location: Massignac, Charente
Located in the rolling, rural Cognac countryside in south-west France is Domaine des Etangs, a fairy-tale 13th-century château with turrets, towers, meadows and mills. It is set on a vast estate with landscaped gardens, an organic vegetable patch, forests, meadows and seven lakes (hence its name). There is a Heywood Hill of London-curated library, a gigantic attic play room, an extensive art collection, inside and outside pools, a spa, and a (floating) tennis court. Paddle a rowing boat on the water, cycle through the estate or simply sit back and savour the tranquil surrounds.
The spacious, luxurious accommodations are distributed between the château itself, the ‘longère’ – a typical regional farm building – and the ‘cottages’ (really an understatement) further afield on the estate – electric cars provided. All range in style, some more rustic, others contemporary classic, and have features like giant bathrooms, high ceilings, duplex bedrooms, top-drawer views, fireplaces or tower-showcasing glass roofs. The 6 cottages especially provide ample space with 1 to 5 bedrooms. In room facilities include airconditioning, stone or wood floors, TV, minibar, free bottled water, and tea and coffee making facilities.
The longère also houses the restaurant ‘Dyades’, which has a Michelin star. According to the red guide “The talented chef at work in the Dyades has no lack of experience, after working in New York and London among others. His delicate, tasty dishes contain herbs, flowers, fruit and vegetables from the garden. All of which are served in the sophisticated, luxurious decor of the castle’s former stables. Sumptuous!” Breakfast, served at the main house is a feast of breads, viennoiseries, fruit, juices and local cheese and charcuterie. Being near Cognac, the ‘cognathèque’ offers a large range of glasses to sample. Des Etangs can also arrange in-room dining and picnics.
There are two heated pools: one out in the grounds (open from May to October) and another indoors by the Roman baths. The spa makes use of its spectacular setting: heritage equipment from the water mill is used to produce nut oil, and garden plants are employed both dried and fresh in compresses, ground wheat makes its way into the body scrubs and the famous salt from the Charentes peps up the footbaths.
✅ free Wi-Fi • size matters: 3 rooms, 7 suites and 6 cottages (38-393m2) (409-4,230 sq ft) • hotel opened: 2016 • interior design: • bathroom amenities: Sothys ✅ free on-site parking ✅ pets welcome free-of-charge • 24-hour front desk • open year-round • grounds are accessible for wheelchairs, plus one adapted cottage
The DNA: The property itself is a looker with the 13th-century château and in the grounds seven 19th-century tenancy farms with a beautiful formal garden, beyond which lie around 4,000 acres of lakes, forest, rolling hills and prairies populated by 800 caramel-hued Charente cows. Outdoors, a storybook landscape of waterways and woodland to look out for wildlife – from herons and otters to deer. Resident wildlife includes horses to ride and fish to, er, fish. Once the holiday home of one of France’s richest men, the present owners’ second generation took on a two year full renovation. France has many château hotels, but Domaine des Etang stands out with its classic contemporary interiors using plenty of wood and local stone, giving it a rustic, almost Alpine feel.