The South of France has long been on the map for upmarket British tourists seeking summer sun, poolside lounging and the slow, languid life of rosé filled afternoons. But Montpellier and the surrounding Languedoc region seems to have evaded the attention of sun-seeking Brits. Served by a new route from Gatwick, that might soon change.
The forgotten province has an authenticity that perhaps its neighbours have lost. This might explain why there aren’t loads of luxury hotels peppering the picturesque landscape. Of the few that do exist, most tend to be former Chateaux and Domaine houses, which is no bad thing. They’re typically grand buildings steeped in history and winemaking charm.
I sampled two of the most prolific on a recent trip to Montpellier…
Château St Pierre de Serjac
Up a cypress-lined drive just under an hour from Montpellier airport, you’ll find Château St Pierre de Serjac, a not-so-insignificant 18th-century private residence-turned-hotel, alongside a series of well-considered self-catering properties that have been carefully converted from the estate’s original outbuildings and complement rather than undermine the beauty of the original building. The congregation of buildings sits amongst a functioning 200-acre wine estate that only adds to the allure of the whole set-up.
The hotel itself has eight rooms, converted into very elegant spaces that retain the essence of the original property but also give you what you’d expect from a decent modern hotel. The limited number of rooms is a nice touch because you don’t feel like you’re one of hundreds being ferried through the corridors.
The massive pool – perched on the edge of the vineyard and with views to boot – is a highlight. It’s huge but not in the 4000-person-cruise-ship kind of way. There’s just plenty of space to find a private spot amongst the outsized sunbeds that flank both sides. Other notable features include a clay tennis court, trails for afternoon wandering, and the Cinq Mondes spa which, as a separate 50m² building, feels like a proper addition rather than an afterthought.
The outdoor restaurant slots seamlessly into the surroundings, sat in a nook between the pool and the main building. A semi-translucent sun coverlets light in, with climbing vines providing heavier patches of shade for sun-averse diners.
Mediterranean in theme, with enough French classics to let you know there’s a strong local influence, the food is properly good. It’s more advanced than a local bistro might provide but not overly fussy. And the ingredients – predominantly local in origin – are everything you want them to be.
The breakfast was fantastic. Hosted in one of the former winemaking outbuildings, it was a continental spread of everything you could possibly want, almost all homemade or sourced within a few miles. It had yoghurts, pastries, and other goodies, as well as the option of eggs cooked to order.
The sense that we were staying in someone’s grand house continued into our room. Impressively high ceilings made an already big room feel even bigger. Shuttered windows on both sides made it feel like we had our own flat. The grandeur was really reinforced by the huge bed and substantial standalone bath in the middle of the room.
Who Goes There
It was primarily Brits when we were there, comprising a mixture of couples on a summer break and young families charging around the hotel’s impressive grounds. It’s worth saying that the youthful slant gave the place a good energy with lots of fun, but it was never overwhelming when I was reading my book by the pool.
The Worst Thing
Nothing of note. If I’m being picky, the Nespresso-based coffee options don’t have the same impact as coffees made using a proper espresso machine.
The Best Thing
There are vineyards pretty much as far as the eye can see. The setting makes you feel like you’ve landed directly in the middle of wine land.
Château St Pierre de Serjac
D30 entre Pouzolles et Magalas
Tel: +33 (0) 4 67 80 76 00
Domaine de Biar
Nestled into the countryside on the outskirts of Montpellier, you’ll find another historic grand residence-turned-hotel. Formerly positioned in Royal farmlands, the property was bequeathed by King Louis XV to the Treasurer of the Languedoc, Joseph Bonnier, Baron de la Mosson back in the early 18th century. Over the subsequent few hundred years, the property fell into relative ruin before its current owner, Bertrand Schmitt, acquired it in 2007 intending to restore it and add to its former allure.
If splendour was the aim, splendour is what he achieved. But it’s a little bit more nuanced than you might think. Bertrand and his team’s extremely considered restoration has brought the magnificent building back to relevance and contemporary luxury, but it’s been done in a way that respects the local environment. The dedication to doing things sustainably is more than just lip service.
The hotel’s phytofiltration system recycles wastewater while a state-of-the-art circulation system that runs through the property’s period walls controls water temperature efficiently while minimising energy usage. It’s the best kind of low-impact thinking – an enhancement to your stay rather than something that gets in the way. Eco-chic at its zenith.
The restaurant at the hotel clearly exists as a destination in its own right, attracting diners from the nearby city. The mixture of external diners and hotel guests makes for a buzzy atmosphere, even on a Sunday evening when you might expect the holiday crossover to make it a bit quieter.
The beautiful restaurant is housed in the property’s converted stables, which have been renovated to capture the equine essence of the space but also breathe new life into the building. We knew it was a good sign when we walked past earlier in the day and saw two big green eggs flanking the main doors.
The food more than matches the setting and it’s all about the produce. Most of which is local, with plenty from the hotel’s own garden, which you walk through when you first arrive. It’s a changing menu that showcases a talented team’s hunger for keeping things fresh and seasonal. And it’s very much in line with the hotel’s wider theme of keeping things slow and considered.
The room felt like we were retiring to a glorious guest bedroom in the more regal days of the property’s existence, but with some modern touches that speak to the forward-thinking approach of the place. Some quirky artworks that might not be to everyone’s taste – it divided opinion in our bedroom – make for interesting debate at the very least. Glorious, shuttered windows shield you from the sun but let the cicada-rich sounds from the garden in.
The bathroom was folded into the room itself, with units built into the existing space rather than being hosted in a room of their own right. They were nice but I personally prefer a slightly more intimate approach – a separation of church and state, if you will.
Who Goes There
Our fellow guests comprised a mixture of well-heeled Europeans, from the UK, Germany, and Spain by the detection of our not-so-well-trained ears. It felt like a place for couples seeking relaxed, sexy weekends abroad, more than a place built for young families.
The Worst Thing
The internal en suite bathroom, though that’s very much a personal preference.
The Best Thing
The execution of the sustainability-meets-luxury philosophy.
Chemin du Mas de Biar
34880 Lavérune, Montpellier Métropole