Break out and head for France for a break from the city
Why a trip to Montpellier’s Domaine De Verchant delivers a soothing antidote to City stress
There’s a whiff of Patrick Bateman about my junior suite at Domaine De Verchant. The black, white, grey scheme is minimal, modernist and more in tune with the New York lair of American
Psycho’s protagonist than its actual location.
Beyond the impossible white of my room lies a converted chateau and wine estate with parts dating back to the 16th century. Its walls are the colour of set honey. Its roofs are tiled in warm terracotta.
Within its gates, everything is manicured from the plunging decadence of its robot lawn mowertended gardens to the neat rows of its vines, which surround the main building and its extensive warren of blocks and chalets.
These mostly house rooms and suites, or are available to let as standalone properties – an ideal clutch to service the hotel’s restaurants, spa and vast conference facilities.
Touring the latter, it’s easy to see the attraction for businesses. The semi-walled estate is 10 minutes from the centre of Montpellier but is completely self-contained. It’s ideal for firms concerned about prying eyes when doing deals or at their revels.
It even has a generous supply of its own, silken wines produced in just the right quantity to fuel guests and clients. Consequently none makes it across the channel to the UK.
As I’m not in the habit of hosting large conferences for my deserving employees, I concentrate on the guest experience.
Rated five-star and bound by the Relais And Chateaux group’s manifesto on the art of living and hospitality, it’s little surprise the facilities deliver little in the way of disappointment.
My room, while brutal in its minimalism has a vast, comfortable bed and slick wet room facilities.
But it’s in the spa where the hotel really sets out its stall. Having dumped my paraphernalia in the luxuriously appointed changing room, I’m straight outside to a sun-drenched poolside area.
Slipping into the aquamarine water delivers delightful respite from the rays but it’s the scent of freshly cut grass that does it for me.
As I laze about floating in bliss, the tractors are out in the vineyard, metres from where water slips over the infinity lip of the pool’s edge.
Above, smartly dressed types in Ray-Bans mill about at the venue’s La Plage Dans Les Vignes bar and restaurant, dancing unconsciously to the faint background of tastefully selected beats. After a dip, it’s back inside to discover the spa proper. Facilities include the usual with warm indoor pool and jacuzzi plus treatment rooms. My massage is the standard mixture of assured technique on her part and fighting to suppress bursts of ticklishness on mine. The food’s good too. I dine lightly by the pool at La Plage where soups and smaller dishes seem the order of the day. Light cocktails for the lunchtime crowd are also much in evidence. In contrast the cuisine of Damien Cousseau in the restaurant proper is more sophisticated and clearly pitched at those who like to tot up Michelin stars. The tasting menu I’m fed includes Mediterranean squid with slowly cooked black garlic, lemon, mussels and green asparagus, roast beef with spring vegetables and “The Strawberry” a creamy crunchy melange based on the titular fruit.
All are presented accurately and simply with the emphasis on bright colours. They taste as good as they look, especially washed down with the produce of Verchant’s 17 hectares of vines after a day spent splashing about beside them.
All this luxury isn’t to say there aren’t a few duff things during my stay. One morning a breakfast order fails to arrive twice thanks to the confusion in the mind of a new member of staff.
Having arrived late on the first evening, I’m light-headed enough to request “Like A TV Dinner” from the room service menu.
What turns up is a bizarre collection of foods including chips, black olive tapenade, guacamole and some sort of wrap. It’s far from pleasant and a jarring presence with so much sophistication about.
Overall though the hotel is a charming, well-heeled base in this part of France. Its posher suites have attracted the likes of Bruce Springsteen who stayed when playing what is now the Sud De France Arena with each interior a standalone work on its own.
Although I only have time for a brief walk around Montpellier itself, it appears to be a jolly little place, all eccentric architecture (notably an imitation Roman aqueduct) and streets that seem to tumble into one another.
Further afield there appears to be a sizeable amount of development with modern buildings springing up all over.
In fact when I borrow an electric bike from the hotel and head out I find a network of streets laid out on a plot adjacent complete with pavements and curbstones but, as yet, no neighbourhood.
Much more pleasant is a ride up into the vineyard itself to a small copse that conceals a set of beehives.
While the estates’ boundaries are quickly exhausted, that’s not necessarily a problem – it’s the kind of resort designed more for keeping its guests in than pushing them out to endless activities. Flights from Gatwick take about two hours to Montpellier, meaning Londoners with the requisite readies can take a train south, board a jet and be slipping into the pool in around four hours. There’s really little need to leave and the whole experience seems pitched at tired city folk looking to work off the stress with an extensive session in the spa before decamping to one of the restaurants for suitable refreshment. And that’s before you’ve even embarked on the decision making process involved in whether you’re going to use the bath or shower when your get back to your room. With so much to occupy and (nice touch) iMacs supplied for those who just can’t put down their email, the outside world might as well be as real as the imaginary buildings on the half-finished estate next door.
A land completely without consequence for the next 48 hours or so, which will all be spent reclining in luxury.
There’s really little need to leave, the whole experience seems pitched at tired city folk Jon Massey, The Wharf
Verchant’s outdoor pool offers views over the vines and lies below its more informal restaurant
Black, white and grey, Jon’s deluxe room was minimal and unrepentant in its dedication to a relatively severe aesthetic
‘Like A TV Dinner’
Roast beef at Verchant