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

The Wharf - - CANARY WHARF - Jon Massey

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

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