West of the glitz and glamour of the Côte d’Azur is a quieter, less crowded corner of the South of France: the Languedoc Roussillon. Sweeping from Provence to the Pyrénées via a scenic string of historic towns and villages, shimmering coastline and wild, untamed countryside, the region is also one of the oldest and largest wine growing areas of the world.
No surprise, then, that wine forms the central theme of Château St. Pierre de Serjac, outside Puissalicon. This 200-acre hotel-cum-vineyard, which opened last year, is the former home of the Baron de Crozals but is now owned by hoteliers Karl and Anita O’Hanlon in partnership with French wine maker, Laurent Bonfils.
At its heart is a turreted, 19th century chateau surrounded by fragrant gardens, olive trees and palms. From its windows guests can gaze out over a huge, heated infinity pool onto regimented rows of vines and, beyond it, the fertile Langeudocienne landscape. The ground floor is home to the reception area, bar and a fine dining restaurant, and is decorated in a sophisticated palette of peacock and teal with Art Deco-style chandeliers picked up in the antiques market in nearby, Béziers
A Cinq Mondes spa, with tranquil indoor pool, completes the picture. Throughout the school holidays there are also kid’s and teenage clubs for four to 12 year olds with wholesome activities like arts and crafts, sports and archaeological digs – the estate sits on the former site of a Roman villa.
Chef Franck Pujol delivers Mediterranean-accented date night dining at the château’s main restaurant – get a babysitter and book a table for two to sample dishes like scallop carpaccio with black Périgord truffle, fish straight from the coast and Charolais beef. The wine list showcases wines from Bonfils’ 23-strong vineyards, as well as a smattering of Karl O’Hanlon’s local finds – his father is a wine critic so he knows his stuff.
In high season, a more casual bistro serves simpler fare like salads, burgers and sandwiches poolside, while you can also order pizzas for delivery to your room, fire up your own barbecue, or get social at the communal barbecue area. Early evening kids’ dinners and movie nights can also be booked.
Upstairs in the château are eight, luxurious suites, fittingly decked out with chandeliers, antiques, roll-top baths and singular touches such as (in an eaves room) the hand-painted walls of a former chapel.
An extensive renovation has also seen the repurposing of the estates’ many outbuildings, resulting in 36-self catering apartments and houses. These are the real appeal for families. Sleeping two to eight, each one has been tastefully decorated in 50 shades of Elephant’s Breath with lots of linen, oak and wrought iron. They also come with high spec kitchens and all the latest tech – some of the larger properties also have fenced off pools.
The Greeks brought the first vines to Languedoc Roussillon in the 6th century BC and now the region grows over 40 different AOC wines, including Saint Chinian, Corbiéres and Minervois. Last autumn saw the surrounding vineyards’ first harvest of what will become the château’s own vintage and the extensive wine cave that used to form the heart of the estate’s wine production is open each Friday for wine tastings and tapas.
You can amble over to the château for breakfast in the main restaurant – a spread of freshly baked croissants and pastries, fruit, yoghurt, cereals and hot dishes cooked to order. Or, you can also pick up freshly baked bread and croissants from reception to take back for breakfast in your digs.
The gently undulating landscape is perfect for freewheeling along quiet, plane tree-lined roads on one of the hotel’s complimentary bicycles (make a day of it and order a picnic to take with you). About half an hour’s drive are the beaches and seaside resorts of the coast, while inland you can take to the lazy waters of the Canal du Midi or the rugged surroundings of the Cévennes National Park.
Learn how oysters are cultivated in the Etang with a seafood feast in Marseillan afterwards, or, visit one of the many vineyards of the region. Historic local towns with their bustling produce markets like Pézanas, Béziers and Narbonne provide plenty of scope for picking up ingredients if you want to self-cater.
Double rooms at Chateau St. Pierre de Serjac start at €220 per night, b&b, while self-catering apartments for two start at €160 per night, room-only.
Ryanair flies from various UK airports to Béziers from around £50 return. British Airways, Easyjet and Ryanair also fly to Montpellier.
More info: destinationsuddefrance.com
Words by Aoife O’Riordain