When we’re all allowed out again, you’ll want to find a luxury chateau hotel, ideally with a freshly revamped spa, and just a short flight from home. Before we all got locked down, we sent Melanie May off to experience Domaine de Verchant and the best Montpellier can offer…
Flinging open the weathered wooden shutters, my palatial suite is flooded with that fabulous, luminescent, South of France light. A soundtrack of birdsong and a gentle breeze tickling the trees accompanies the scene. I feel like Belle in Beauty and Beast. I make no apologies for being caught up in the romance of my fairytale French chateau life – even if it is only for the next 48 hours.
I’m living my best life in Domaine de Verchant. A château slightly over six miles from the Mediterranean coast, and only a ten-minute drive from Montpellier airport.
I slumbered so soundly in the cocoon-like bed that I slept later than planned, but there is no rush, breakfast is served until a very civilised 11 am.
So, making the most of my leisurely lux-life, I lingered in the massive rain shower, lathering and slathering on every lotion and potion I could find. The toiletries are Hermes and smell and feel fabulous.
For breakfast, a bountiful buffet beckoned, laden with local cheeses and cured meats, cereals, pancakes and house-made yoghurts and bread. Oh my word, the bread is magnificent and addictive. There’s a chef on hand to whisk you up bespoke eggs and crepes if you so desire.
In the sun-drenched Orangery, I sipped freshly squeezed juice that zinged with the taste of summer and dipped buttery, flaky Viennoiserie in my huge bowl of coffee. A très bon matin, indeed.
To ward off gout, I walked around the grounds, of which there are 17 hectares. For those of you who don’t have the balance of an elephant in heels, you can use the hotel’s electric bikes.
I ambled amongst the old trees, gardens and vines and admired the restored mansion and outbuildings, their honey-hued stonework resplendent in the bright light. Resting on a stone bench by the brilliant blue pool, flashes of sunshine flickered through the palm fringes and danced on my face. This really is la belle vie.
If all that sounds a little too relaxing for you, grab a racket and hit the tennis court or if you feel like working out head to the 400m² high-tech gym. Filled with the latest Technogym machines this is one of the largest and best-equipped gyms I have ever seen in a hotel.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t work out as I forgot my gym gear, quelle surprise. Luckily, I did pack my swimsuit so I decided to work up a sweat in a more relaxing way, testing out the extensive Domaine de Verchant spa facilities. And when I say extensive, I mean it. There is 2,000m² of zen space to enjoy. I sweated it out in a few different saunas and the steam room before being pummeled by the water jets in the indoor pool and jostled about in the jacuzzi. Afterwards, I blissed out in the relaxation suite overlooking the tranquil garden.
But the real highlight for me was the rejuvenating facial with products by Biologique Recherche. This luxury French beauty company has a cult following and is adored by A-listers the world over. Of course, there is a myriad of massage and other pampering and grooming treatments on offer but a Biologique Recherche is really something special. If you know, you know.
Après-spa, I headed to lunch feeling fabulous and looking ten years younger, I’m sure. La Plage dans les Vignes (the beach among the vines) restaurant, located beside the spa, feels like Saint Tropez but without the posing and eye-watering prices. There’s a sandy beach area, bar, bistro and an outdoor, heated, infinity pool overlooking the vines. In summer, DJs take to the decks as diners take to their déjeuner et dîner. Sipping rosè is mandatory.
Food is fresh, fun and seasonal with plenty of seafood options and an impressive cocktail menu and wine list. On Sundays, there is a gut-busting brunch that seems to last all day long. It begins with champagne and ends with cheese. So. Much. Cheese. It really is a feast and a wonderful gastronomic tour of the region’s best produce.
Should you need a lie down after all that vigorous eating, there are sunbeds by the pool.
I headed back to my room for a much needed postprandial nap. I contemplated a swim in my jacuzzi bath, yes it is that big, but instead, I draped myself on the chaise longue and lived out my best aristocratic fantasy.
There are 26 guest rooms in Domaine de Verchant all individually decorated in a surprisingly modern style. The exposed stone walls, weathered shutters and wooden floors contrast beautifully with the contemporary amenities. As you would expect from a five-star, Relais & Chateaux property, attention to detail is impeccable and everything is of the highest quality and standards.
Many of the rooms have huge terraces with loungers and balconies overlooking the garden or the vineyards. Ground-floor rooms have private gardens and one room even has a hot tub and Bali day bed on its terrace. There is also a separate house on the estate which is perfect for families, Bruce Springsteen rented this out when he stayed here.
Apart from the huge shower and jacuzzi-bath, my room also came with a very handy office setup with Mac computer and printer, a library, two big TVs, coffee station and iPod/iPhone dock for listening to music. The rooms have everything you need to catch up on work or unwind.
Speaking of which, if you like to unwind with wine, you are in for a treat as Domaine de Verchant produces some wonderful whites, reds and rosés. Those vineyards aren’t just for show, you know. A tasting is an excellent way to explore the wines of Domaine de Verchant and those of the Languedoc-Roussillon – the world’s largest wine-producing region.
A sneak-peek in the wine cellar is also a treat where €19,000 bottles of Romani E-Conti sleep beside cases of 1978 Petrus. For oenophiles, it is a giddy experience.
You can pair over 1,600 different wines with dinner in the Verchant restaurant where head Chef Jérôme Bartoletti plates up seasonal dishes created with local ingredients and southern French flair. The plates are almost too pretty to eat.
Domaine de Verchant has everything you need to while away a weekend. But should you desire to see a little more of this sun-soaked region, Montpellier is just a 10-minute drive away.
Much like Domaine de Verchant itself, Montpellier is a mix of modern and historic. Its tangle of medieval streets hum with youthful energy – half its population are under the age of 35. The historic centre is perfect for wandering as it is a car-free zone but should you wish to go further, the city’s trams will take you there in style. The trams – voted the ‘sexiest in the world’ – were designed by Christian Lacroix who is a graduate of the city’s art school.
There’s plenty more art in the city too with some marvellous museums as well as Europe’s oldest medical school (Rue de l’Ecole de Médecine) with its beautiful botanical gardens. However, if you are short on time, I recommend hiring a guide from the tourist office. These guides have access to some wonderful sites that you can’t visit otherwise like a medieval mikvé dating from the 13th Century and the top of the Porte du Peyrou, Montpellier’s Arc de Triomphe.
Sightseeing done, I suggest you put away the maps and just wander around and soak up the community-in-the-city atmosphere. For the most-happening spot in town, head to Marché du Luz, an achingly hip, industrial-chic venue jam-packed with street food vendors, live music, flea markets, food stalls, restaurants and bars. The food and cocktails in Bivouak Cafe are particularly piquant, and potent.
When the clamour of the city gets too much, it’s comforting to know that Domaine de Verchant is just a short ride away. You’ll be cocooned in luxurious surroundings in no time. And it is this proximity to the city (and airport) that makes Domaine de Verchant a wonderful weekend getaway. Not only that but at Domaine de Verchant you can be as relaxingly-active as you like making it a fantastic five-star escape no matter what your holiday style.
Domaine de Verchant
1, Boulevard Philippe Lamour