Savor a southern French ‘village-within-a-village’ resort

After years of planning, Tine & Marc Verstraete have created their dream resort – their own small village in southern France where guests enjoy diverse cuisine in several restaurants, massage treatments, horse-riding, outdoor swims, hikes, picnics and other activities ranging from ceramics to bread-making, Village Castigno.

Seeking a secluded and rural retreat after selling their company in Belgium more than ten years ago, the duo chose the heart of the Languedoc-Roussillon region for their innovative tourism initiative. After purchasing many buildings, they then transformed them into a red and purple colored collection of restaurants, accommodation options, an art gallery and swimming pools, shaping them into a village within the village of Assignan.

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Starting with a rundown chateau overlooking 150 hectares of vineyards and rolling hills, the couple embarked on radical renovation, converting it into nine individually-designed guest rooms, all named after grape varieties. Entrance to ‘Maison des Amis’ is through a wrought-iron gate in a private garden, then through a painted Asian ‘spirit door’ to a decorative ground-floor area that reminded me of an exotic Bedouin home. It was filled with colorful fabrics and a potpourri of exotic ornamentations including an upside-down bottle display, African drums, hanging columns of crochet material, soft armchairs and assorted vibrant throw cushions.

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Our room, named ‘rose brut,’ reflected the owners’ design creativity. It featured rich lilac painted walls, a network of ceiling beams, terra-cotta and wood flooring and an esoteric collection of furnishings that even included the purple vestments of a bishop. It also comprised a separate walk-in shower and toilet, his and her vintage hand-basins, an overhead revolving fan and a variety of lamps, both stand-alone and hanging. Matching the overall ambience, bathrobes were delightfully bright rosé.

The villa is one of several different accommodation options at Village Castigno, together comprising 24 rooms shaped out of existing village houses and even former stables, with different outdoor swimming pools to choose from.

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Distinct dining choices await guests, with four separate restaurants available, including a pop-up variety – the Nomad Kitchen Boutique, La Table de Castigno, Le Petit Table and Le Thai serving bowls of coconut noodle soup to lightly fried tempura prawns served with sweet coriander mayo.

We chose the fine-dining La Table, with its sturdy stone walls, mosaic tiled and broad-wood floors and high ceiling. An open-style kitchen near the center of the room allows guests to watch chefs at work while soothing jazz music plays overhead. Using her theatre design skills, Tine Verstraete has created a simulated stage on an upper balcony, complete with curtains. Floor-to-ceiling windows look out onto a small garden with bushes strung with fairy lights offering an enticing al fresco experience.

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Brothers Ruben and Peter de Maesschalck operate a relaxed and friendly kitchen and present an enticing tasting menu. Gourmet delights include delicacies such as langustine with baby blossom courgette; chicken croquettes with black fermented garlic served with cantal cheese bread resembling two balls of cloud; Dorada tartare with tarragon, garden chervil and apple boules; scallops with Chanterelle mushrooms and brown butter – a case of flesh-of-the-sea meeting flesh-of-the-forest in your mouth; and pheasant with chives and crispy endives, carrot pure, cognac sauce. Tonka bean ice-cream with chocolate sauce is a dreamy dessert. As Village Castigno is located amidst Languedoc’s Saint Chinian highly-valued vineyards, prepare to be impressed by the quality of wine such as Château Castigno Grâce des Anges Blanc and Merlot.

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With 50-60 different grape varieties in Languedoc, wine lovers are spoiled for choice. Around the village are 42 hectares of vineyard, all of which produce organic wines.

Activities are plentiful at Village Castigno, ranging from wild herb gathering walks to wine tastings and cooking classes. Excursions to the surrounding bucolic countryside can be made by various modes of transport including bicycles, mountain-bikes horse, carriage and even vintage cars.

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If it’s rural charm you hanker for deep in the southern French countryside with plenty of cuisine choice and activities to keep you and your family occupied, try Castigno Village.

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