Where to stay in wine country
If you like sampling France’s revered fine wines, take the time to combine a break away with a tipple or two.
France’s wine regions offer a great variety of accomodation options. In Champagne-Ardenne the Château de Rilly offers a romantic stay amid the vineyards, while further south, the Écolodge des Chartrons is an environmentally friendly option for lovers of Bordeaux vintages. Fora more singular viticultural experience, the remote Château de Salettes near Toulouse has food to match its delicious wines.
Champagne: Bubbles all the way during indulgent stay
Set among vineyards in the hills between Reims and Épernay, the Château de Rilly offers guests a stay that will confirm all the romantic notions associated with France’s champagne-producing region.
The former 19th-century champagne house is now part of the Châteaux & Hôtels Collection and lies in the secluded village de vignerons
of Rilly-la-Montagne, which is on the edge of the Parc Naturel Régional de la Montagne de Reims. This 50,00-hectare expanse of wooded plateaux, sleepy hamlets and undulating chalk plains is lined with row upon row of twisted, grape¬bearing vines.
Behind wrought iron-gates, the striking sandstone château presents an immaculate, symmetrical picture, with long, austere windows brightened by flower-decked balconies. Behind the imposing façade, the interior is imbued with an old¬world charm that achieves elegance without being ostentatious.
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As I walked up a wide, winding staircase, antique chandeliers illuminated the narrow, wallpapered corridors that led to 15 individually decorated bedrooms, with those at the back enjoying beautiful views of the garden. My en-suite room had a cosy ambience, with an old mahogany sleigh bed draped with coloured cushions that matched the heavy velvet curtains.
Downstairs, the light-filled restaurant is spread across three rooms that look on to the terrace and gardens;
a beautiful alfresco dining space for summer visitors. Breakfast is relaxed and buffet style, with continental and cooked options, while dinner is sophisticated and à la carte.
Guests can enjoy an aperitif in the atmospheric bar and choose between a wide range of champagnes from the well-stocked cellar. If that is not enough indulgence for you, the lower floor is given over to a spa, complete with whirlpool bath, sauna and treatment rooms, which is open late into the evening.
For pursuits outside the hotel, Château de Rilly’s gracious and attentive staff are happy to organise transport or recommend visits to both the large champagne houses and smaller local producers.
Doubles from €175, breakfast €18
Château de Rilly
38 Rue de Reims
Tel: (Fr) 3 26 07 53 21
Bordeaux: Eco-friendly stop in wine merchants’ quarter
The city of Bordeaux is synonymous with fine wine – particularly in the trendy Chartrons district, historic home of the region’s wine merchants.
Here on a tiny street alongside the River Garonne, the old wooden door of the Écolodge des Chartrons opens on to an architectural gem in the form of an 18th-century house where owner Véronique Daudin runs a planet¬friendly chambre d’hôte.
Stepping into the central lounge, off which all rooms radiate, I found stripped¬pine floorboards strewn with natural-dye hangings and carpets, limewashed walls and local honey¬coloured stone. Energy¬efficiency measures include a solar-powered hot-water system and hemp¬based thermal proofing.
But this eco-worthiness is not at the expense of comfort and style. Cleverly designed interior glass walls ensure the house is wonderfully light. The five bedrooms, with a mix of antique and contemporary furnishings, are homely yet elegant. Two look on to the street, with a large family room at the back. A cosy attic-room is ideal if you need somewhere separate for the children. All have top¬notch bedding (organic of course) and eco-friendly toiletries.
Breakfast is a similar blend of classy and wholesome, and can be taken at a communal table in front of the stone fireplace in the kitchen or in the glass¬covered internal courtyard in fine weather.
Fresh orange juice, local organic yoghurts and freshly baked croissants with homemade jams will set you up perfectly for exploring this old quarter and venturing further to visit the celebrated wine châteaux of Bordeaux.
Doubles from €116 including breakfast
Écolodge des Chartrons
23 Rue Raze
Tel: (Fr) 5 56 81 49 13
Gaillac: Medieval château has its own vineyard
Those looking for a stay in remote, unspoiled wine country would do well to consider the Château de Salettes, a 15-minute drive from the wine town of Gaillac north-east of Toulouse.
I arrived to find a restored stone-built 13th-century building that combines modern comfort with period charm. My room had contemporary wooden furnishings set seamlessly against thick limestone walls, although I still obtained a Wi-Fi signal strong enough to penetrate the rock, before opening a small window to admire the view.
The château is surrounded by 40 hectares of its own vineyards, which are some of the oldest in France. They were planted in Gallo¬Roman times and later cultivated by the Benedictine monks at the nearby Abbaye Saint-Michel.
Before dinner, I sat by the swimming pool beyond the terrace, looking down on the vines. It makes a wonderful place to take a dip, sip a glass of sparkling Gaillac and contemplate the good things in life before indulging in a few more of them.
The restaurant is the jewel in the hotel’s crown – it has had a Michelin star since 2008 and a taste of chef Pascal Auger’s cuisine reveals why.
I particularly enjoyed my entrée: ‘barbecued’ foie gras with prune marmalade and almond crumble, washed down with a glass of delicious red mauzac noir.
Restaurant menus start at €31 and oenophiles will not be disappointed by the wine list, which includes blends from leading local estates such
as Domaine Plageoles, Domaine de Brin and, of course, Château de Salettes’s own vineyards.
Doubles from €135, breakfast €20
Château de Salettes
Tel: (Fr) 5 63 33 60 60