Hotel review: Take it slow at Village Castigno
PUBLISHED: 11:26 20 June 2019 | UPDATED: 11:26 20 June 2019
Good food and wine - and no WiFi - is how guests unwind at vineyard hotel Village Castigno in Assignan
"It feels like we're on a movie set," my friend observed as we arrived at Village Castigno, a boutique hotel spread across the quiet village of Assignan, around 40 minutes' drive west of Béziers in Hérault. As I set down my suitcase to take in my surroundings, I had to agree; this place had a captivating charm usually reserved for the big screen. Its setting, comprising wine-themed red, pink and purple buildings, paint-chipped shutters and quaint, cobbled streets, seemed almost too picture-perfect to be true.
How Village Castigno came to be in its dreamy state is a bit of a rags-to-riches story, too. This seductively sleepy corner of France had fallen into disrepair, until a Belgian couple came along and restored the commune's collection of crumbling buildings and empty streets, turning this village-within-a-village into one of the département's best-kept secrets; one I was about to discover…
With the exception of one building, there is no WiFi access in the village. Village Castigno takes pride in encouraging guests to switch off from the real world. After all, there is no real joie de vivre to be found behind a mobile phone screen, but in a plate of home-cooked food, a bottle of local wine with friends or shopping at the market for lunch. No time was wasted in getting our digital detox going, starting with a sumptuous lunch at one of Village Castigno's three restaurants, the bistro-style La Petite Table. Here we tucked into plates of pluma Ibérica and chocolate fondant inspired by chef Pablo's home country of Uruguay, and glasses of rosé brut from Castigno's own vineyards.
It's not just eating food that's seen as a sure-fire way to encourage guests to live in the moment at Village Castigno; it's making it, too. After lunch we were invited to make bread with chef Rosina, or Mama China, as she's affectionately known. Spending the afternoon mixing and kneading dough and eating our hard work (rosemary focaccia and spelt bread) warm from the oven was surprisingly therapeutic and I left promising to make bread more often back home.
Rosina is not alone in her passion for food around these parts. At Castigno's gourmet establishment, La Table de Castigno, Belgian brothers Pieter and Ruben are making waves on the fine dining scene, winning their first Michelin star this year. Deep-fried foie gras, beef tartare with hints of oysters and aerated white chocolate were among the wonderfully imaginative courses we enjoyed over a long dinner. We also ate at Le Thai, the third of the village's restaurants that serves authentic Asian food.
The restaurant's terrace, illuminated with red lanterns, is the perfect place to enjoy an apéritif. Chef Cathelijne prepares a unique menu every day, but I could happily eat bowls of the coconut curry and sticky rice with mango on every visit.
Of course, after all that wining and dining, you'll want to sleep it off. Thankfully, the rooms are furnished with a little luxury in mind. There are 24 bedrooms in total, located in different buildings that are dotted across the village, decorated in varying styles and themes. I was staying at the Maison des Amis, a nine-bedroom house with its own garden pool and facilities in an Asian-inspired room.
It's all an experience
As enchanted as I was with Village Castigno's international influences, I was delighted to discover that there are plenty of typically French activities to enjoy, and I was thrilled to finally be ticking off one of my long-held bucket list ambitions: travelling in a 2CV. With the roof down, we set off, chugging along twisting hilltop roads passing farmland, olive groves and sun-dappled vineyards. At the Sunday market at Saint-Chinian, we drifted through rows of whatever caught our eye: the first asparagus of the season, bunches of fresh flowers, chunks of fromage. We ended up at tthe town square to soak up some sun and enjoy a round of espressos with still-hot pastries. More fabulously French, it does not get.
What better way to realise Castigno's dream of slowing down than with a bottle of wine? Château Castigno is where the estate's organic wines are produced. Its innovative, bottle-shaped cellar is impressive from outside, but I was even more taken with it on the inside, on a wine tasting led by oenologist (and 2CV pilot) Paul. We sampled a range of the estate's wines, which were even better accompanying a picnic of crusty baguettes, cheese and local charcuterie with views of the vineyards. As with everything during our stay at Village Castigno, there was no hurry to finish. We had time for another glass of wine, right?