Midi majesty: Château Ventenac


- Credit: Archant

This impressive property has a rich history and an exciting future, as Rachel Johnston discovers


- Credit: Archant

Standing proudly on the banks of the Canal du Midi, separated from it only by a terraced garden of cypress trees, vines and oleander, Château Ventenac is a much-loved family home. On a site reputed to have been given by Caesar to a senior legionnaire, the present day château was built in 1880 but its oldest parts date back 300 years.

The name of the original building – Villa Venticulus – later gave its name to the village itself, Ventenac-en-Minervois, which today is home to around 500 people and has a peaceful, friendly atmosphere. Roughly equidistant between Carcassonne and Béziers, both of which have airports, it’s a superb base from which to explore diverse Languedoc-Roussillon with its sandy beaches, rugged mountain peaks and medieval towns.

Faded grandeur

Owner Julia Bristow never imagined taking possession of such a significant building. “We came to France looking for a small second home – I imagined a stone cottage with blue shutters! When our agent offered to show us une partie d’un château we thought we’d humour him, and walked around it with our mouths open,” she explains. It was love at first sight and, despite the renovations required, the Bristows decided they had to have it.

Nobody had touched the château for half a century and although it was structurally sound, it needed total refurbishment with rewiring, new plumbing and new bathrooms, as well as a jolly good clean. “The most unexpected revelation was the terracotta flooring on the attic level, which was hidden by almost a century of grime and looked black,” recalls Julia. “As we cleaned it, the most amazing glow of reds and oranges emerged.”

Despite the changes, Julia has been particularly sensitive to the château’s history and has succeeded in leaving its essential character intact. Magnificent marble fireplaces and oak floors have been retained, and with its imposing façade and red and white shutters, it’s a spectacular sight from the swimming pool and pergola below.

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One of the most appealing aspects of the property is its physical situation, which manages to embody three of the most sought-after criteria in a French home: seclusion, views and village life. All three are on offer here in equal measure, so whether you like nipping down to the boulangerie to have a chat with the locals, sketching the canal and Corbières hills from a stunning vantage point or hiding away in a hammock under the trees, it truly is a dream house.

There is good accessibility to the region, too; Ventenac-en-Minervois is within an hour and a half’s drive of Collioure, Nîmes, Montpellier and the Cévennes National Park, and for those who favour exploring on two wheels, access to the towpath along the canal is a mere 100m from the front door!

A feast for the senses

For the past seven years, Château Ventenac has been let as a self-catering property for up to 16 guests in high season and Julia has run cookery, poetry and yoga courses here in spring and autumn. A glance at the testimonials confirms my expectation that this is a very special place to stay indeed, with seven beautifully appointed, south-facing bedrooms that look over the gardens and canal.

There are five bathrooms, a large country-style kitchen and a dining room that opens onto the terrace. Here, while tucking into the local boles de picolat – Catalan meatballs and olives simmered in spicy tomato sauce – and sipping wine from the neighbouring cave, you can feast your eyes on the views and even catch a glimpse of the Pyrénées on a clear day.

Below the terrace is a 17th-century colonnaded building to renovate – which would make an ideal gîte – and this is the only element not finished to Julia’s exacting standards. Able to enjoy a ready-and-waiting property, the new owner can also purchase the furniture necessary for a chambres d’hôtes or gîte business by separate negotiation should they wish to, as well as Julia’s website and booking database (www.chateauventenac.com).

Regrettably, family matters force the sale of this beloved home, but this isn’t the end of Julia’s French story. “I’d like to buy a little house here if funds allow,” she confides, “so I can continue my love affair with this wonderful corner of France.” Château Ventenac is on the market for €890,000.

Julia Bristow

Tel: 07773 206344

[email protected]