This grand boutique hotel is set on its own wine estate just outside Montpellier, in Castelnau Le Lez. Domaine de Verchant is a mansion made over by Raymond Morel into a luxury retreat with a deliciously decadent spa. The buttercup-yellow building dates from the 14th-century – within the old stone walls and weathered shutters, you’ll find marvellous mosaics and a sharply curated collection of European design classics.
Get this when you book through us:
A bottle of red or white from the hotel vineyard, and a 10 per cent discount on spa treatments and massages once per stay.
Twenty-six, including nine suites, two apartments and the La Forge house.
Noon. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £344.68 (€385), including tax at 10 per cent.
Rates exclude breakfast, €28. Half-board can be arranged for a €80 supplement a person.
There’s an indulgent spa with a hammam, indoor heated pool that looks past its Bisazza mosaic onto the vineyards, and a personal trainer ready to send you jogging around the gardens. Couples can book the private area and have a steam room, balneotherapy bath and terrace to themselves. It's €20 a day to use the spa, unless you're staying in a Junior Suite or have a treatment booked.
At the hotel
Spa with sauna, hammam, Jacuzzi and gym, wine-tasting caveau, tennis court, gardens, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV (LCD TVs in some bathrooms), DVD, Anne Sémonin or Hermès products. Some rooms have PCs and printers, and some suites have Bose sound systems, iPod docks, coffee machine, minibar and air-conditioning.
Our favourite rooms
In the Neige d’Avril honeymoon suite, there’s a round bed with sheer white curtains, a dressing room and sitting area and an enormous hydro-massage tub. The suite also has a private terrace. We love the pool-facing Chinoise Suite, the Marie Charlotte Room for its hand-carved antique Indian door, and the Nur Mahal Room, which has access to the garden from its own terrace. La Forge apartment is great for families. It has lots of space and an upstairs lounge with views over the vineyards.
The large (11 x 21m) free-form heated pool is encircled by lush lawns, pine and palm trees, and lots of vines; it has a Jacuzzi too. There's a second, slightly smaller outdoor pool closer to the hotel and a heated indoor hydrotherapy pool in the spa.
The sprawling stone 2,000sq m spa has eight serene treatment rooms, an indoor relaxation garden, sauna, hammam, Jacuzzi and gym. It's something of a mod marvel, designed by artists Diane Rauscher-Kennedy and Jean Leccia; it's decked out in glass, stainless steel and marble with water walls and geometric mosaics. From 8.30am to 9pm guests (over-14s only) can indulge in body wraps, massages, facials and body scrubs with indulgent Anne Sémonin products.
Your sleekest swimwear for the spa. And a wide-brimmed hat for shade while frolicking around the vineyards.
The hotel has two disabled-access rooms, Maison du Peyre Room 51 and Deluxe Terrace 67, which are both on the ground floor. There's no lift in this historic building.
Cots are provided free; extra beds are €75. The sofa bed in the Family Apartment sleeps up to two children for €65 a night. The restaurant has a children’s menu, and breakfast is included for under-12s. A local babysitter can be arranged.
In warm weather, sit outside by the pool. Indoors, ask for a table by the arched glass door so you can gaze out at your luxuriantly landscaped surroundings.
Effortless sleek chic, but note the gravel paths aren’t heel-friendly.
Chef Damien Cousseau is behind Le Verchant, the elegant but unfussy gourmet restaurant. There’s a Mediterranean lunch menu, a bien-être evening set menu of lobster, crab, foie gras and more, and the surprise menu, for those who want to trust their tastebuds to the chef. A second restaurant Les Plages dans les Vignes is a more casual affair, set by the pool.
A bright space with mosaic flooring, square grey tables and egg-shaped swivel chairs in olive-green leather, the bar is the perfect place to test-taste Verchant’s own wines, as well as sampling the fine single-malt selection.
Montpellier airport is a 10-minute drive from Domaine de Verchant. Taxis are available from outside the airport.
Montpellier station is 20 minutes away by car, and has frequent services to and from Paris (three and a half hours), Nîmes (30 minutes), and Marseille (just over two hours), among others (www.sncf.com). The city's tram system (TaM) tcan take you to the heart of the city in around 10 minutes – the hotel's closest station is Notre-Dame le Sablassou, a 15-minute walk from Verchant.
The centre of old-town Montpellier is about a five-minute drive from the hotel, which has plenty of on-site parking.
Worth getting out of bed for
You can swim in the indoor and outdoor pools, play tennis, be treated at the spa and taste the domaine’s wine, all without even leaving the estate. Pack your visors, sweaters and slacks – there are several golf courses in the region, includingGolf de Massane (+33 (0)4 67 87 87 87) and Golf Grande Motte(+33 (0)4 67 56 05 00). There are public and private beaches less than 15 minutes away, where you can practise your sailing skills. Explore the museums, theatres and restaurants of Montpellier’s old town. Musée Fabre (+33 (0)4 67 14 83 00) has amassaed an impressive collection of objets d'art, Aigues-Mortes is a pretty medieaval commune a 30-minute drive away, and the Carmargue has breathtaking scenic vistas.
The new HQ of the Pourcel twins is Terminal #1at 1408 avenue de la mer in Montpellier (+33 (0)4 99 58 38 38); a showcase for their much-fêted Mediterranean flavours, this culinary hub has a bistro, tapas bar, terrace and shop.Effet Mer(+33 (0)4 67 56 02 14) on the beach is one Montpellier’s swishest social spots, with live DJ sets and super-sleek sunloungers. In the old town, Comptoir de l’Arc on Rue Hôtel de Ville (+33 (0)4 67 60 30 79) is a corner brasserie on a pretty square, and a great place for lunch and people-watching. For the best steak tartare in town, try Bistrot d’Alco on Rue Bonnier d’Alco (+33 (0)4 67 63 12 89).
L’Heure Bleue (+33 (0)4 67 66 41 05) on Rue de la Carbonnerie is a tea room, art gallery and antiques shop in one.
‘Oooh!’ say Mrs Smith and I, simultaneously, involuntarily and somewhat ridiculously, as our cab crunches up Domaine de Verchant’s serpentine drive. Some 17 hectares of vine-striped fields, now looking rusty and golden in the weak autumn sun, with a cluster of sandy-stoned farm buildings in the lawned and leafy centre – it looks like the perfect setting for a weekend of wine-splashed rural escapism. Which is handy, because that’s what we have planned.
Verchant has been here since 1582, when a dying bishop handed the estate to a Montpellier family (the date of the transaction has lent a name to the domaine’s wines), but it took another 420 years before owners Pierre and Chantal arrived on the scene and turned the working winery into a working winery with a deluxe hotel and spa in the middle. Upgraded to a terrace room, we not only have a bathroom the approximate size of Montpellier airport, but there’s also a wraparound balcony that overlooks the lagoon-like pool and the majestic grassy sweep down to the vines. Mrs Smith clocks the aesthetics (bright white with scarlet pops, floor-to-ceiling windows, gigantic snaking desk lamp, creamy stone arches) while I conduct the functionality overview: how the shower works (middle knob for temperature, top for intensity); what channels on TV (BBC World, French soft porn). A Star Trek button panel has me a little stumped beyond light-dimming and blind-closing. I’m sure with more application I could have got it to summon an android chambermaid.
We follow stairs down to the courtyard, past buildings and barns and men carrying ladders purposefully. This doesn’t feel like a boutique hotel – it’s more like a farm stay, only with incredibly luxurious bedrooms and some of the sharpest decor in the South of France.
Not an environment in which you’d expect to find one of Montpellier’s most celebrated spas, but there it is, looking out through glass walls, over row upon row of grapevines. While my wife is plastered with various Anne Semonin unguents, I head straight to what has been intriguingly dubbed the ‘experience shower’, ie: disco-lighting equipment attached to the ceiling, and three curiously labelled buttons attached to the wall. Hmm. Now, am I in the mood for Cool Fog, Atlantic Ocean or African Storm? I opt for all three in turn. First, a blue spotlight, a chilly trickle and a puff of minty air. It’s like being trapped inside a damp packet of Polos. Atlantic Ocean ups the trickle to a torrent, glows red, then cues up a soundtrack of squawking seagulls. African Storm is green, warm and, yes, minty, but the seagulls are still here (or possibly they’re parrots, it’s hard to tell).
‘How was the experience-shower experience?’ asks a newly radiant Mrs Smith. ‘Like a foggy Atlantic storm off the coast of Guinea-Bissau. With added spearmint.’ Mrs Smith leads me to the sauna and hammam, where we steam and bake ourselves before being ushered to the sink full of ice and the bucket on a rope. ‘What happens if I pull the rope?’ I ask. ‘You’re transported to a magical land of fairies and unicorns.’ Turns out she was lying. Now, that’s an experience shower. Once the screaming stops, I realise that a gallon of icy water to the face is actually quite refreshing. Our appetites are suitably worked up for the hotel’s other boast: fine dining.
Verchant’s restaurant is run by the Pourcel twins, possibly the best chef team to ever share womb-space. Laurent and Jacques are the brains behind the much-fêted Le Jardin des Sens, so by the time we’re seated in the little eatery, glugging on the hotel’s own glorious red, we’re quietly confident that the food won’t disappoint. A bien-être menu caters to the detox crowd – normally something I’d avoid like a busy gym, but the brine-boiled guinea fowl and asparagus (thank you, pocket dictionary, for deciphering that one) proves too tempting, especially when paired with a starter of three types of foie gras from the less health-orientated menu. The waiter arrives to tell us that if we want the hot chocolate biscuit, we need to order it soon, since it takes a while to prepare. We’re sold. It’s a steamy, thick, liquidy paradise of a dessert, which Mrs Smith declares ‘better than sex’. I could feel offended, but in this instance, she’s right.
The next day, we take the 15-minute trip into Montpellier old town, and spend the afternoon strolling along stately boulevards and narrow side streets, cursing the fact that we’ve chosen to turn up on a Monday, when the art-stuffed MuséeFabre is closed, berating the fact that I forgot to pack socks and speculating as to why Montpellier needs quite so many photocopying shops per capita, yet has so few sock outlets. Eventually, chaussettes sorted, we bar-hop through the twilight, before settling at surely the best bistro ever. We find Bistrot d’Alco entirely by accident, but this is one we’ll be raving about until we’ve no friends left to listen. A three-course meal for less than you’d pay for a cocktail. A lady in the middle of the restaurant manning a stove exclusively for crêpes suzette. Duck breast carpaccio as tender as jelly, and a perfect hunk of beef served with curried chickpeas and a jacket potato. Everything about the place is excellent (although someone could tell them they don’t need topless women on their business cards).
Satisfied and sluggish with all that we’ve eaten and drunk, we take a cab back to Verchant for our final night (I only hope the ever-polite waiting staff didn’t notice Mrs Smith launching head-first into the plate-glass door). The hotel has been a fabulous opportunity to relax in a beautiful landscape immersed in fine wine and wonder. And, like the mint-spraying shower, it’s been entirely refreshing.