On a relaxing spa break trip to Montpellier in the south of France, the ancient town of Castries makes for a refreshing tranquil stop says Lucy Pitts as she languishes in the shade of the Chêne…
Just 10km north east of Montpellier is the small, sleepy village of Castries. It’s been home to the Castries family since 1495 and sits in the shade of the Castries castle (last rebuilt in 1828) and accompanied by impressive 17th century gardens which were originally laid out by Andre le Notre. It’s a tranquil resting point half way as it is between the enchanting and historic town of Sommieres and the sizzling city of Montpellier and a welcome pause if, like me, you’ve been exploring the region.
But if you head out of the town on the road to Sommieres, you come to the walled garden of the Hotel Disini, where, leaving the bustle and heat of the Languedoc behind you, you walk up the steps to the vast, airy foyer and are instantly struck by the most unbelievable sense of calm.
Inspired by the spirit of Indonesia and furnished from Bali, there’s an inescapable feeling of the east here with the burnt orange and terracotta walls, stone floors, drifting scent of sandalwood and ever present Buddhist style finishing touches and the current manager explains that what they want to create, is a sense of “Zen”.
There’s lots of emphasis on natural materials such as wood, silk, leather, stone and mother of pearl and each of the rooms has a unique but spacious sense of style. Mine had a huge, square stone bath the size of a small boat and you know when you need a step ladder to get into the vast shower, that you’ve arrived somewhere really special.
Leading from the Indonesian style hall is a spacious and shaded courtyard overlooking the orchard of Chêne trees, which are valued, I was told, because of the quality of the shade they provide. They look a bit like a large olive tree and certainly help reinforce the sense of lazy luxury and calm here, with their sage green leaves and gnarled old branches. And tucked away in amongst the trees, are lots of sleepy corners in which to relax including tables and chairs, hammocks and even the odd bed or two as well a large and inviting pool and a bubbling infinity style, hot tub over looked by a sleeping Buddha.
On the evening of my stay, I eased myself quietly into a corner of the restaurant’s terrace to listen to the sound of cicadas and the gentle trickle of water from one of the nearby fountains. They have a talented chef at Disini, David Bilcot, and I enjoyed a really superb meal which, with the addition of a tantalising boeuf en croute “amuse bouche” and a large petit four with my coffee, seemed to stretch into 5 courses rather than 3. Watching the sun slowly slip down the walls and across the orchard, a light refreshing starter of vegetables “crus et cuit” was followed by the most delightful fish of the day, subtly infused with a woody hint of nature from locally sourced vegetables and I couldn’t help but be reminded that this hotel is very much about elegant simplicity and nature’s wonderful bounty.
My enormous bed, overlooked by some vibrant local art and with a private balcony peeping down over the trees and orchards, meant that having sat out reading for a while and listening to the sounds of nightfall, I was overcome with such a sense of contented wellbeing that I had the best night’s sleep that I’d had in weeks. And as I over indulged again the next morning on a delightful breakfast feast and the sun started creeping back in amongst the trees, I had trouble persuading myself that I was not back in a sleepy eastern oasis but instead, only a short distance from the pulsing cities of the south of France.
As part of the hotel, there’s also a spa which you get to down a fragrant and candlelit corridor and where they offer a range of relaxing and restorative treatments. But if you don’t have time for one of those, and I didn’t, at the very least slip back into the pool for a refreshing swim before you contemplate facing the vibrant world outside once more.
This tropical paradise with a large helping of French charm is a perfect spot in which to refresh and recharge and will put you back in touch with life’s simple pleasures. It’s a world away from the hustle and seems to slip along quietly with its own distinctive pace and if you just want to step away from it all for a moment, I can’t think of a better spot.
You can find out more about the Languedoc at www.destinationsuddefrance.com
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Lucy Pitts is a reporter for The Good Life France and freelance copywriter who divides her time between the UK and the Vendée, France