La vie en rose

Discovering Village Castigno: wine, markets and relaxation in a pink-tinged corner of south-west France


Reading about Village Castigno in the Languedoc, south-west France, you might think that all the references to ‘detox’ and ‘wellness’ are going to mean a holiday full of juicing and exercise — anathema to me.

But the only detoxing at this heavenly food and wine resort is of the digital variety (no WiFi or 4G) and the wellness element extends to a range of pampering treatments at Le Petit Pêché, a tiny converted 16th century house.

Indeed, there’s little chance of any other type of detox here, rolling as you do from breakfast to lunch via the food market at St Chinian and then to dinner via a tour of the winery.

Essentially a place to hole up, chill out, eat and drink, it’s tempting to remain cocooned within the walls of this magical village — because unlike most hotels, this resort is not confined to one building.

Belgian owners Tine and Marc Verstraete chanced upon Chateau Castigno in Assignan in 2007. After buying it, plus 150 hectares of vineyard and lots of buildings in the village, they developed the concept of a hotel with 24 bedrooms and three restaurants in various houses, some bordering the main square and others in the little cobbled streets leading off it.

You can tell which buildings belong to the hotel because they are painted in shades of pink, purple and red: wine colours.

It’s a theme which continued throughout my trip. A short midday flight to Beziers (so small it could be a private airfield) and a 20-minute drive through the Languedoc countryside meant we arrived in time for tea.

Served on exquisitely pretty pink and white china with just a hint of the Orient, it was an indicator of the treats in store.

My room was in Les Vendangeurs, former stables which are now a collection of rooms named after a grape variety. My haven was a warm cocoon of red — even the monogrammed bedsheets — with pretty lilac bath towels and my own private terrace with a pink deckchair. Some suites are housed over two floors, and one even has a roof terrace.

Families can check into a pretty two-bedroomed house with its own pool while Maison des Amis, which can be hired exclusively, has nine bedooms, a cosy lounge with open fire, a kitchen and a pool.

Tempting though it is merely to amble from restaurant to restaurant, it’s a perfect location for some very low-key exploring too.

We clambered inside the hotel’s bright red 2CV for a short — if bumpy — ride to the market at nearby St Chinian on Sunday morning. It takes a while for Londoners to get used to cranking the gears in such a utilitarian car but it’s hard to think of anything more French than heading to market in a 2CV.

Even if it wasn’t warm enough to roll the roof back, we did open the window flaps as two other members of our party led the way on stylish cream Vespas.

Only fear of stern customs officials at the airport prevented me from scooping up as many of the treats from the market square as possible, tempted by giant purple artichokes, olives in every imaginable shade of green, yellow and black and beautiful individual tartes aux pommes. I did buy a lovely fine wool scarf though.

Or swap four wheels to discover more of your surroundings on foot, with a nature walk, as well as cycling and riding options. If you’re still not feeling relaxed, start your day with a yoga class or enjoy a massage by the delightful Sahirah either at Le Petit Pêché or outdoors in a secret garden, using her homemade wellness products made with local oils and herbs

Then there’s the wine. Go on a ‘wine safari’ to tour the vineyards and see inside La Cave, a fantastic newly constructed wine cellar by Belgian architect Lionel Jado, bottle shaped if viewed from above.

Constructed from bark to deflect the sun, it blends seamlessly into the landscape. Here is where the beautiful rich red, peachy rose and crisp white wines on offer in all the restaurants are fermented and bottled.

Even better, try your own hand at a wine-marking lesson. Who knew it was so much fun? Like wine tasting, only better, because you need to taste rather a lot in the process.

We were presented with a bottle of Castigno’s own label Grace des Anges red, a combination of three grapes, before being given three vials each containing one of the grape varieties and a measuring jug.

Challenged to mix them in the right proportion to match the original, our team of three was pitted against another trio — leaving us very excited to win, not to mention slightly inebriated.

Fortunately we weren’t short of food either. La Petite Table is a cosy bistro, promising simple French cooking at its best — rustic and full of flavour and cooked over open flames, even the vegetables. Fat, juicy asparagus, smoky artichokes, woody mushrooms and a stunning (huge) sea bream.

The owners’ love of Asia is reflected not only in the décor (a golden buddha here, a wall hanging there), but in another of the restaurants, Le Thai. Here there’s no menu, with half Dutch, half Indonesian chef Cathelijne conjuring up surprisingly authentic Thai food as you relax on the terrace hung with lanterns, sipping Thai-inspired cocktails using gin made on site.

We saved the best until last: lunch at La Table, with its newly acquired Michelin star. With the midday sun warming the honey coloured stone walls, illuminating the deep pink painted accents, bouncing off the glasses lined up for the wine pairings and pouring through ceiling-height glass doors overlooking the large terrace, this is one of the most beautiful dining spaces I have ever seen.

Here too there is no menu: Belgian brothers Pieter and Ruben working away in the open kitchen believe that not knowing what you’re about to eat is all part of the experience — as at Le Thai, you simply tell them any dietary requirements at the start of the meal.

Dish after dish bursting with flavour is paired with glass after glass of wine, across the full colour palette (including orange).

I could easily have filled up on the pillowy brioche-type bread but saved myself for carrot glazed endive, miso fermented pumpkin tartlet, little Brazilian cheese puffs, an escabeche of vegetables, potato with hazelnut and caviar, a grilled red mullet… and so it went on until the finale, a chocolate, meringue and honeycomb work of art.

If a haven of relaxation, good food and equally good wine makes for your perfect holiday, this pink-tinged oasis is hard to beat.


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