The main chateau in all her glory
When the pleasures of Paris start to feel commonplace (speaking purely hypothetically, as that is never likely to happen), it is time to take a jaunt into the countryside. Despite the lure (and ease) of Versailles being a stone's throw away, I choose to hop on a train for a slightly longer jaunt and make my way down through the French countryside to Massignac in the southwest (Massignac is located in the beautiful Charente region (Cognac country), with the equally beautiful Dordogne neighbouring it). My reason for this journey was the perfectly placed Domaine Des Etanges (the 11th century chateau and 2500 acre estate – former fiefdom of the knights of Chasteigner de la Roche-Posay). A sumptuous, chic and luxe hotel owned by the Primat family, it is a perfect reason to spend a couple days in the fresh air, taking long walks, bicycle rides, swims and sitting under the thousands of trees –some of which are hundreds of years old. One could spend a month and not walk the entire estate with its seven lakes but I was determined to savour the best of it in the most relaxed manner possible. A short list of the highlights.
- Stay at the main chateau if you are only two people, or if you want a buzzy atmosphere. The chateau consists of 7 suites (all charmingly named Venus, Jupiter Saturn or the 4 seasons (Eté, Hiver…etc.). Each suite is huge, with the most surprisingly modern plush furnishings, carefully balanced with the age of its walls, delicate colors blending harmoniously with Garance Primat’s fantastic private art collection (more on that later) and lighting that does everyone a favour. Windows from every suite look out over the estate – greens and blues as far as the eye can see.
- Stay at one of the six farmhouse cottages dotted through the vast estate that hold from 2-10 people if you come with family or a large group of friends. Each house is surrounded by land and lakes, some in meadows, some in lush emerald hollows and have their own kitchens (though with full hotel service). Impeccably decorated and each with its own electric car for use, those are the houses I would stay in if I visited for a week with a group and wanted some privacy while being coddled.
The game room in the attic of the chateaux
- Take the electric cars for a spin around the 2500 acres. The quickest way to see the stunning and peaceful undulating landscape, spot one of the biggest and most prestigious herds of cattle in France (the famous Limousine cows) lazing about, peek through hundreds of acres of bucolic woodland, spot a boar or two, observe the swans and herons over the numerous lakes and feel like my private estate was spread out before me.
- Take the bikes for a long ride. Those delicious meals need to be worked off, after all! It doesn’t get better than a pre cocktail hour ride, as the sun starts to set and the golden light illuminates the grounds, peeking through the fairy tale woods, swans gliding past as I glide past on my bike. Also an excellent way to see all the art installations on the vast grounds of the domaine.
- Take the boat out. Situated next to the old mill is a beautiful dock with boats at the ready, nothing is quite as relaxing as an old fashioned boat ride on the lake that borders the chateau. Take a picnic with (see below) and perhaps a book of poetry and transport yourself to a gentler time.
- Enjoy a long, leisurely picnic on the grounds. Have the restaurant pack you a picnic (the likes of which you haven’t seen before). I picked up an old-fashioned wicker basket from the chef and goggled in amazement an hour later as I unpacked it in a meadow a few acres away- by a lake. The most delicious pickled beets and vegetables, foie gras sandwiches, chicken salads, crispy cornichons, a cold bottle of rose, home made brownies, duck rillettes…it was endless and sublime. And enjoying it al fresco is the pinnacle of what I consider to be luxury.
The ladies sitting room in the main chateaux
- Go for a 3-hour walk morning and evening. Walk the grounds. I did! Daily! My reward: discovered deer and rabbits, all varieties of birds, old cottages, the organic farm, all the stunning artwork that is scattered through the grounds and more than all this, a sense of absolute peace and beauty.
- Spend a few hours admiring the artwork. The star of the show is the art…which takes its cue from Nature (can one upstage Mother Nature? Why try? ) So much of the work that is hung in every room and common spaces is inspired by (the planets and solar system), or actually uses elements found in nature, (dried flowers, dandelions, rocks and wood) that it feels like the perfect natural circle of form and function. All of it is curated by and from the private collection of le familie Primat. There is a gallery in the old dairy (The Laiterie), which had a group show of twenty international artists working under the theme “the Light of the worlds” - exploring nature and the universe, while I was visiting. Other artists like Anish Kapoor have shown there, and the programming for the next two years is impressive.
- Get a massage in the old mill. The Moulin or “mill” set on the lake used to be a working mill until a few years ago. Now it is the sublime spot for massages and most of the natural ingredients used (oils, exfoliants etc.) are still pressed and made onsite.
- Have a Michelin star meal at the Dyades restaurant. Helmed by the talented chef Loic Lecoin it uses seasonal ingredients from their garden and local produce and that famed Limousine beef!
Interior of one of the six private villas scattered through the Domaine
- Wander through the common spaces. Sit in the ladies drawing room (from the 1650s silver and peach velveted luxe) or the Salon Homme (onyx, wood and leather) with a stop by the Fumoir (leathers, cognac and cigars) past the library (roaring fire and floor to ceiling book shelves) enroute to the Attic. The Attic is worth an evening in itself. Wood beamed massive rooms with every conceivable game, billiard table, foos ball, and gaming TVs. I saw happy adults and kids alike at the end of the evening, and for those who aren’t so game crazy, stand at the small cast iron windows and gaze out over the lake and grounds of the Domaine by moonlight.
- Miss a chance to see as many of the houses on the estate as possible. Also, take advantage of the activities on offer…a farm tour, an estate walk, swimming in the heated outdoor pool, tennis on courts suspended above the lake…
- Just think about the Domaine for a summer getaway…a cozy winter with crackling fireplaces, and crisp cold walk are equally enchanting.
Text Rymn Massand
Art everywhere on the grounds of the Domaine
Photos: Domaine Des Etanges and Rymn Massand