71 days. 71 days of looking out of the balcony at empty streets below. 71 days of snatched, rushed trips to the supermarket, avoiding people as much as possible. 71 days of 8pm applauses and home workouts. 71 days of endless Mondays, the same four walls, frustration, boredom, panic, strange moments of calm. 71 days of lockdown.
During those 71 days nature began to invade my dreams. I would dream of wide open spaces, one hundred different shades of green; walking for miles in fresh country air. The healing properties of nature have been widely spoken of. From shinrin-yoku, the Japanese tradition of ‘forest-bathing’ to Sweden’s kallbad, their tradition of winter bathing; both said to reduce stress and tension and even improve memory. A dyed in the wool urbanite, I’d never given much thought to the curative capacity of nature, but after 71 days inside, not allowed even to go for a walk around the block, I longed for it.
At Château les Carrasses, a sister hotel of the decadent Château St Pierre de Serjac, I found what I craved. Rolling hills of vineyard after vineyard spilling out from the main Château; stars dazzling in the night sky; the sound of the wind through the trees as the only background noise, lulling me into the most peaceful sleep in three months. The city and those four walls seemed like a lifetime away as we settled into the rhythm that the Languedoc dictates: slow and unhurried.
Château les Carrasses, a 19th Century wine estate beautifully restored in a three-year renovation project, is a joint venture between hoteliers Karl and Anita O’Hanlon and Laurent Bonfils, a local winemaker. Their raison d’etre is to create a destination for locals and visitors alike in the style of the ideal French wine; an assemblage of the best grape varieties to produce a superlative wine, much more impressive than the sum of its parts. At Château les Carrasses, the assemblage is the creation of a made-to-measure destination, each guest creates their own ideal stay from everything the Château has to offer.
Outdoors type? Then grab one of the free bikes and head out through the vineyards, down to the meandering Canal du Midi for the most restorative of rides, or make the most of the onsite tennis and volleyball courts. Wine Lover? The Château’s own wine is a fantastic place to start discovering the viticulture of the Languedoc before venturing out for tasting adventures in the many wineries that surround the estate. Gourmand?
After sampling the local produce on offer at the Château’s brasserie, head to the port town of Marseillan for plates of freshly caught oysters washed down with crisp white wine, while contemplating the passing barges reaching the end of their journey on the Canal du Midi.
The urbanite in me could have headed to Béziers or Narbonne—both just a short drive away—but the memory of those 71 days still hadn’t left me and the tranquil surroundings of our Gardener’s Cottage were too idyllic to leave. Complete with an elegant country inspired interior, al fresco dining area and a private pool, the cottage sits surrounded by vineyards on the edge of the estate, which is home to 30 residences, each unique in their design, transformed from their former lives as forges, stables, granaries.
Every transformation project was designed not simply to be a renovation project but a recycling project; utilising as much of the original material as possible, or giving it a new lease of life as decorative elements.
The Château’s dedication to the local environment and culture of the Languedoc has created a distinctive and authentic sustainability program; focussing on efficient construction and less intrusive gardening, growing their own vegetables for the restaurant and hiring local people to continue the estate’s integral part in the community while giving guests a true connection to the local area. A sustainability philosophy born not out of external pressure but a sincere belief that Château les Carrasses must play a key role in the future of the community, local economy, culture and environment.
The assemblage concept rings true once again as you choose to cool off in your own pool or bask in the sun at the main infinity pool at the Château; order a barbecue pack full of the best local, organic produce the Languedoc has to offer; or head to the Brasserie for authentic Mediterranean cuisine. A wine and tapas night coaxed us out of our self imposed solitude in the Gardener’s Cottage, where fireworks lit up our evening surrounded by guests and locals alike.
A cycle along the Canal du Midi gave us a refreshing sense of freedom after all those months inside. Cooling off in the stunning main pool looking out over the vineyards imbibed us with a renewed sense of calm; a staggering sunset and night sky free of light pollution connects us to the rhythm of our natural world.
Château les Carrasses appeared to us like a haven, safe and secure yet at once letting us reconnect with nature and giving us a sense of freedom we never knew we needed before those 71 days began. We may have spent our lockdown in different circumstances, in cities or in the country, tiny flats or spacious homes, but one thing we have in common is the restorative, replenishing, even healing effect of a few, luxurious days surrounded by nature.