There is something about driving

There is something about driving through rural France, especially in early summer, which lifts the spirits. I was driving to Domaine Des Etangs, nestled in the heart of the Charente region, North-East of Bordeaux. The Domaine is a stunning castle dating from the eleventh century and is surrounded by 1,000 hectares of beautiful rolling countryside. After a colourful history of prominent aristocratic owners, including knights and counts, it was purchased by Didier Primat, the French oil baron, as a personal hideaway. In 2015, the Château was transformed into a hotel by his daughter, Garance.

After two hours, the Satnav declared

After two hours, the Satnav declared I had ”reached my destination” but there was no sign of the Château. In the hope of finding somebody to ask directions, I took the opportunity to explore the local area. I found a small bar which was open despite the time of day and lack of customers. When I asked after the location of the Domaine, my basic French caused raised eyebrows. Verbal directions were given and the patron found my nodding acknowledgment amusing; to ensure accuracy I asked him to draw a map. Retracing my route, I successfully found the Château entrance.

The discreet entrance gives the impression

The discreet entrance gives the impression of arriving at a private property and thus the magic begins. Overlooking a lake, the Château’s mellow hued stone, russet roof turrets and exquisitely restored period details give a unique sense of place. I made my way to reception where a warm greeting was received. After pleasantries and registering, an escort to my room was accepted. Our route to the room passed through a magnificent open mezzanine where I imagined the festivities it had witnessed. We arrived at my suite; it was huge with the ceiling reaching high up into the roof turret. The design sympathetically balanced modern comforts with the Château’s historical features. The views across the estate filled me with pleasure and an eagerness to go and explore.

Prior to dinner, I took a walk

Prior to dinner, I took a walk to the potager, which was hidden behind a clipped yew hedge. As I walked through the hidden entrance, my jaw dropped. I felt the same sense of discovery as Mary Lenox in The Secret Garden but in this case, it was for real. White gravel paths weave through the planting and invite visitors to explore the fruits of the gardeners’ care and skill. There was a looseness to the planting, large brassicas plump and ready to harvest had poppies, borage and dill growing amongst them. Lavender and creeping rosemary flopped across the paths. Fruit was ripening on the trees. Water features, designed to collect rain, were placed around the plot and overflowed, trickling into the borders. A traditional lean-to greenhouse was full of ripening tomatoes. The abundance of wildlife was equally impressive. The biodiverse nature of the potager ensured the garden was alive with bees, butterflies and hoverflies. In addition, there were plenty of sparrows who were diligently picking pests from the plants. I felt transported into another world, a tranquil world, and one so rarely found these days. A world in which people and nature work in harmony. I sat on one of the benches and took in the scene. My mind was at ease and soon, it was time for dinner.

With 29 bedrooms and a secluded location

With 29 bedrooms and a secluded location, the intimate dining room offers a unique and personal experience and has proudly achieved a Michelin star. The menu features produce harvested from the kitchen garden as well as beef from the Limoges cattle reared on the estate. The freshness of the ingredients was exceptional and the meal was sublime.

On the following day it was time to explore the rest

On the following day it was time to explore the rest of the estate and whilst bicycles are available, I chose to walk. The garden was landscaped by Camille Muller in similar fashion to the famous English gardener, Capability Brown. Once again, I was transformed to another world by the expansive lake surrounded by ancient trees, the proliferation of wild flowers, and cows in the pastures chewing the cud. I listened to the sounds of birdsong, including a cuckoo, and watched the buzzards soaring high above on thermal currents. The crest of the Château features a dragonfly and this was borne out by the plethora of dragonflies throughout the estate. The Château and surrounding trees were mirrored in the calm water of the lake, with the view enjoyed from several aspects across the estate.

In this fast-paced world

In this fast-paced world, the estate is a sanctuary and affords a glimpse into a bygone era. Domaine Des Etangs is a place to escape, rest and recuperate. I won’t forget the beady-eyed squabs nesting in the eves outside my window, the potager with its fresh produce, and the spectacular estate. The discreet and gentle hospitality put me at ease. The meticulous attention to detail of the interiors and the impressive art collection; a memory which has never faded. I hope that one day I will return. The visit inspired me to create my own potager and if I cannot return, I will be able to sit in mine and daydream about my visit to Domaine Des Etangs.