Secreted deep in the Charente countryside, Domaine des Etangs offers serenity, solitude and more than a dusting of fairytale magic, as Paula Lester found out.
‘Quand on observe la nature, on y découvre les plaisanteries d’une ironie supérieure,’ wrote Honoré de Balzac in the 1800s, noting the ‘superb irony’ of Mother Nature placing toads close to flowers. Well, I didn’t discover any amphibians at Domaine des Etangs — a private estate encircling a medieval chateau in Massignac, a charming albeit little known region in south west France — but I did find a overwhelming sense of solitude and peace.
As someone who’s always appreciated flora and fauna, I assumed I was already fully aware of the healing and soothing power of Nature. Yet, it was only when I stepped away from the vicissitudes of our hectic lives, stopped checking work emails and lay back on a wooden sunlounger in the grounds of this 2,500-acre estate and acknowledged the simple beauty of the acid-green leaves of the tree above silhouetted against the cobalt blue sky, that a sense of calm and tranquility washed over me.
This feeling is, of course, exactly what Garance Primat — the owner of the chateau built in the 11th century as the fief of the knights of Chasteignier de la Roche-Posay — hopes her guests will experience during their stay. Rising majestically out of the morning mist floating over the adjacent lake, with its mellow stone, russet-roofed turrets and exquisitely restored period details, complemented by a collection of contemporary art from Matisse to Picasso, it’s impossible not to fall under the spell of this immaculately-run retreat.
Once a family home, the domaine was transformed into a hotel in 2015 and has 29 rooms. Choose from seven vast suites in the chateau — I stayed in Soleil; aptly light-filled with a king-size bed in a Rapunzel-esque round tower that was as big as a London flat — four in the longére (a converted barn that also houses the Michelin-starred Dyades restaurant, an art gallery and a library), plus six sympathetically-restored, luxuriously-appointed farmhouse cottages dotted amidst the modern-art sculpture studded parkland.
As you might expect, every detail has been carefully considered and catered for. There are two swimming pools (indoor and outdoor), a floating tennis court, pretty pink rowing boats, bicycles and electric cars to zip about it in.
The greatest — and perhaps most surprising — pleasure, however, is that armed with your own key stamped with its distinctive dragonfly emblem (which is everywhere, from road signs to napkin ring holders), you can do exactly what you want, when you want. Whether that means rising early and breakfasting on whatever you please from the spread of local cheeses, jams, breads, cakes and charcuterie (plus eggs cooked on request) in the chateau kitchen, indulging in a superlatively restorative massage at the Moulin des Etangs spa (discreetly housed in the old water mill) or strolling through the grounds to converse with some of the 800 or so conker-coloured Limousine cattle, this place is, quite simply, a slice of French heaven on earth.
Guests can fly to Limoges (33 miles), Bordeaux (105 miles) or take a private jet to Angouleme (26 miles). Rooms from €400 (about £365) per night, on a bed and breakfast basis to find out more see www.domainedesetangs.com or call +33 545 618 500.
Paula Lester, features editor of Country Life, worked closely with HRH The Prince of Wales on the November 14 issue
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