There’s nothing like a sweaty back and a pair of aching thighs to remind you that if you haven’t ridden a bike in the last ten years, it doesn’t get easier just because you’re surrounded by vineyards in Languedoc. But on the periphery of Château les Carrasses there is no one around to overtake, point fingers or make you panic.
Roads are empty, vineyards stand quietly to attention and poppies huddle at the roadside, cheering you on. In fact, this is one of few properties that genuinely warrants the phrase ‘tucked away’. On the return from Capestang village I got lost and had to seize upon familiar-looking clumps of bushes that had been destroyed by my wayward wheels on the way down to guide me back until the Cinderella turrets of the chateau came into view through the cypress trees.
Built in 1886, this winery fell dormant in the late 1980s and was bought by Dubliner Karl O’Hanlon, a former banker who went into property development restoring run-down wine estates and convents, after seeing the huge potential in not just the main building, but the adjoining barns, cellars, cottages and stables.
Les Carrasses has seen the benefit of his transformation, producing its first vintage in 2012 – and it’s a magnificent hotel to boot. Stay in the Grand Salon, the largest two-bedroom apartment in the body of the property that used to be the chateau’s main reception rooms, then indulge by sleeping in each bedroom alternately. Smooth wooden floors, warm underfoot, extend through the entire apartment which is painted in soft creams, greys and duck-egg blues.
One-off pieces of startling furniture, from a bending lamp poised like a giant fishing rod over the sofas, to a black antique chandelier, and a matte white bathtub in the middle of the bedroom, bring a tasteful mix of modern chic and classic charm. Floor-to-ceiling wooden shutters block out all the light at night, so you’re guaranteed a good night’s sleep, but beware the wooden floors above which carry the sounds of early-morning tramping around.
But this isn’t the sort of property for long lie-ins. Your living room window looks down onto a heated pool that begs for company, and from the water’s edge you can gaze out over the sunflower fields and vineyards and be smug that London is probably grey and raining.
There is a kitchen in each apartment but take my advice that it’s not worth the hassle – the restaurant menu features everything from beef and pork loin in port, and magret de canard in mango, to tuna tartare and plump roasted scallops, crisp on the outside but wobbling in the middle.
And if you’re too lazy to wander back to your room, there’s a set of cosy sofas in the middle of the room where you can flop afterwards with a glass of the chateau’s own vintage and a pudding. But don’t indulge yourself too much – or you’ll miss out on a beautiful bike ride to the local town the next morning.