Domaine des Etangs is a truly special hotel in an art-filled 13th century château with private farm cottages dotted around the undulating countryside.
Flick through a book by the pool, roam the fields on bike, foot or horse or let the afternoon drift away over a rosé-soaked lunch. Just don’t forget to look around you – it’s all so beautiful.
Where is it?
Hidden in a lush valley just outside of Massignac (some of the locals we spoke to didn’t know it was a hotel and presumed it was a working farm — which it also is), is the immaculately restored 13th century château set among 2,500 acres of countryside.
It’s 40 minutes from Limoges airport and two hours from Bordeaux. Rent a car to avoid the hotel’s expensive transfer and to explore the beautiful Charente countryside — and beyond that, neighboring Dordogne.
All roads point to the château which has been painstakingly and creatively overhauled by owner Garance Primat. With a keen eye for art, rather than a musty old castle, the château feels like a treasure trove with each room, artwork and brick telling a story. The loft space in particular is like an adult playroom with a dressing up box, billiard table, fussball and pool tables and Star Wars posters. Downstairs, the neo-gothic building is brimming with character and stories — the old kitchen and pantry have been transformed into a cozy reading nook and the grand neo-gothic entrance hall is filled with cool Vincent Fournier’s animal photographs. There are four lounges, each with unexpected artworks. Look out for the dandelion light by Ralph Nauta and Lonneke Gordijn in the ladies’ lounge and the family portrait by Hans-Peter Feldmann in the Family Lounge.
The hotel’s insignia, the dragonfly, appears everywhere — on the robes, on slippers, as art. Grace believes it signifies balance and that’s exactly what the hotel achieves: it is equal measures calm and inspiring; homely and luxurious.
Away from the château, the restored main farmhouse building is expensively rustic with exposed stone, beams and organic furniture everywhere. Each season brings something new, but we loved our visit in June with the pungent bushes of lavender.
The seven rooms and suites in the château are named after planets in the solar system: Lune, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn and Sun. Each has been thoughtfully and elegantly designed around a celestial theme.
There are four suites in the main farmhouse which also holds the reception and the restaurant, which is where we stayed. The double level suites are supremely comfortable with mini kitchens and living areas with doors opening out onto a terrace area.
Dotted around the rolling fields and tranquil lakes are seven restored farmhouse cottages for families or private parties — all are reachable by complimentary electric cars and push-bikes. Romantic hideaways for two or a party house for ten, these are the bucolic French fantasy with 5-star hotel service. They come with working kitchens and private terraces.
Food & drinks
The hotel’s only restaurant, Dyades, is where you’ll head for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Petit dejeuner is a self-serve buffet with fresh fruit, yoghurt, pastries from the village boulangerie, smoked salmon, charcuterie and cheeses. There is an extra cost for cooked items.
The lunch menu du jour is best served on the terrace which has views down into the valley, across the lake and to the cows in the undulating fields beyond. Expect fresh plates like gazpacho, onion confit salmon and pollock fillet with perhaps something like tiramisu or profiterole for pudding. Surrounded by fragrant gardens, with a chilled bottle of rose, it is the perfect place to waste a few hours. Or, ask the kitchen to prepare a picnic, nab one of the hotel bikes and set off into the countryside to explore.
For dinner choose from the three, five or seven-course a la carte menu. Vegetarian menus are also available. All ingredients are from the hotel’s kitchen garden (do take a wander around it) or local suppliers. In fact, the hotel is the main source of income for many businesses in the nearby village of Massignac.
Take a hotel tour with groundskeeper Jean Francois who has been exploring the domaine since he was a little boy, when he used to sneak into the grounds to play.
There is a small but perfectly formed chapel on site as well as outdoor and indoor swimming pools along with thermal baths, saunas and steam rooms. A state-of-the-art gym overlooks the outdoor pool and floating tennis courts.
The spa in the old water mill is small and peaceful with sun loungers looking out onto the millpond. It offers everything you would expect including manicures, pedicures and massages.
Take little ones out in the adventure park or head into the wild for walking trails, bike rides and horse riding.
The hotel also hosts rotating exhibitions in its arts space. This season Du sol au soleil by Tomás Saraceno runs until October 2022.
There is something for everyone. Families can make as much noise as they please, while kids can roam freely in the countryside surrounding one of the farmhouse cottages. Couples and solos will enjoy the close amenities and welcoming communal spaces of the château.
Rooms from 400 EUR per night on a B&B basis; domainesetangs.com