“The Cinderella of the south was once overshadowed by gorgeous Provence and the brash Côte d’Azur. Now, she stands as their equal, displaying a discreet charm that her more-visited siblings lost long ago”
– Lonely Planet
The French are the masters of excellence. Wine, cheese, art, language, history, culture, sex – pretty much all of our favourite things. However, when it comes to cars, Land Rover is our ride of choice. We took the new Range Rover Evoque full throttle to the South of France to find out what would happen when we combined these world leaders. The result? A trip of a lifetime.
Picking the location is easy. Each corner of France is more beautiful than the last – but the South always reigns supreme. You might remember a few years ago, when the convertible Range Rover Evoque was just a baby, we took it on an exclusive trip from the crystal cool waters of St Tropez to the millionaire lights of Monte Carlo, and everywhere in between.
This time, we chose hills over dollar bills, and went West in search of the ultimate château road trip – which, if it wasn’t a “thing” before, it most certainly is now.
The Occitanie region is awash with unmissable culture and is famous worldwide for its sacred walled castle cities – Carcassonne being at the centre of the media spotlight as the largest fortified city in Europe, its 52 towers and 3km of battlements looking like something fresh out of a Disney movie.
Château St Pierre de Serjac is a majestic castle estate with its own vineyard, hotel, restaurant and spa set in the confines of 200 acres of stunning Mediterranean countryside, and it’s on a whole other level. Like the best French wines, St Pierre is an assemblage – a destination that blends together only the best aspects of holiday options.
The estate is easily accessed from both Montpellier or Beziers airports, but is surrounded by lush French countryside with quaint villages and vineyards with grapes for days, making the journey as enjoyable as where you’re about to arrive.
On the approach, the château looks like a millionaire’s yacht club without the yacht – a huge infinity pool stretches out in front like a luxurious beach resort, while guests dine al fresco on the porch. Inside, there are eight stunning art-deco rooms with roll top baths, rain head showers, and toiletries good enough to take home and give to your friends as gifts.
The estate spans much more than the main château, with all of the outbuildings renovated to form a small village of high spec, hi-tech apartments intertwined in a series of private gardens, balconies and plunge pools.
The only drawback to doing a road trip to a place that makes its own wine, is being in a place that makes its own wine – so we stayed long enough to sample, well, enough… Wine has been in constant production here since the 19th Century, and their ethos is very simple – “locally expressive, and internationally sought after.”
With an impressive spa, wine tastings, a la carte menus, bike rides, yoga classes (the list goes on), it’s easy to spend days here without even leaving the estate. Before we knew it, we were revving up the Evoque toward our next destination.
Château les Carresses is only a (stunning) forty minute drive away, but if you’ve got anything about you – you’ll take the long way around. The castle is, again, fairytale-esque but you’re more likely to find stylish sandals over glass slippers here where the estate boasts all of the glamour and none of the fuss – and maybe a couple of Prince Charmings here and there.
The estate is made up of the main château with the surrounding buildings and cottages coming together to form one giant resort. The style is classic yet modern and luxury French countryside – a bit Beauty and the Beast meets Soho House.
The main house has nine bedrooms which form a ‘hotel’ where guests are treated as such, and full service resumes. The outbuildings are self-catering style and range from two-bed apartments with sun terraces, to a three bedroom villa with private pool and a view over the vineyard to kill for.
The estate is so big it has its own events programme, from sports and personal training to even hosting their own markets, inviting local producers to sell their crafts, wines and foods.
Speaking of food – the estate boasts a brasserie that ought be celebrated in its own right. Chef Valerie Diochet creates Mediterranean magic every evening with the best fresh local and seasonal menus around – drawing in as many locals as estate guests. Obviously, the wine isn’t to be sniffed at either. The ‘flagship’ are the La Serre wines made from the exceptional grapes, where the entire production is sold almost exclusively to Les Carresses.
The estate is as stunning as the area it is surrounded by. The Canal du Midi, famous for its luxurious French boating holiday is a short drive away, and there’s not many activities you can’t do nearby.
Usually, checking out of luxury comes with a harsh fall back down to reality, and often with a dreaded journey back with not much to look forward to on the other side. But this, a fine car and the open road? It’s just another part of the journey – and the view, well that’s pretty amazing too.