As a self confessed Francophile I’ve often wondered where my love of France began. Was it the exotic breakfast staple of croissant and pain au chocolate, those long summer holidays spent camping with my family or could it be that the first boy I kissed was French? Who knows? What I do know is that despite travelling widely around the country for business and pleasure, no two visits are ever the same and my recent trip to Les Jardins de Saint Benoît resort in the tiny village of Saint Laurent de la Cabrerisse in the South served only to fuel my enthusiasm for all things French.
My journey started early at Stansted on a Ryan Air plane to Carcassonne, which was surprisingly ok for an airline I’ve been known to avoid. A pleasant enough 40 minute taxi ride followed giving plenty of time to absorb the views. We emerged from the rolling landscape and the little rundown but picturesque village of Saint Laurent de la Cabrerisse into the resort. Pristine in comparison it’s a modern presentation of French village architecture, a reflection of the buildings youth and class no doubt.
Billed as a home-from-home, the resort is vast and feels like it could be bigger than the village next door. Built on an old vineyard site, there are 171 villas nestling together like charming London town houses. Despite its size when I arrived the silence was almost deafening, even though I was told they were full I took it as a reassuring sign of a relaxing weekend to come. Before I was handed my key and taken on a golf buggy to my villa, I was invited downstairs to the spa to ‘get some soap’, an invitation that I almost took personally were it not for the surprise that was to come… I followed my guide to a trolley displaying two milk urns and what looked like a tray of cheese and was greeted by someone I assumed was the dairy waiter. I wondered for a moment if they had confused the wine specialist with the cheese specialist only to be told, of course, to choose my shower gel from the urn and take a chuck of soap from the tray. This rather sweet quirk of the Les Jardins de Saint Benoît is one of the many ways of expressing its commitment to work in harmony with the surroundings. The toiletries are all made from organic and locally-sourced ingredients which can be traced back to the gardens, road-sides and ancestral recipes of the region.
The resort boasts villas of all sizes from one to five bedrooms. I stayed in a one-bed which seemed rather greedy considering the place was bigger than my flat at home! And it had everything you’d need to make your stay as self contained or sociable as you like: kitchenette, living room and a private veranda, separate bedroom and bathroom of course and linen and towels throughout which helps with your baggage allowance imposed by Ryan Air! As well as the extra bedrooms, some of the larger villas have a private pool, although with such a stunning communal infinity pool (with vineyard views!) I was hard pushed to see why you’d need one.
If you can drag yourself away from the comfort of your villa for long enough then you need go no further than the reception desk to find something to entertain everyone in your party. Hire a bike, explore the herb and vegetable garden, swim in the pool, relax in the spa, leave the kids in the supervised play area… the list goes on. Being the oenophile that I am, I took particular interest in the wine activities on offer and was pleased to see the respect that has been paid to the land’s former vineyard heritage. The owners have kept 2 hectares of vines standing and while I was there I was lucky enough to take part in the first day of the harvest. We spent a morning picking grapes; bending and squatting, stretching and clipping. It goes without saying that the afternoon that followed in the spa had never been harder earned and the next day I was good as new, free from any aches and pains I’d been warned about. The same could not been said for my fingernails however, which for days after were still displaying fragments of ‘terroir’ of the region!
Les Jardins de Saint Benoît is one of four luxury resorts owned by local business man Miguel Espada. All located in the South of France they have been built and are run with the same respect for their surroundings as Les Jardins de Saint Benoît. The expanding Garrigae portfolio includes Le Couvent d’Hérépian in Beziers a converted 17th Century convent in the regional park of the High Languedoc. The Port Rive Gauche in Marseillan, situated on the waterfront overlooking the Mediterranean, is a luxury retreat of 12 suites. La Distillerie in les Templiers is an historic mansion house of 49 luxurious apartments. The project-in-progress, La Château de la Redorte Vineyard Estate & Spa, an 18th century château with 35 apartments and homes and secret spa facilities is a joint venture with wine producer, Domaine Massamier La Mignarde.
To find out more about Les Jardins de Saint Benoît and the other Garrigae resorts visit www.garrigaeresorts.com. Stay at Les Jardins de Saint Benoit from £130 per night for a one-bedroom villa on a room-only basis. To book visit www.garrigaeresorts.com or call + 33 (0)4 67 11 87 15
This article has been published in the December 2010 issue of The Notebook Magazine, Kensington & Chelsea.