This beautifully restored two-bedroom house, built from creamy honey-tinted stone, resides peacefully on the banks of Dordogne river. It is part of the Oliver’s Travels portfolio. Inside it is light and stylish, scattered with beautiful paintings by local artist Eric Bourse—unsurprising given its vivacious owner, Kit Bentley, is a successful gallerist. Eric’s studio is on-site and available to guests wishing to try out art classes with the charismatic man himself… or wine tasting, naturally.
The well-equipped property is ideal for exploring the Dordogne’s medieval towns and bustling markets and is just half an hour’s drive through rolling vineyards to famous wine mecca Saint-Emilion. Despite its prized location, it can be hard to drag yourself away from the charming village of St Seurin des Prats. As you wake, the deafening dawn chorus that fills the river’s tree-fringed banks beckons you to enjoy your coffee watching the early morning mist swirl downstream as sunrise illuminates the verdant scene. During the day, the local wildlife takes centre stage, with swans cutting through the river and fish pirouetting from its tranquil waters. In the evening lone fishermen drift silently downstream hoping for a bite as the sun melts away for another day. And then? Well, then it does it all again.
St Seurin des Prats has two good-sized bedrooms, which can be made up as twin rooms or doubles. The second you close your shutters and collapse on the beds, decked out in gleaming, perfectly plumped bed linen, you can tell you are in for a great night’s sleep. The villa is well equipped with its own kitchen, lounge and dining space and each of the bedrooms has its own shower room kitted out with Caudalie goodies and even GHDs!
For my stay, Kit had thoughtfully left lots of great baby toys for my daughter Rosie, as well as a host of practical items like a play pen, high chair and cot—although I think their Dalmatian, Joshua, was her favourite distraction.
Despite our stylish private pool and inviting courtyard, it is the captivating Dordogne which drew us to its banks time and time again.
This region is famed for its gastronomy and you can feast like a king without leaving the villa—simply head to a local market and stock up on rich foie gras, local cabécou cheese, fresh baguette and of course a pastry or two, crack open a bottle of St Emilion and relax on the terrace or river bank as the sun sets. We enjoyed picking at our market bounty before firing up the barbecue each evening and enjoying a glass of champagne overlooking the river—even the champagne here has Eric Bourse’s artwork on it!
Alternatively, if you seek a more formal affair, sniff out one of the region’s many Michelin-starred restaurants. Huitrier Pie in beautiful Saint-Emilion has one star and serves fine French fish dishes on its shady terrace below the picturesque old town, while La Tour des Vents offers Michelin-starred fine dining with breathtaking views over the vineyards of Monbazillac.
Who goes there?
Cultured art-lovers and people that enjoy peaceful, nature-enriched retreats flock to Shambhala. Famous French art historian Ellie Faure used to own the house next door and the likes of Diego Rivera and Soutine were said to have spent time here. When you relax and take in the river it is easy to see what lured them to this peaceful spot; watching the river at sunrise even I felt like a Monet in the making.
Eric has his studio within the ‘Shambhala Estate’ and runs art workshops for guests upon request. His semi-abstract and figurative works display an intriguing depth of colour and texture through acrylics applied with his trusty palate knife. During our visit he was whizzing off to China to exhibit his work, but he still gave us a quick tour of his studio… the only artist’s studio I have seen with beautiful exposed beams illuminated by an enormous chandelier—três Shambhala!
Out & about
St Seurin des Prats is an ideal base for exploring the ‘land of a thousand and one castles’. Amid its rolling vineyards and fairytale meadows are a bevy of medieval towns and villages. Wine enthusiasts should hotfoot it straight to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Saint-Émilion, which is a thirty-minute scenic drive. The steep cobbled streets are a tourist magnet, laced with the scent of expensive perfume and lined with endless wine shops. Each turn reveals a warren of hidden courtyards, Michelin-starred restaurants and breathtaking views of the surrounding vineyards.
It is lucky that the well-heeled visitors waft their fine fragrances around this medieval town’s streets, because anyone wrestling a pram through them needs all the sweat-neutralising help they can get; honestly it was like a mum-tum assault course on steroids, with 70-degree cobbled alleys and towering ancient buildings laughing at you from on high—note to self, never again. Luckily it was worth it.
Those not restricted by a four-wheeled baby bus may wish to delve under the surface in to the town’s famous eighth-century catacombs; the region is famous for its underground network of caves, some of which boast crystals and others ancient cave paintings. Lascaux’s complex cluster of caves is fondly referred to as ‘the prehistoric Sistine Chapel’.
Slightly past Saint-Emilion is the bustling market of Libourne. Here you can enjoy a more authentic French market experience—sandwiched between Bordeaux and Saint-Emilion, it is often missed by tourists.
Bergerac, around 40 minutes away, also boasts a beautiful old town with pretty squares and half-timbered houses. Here you can also view the area from the river itself on a traditional flat-bottomed gabares boat.
The worst thing
Villa Shambhala, the larger of the two rental properties, has a fantastic little garden with various seating areas and a fire pit/BBQ perfectly positioned for observing the river’s goings-on. Petite Shambhala’s riverside garden, on the other hand, is a little more rustic. But with a courtyard and private pool we certainly weren’t complaining!
The best thing
The Shambhala Estate is special. It has a certain je ne sais quoi. Maybe it’s the ever-present river, maybe it’s the boutique execution or the village’s arty history… whatever it is, it works. It is a wonderful place to simply be. You feel more at peace with every minute spent there. Now that is hard to find.