Pulling up to Château Capitoul at night gives only the smallest hint towards what to expect. The pitch black countryside just outside of Narbonne on the Mediterranean coast gives way to a long, tree-lined approach, at the end of which rests an imposing, underlit neo-gothic Château, which wouldn’t look out of place on a windswept Yorkshire moor.
Come morning that countryside reveals itself to be endless, rolling vineyards, beautifully framed by my shuttered third storey window. Château Capitoul is several things at once: there’s the aforementioned Château, essentially a boutique hotel of its own, with eight rooms connected by a central staircase complete with chandeliers and original art.
There’s also a 44-villa “hamlet”, with rooms varying in size from “very comfortable indeed” to “absolutely bloody massive”. Some come with their own plunge pools, every room is en suite, and they’re all built to make the most of the views across the vineyards to the Pyrenees or down to the ocean, which is a 10 minute drive away.
Then there’s the working vineyard, winery and wine shop, where a range of bottles are produced, aged and sold. Renowned hoteliers Karl O’Hanlon and Anita Forte are beyond the project, having already seen huge success with sister properties Château Les Carrasses and Château St-Pierre de Serjac, both of which are nearby.
How do you get there?
Capitoul is a 40 minute drive from Béziers airport, a tiny, one terminal affair serviced by Ryanair, who practically give away tickets on this route (there are some listed for this week for £21 return). ToulouseBlagnac airport isn’t much further, and Capitoul can arrange a car from either. Alternatively, you can catch the TGV from Paris, which will take a little under five hours but is a beautiful and relaxing way to travel. You could link up from the Eurostar, or, as I did, spend some time in the capital before heading south.
What’s it like?
Château Capitoul is almost incongruously luxurious compared to the working vineyards that surround it. Everything from the huge, sunbaked terrace to the infinity pool to the ever-present hiss of cicadas draw your attention out towards the vines, and a walk through the wild-looking but carefully planned gardens – designed by James Basson, if you’re into that kind of thing – to inspect the grapes yourself is a must.
Rooms in the chateau are in keeping with the rustic surroundings – mine featured views across to the mountains and plush velvet furniture, all intercut by dramatic wooden beams. It also came with a free-standing bath, which is the ideal location to sample the local produce.
The villas are more modern – the epitome of neutral-hued sophistication. Built around facilities including a pétanque alley and tennis courts, it reminded me of something from JG Ballad’s novel Super Cannes, only with fewer murders.
The villas and the Château sandwich the modern reception area, which also houses the main restaurant.
What about the food?
After breakfast Asado becomes a Mediterranean grill; I had an excellent grilled cuttlefish one afternoon and an equally well prepared lamb chop the next. The French don’t mess this stuff up.
But if you want something special, you’ll want to try the fine dining restaurant Mediterraneo, where chef Valere Diochet creates a pan-Mediterranean tasting menu using whatever he can find locally. There are the usual spherifications and emulsifications but the result is surprisingly restrained, simple dishes made in inventive ways. It only opened a few months ago but this is a Michelin star in the waiting – and at €90 for seven courses (plus the rest), it’s not unreasonable, either.
You can arrange to hire a bike or jump in the car and drive to the beach but I opted to stay on-site, taking a tour of the vineyard and then tasting the produce myself. You can tailor a tasting to your tastes and wallet – I sampled the current range and finished with a splash of the 2003 La Clape, one of the most notable vintages of recent times. I recommend doing the tasting before dinner so you can order from the wine list with authority.
Elsewhere you can book a massage at the subterranean spa, wander the vineyards, or simply lie by the pool, listening to the cicadas and watching the grapes grow.
Need to know
An overnight stay in a hotel room at Château Capitoul is from €220 on a B&B basis. For further information visit www.chateaucapitoul.com or call +33 (0) 448 22 07 24.