Assignan – a little pocket of purple in the Languedoc…
Tucked away in the very heart of the Languedoc-Roussillon region in the south of France, the village of Assignan is an unexpectedly red and purple pocket of the extraordinary. As villages go I think you’re unlikely to find anything else quite like it and for that reason alone (and many others) it’s worth a visit.
The village is the vision of a wealthy couple from Belgium who having sold their business back in 2007 were looking for a secluded and rural retreat. Stumbling upon a forlorn and forgotten chateau (commanding majestic views of the 150 surrounding hectares of neglected vineyards, rolling hills and wild landscape), the couple embarked on a complete, lavish and metamorphic renovation.
Four years on, where once stood crumbling walls and faded pasts, now stands the clean lines of the very cubic style and impressive façade of the reborn Chateau Castigno, sporting iron gates with ornate filigree, wine red walls, an infinity pool and the sort of views we all dream of.
Giant red works of art in the shape of two dogs and statutes of Balinese gods grace the grounds and this re-invented chateau is enveloped in serene terraces basking in the southern sunshine and the utter tranquillity of this region. It’s a curious contradiction of old and new – they’ve even imported an entire olive grove from Spain and planted it in the valley below.
But tear yourself away for a moment because the story doesn’t end there. Sauntering into the nearby sleepy village, you’ll be struck by the fact that everything is painted purple, pink or red. The couple currently own 14 properties here with plans to purchase more and inspired by the rich tones and hues of the wines of the region, you’ll find gates, shutters, doors, cushions, sun loungers, signs, cars, bedrooms, tables and chairs have all been saturated in colour.
Opulence and indulgence are on the menu here with the emphasis on fine wine, food and sensual experiences of your choosing. Rise before dawn and take part in one of the Nomadic Kitchen experiences. A whole pig and lamb and a sizeable side of beef are slow cooked on bay and vine wood out in a sleepy corner of the estate in the shade of the olive trees. Local rosemary and other herbs are gathered from the Garrigue, and you can soak up the scents and smells of the feast while enjoying lashings of the Castigno wines. And at €75 per person there is no doubt that this extravagant picnic is an excruciatingly pleasant and hedonistic way to spend a day.
This region of France has an abundance of delights to enjoy and the concept at Assignan is to afford you every opportunity to enjoy them in whatever manner you choose. You can head out into the country with a picnic in an old 2CV (red of course), set off on a scooter with your friends, try the local wines in the wine bar or head off on foot or by horse. There’s even a horse drawn carriage, an expensive lingerie shop or the opportunity to try grape picking for a week in the organic vineyards.
The entire project is centered round the main part of the village and the immaculately white tiled streets draw you in. Here you’ll find two restaurants and a very distinctly Uruguayan and Balinese influence with an eclectic mixture of artefacts and decorative styles. The central square is lavished in red with plump cushions, heaters for the cooler evenings and soft red and purple shawls laid on. And the Uruguayan chef produces sumptuous local fodder with an inescapable South American twist. And head to the other restaurant La Table for breakfast and you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d skipped a continent, with its exotically styled pagoda, strong Asian influence and vast external chandelier.
With a range of 11 of the Chateau Castigno wines to sample, designed to take you through a meal from ‘apero’ to Cognac and a wellness clinic and wine courses planned, it’s your choice. Relax and indulge by one of the pools, soak up the different vintages of Chateau Castigno (including the likes of their sparkling rosé – Rosé Brut Nature, or a vintage which they have created specifically as a summer red to be drunk chilled – Terra Casta) or head out into the countryside.
There are 28 rooms available and the design and décor of each shows an astonishing level of attention to detail. I enjoyed hand embroidered pillows, a vast wrought iron bath and a view from my bed of the sunrise. Whilst shampoo is served up in ornate glass pots with purple tassels and a complimentary bottle of wine awaits you, matching the theme of your room.
It’s a Wifi free area but you’ll find your hosts try to be impeccable in anticipating your every whim providing retro scooters and a 2CV for guests use. Chateau Castigno won’t be to everyone’s taste but those with a hankering for the outrageous and the slightly bizarre blending with sublime views and hedonistic luxury will love it. The village very much reflects the quirky personalities and energy of the two strong visionaries behind it and is the sort place that will surprise you at nearly every turn. It’s flamboyant, it’s unusual and it’s certainly very colourful and like I said, I’m pretty sure there is nowhere else quite like it France.
For more information about the accommodation, experiences and wines available at Assignan and Chateau Castigno visit www.chateaucastigno.com
Lucy Pitts is deputy editor of The Good Life France.