It took an enterprising Dutch couple 15 years to renovate Château les Merles – but their labour of love has paid off. Poised amid pristine Périgord countryside, this 17th-century château is now the stuff French holidays are made of. There's a regional restaurant which offers cookery classes, wine sessions and visits to local markets. The historic town of Bergerac is only a short distance away and there are bike tours for exploring the rest of the area. A sunken pool, tennis courts and a nine-hole golf course wait to entertain you on return – and you can even sink wine from the château's own vineyards. Here's to Dutch courage…
Get this when you book through us:
A free glass of champagne, a selection of regional amuse-bouches and a bottle of wine from the vineyards of Château les Merles
15, including two suites, four villas and one apartment.
11am (10pm for villas and apartments); flexible subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm (4pm for villas and apartments).
Double rooms from £143.79 (€160), including tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of €1.10 per person per night on check-out.
Rates exclude breakfast (€15 for adults; €8.50 for under-12s; free for under-6s).
The château has a tennis court and a narrow and challenging nine-hole golf course (€25 a round, excluding equipment) with a golf pro ready to help you hone your swing (you can borrow clubs). Horse riding can be organised with the local stables. Please note: a maximum of three rooms may be booked under the same name, but no more.
At the hotel
Tennis court, nine-hole golf course, playground, gardens, DVD library, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV with DVD player, safe, free bottled water and tea- and coffee-making facilities.
Our favourite rooms
Suite 7 is spacious and has a fine view over the Dordogne valley. Suite 8 has high ceilings, classical styling and views over the swimming pool and golf course.
Set on the front-lawn amongst beautifully-blooming flowers and sweet-smelling lavender shrubs, the outdoor pool (unheated) and sunbathing patio with sleek black parasols are open daily from 9am to 8pm. Please note that, in accordance with French law, children in pools must be supervised at all times.
Golfing gear and chic staples for dinner in the grand dining room.
Dogs and cats are welcome for €20 a night. Furry friends are allowed in all public areas of the hotel, including the restaurant, but a lead must be used on the golf course. Just let the hotel know when booking. See more pet-friendly hotels in Dordogne.
Warmly welcomed. Pre-booked day-care facilities are available. Baby cots and extra beds (for under-16s) are €20 a night, otherwise €40 a night. Apartments and villas, with their extra space, microwaves and fridges, are best for families.
Helmed by chef Bas Holten, restaurant Les Merles serves New Périgordine cuisine, with a strong emphasis on fresh and seasonal local ingredients. The restaurant is set in a grand old dining hall with tall beamed-cielings and an enormous original fireplace; elegant white furnishings, flowers and candles add some fine finishing touches to the space. All wine is locally from the Bergerac region – lucky for us.
The Bistrot is an informal lounge bar with a menu of tasty and unfussy dishes. You can try wines from the château’s own vineyards, as well as a large selection of renowned local wines.
Breakfast is available between 8.30am and 10.30am, lunch from noon until 2pm and dinner from 7pm to 9.30pm; light snacks are available between 2pm and 7pm.
An imaginative ‘world food’ menu is available between 10.30am and 7pm.
Tuilières, on the banks of the Dordogne, is in rural surroundings near Mouleydier, east of Bergerac.
The nearest airport is Bergerac (www.bergerac.aeroport.fr), a 15-minute drive away, served by several budget carriers. Bordeaux airport (www.bordeaux.aeroport.fr/en) has a greater choice of international routes, as well as French connections, and is within a two-hour drive of the hotel.
The Bordeaux-Sarlat train line stops at Bergerac, a 20-minute drive from Château les Merles. From Paris, connect at Bordeaux; from Lyon and the east, change at Libourne (www.sncf.com).
A car offers the best way to explore this rural riverine region. South-westerly Tuilières is 600km from Paris; travel on autoroutes via Orléans (A10), the A71, A20 towards Limoges, then the N21 to Bergerac. The hotel is close to the N21, which runs through Bergerac, and between the A20 and A62. From Bergerac, take the D660 east. Car hire is available from Bergerac train station and all regional airports. Driving to Bordeaux will take an hour and 45 minutes; the natural park of Landes de Gascogne is two hours away; and Toulouse is just over three hours. There’s parking at the hotel.
Worth getting out of bed for
L’Imparfaiton Rue des Fontaines in Bergerac serves a short, seasonal menu, which changes every day according to what’s good and fresh at the market that morning. L’Enfance de Lard on Place Pélissière in Bergerac (+33 (0)5 53 57 52 88; closed on Tuesdays) serves well-prepared meat dishes. Its open fire creates a cosy atmosphere in the cooler months. In St-Émilion, Le Clos du Royon Rue de la Petite-Fontaine ( closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays) has inventive fish and seafood dishes, and a bulky wine list.
The vine-shaded tables at Le Treille on Quai Salvette in Bergerac overlook the Dordogne and are a pleasant spot for a drink.
We’re definitely coming back,’ I said to Mr Smith as we parked the hire car and walked, just after midnight, into the white, pebbled, candlelit courtyard of Château les Merles. A long table of late diners were finishing off their puddings underneath the stars. ‘Hang on – we haven’t even checked in yet,’ he pointed out, as we sat down in a pair of white-upholstered Philippe Starck chairs and were immediately brought welcoming glasses of champagne and a plate of canapés. (These included specialities of the Dordogne region: we pounced on foie gras, tomato tartlets and some deliciously crisp radishes and endive.) Within seconds, the cares of the day, the plane delays and the car-hire queue were distant memories.
The air, which was scented with the lavender and thyme that border the courtyard, further aided our relaxation. The 17th-century château was breathtaking in the crescent moonlight. After checking in, without actually having to get up from our table, we were shown to our suite. It was decorated in a style I am christening ‘convent de luxe’: dark wood, antiques, lots of white upholstery, crisp snowy linens and huge windows everywhere. ‘Who’s hidden the nuns?’ I asked. But any concealed nuns were sybarites, too: black satin slippers lay next to our bed in special boxes, and a silver bowl of berries from the château’s organic garden was waiting for us. There were two parallel white sofas in the little sitting room, and a dark-velvet chaise longue for stretching out and reading and chatting on, side by side. In the gleaming black and white bathroom we found a similar blend of monochrome luxury and simplicity.
Even if our beds were of that silly Siamese-twin configuration (locked together but made up separately), it wasn’t the end of the world, as they were extremely comfortable and welcoming, and we couldn’t have had a more delightful awakening in the morning. Manic birdsong roused us and I pulled back the shutters to reveal the hotel’s swimming pool sitting picturesquely in the lush gardens. Fear of missing breakfast (as well as general lethargy) prevented us from taking a quick dip there and then and, instead, we returned to the courtyard restaurant to sample the château’s morning delights.
A table inside was spread with organic garden fruits, home-made bread, viennoiserie, a variety of cheeses and hams and other local delectables. I’ve never eaten a dish of freshly picked blackcurrants for breakfast before but I can recommend it. We sat for ages eking out the meal with supplementary cappuccinos and extra croissants, basking in our new setting. As we sat, we observed a few other guests in tailored shorts lugging huge golf caddies across the courtyard on their way to the morning’s round, and felt intense relief that we had no such taxing agenda ahead of us.
As breakfast drew to a close, our thoughts turned naturally to lunch, so we got into the car and drove to the local town of Bergerac, about ten minutes away. We wandered round the narrow streets of the old town, buying hats, looking at antiques and hunting slightly obsessively for some pink and gold dessert plates while dodging statues of Cyrano, the town’s most famous romantic hero and, along with goose liver, the region’s most celebrated export.
Lunch, at the hotel’s recommendation, was at the excellent (and modestly named) L’Imparfait in a quiet back street, where we feasted in a shady courtyard on sea bream and lamb shanks. They were both exceptional. After some light shopping (more local wine, foie gras, some candlesticks), we made our way back to the hotel and stretched out on the sunloungers, coming to every now and then to summon some drinks via the phone, which was conveniently situated right by the pool.
I couldn’t imagine any possible improvement on the scene, but Mr Smith, post-swim, was nursing a very understandable complaint. He wistfully mentioned to staff that he was going to miss an important football game. A huge projector screen was instantly rigged up in an empty upstairs ballroom, and cold beers (and kir royales for me) were delivered to us throughout the match. So much more civilised than our local, we observed, looking up at the chandeliers.
Evening came, and all the corridors became crowded with small girls in tutus. The local ballet academy, it transpired, was putting on its end-of-term gala at the hotel. We watched from a nearby bench, drinks in hands, as the tinies performed before us, overseen by their stern Mamzelle in black leggings. Then we dined in the courtyard restaurant where a special buffet had been prepared. The local wine and produce were just delicious, and I felt so happy I genuinely contemplated joining the dancers for their Swan Lake finale. Mr Smith, however, kept a firm hold of my elbow, distracting me with spoonfuls of chocolate mousse and raspberry sorbet, until the dangerous moment had passed.