Take a tiny southern French village of roughly 200 people. Erase the uninspiring car park that acts as the main town square and turn the whole place into a digital detox haven with three gastronomic restaurants and five-star designer rooms.
The result is Village Castigno, a luxury village-hotel boasting 12 houses scattered around a handful of cobblestone alleyways.
From magenta to lilac, plum to lavender, each house has its walls and shutters painted in contrasting shades of purples and pinks to create a “village within a village” effect. Since its opening in 2015, the place remained voluntarily off the grid thanks to a strict no-wifi policy. You won’t find many Instagrammers around the stunningly photogenic streets.
Belgian couple Tine and Marc Verstraete are behind this unique design project. They managed to retain the French countryside vibe, beloved by tourists and locals, whilst offering a truly luxurious travel experience in the southwest. A good example is their 9-bedroom Maison des Amis (Friends’ House), which previously housed the grape pickets, and can now accepting bookings. While the living room includes velvet cherry-coloured chairs and pop magenta wallpaper, the exterior kept its original white stone wall covered in foliage.
And if you’re wondering why so much purple, it’s because this place is a wine sanctuary. The choice quite literally pays homage to the grapes!
Upcycled contemporary decor
I stayed in Marsanne, an industrial looking room with exposed beams, private terrace and rich violet walls, located a few minutes away from the town’s square. Besides the lovingly intimate atmosphere, I was pleased to know that the decor was made with upcycled materials and repurposed vintage furniture. Interior designer Marzia Chieretti (Be Clever) revived antiques from local flea markets and paired them with quirky objects found around the world to create an ultra contemporary vibe. It doesn’t get more sustainable than that.
Under the supervision of owner Tine Verstraete, whose previous career as a cinematic set decorator surely helped, the once tired village of Assignan has undergone a facelift. The town square is now home to a scenic outdoor terrace belonging to La Petite Table, the first restaurant in Village Castigno. Vines of purple wisteria climb along white brick walls and around dusty pink window frames.
When it comes time for breakfast, sit under a bright red parasol and indulge in well-deserved slow-food certified French pastries. If this is lunchtime for you, opt for a choice of grilled delicacies made on the monumental traditional barbecue, under the supervision of Uruguayan Chef Nacho Sosa.
The art of organic wine
Village Castigno is set in the heart of the St Chinian vineyards, in the southern French region of Languedoc-Roussillon. To receive the St Chinian appellation a wine needs to contain syrah and grenache grape varieties. You can learn this and other facts in Castigno’s nearby winery, which food critics have dubbed the “cathedral of wine”. Amen.
I don’t want to sound dramatic but this is quite spectacular. Firstly, the building is shaped like a bottle, and that’s not something you see everyday. Secondly, the ceiling-high wooden tanks used for vinification and aging are painted in different reds and purples for maximum visual effect (and consistency). Thirdly, and most importantly, it overlooks 150 hectare estate including 32 of century-old vines that are organically grown, harvested by hand and carried by Percheron horses! A family-owned sustainable business, it produces 120 thousands bottles per year, which are mostly served on the hotel grounds.
I was invited to a workshop, to try and replicate a Château Castigno 2012 composition using the right amount of grenache, syrah and carignan. No suspense here, I got it all wrong but I won’t reveal the secret as you may be tempted to do it yourself. Spoiler alert: it’s very, very, fun. A tour of the Chai with Charlotte, the sommelier, is also a must-do to understand the wine list which includes 11 bottles, and to discover this one of a kind winery imagined by Tine and executed by Lionel Jadot.
Although wine takes center-stage here (there’s even the option to do a “wine safari” around the estate), food plays a huge role. La Table, the gastronomic restaurant, was recently awarded a Michelin star and received a 15/20 grade by Gault et Millau. The 7 course tasting menu is defined by chefs (and brothers) Pieter and Ruben De Maesschalk on a daily basis, following the availability of seasonal and organic produce, which they source locally at the market of Saint-Chinian and from the on site herb garden.
My experience included dishes inspired by Latin cuisine like a “pao de queijo”, an airy cheesy bread that is a very popular appetizer in Brazil, and a Spanish escabèche, a tasty vinegar-based marinade of pickled veggies. It was followed by white asparagus in a foamy bergamot and ginger sauce and potato-hazelnut purée topped with caviar. La Table was also the opportunity to taste another St Chinian wine, Domaine La Madura sauvignon blanc, and Languedoc-grown orange wine Clos du Gravillas A Fleur de Peau Muscat 2015.
Of course, the decor is also whimsical and follows the strict colour combination seen everywhere else. The open kitchen is fitted with mauve tiles whilst the ceiling and chairs are raspberry. You can spot deconstructed teddy bears (!) framed and pinned to the ancient - magnificent - stone walls whilst heart-shaped luminaires hang from the ceiling.
Take a look at the weather from the wall-size bay window and decide what you’ll do next. Will it be an hour long deep-tissue massage at Le Petit Péché spa with Sahirah, the head masseuse, or a tour of the surrounding Regional Natural Park of the Haut Languedoc on a Vespa?
Either way, you need to finish the day in a particularly surprising - and extremely popular - place: Le Thaï de Castigno, the third restaurant by Village Castigno. Chefs Cathelijne Puyenbroek and Treetip from Bangkok brought this exotic dining experience to Assignan which is set in a cosy village house. Sitting under a row of red lanterns, you are invited to share plates brimming with fresh and delicate homemade Thai cuisine whilst reminiscing on your ludicrous wine making skills (me) and your wonderful wine tasting experience that afternoon (also me). The atmosphere is warm and cosy. Like a blanket. Like a purple blanket.
Village Castigno is a 90 minute drive from Montpellier. Rooms can be booked individually (from €130) or as part of a whole house. Visit the website for further information and booking.