Set in a fairytale 11th-century château, Domaine des Etangs is a landmark hotel in France’s Charente countryside, just two hours from Bordeaux.
From protected forest to seven lakes, Michelin-starred meals to world-class art, here are 10 highlights of any stay.
1. The medieval château is a living history lesson
More than a charming place to stay, Domaine des Etangs is like a slice of French history. The medieval château, fief of the knights of Chasteigner de la Roche-Posay, was once the key stronghold on the road between Limoges and Angoulême. In the centuries since it has housed the who’s who of the country’s aristocracy, before being transformed into a luxury hotel in 2008. Learn all this, and more, on a heritage tour across the grounds.
2. Meeting the wild animals
Set over 1,000 hectares, the Domaine and its grounds are home to all manner of animals, from ducks and otters to foxes, Limousin cows and wild deer. From mid-September to mid-October, guests can join a ranger to tour the woodlands in a silent electric car, your soundtrack the cry of the deer as they call to each other through the trees.
3. Incredible spa facilities
Once you’ve recovered from the beauty of the Moulin des Etangs spa, set in an old walnut oil mill, settle in for hours of pampering inspired by nature, whether rituals using organic products or massages outside amid the forest. Treatment suites are complemented by a hammam, indoor hydrotherapy pool, outdoor heated pool and a ‘floating’ tennis court.
4. A Michelin-starred restaurant with homegrown vegetables
Much of the produce served in the Domaine’s Michelin-starred restaurant, Dyades, travels just a few minutes to your plate – direct from the property’s 2,000-square –metre vegetable garden. This organic spiral expanse is open to guests (mid-April to mid-September), when you can join tours to discover the aromas and flavours of plants and herbs grown here through blind tastings.
5. An extensive art collection
The château’s exterior may date back a millennia, but inside (and across the grounds) you’ll find one of the region’s most extensive – and exciting – private collections of modern art, from installations to paintings by the likes of Picasso and Matisse. The hotel also hosts regular exhibitions.
6. Paddle around 7 lakes
Is there anything more relaxing than reclining in a wooden boat and drifting across the water, dragonflies skimming the surface and birdsong in the background? You’re spoilt for waterways at the Domaine, with seven to choose from when it comes to your leisurely afternoon punt – we recommend ordering a bottle of bubbles to ease you into the afternoon.
7. Learn about the land
The estate’s lakes are brimming with fish, from pike to perch, amid others. Learn how to reel in a catch, then throw it back – the Domaine has a no-kill policy. You can also learn about the doe-eyed cows – there are more than 800 – roaming grounds, which breeder Laurent Leservoisier knows by name. More than 300 calves are birthed here annually, in high demand around the world.
8. Free activities at Domaine des Etangs
Yoga, wine tasting, cycling – these are some of the Domain’s free activities. The latter is a particularly serene way to enjoy the vast estate; lose yourself in fields, meadows and woodlands, breathe in fresh country air and meet resident wildlife along the way.
9. Daily changing menus
Menus at Michelin-starred Dyades change on a daily basis, but whatever is in front of you will be so pretty – not to mention tasty – you’ll think chef Geraud Dupuis has been making it his entire life. Using seasonal produce from the estate as well as local purveyors, Dupuis creates dishes that speak of the terroir, all paired with regional wines, of course.
10. A vast library
Bibliophiles, rejoice! The Domaine’s library is a place you could lose yourself in for eternity, curled into a leather sofa reading classic tomes and top-selling novels. It’s set across two mezzanine spaces: one housing pre-1920 works, the other books up to the present day. Your hardest decision: Which pocket of literary inspiration to linger in?