The Romans apparently arrived thirsty at the Languedoc’s Massif de la Clape, now a protected nature reserve and the site of luxury hotel and hamlet Château Capitoul. Because after they’d marvelled at the sawtooth Pyrenees and lagoon with its flamboyances of flamingoes, they set about sowing vines. And, god(s) bless their foresight, because after the addition of a spire-topped art nouveau castle in the 19th-century and a hillside of view-blessed villas under the current owners (who also have wine-estate stays Château Les Carrasses and Château St Pierre de Serjac to their name), it’s become a potent blend of the region’s riches: earthy fine dining, scenery as spectacle, elevated spa experiences, and centuries of wine know-how.
Get this when you book through us:
A bottle of the estate’s wine, mineral water and a selection of mignardises in your room on arrival; GoldSmiths get one wine-tasting too
52, including eight rooms in the original chateau and 44 luxurious villas set over a neighbouring hillside hamlet.
11am, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 4pm. For villas, check-in is 5pm, check-out 10am.
Double rooms from £157.58 (€179), including tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of €2.53 per person per night on check-out.
Rates don’t include breakfast (€20 an adult, €10 a child aged five to 12, free for under-fives; €18 for a breakfast basket delivered to the villas – order the day before). During July and August there’s a minimum seven-night stay for villas.
Two of the hamlet’s villas (6 and 7) have been specially adapted, and golf buggies can be called to take guests back and forth. However, there are some steps on the estate, such as from the carpark to the château, so you’ll need to be dropped at the door; and in the château some areas may be difficult to access as there’s no lift.
The hotel is open year-round; however, most activities take place in the summer months (from the end of May to September).
At the hotel
Spa with Jacuzzi, sauna and hammam; Masterclay tennis court; pétanque court; free-to-hire bikes; kitchen garden; wine cellar; boutique; concierge; free WiFi. In rooms: Satellite TV and DVD player, Bluetooth sound-system, minibar, Nespresso machine and tea-making kit, Cinq Mondes bath products, bathrobe and slippers, air-conditioning. Villas also have a full kitchen, laundry facilities, furnished terrace and plancha, and some have a pool or hot tub too.
Our favourite rooms
Choose between lording it up in the Château itself or seeking seclusion amid the vines that cover the hotel’s hamlet. The former, with their chandeliers, antiques, wood beams and rolltop bateaux baths that’ll compel you both to hop in at once – plus an adults-only rule – feel a touch more romantic (although the many spiralling stairs may dampen some of that ardour). While the villas are larger, many with more bedrooms and all with kitchens, and feel just right for families or groups – although everyone will fall for views that stretch to the Med (all villas face the same way), and the odd private pool or hot tub.
The main pool (heated from June to the end of September) is carved into the foot of the hamlet’s hillock, so guests don’t have to take their eyes off the intoxicating view combo of vines, lagoon and mountains. It’s a good size, and charmingly, instead of parasols, there are spreading olive trees to provide shade, plus a seasonal bar to provide refreshment. Otherwise, for a charge you can use the spa’s indoor jetted pool.
There are no dungeons or flagons in the castle’s basement (the wine cellars used to be in the reception building and oubliettes were oublié by the time it was built in the 19th century), instead there’s an elegantly appointed 320-square-metre spa with various modes of relaxation. For a €25 charge you can spend two hours in the balneum, a soothing largely aqueous circuit through an aromatherapy sauna and steam room, Jacuzzi and jetted pool. Or book one of the four treatment rooms (including a couples’ chamber) for a globetrotting treatment using all-natural Cinq Mondes products. Perhaps a Japanese Ko Bi Do smoothing facial, Balinese flower massage, Indian Ayurvedic toning, Polynesian scrub or a Moroccan hammam ritual. And throughout July and August, you can limber up in the lavender- and rosemary-scented gardens at a yoga session. During high season (1 May to 30 September), the spa opens daily from 9am to 8pm; in low season (1 October to 31 April), it's open from 10am to 6pm (8.30pm on the first Thursday of each month).
You’ll spend a lot of time pounding or pedalling over country trails, scooting through vines, bouncing back and forth from your villa to the spa and eateries (if you’re staying in the hamlet, which is a touch hilly), or – you know – tipsily trotting to bed, so flat shoes are essential.
If you just can’t say goodbye to Vignobles Bonfils wines, then bag a few bottles from the boutique next to reception, plus homewares, organic lotions and potions, and a few books on Mediterranean dry-gardening if you want to give it a try back home.
Children are welcome, but due to the steeply sloping terrain, the hotel recommends children over seven stay (in villas only). Baby cots can be provided free of charge.
All ages are welcome, but the hotel recommends bringing over-sevens who’ll benefit more from the activities.
Rooms in the Château are adults-only, but the villas are ideal for families with added space and full kitchens.
Confiscate your little ones’ devices before sending them off to the summer kids’ club (for four to 12 year olds, from Monday to Friday throughout July and August) – the activities encourage engagement with the environment. Qualified bilingual staff will take groups out into the wild to spy animals, learn about nature, draw, make and play. Or, they’ll act and make music, craft pottery, cool off with water games, and use recycled materials to make instruments (wine-bottle xylophones, bottletop lagerphones), costumes, and figurines. Morning sessions run from 9.30am to 12 noon, and afternoon sessions from 2.30pm to 5pm. Five sessions are €125, 10 sessions: €200.
Kids can swim in the main pool, but there are no lifeguards. If you’ve booked a villa with a private pool, each comes with a retractable safety cover.
Asado has a dedicated menu for kids with simple grilled chicken or fish, ice-cream or sorbet and a juice, plus free water. Multi-course Méditerranéo is for children with extremely sophisticated tastes only, although really we’d leave it to the adults.
The hotel has a roster of trusted local babysitters on call. They usually charge around €20 an hour and advance notice is needed.
No need to pack
You can travel pretty light because the hotel has high-chairs, changing mats, baby baths, sterilisers, plastic plates and glasses, stairguards, bedguards and baby monitors (all on a first-come, first-served basis).
Bring a sturdy easy-to-handle buggy if you’re bringing a babe – the hamlet’s built on a rocky slope
The Massif de la Clape and its surrounding lagoon and greenery is part of a protected area, so the hotel has had to tread lightly as it goes. They’ve brought in seriously green-fingered sorts Olivier Filippi (who’s dedicated his life to cultivating drought- and disease-resistant plants) and landscaper-with-an-eco-conscience James Basson. Together they’ve created Mediterranean-style dry gardens running over the hamlet using plants that can thrive without pesticides, fertiliser and just a drop of water, which fit seamlessly into the existing estate, over which they’ve planted around 65,000 plants and 300 trees. The original art nouveau-style gardens have been gently restored too, supplemented by endemic seedlings, and a kitchen garden ripe with herbs and vegetables keeps the restaurants in fresh ingredients, alongside others foraged on the estate. And, even the extraordinarily biodiverse wildlife – ranging from flamingoes to ocellated lizards – gets luxury digs: tree surgeons keep habitats in shape, and nesting boxes, roosts and lizard ‘hotels’ have been installed. As for human habitacions, the Château’s restoration has been cautiously undertaken, and in building the villas in the hamlet, traditional and reclaimed materials were used, and they were built on the upper level of the rock face to ensure a high level of thermal inertia. Waste is treated organically, the pools are run sustainably, and low-emission equipment and chemical-free cleaning products are used. And, over centuries of winemaking, they’ve achieved HVE (Haute Valeur Environnementale) in recognition of their Earth-kindness.
Sequester yourself away in one of Méditerranéo’s intimate corners, or marvel at the massif from Asado’s terrace.
Floaty peasant dresses for Asado, but go damsel in full dress for Méditerranéo.
The southern massif, from the Pyrenean slopes to the pastures of Aubrac, makes life easy for chefs with its many farms and bountiful produce. The hotel showcases this largesse – and fresh picks from its own kitchen garden and estate – beautifully in two eateries. Méditerranéo is for lovers; set in the château’s original dining room and only serving five- or seven-course feasts (or a very reasonable three-course lunch topped and tailed with amuse bouches and mignardises), chef Valère Diochet and local Michelin-Star-holder Lionel Giraud’s elegantly rustic menu demands deliberation over softly swilled French wines and sparkling conversation. Dishes speak to the season, but monkfish with almond mousseline and broad beans, duck in pistachio pesto with honeyed carrots and roasted apricot with rosemary, almond and hazelnut cream are the sort of pan-Mediterranean platings you can expect. Booking in advance is essential. Asado, the hotel’s more casual eatery, set in the former barrel vault, looks like a cross between somewhere gauchos might sling their spurs for an evening, with its leather banquettes and relaxed feel, and an opera box, thanks to its gilding and ornate lighting. But when it comes to eating it doffs its sombrero to the former: here meat and fish are raked over vinewood and coals, and smoked with hay and herbs before being slathered with butters and sauces. Take beef picanha, black pig loin, veal bavette or mackerel and cuttlefish and anoint them with chimichurri from the garrigue, barbecue sauce with molasses and smoked paprika, or meunière with seaweed. Its terrace is a lingersome spot too. Breakfasts consist of breads, croissants and viennoiseries straight from the kitchen’s oven, cereals, pancakes, bacon and eggs, charcuterie and cheeses and very fresh juices, but if you’re staying in a villa you can have a panier full of goodies delivered to you (for an extra charge), plus pizza and barbecue packs and alcoholic and soft drinks.
The wine list is a family affair – after all the Bonfils family, partners of the château’s owners, and many others, have been bottling the good stuff for six generations now, which helps. The list is divided by DOP and alongside sections for Capitoul, you’ll see wines shipped in from fellow cellars around France. Well-crafted cocktails (we like the Flore with vodka infused with lavender from La Clape, and mixed with fresh rhubarb and lemon juices) and locally brewed beers round out the drinks selection, and there are two places where you can quench your thirst. Asado’s shaded terrace overlooks the fairy-tale château, lagoon and Pyrenees beyond, and on Friday and Sunday nights in the summer DJs set the scene with lounge, jazz, soul and reggae setlists (you’ll need to book a table in advance). Or, from the end of May to the end of September, sip while you gaze out over the very grapes you’re imbibing at the vineyard-edge Oliveraie pool bar (open 10am to 7pm).
Breakfast in Asaso is 8am to 10.30am, lunch noon to 1.30pm, and dinner 7.30pm to 9.30pm – the bar runs till 11pm. Méditerranéo opens for dinner Wednesday to Saturday, 7pm to 9pm and lunch Friday to Sunday, noon to 1.30pm.
We’re not sure ‘location, location, location’ was a mantra in Roman times, but when the estate was grown they nailed it – Château Capitoul is in the Languedoc on the south coast, in view of the Pyrenees and the Med, and next to the Massif de la Clape.
Béziers-Cap d’Agde is the closest airport, around a 40-minute drive from the hotel; however, it’s one of the smaller hubs in the area and only flies to eight destinations (London, Bristol, Manchester, Edinburgh, Brussels, Stockholm, Paris and Düsseldorf). Montpellier, an hour away, has more direct connections across Europe and North Africa, and Toulouse (just under two hours’ drive away) has routes out to Canada and the UAE too.
Narbonne train station is the closest (just 10 minutes by car) and has connections to Montpellier, Toulouse, Avignon and more.
Road-trippers, rev up – the South of France is prime cruising territory. The Languedoc-Roussillon region is frankly ridiculously beautiful – leafy spreads of vines, check; cute crumbly villages, check; untroubled blue waters, check. And, with scant public transport there’s really no other way to see it; the hotel’s free-to-borrow bikes will only get you so far. There are two free carparks onsite: one at the top of the hamlet, the other on a terrace below the château (take note, you’ll have to clamber up a fews sets of steps from here). And, in keeping with the hotel’s green ways, there are EV chargers too.
Worth getting out of bed for
Southern France’s spectacles are laid out like a banquet here – climb to the top of the hamlet and turn any which way, we dare you to find a view that doesn’t make you declare ‘mon dieu’. The pinstripe vineyards give way to a flamingo-roamed lagoon and then the terrain takes a steep incline into the Pyrenees. And, in the other direction, you’ll get a glimpse of enchanting beachside village Gruissan and the glinting expanse of the Med beyond. The hotel itself is buffered by 200 acres of dry and restored gardens, garrigue, pine woodland and groves – home to numerous rare bird species (lucky twitchers might spot a Bonelli eagle), bats, lizards and other fauna – and the most scenic walking, running or biking routes have been mapped out for you. And if this sounds like a mere walk in the park, then the 37,000-acre La Clape and even more expansive Haut-Languedoc Regional Nature Park give you a bit more room to roam. Less taxing is a gentle 20-minute cycle into Gruissan, a fair-of-face fishing village topped with a ruined castle, whose golden-sand beaches remain blissfully under the radar. Try paddle-boarding, kayaking, kite and windsurfing or sailing, then explore the ancient ruins. And there’s plenty more history to unearth: conquer the Cathar castles of Carcassonne; gaze in awe at Béziers Cathedral and hop on a boat ride down the Canal du Midi; take in the grandeur of Spanish-accented Perpignan’s castillets, casas and convents; and explore the Roman’s labyrinth of underground warehouses at Narbonne, before skipping ahead to the present day with a trip to Sir Norman Foster’s Narbo Via Museum. Well, you could do all that, if you’re not luxuriating in a wine-induced stupor – this is one of the world’s finest appellations, and you have the expertise of six generations of the Bonfils vintners to hand, so you may as well indulge. You could pick up some bottles in the boutique or arrange a guided walk with someone who knows their sippables, but a more exciting méthode is to chase an e-scooter ride through the vines and Narbonnaise natural park with a big-finish tasting. E-bike tours out to Saint Martin can be arranged too.
Languedoc dining shows a strong dialogue with nature – dishes are earthy and rustic, with plenty of coastal catches, foraged nuts and mushrooms from the forests, spritely goat cheeses, duck-fat smearings and big warming bowls of cassoulet; maybe even the odd frog’s leg too. But, while it’s rooted in ancient village life, innovative chefs are shaking things up – take Pierre Augé, the chef behind La Maison de Petit Pierre, who serves up savoury île flottantes with a silky mushroom broth, white asparagus spears with a lemon sabayon, and simple meat and fish mains snowed under with truffle. And, Lionel Giraud – a name you’ll hear a lot during your stay as he helped conceive the hotel’s menu – also helms La Table Saint Crescent set in a mediaeval oratory. Here, he does the unexpected with the traditional, say, soaking wheat bread in coffee and olive oil, draining tomatoes of their water and chilling in ice to coax out their freshness, pairing smoked hake with pine needles and topping with a turnip chiffonade. His appointment at the Château shows that Dubliner owners Karl O'Hanlon and Anita Forte really know their stuff; and, well, they do. Proof is in the pudding – and starter, main, cheese board… – at sister property Château Saint Pierre de Serjac, where French-leaning fare (beetroot and elderberry with ewe’s cheese, garlicky snails, pork with rhubarb and Lézignan onions) rubs elbows with more far-flung offerings: Japanese-style okonomiyaki, or veal with chimichurri.
Basically a shopping list of French pleasures, the Languedoc has the wine, nature, elegant dining…and rugby. Yes, alongside sea-jousting (that’s a whole other story), the English game is one of the more unusual pastimes down here – and if you want to show your support, head to lively Chez Bebelle. Strung with jerseys and run by a rugger-loving family, this is a chaotically fun counter bar, where you can watch the match with meat skewers fresh from the grill. Les Grands Buffets is a more casual, help-yourself eatery – but this isn’t your average selection of sad metal trays – non – here there are veritable trees of lobsters, ham-slicing and foie gras stations, chefs manning a wall of temptingly loaded spits, earthenware antipasti pots, pie and pâtisserie counters, and the world’s largest ‘cheeseboard’ (cheese-antechamber would be more appropriate), as confirmed by Guinness World Records.
In Gruissan, stilted beach bar La Mamamouchi overlooks a popular windsurfing spot, and is also a prime perch for sundowners. They’ve picked wines from the surrounding domaines, but the cocktails and refreshing spritzes feel more in step with the coastal setting. Plus, there’s usually a dash of vin in them anyway – take the BIF with blue curaçao, cassis and white wine, or the Wine Caïpi with crème de framboise, ginger, lime and sweet white wine.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this Disney village of a hotel in the Languedoc and unpacked their heirloom wines and heritage French linens from Vosges (available in the onsite boutique), a full account of their ding-dong belle break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Château Capitoul in the South of France…
If you’ve ever wondered what happily ever after looks like, Château Capitoul makes a compelling case study. With a fairy-tale, spire-topped art nouveau castle with a Cinq Mondes spa in its basement and chic chambers (the best views are at the top, naturellement), acres of grounds to wander smugly, wine on tap that’s been refined over centuries, a chef who’s more intimately acquainted with nature and its uses than a Disney princess and a hamlet full of happy residents – largely because their villas are so luxuriously kitted out and might even have a private pool to cool off in – we’d be pretty content. But there’s more to the story: built on the Massif de la Clape nature reserve beside a flamingo-strutted lagoon and the Pyrenees, Capitoul is first and foremost a conservationist. Aware that they’re merely caretaking the land till the next generation, owners Karl O'Hanlon and Anita Forte have taken great pains in cultivating the grounds. Alongside a cornucopia kitchen garden, restored château parterre and replantings of endemic species, the hamlet is covered in sustainable Mediterranean dry gardens, designed to flourish in this overly sunny region. The result is wafts of pine, lavender and rosemary as you float from building to building for tastings, bike rides and globally inspired treatments. But they don’t just look spectacular and smell dreamy – large swathes of the landscape will get you good and merry too. The owners were already pretty au fait with wine-making after running stay-and-sip estates Château Les Carrasses and Château St Pierre de Serjac, but here they’ve called on the sixth-gen expertise of neighbours Vignobles Bonfils to become the toast of the Languedoc. Add to that considered interiors with antiques, bateaux bath tubs, the odd wood beam and an updated-Provençal air, well-oiled service and a back-to-nature kids’ club, and you’ll find happiness here, if not ever after, then at least till check-out.