine de Verchant Hotel & Spa, combined with the cultural and gastronomic delights of Montpellier is the recipe for a perfect weekend retreat.
Where & How
Where: 1 Boulevard Philippe Lamour, 34170 Castelnau-le-Lez, France
How: Phone +33 4 67 07 26 00, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit domainedeverchant.com.