On a Warm Autumn day I lie on the Grass
Escape the winter blues and pamper yourself at this spa hotel, surrounded by vineyards, minutes from Montpellier city centre
Review and Photography by Andy Barnham
There’s something about the changing colours of the leaves at autumn that brings out the romantic in all of us. Maybe it was because I was so looking forward to wearing jumpers and bringing out my peacoat from the wardrobe that I failed to check the weather forecast for the south of France and arrived at the Domaine de Verchant completely overdressed for an unexpected 23 Celsius. In my defence, the jumper and peacoat were required for the outbound leg of the journey, while waiting for the airport train on a frosty platform at 6.30am…
Domaine de Verchant lies on the south coast of France, a convenient equidistant 10 minutes away from the airport, Montpellier city centre and the motorway. A member of the Relais & Chateau collection of boutique hotels and gourmet restaurants, the main hotel is a renovated 16th Century country house in the middle of 17 hectares of vineyards, originally home to the winemakers who owned and worked the land. The hotel, which has seen the original building restored with a modern twist, offers 26 individual rooms and has been expanded to include a smaller stand-alone house, known as The Forge (available for private hire suitable for families or for those who value their privacy) as well as wedding, conference and spa facilities. The rooms range from deluxe to suites, each with an Apple iMac for those who wish to work or check emails during their stay (but don’t actually want to bring their own laptop for fear that packing their computer wouldn’t feel like a proper getaway), and a variety of bathrooms some of which have showers large enough to party in and some with no showers at all but huge baths. For those who marry at the Domaine de Verchant, the bridal suite includes a heart shaped bed in the middle of the room along with large sunken baths. While personally I’m not sure about the bed, and having to lie diagonally in order to fit my 6 foot frame onto the mattress, the balcony situated central to the building and overlooks the large manicured lawn, is picture perfect for any bride’s bouquet throw. For those who like something a little extra, the room at the top of the hotel has access to the roof and not only the views of the surrounding area, but also hot tub.
Also located in the main building is the fine dining restaurant which doubles as the breakfast room, and the hotel bar. The restaurant has an extensive, fully working kitchen which fills over a third of the floor space but unfortunately isn’t used for reasons that it is not large enough to cook for all the hotel guests, which is a shame, leaving the appliances for show and used for storage. The quality of food is excellent, but some of the more adventurous dishes can be hit and miss; the starter of terrine de foie gras with a layer of coffee was an interesting take on an old favourite and a hit, but the accompanying coffee sorbet/ ice cream was certainly a miss. Be aware, the bread is wonderful, and it is all too easy to fill up on the home made rolls and buns which are regularly offered during the meal.
Breakfast is an altogether different affair with both continental and British fare on offer, as well as the healthy option of fruits along with a chef for those who wish freshly made pancakes. While the choice of breakfast is limited, the quality is outstanding; the Mediterranean couscous, while not an obvious breakfast food is full of taste and refreshing.
As of one year ago the Domaine de Verchant was expanded to include the spa, indoor and outdoor pool, gym, meeting rooms, wedding ceremony location and casual dining restaurant. The result is an impressive multi storey complex. Surrounded by the grape vines which comprise the vineyard, it merges features of the original wine cellars with clean modern architecture used by local business for team building and conferences. The casual dining restaurant, aptly named The Beach in the Vines (La Plage dan les Vignes) consists of indoor and outdoor eating areas and is located next to the outdoor heated infinity pool with a view of the vineyard, though it takes a braver man (or warmer climes) than I to dive in at this time of year. The Beach bar offers regular events during summer including DJs, bands and theme evenings for those who want some southern French flair.
The spa and gym cover 2,000 square metres of the complex (the gym itself occupies a spacey 400 square metres and is equipped with the latest Technogym machines with the treadmills looking out onto the vines) and are entered via the large and luxurious changing rooms. Spa treatments are what you would expect; the scrub is fantastic and leaves one’s skin incredibly smooth, and while the massage is fabulously relaxing, those who prefer to be pummelled may be disappointed with the gentle nature of this treatment. In addition to the treatment rooms, the spa includes an indoor pool, jacuzzi, Turkish baths and a number of saunas. The flow of the complex, set a stone’s throw from the main hotel works elegantly with each section being easily accessible yet offering the impression of privacy and exclusivity.
If the temptations of the Domaine de Verchant aren’t enough or if you’d like a change of scenery, Montpellier city centre is a short car (or taxi) ride away. Close to the French/ Spanish border, the city is a mix of the two cultures; the architecture is not only a blend of these two styles but also a combination of the mediaeval old town and modern districts such as the Antigone neighbourhood designed by Catalan architect Ricardo Bofill. The city also has a history of being a seat of learning; not only has Montpellier a proud medical heritage dating back as early as 1137, but the University of Montpellier is one of the oldest in the world established in 1289. Given the location near the sea, the warm climate and plethora of language schools, the city is a popular destination for students studying French. As a result a large percentage of the population is under 35 years old (the percentage ranges from 30 to 50 per cent depending on where you look). In addition to this, Montpellier is home to France’s second largest music venue, L’Arena, which has played host to musicians such as Beyoncé, Bruce Springsteen, and more recently The Red Hot Chili Peppers (many of whom stay at the Domaine de Verchant).
Deluxe rooms start from €360 a night
Spa treatments start from €70 for 20 minutes
Enquiries: Domaine de Verchant, 1 Boulevard Philippe Lamour, 34170 Castelnau-le-Lez, France / +33 4 67 07 26 00 / firstname.lastname@example.org / www.domainedeverchant.com/en/luxury-hotel-south-france