Sitting on the terrace of my lodge at Village Castigno, a wine resort in the foothills of the Haut Languedoc Regional Nature Park in the South of France, I’m sipping a glass of Château Castigno Merlot. It was made in La Cave, a purpose-built wine cellar not far from here, with grapes grown on these very hills – and I have the distinct sense that I have arrived in some sort of fairy-tale town.
The story of Village Castigno is a fairy-tale in itself. When Belgian husband-and-wife team Marc and Tine Verstraete decided to purchase 150 hectares of the Saint-Chinian vineyards in the Assignan (at the heart of the Languedoc-Roussillon region), they ended up creating much more than their Châteaux Castigno wine label.
Finding themselves in need of accommodation for seasonal workers who would descend every summer to hand-pick organic grapes, they decided to purchase a few properties in the half-abandoned town down the road.
I have the distinct sense that I have arrived in some sort of fairy-tale town
This decision proved popular and, over the years, they’ve bought 12 buildings along with various tracts of land for construction. By 2016, they had breathed so much life back into the village that they decided to turn it into a tourism enterprise.
Today, Village Castigno has 118 permanent inhabitants, many of whom are employed full-time by either the hotel, La Cave, or by one of the three restaurants: Le Thai, La Petite Table and the Michelin-starred La Table.
Fifteen different types of grapes are grown on the vineyards surrounding the hotel, and these combine to create a range of wines which all evoke the love and attention that has gone into picking and squeezing each individual berry.
On my first night, I have the opportunity to sample a few of these at Le Thai. The peppery merlot matches perfectly with my veal tongue with celery sauce, while the dash of elderflower in the Grace des Anges Rose Blanc brings to life my gingery fried chicken.
The exterior is clad entirely with Portuguese cork bark while the building itself is in the shape of a wine bottle.
Village Castigno is proudly WiFi-free, forcing guests to rely on that age-old tradition of conversation and storytelling – and with each of the restaurant staff living in the village full-time, there are plenty of stories about Village Castigno to go around.
The next day, I wake bright and early to meet Sahirah, Village Castigno’s yogi-in-residence, who helps me recover from the night before with an hour of light stretching. Her office, so to speak, is the 350-year-old rural house, Le Petit Peche, which has been converted into an intimate and other-worldly massage studio, spread over three floors. The decor, sourced from Tibet, looks ethereal and mysterious in this pocket of France.
A 10-minute walk away, La Cave is the centre of life in the village. Purpose-built by maverick Belgian architect Lionel Jadot (best known for regenerating the JAM hotel in Brussels), every feature of the building evokes an appreciation of wine. The exterior is clad entirely with Portuguese cork bark, the main gallery is suspended on concrete vines punching out of the ground, while the building itself, viewed from above, is in the shape of a wine bottle.
Grapes grown without pesticides are plucked from their stems by hand and transported to the winery on horseback, and nothing goes to waste. (The excess wine residue even finds its way to a brewery in Belgium, where it is fermented and turned into beer.)
This part of France switches dramatically from softly undulating hills to vast, craggy mountains, and a Vespa ride is the best way to explore. The ancient roads may not have been built with motorised scooters in mind, but they deliver nonetheless – although I do take extra care, working my way down the hairpin turns, not to look over the steep edges.
Returning to the village, it’s time for the final stop on my journey: a five-course tasting menu with wine pairings at Michelin-starred restaurant La Table. The brainchild of Belgian brothers Ruben and Peiter De Maesschalck, this immaculate and enticing farm building on the edge of town brims with energy.
We begin with a langoustine tartare, which hums alongside the Château Castigno Grand Vin. White asparagus with bergamot foam and ginger is followed by lamb shanks that practically drip from the bone, their fiery flavour harmonised by a Château Castigno Merlot. To finish, there’s a charcoal meringue, a brutalist masterpiece of a dessert, paired with the Muscat de St Jean de Minervois.
Yes, this resort revolves around food and wine, but it punches far beyond its culinary credentials. Yoga, massage and long country walks create the perfect blend for a weekend in the south of France, making Village Castigno so much more than fairy-tale fiction.
How to get there
Rooms at Village Castigno Wine Hotel and Resort (villagecastigno.com/en; + 33 (0) 467 24 26 41) start from €130 (around £112) on a room-only basis.
The nearest airport is Béziers with Ryanair (ryanair.com), who fly from London Stansted, London Luton, Bristol, Edinburgh and Manchester. Flights from London Stansted start from £20.39.