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Renovation converts French chateau into charming retreat

Columbia Hillen

Opening the wooden shutters of my bedroom window to a world of lavender, rosemary, oak, cedar, palm and pine, with vineyards stretching off into distant rolling hills, was a rich refreshing start to my day.

And that was only the beginning of a stay at the 220-acre Chateau St. Pierre de Serjac in the French Languedoc.

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A light knock on my door, Room 101, exactly on the stroke of 9am as agreed, and I’m gazing at a smiling maid holding a tray with a bumper breakfast, enough to last the whole day - croissants, fruit salad, fresh juices, baguette slices, hot chocolate, ham and chorizo and assorted local cheeses.

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Impossible to eat in one sitting, I leave the heftier stuff for later while making quick work of the beverages and fruit. Then, in an effort to harness the required appetite, I step into a comfy hotel dressing gown and slippers and head down the ornate spiral staircase and along the pebble-strewn path to the nearby spa and its sauna, Jacuzzi, hammam and heated swimming pool.

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A vigorous twenty laps later and I’m back in my room, one reminiscent of the 1920s with fireplace and marble surround, terracotta flooring, large windows and heavy, flowing curtains. I indulge in the abundant luxuries around me including an oval bathtub the middle of the bedroom, separate spacious walk-in shower, twin hand basins, a big-screen TV and a coffee and tea-making corner.

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I feel like a Royal. And no wonder. As an estate, Chateau St. Pierre de Serjac dates from the Medieval period before being taken over in the late 19th century by Baron Cyprian de Crozals. The Baron commissioned Bordeaux architect Louis-Michel Garros to re-design the chateau and it remained in his family until 2011 when it was sold by descendent, Baron Paul de Chefdebien, to Irish developer Karl O’Hanlon and winemaker, Laurent Bonfils, whose family is the largest private vineyard owners in the region.

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The renovation took five years before the chateau was finally opened to guests in 2016, with wine production re-starting just last year. Aside from the eight rooms in the chateau itself, there are also, right beside it, 36 two-to-four bedrooms, self-catering houses with open-plan kitchens and private terraces or gardens, many with private plunge pools.

Whether it’s sheer relaxation or more athletic pursuits, Chateau St. Pierre de Serjac meets most needs.

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The Cinq Mondes styled spa provides diverse treatments for both couples and individuals, including toning Indian Ayurvedic and soothing French-Polynesian varieties from skillful massage therapists Illike Billard and Laurine Bonnet. There’s also an outdoor 30-meter infinity pool, tennis and boules courts, bicycles and a small gym.

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Of course, there’s the rather more sedate option, sipping pre-dinner cocktails sitting on sofas and upholstered tub chairs beside the glow of an open log-fire in the ground-floor salon bar. Then crossing the foyer to the elegant restaurant, the chateau’s original dining room, where chef Jeshen Narayanen uses produce from the estate’s own garden as well as meats from the nearby Lacaune region and oysters from the coast.

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Featuring hanging chandeliers, herringbone flooring, ambient table lamps and standing plants, the restaurant presents an elegant atmosphere, one highlighted by a central pyramid-style display of flickering candles inside numerous glasses. Framed architect drawings on the wall and 1940s letters, including one from the local wine co-operative, grant insights into the chateau’s impressive history.

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Our dining evening began with one of sommelier Pierre Graux‘s proud creations, finely tailored to our taste, a cocktail of vodka, lime, pear liquor and ginger beer, decorated with Iranian lime, fennel and lavender flowers. Trust me, it tasted as good as it sounds.

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An impressive start, and an indication of the attention to detail we experienced throughout the meal. Memorable highlights deserve a special mention, such as the chestnut and foie gras soup, decorated with shaves of crunchy cauliflower and croutons giving the impression you’re enjoying a savory creme brûlée. Also, the soup of pumpkin, mushrooms and hazelnuts, filling your mouth with warm, homey flavors, supremely complemented by a glass or two of Chateau Capitoul, Rocaille 2017. This is a blend of Bourboulenc, Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and Vignoner and a fine ambassador for the overall wine list focusing on the owners’ Bonfils products across 23 châteaux and estates, plus other varieties around Languedoc.

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While distinctly rural, nestled deep in the countryside, strategic location places Chateau St. Pierre de Serjac in a favorable light. Montepellier, and Carcassonne, with its stunning citadel, are one hour away and Beziers just 20 minutes. Mediterranean beaches are also close, while charming, wine-making villages dot the horizon.

If you’re looking for a rural southern France retreat conveniently located to the Mediterranean coastline and charming wine-making villages, look for the ‘driveway of a hundred cedars’ just outside Magalas. I hope you’ll end up thanking me.

Sean Hillen

Sean Hillen has been an international journalist and editor for over 30 years and published author. His contemporary novel, ‘Pretty Ugly’ is an intriguing ride through the murky undercurrent of the lucrative cosmetic industry http://www.seanhillenauthor.com/  Sean’s writing experience spans several continents - in Ireland, for the national daily The Irish Times and in England, as foreig...(Read More)

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