In the rolling Cognac countryside of south-west France, Domaine des Etangs is a towering, turreted retreat fit for King and Queen Smith. Guests have no fewer than 2,500 acres to explore, which take in mills and meadows, lakes and longères, herds of Limousin cows and fairy-tale forests. Inside, there’s a library curated by Mayfair booksellers Herwood Hill, an impressive private collection of art that’s yours to ponder, and a super spa that plucks herbs from the garden and utilises them for your body’s benefit.
Get this when you book through us:
A 60-minute spa treatment each, one pond angling session or guided garden tour, a welcome bottle of wine, early check-in and late check-out
Noon, but flexible for 50 per cent of the room rate. Earliest check-in, 4pm, also flexible for a fee.
Double rooms from $273.05 (€248), excluding tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of €1.50 per person per night on check-out.
Rates usually include breakfast.
Drinkers, rejoice: not only are you in Cognac country (Hennessy, Martell and Remy Martin are made in the double-distilled brandy’s namesake town on the Charente river; the birthplace of Courvoisier is down the road in Jarnac), you’re also just a 90-minute drive from Bordeaux’s bountiful vineyards.
16 December to 1 March 2019.
At the hotel
Free WiFi throughout, tennis court, bicycles, (small) boats and wellies to borrow, gym, library. In rooms: TV, minibar, free bottled water, tea and coffee kit, and Sothys bath products.
Our favourite rooms
Everything sounds better in French, especially the domaine’s room names (Serpentaire, Lune, Soleil…). We loved Vénus, for its giant bathroom, high ceiling and top-drawer views, and Saturne for its fireplace and tower-showcasing glass roof. Families and groups of friends should book out the five-bedroom, pond-facing Dragon, the three-bedroom Serpentaire by the meadows, or the two-bedroom Cassiopée or Centaure.
There are two huge, heated pools: one out in the grounds (open from May to October) and another indoors by the Roman baths.
The Moulin des Etangs spa makes use of its spectacular setting: heritage equipment from the mill is used to produce nut oil, garden plants are employed both dried and fresh in compresses, ground wheat makes its way into the body scrubs and Charentes salt peps up the footbaths.
The French, traditionally, are perma-chic – this may be the countryside, but don’t chance it: go with Le Chameau all the way.
The gardens are easily navigable for wheelchair users and one room (Mercure) has been adapted.
All ages are welcome, but the estate has a few hazards for toddlers, not least the lakes. A baby cot (free) or extra bed (free for under-12s, €25 otherwise) can be added to all but Prestige rooms, but the multiple-bedroom rooms are best for families.
Extra beds and cots can be added to most rooms, but the multiple-bedroom rooms are best for families.
The Domaine des Enfants programme keeps little Smiths busy with calligraphy classes, baking, horse-riding, angling, farm tours and more.
On site, you’ll find a playground with a trampoline and zipline, giant chess, ping-pong, tennis, bicycles. There’s also a play area in the attic with cards, fancy dress, snooker and table football.
Both pools are family friendly.
Children are welcome in both restaurants; there are special menus, highchairs and colouring-in books available on request. Over-12s are allowed in the bar.
If winter is coming, nab the spot by the fireplace. Things don’t get much cosier.
King and queen of the castle.
Breakfast – a feast of breads, pastries and local cheese and charcuterie – is served in Monade, a wood-panelled room on the ground floor of the castle, which also serves lunch and dinner on Mondays and Tuesdays. The second restaurant, Dyades, is open for lunch and dinner, Wednesday to Sunday; seasonal products and vegetables from the garden are given a Michelin-starred makeover. Don’t miss a taste of the famous Limousin beef, or the foie gras with butternut squash.
There’s a cocktail bar in Dyades, offering Cognac-based muddles, of course, but also various other wines and beers.
Breakfast is served from 8am until noon; lunch hours are noon to 1.30pm; dinner is between 7pm and 9.30pm. The bar at Dyades is open from 10am until 11pm.
Meals can be served in-room with a few hours’ notice, and the hotel can pack a picnic basket for you to disappear with into the domaine.
Domaine des Etangs spans several acres of bucolic Cognac countryside in the rolling, rural heart of south-west France.
The nearest major airport is down in Bordeaux, a good two and a half hours away by car; hotel transfers cost €450 each way. There’s also an airport a 50-minute drive away in Limoges; transfers from here are €150.
There’s a TGV station 45 kilometres away in Angoulême, with fast services chugging through from Paris and Bordeaux (www.sncf.com). The hotel can arrange car transfers for €150 each way.
Angoulême is the nearest big town – the drive should take 45 minutes. There’s free parking at the hotel.
Private planes can land at Angoulême-Brie-Champniers airport; choppers can descend on the domaine with prior permission.
Worth getting out of bed for
The 11th-century chateau has a whopping 2,500 acres to explore, which span a Heywood Hill-curated library, a working mill and an extensive art collection, as well as two pools, a spa, a lakeside tennis court, a vegetable patch, a forest, meadows, Roman baths and landscaped gardens. Resident wildlife includes a herd of Limousin cattle, horses to ride and fish to, er, fish. Head to the Royal Limoges porcelain factory, which has been crafting exquisitely decorated teacups and saucers since 1797. While you’re in town, it’s probably polite to check out the Cathédrale St-Etienne de Limoges, since it took six whole centuries to complete. Budding archaeologists will love leaping around the preserved Roman thermal baths at Cassinomagus. As if there wasn’t enough nature on your domain, the hotel can arrange bird-watching along the marshlands and canals of the Marais Poitevin park. This part of France has no shortage of turrets and towers – continue living in a fairy tale at Château de Rochechouart, the oldest part of which dates from the 13th century.
You may have seen them grazing, but at Chez Steph in La Rochefoucauld it’s time to tuck in to some of the famous Limousin cattle. In Montbron, head to the windmill-facing Le Moulin de la Tardoire for ambitious, super-French fine-dining. If you’re up for a drive, try La Grange aux Oies, 20 kilometres away at Château de Nieuil – you’ll be rewarded with yet more turrets and some sophisticated French fare.
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 historic hotel in south-west France and unpacked their canelés and Cognac, a full account of their countryside break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Domaine des Etangs in Massignac…
Calling all Francophiles: here’s the 11th-century chateau of your rural-France fantasies, complete with a fine-dining restaurant, working water mill and enough towers and turrets to make it fit for a French fairy tale. The grounds are pristine and plentiful (2,500 acres, to be exact), with a tennis court that’s seemingly suspended over one of the lakes, manicured lawns, forests, cow-filled fields and meadows. The hotel’s aristocratic credentials are approved at the highest levels – its interior designer has since been commissioned by Emmanuel Macron to renovate the reception room of the Elysée Palace, which hasn’t had a finger laid on it for three whole centuries. And, this ducal domaine will be self-sufficient within five years, thanks to the efforts of the family who are its current custodians. A father’s legacy lovingly lives on through the painstaking care of his daughter – the owner’s papa bought the chateau in the Eighties and his hard work is continuing in her historically sensitive reboot. Bon voyage.
Whenever you book a stay at a Smith hotel or villa, we’ll invite you to review it when you get back. Read what other Smith members had to say in Domaine des Etangs’s Guestbook below.
It was honestly the best hotel we have ever been to. The room was exceptional, the staff were absolutely amazing and the food was out of this world. The grounds were phenomenal and the massage was the best I've ever had.
It's very quiet and relaxing, so not a party atmosphere.
Stayed on 28 Apr 2019
A simply stunning hotel which combines country grandeur with Parisian chic.
Don't expect a busy environment. This is a tranquil getaway.