Domaine de Raba is a spirited estate with youthful looks, oak-studded grounds and a trio of enticing restaurants – and it's only 20 minutes from the bustling heart of Bordeaux. The honey-stone mansion was whisked into the present when it was treated to a top-to-tail refurbishment, its 19th-century bones reclothed with design that evokes British country clubs, bucolic boltholes and Asian tea houses alike. Outside, a smattering of new buildings allows for luxuries like safari-style lodges, an indoor pool and a wine bar that gets lively at the weekends. The location makes day trips to the city centre and old-world wineries a breeze, but you may find little reason to stray, sipping wine on the sun-soaked lawns, sampling gemstone-infused beauty treatments and dining on dishes by award-winning chef Flora Mikula.
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £114.10 (€135), including tax at 10 per cent.
Rates don’t include breakfast, a Contiental affair that includes farm-fresh eggs, freshly baked bread and pastries, muesli, fresh fruit and juices.
The lodges get booked up quickly in the summer, so don’t dally if you’ve got your eye on one.
At the hotel
Birch and oak-studded gardens; salon; library; 30-seat cinema; fitness room; boutique; free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV and free bottled water.
Our favourite rooms
You can’t beat the lodges for privacy, and their safari-camp looks make it seem like you’re much further from the city than you really are. If you’re set on staying in the house, try Le Oiseau, where bucolic timber is balanced against feather-white walls. Pastel-toned Les Pigeons is equally fresh-faced and has forest views, but if you tend to retire early, you may want to ask for one of the others – it's above the bar.
The pool is in an outbuilding that’s clad entirely in pine, giving it the looks of a Scandi sauna. The pool’s olive-green tiles chime contrast pleasingly with the pale-wood walls, and echo the greenery on show through the sliding windows that lead out to a sun deck.
Alongside the pool, there’s a hammam and two pinewood treatment rooms, where nimble-fingered therapists are on hand for massages and beauty treatments. The products come from Parisian cosmetics brand Gemology, who use more than 20 gemstones in their products (in such minute form that you’d never know they were there). In summer, you can choose to have your massage in a hut that’s perched over the pond.
Something you can cycle in. Bikes are an excellent way to see the city centre or trace Bordeaux’s portion of the Canal du Garonne.
All of the common areas are wheelchair accessible, as are some of the rooms.
All ages are welcome, but the hotel isn’t particularly geared up for children.
At Les Petits Caprices and Les Chais, try for a table outside. In the cooler months, dine by the fire in Marguerite.
As you please for Les Petits Caprices and Les Chais. Marguerite lends itself to relaxed evening wear.
There are three, each with a menu by award-winning Provençal chef Flora Mikula, who honed her craft in kitchens from Paris to San Francisco. Centered around a beautiful tiled bar, Les Petits Caprices has the most globe-trotting menu, echoed by the rattan furniture, exotic foliage and Asian-style lampshades. The menu is mostly sharing plates, meaning you can try Lebanese, Japanese and Brazilian specialities in one sitting. French bistrot Marguerite is a little dressier, wrapped in decorative panelling and chinoiserie screens. The atmosphere is still relaxed, though, with details like the cowhide-and-antler chairs keeping things casual. This place is all about the hearty classics; start with the garlic soup with sausage and oysters, follow with the succulent duck breast or fish in white-wine sauce. Open in the evenings, Les Chais serves cured meats, choice cheeses and fine French wine. The canvas-covered terrace gets particularly buzzy on summer evenings, and DJs spin from Thursday to Sunday.
Anglophile cocktail bar Contre Jour looks like it hopped across the channel, returning with the inviting looks and snug feel of an English country club. Sink into an armchair with your favourite whisky or try a globe-trotting cocktail like La Carioca, a medley of El Koch mezcal, El Jimador tequila, 10-year-old madeira, Marie Brizard raspberry liqueur, Oaxaca lemonade, sour mix and Peruvian bitters.
Let Petits Caprices is open for breakfast from 7am to noon; lunch from noon to 2pm; dinner from 7pm to 10pm. Lunch is served at Marguerite from noon to 2pm, dinner from 7.30pm to 10pm. Les Chais is open from noon to 11pm.
Domaine de Raba is in Talence, a southern suburb of Bordeaux.
The best place to touch down is Bordeaux-Mérignac, which can be reached directly from London Gatwick, Bristol and Manchester airports. It takes around 30 minutes to drive from there to the hotel; a taxi should be around €40.
Gare de Bordeaux Saint Jean is a 15-minute drive away. If you’re coming by Eurostar from London St Pancras International, take the Metro line 4 from Paris Gare du Nord to Gare Montparnasse. From there, catch a TGV service to Bordeaux Saint Jean (the journey takes a little over two hours).
Having your own set of wheels will serve you well – the city centre is a 20-minute drive away. Further afield, you've got some of the county’s most famous winemakers, stately châteaux and coastal resorts like Arcachon and Cap Ferret.
Worth getting out of bed for
After breakfast, take a leisurely turn around the oak and silver birch-studded grounds. The gardens converge at a central pond ringed by trees and bamboo, where you can have open-air massages in summer (there’s a Scandi-style spa hut for the colder months). Post treatment, glide back to the house for a late-morning snack of chârcuterie and cheese (wine bar Les Chais is well stocked with Gallic delicacies). Afternoons and evenings can be whiled away in the chic salon, 30-seat cinema (complete with popcorn stand) or in the library bar, sampling head mixologist Elie’s fiendishly good cocktails.
One of the best-dressed wine hubs, Bordeaux has history and grandeur on par with any city in France. Perhaps its most majestic landmark is the perfectly symmetrical Place de Bourse, which is as classically French as city squares come. Photo opportunities are ten a penny thanks to the Miroir d’eau, a vast reflecting pool that doubles the splendid scene. Culturists should set aside time for the Musée des Beaux-Arts and CAPC Museum of Contemporary Art, breaking up visits with coffee and cannelés at one of the city’s riverside cafés. Afterwards, decamp to Bordeaux's bucolic green lung, the Jardin Publique, haunted by poets, painters and star-crossed lovers for centuries. It’s also the best spot for a picnic – load up on cheese, chârcuterie and wine at the nearest marché before settling on the banks of the pond. Passion and reverence can be experienced at the gothic Cathédrale Saint-André or wine museum Cité du Vin, a Bacchanalian temple if ever there was one (it's also an excellent place to arrange tours and tastings throughout Bordeaux).
Hotel restaurant Le Chais does an excellent brunch, but if you’ve skipped breakfast to get into the city early, Café Piha makes a good substitute. Their home-roasted coffee is arguably the best in town, and dishes like the red-squash waffles (layered with eggs, smoked bacon, cream cheese and fried mushrooms) make most breakfasts look positively spartan. If the sun has already passed the yardarm, consider their equally enticing lunch menu. Perfect for a laid-back lunch or casual dinner, Le Bistrot des Bouchons is a neighbourhood hangout serving French classics and local wines. The menu changes depending on the chef’s inspiration, but the meat and fish dishes are a solid bet. For dressed up fine dining, book a table at Le Pressoir d’Argent, Gordon Ramsey’s acclaimed Bordeaux restaurant. The name references the solid silver Christofle lobster press at the centre of the room, which is one of five in the world. The produce that goes into the food is the best of the best – foie gras from Landes, native blue lobsters, fresh truffles and organic vegetables from the Basque country, all cooked and combined with the kind of precision that made French cuisine famous. Be sure to try the steamed lobster, served with lemon leaf, girolles, courgette and zesty lemongrass bisque.
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 refurbished château in Aquitaine and unpacked their Gemology face cream from the spa, a full account of their French wine-country break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Domaine de Raba in Aquitaine…
The city dweller is forever on the hunt for peace and quiet. Fleeing our spaced-strapped environs, we crave that middle-of-nowhere feeling – and often book our trips accordingly. But, after a night or two of silence and solitude, the need for excitement can come creeping back. At the very least, we like to have the option of a modern restaurant or buzzing bar.
Enter Domaine de Raba, a hotel for those who like to have their cake and eat it too. Overlooking an estate in Talence, the hotel’s tree-studded grounds provide plenty of breathing space, and features like a floating spa cabin have powerful stress-busting abilities. On the other hand, it’s actually within Bordeaux’s green belt, putting all the diversions of the city within easy reach (should restlessness come knocking). The bars, restaurants and lounges have a similarly yin/yang character: high ceilings, marble fireplaces and century-old mirrors provide a noble frame, but the decor is otherwise dressed down, lending a laid-back feel. After dinner in one of the three restaurants, slip into the library for a quiet nightcap or saunter over to Les Chais, where the weekend is celebrated with music and free-flowing wine.