Domaine des Etangs: the most beautiful French retreat you’ve likely never heard of

Domaine des Étangs

This 13th-century French château offers a hearty dose of countryside bliss with sprawling grounds, farm-to-table dining, and abundant artworks etched into its design

The exquisite Domaine des Etangs, set around seven lake-like ponds in the heart of 2500 acres of rolling farmland and forest, is the finest country retreat in France. Tucked into the Charente region, a stone’s throw from Cognac and two hours’ drive northeast of Bordeaux, this luxury hidden gem feels all the more special because it’s far from the tourist hordes of Paris and the Côte d’Azur.

With an art-filled fairy-tale castle, six beautifully restored farmhouses, a farm-to-table restaurant, two pools, a serene spa, tennis court, cycling and walking trails, this sublime resort fulfils the fantasies of just about everyone — from loved-up couples and groups of friends to families with rambunctious kids.

Now part of the Auberge Resorts Collection, it was formerly the private estate of one of France’s richest men, the late Didier Primat, heir to the Schlumberger oil fortune, who bought it as a country home for his family. He supervised the refurbishment of the historic farmhouses and installed a herd of blond Limousin cows, a historic local breed. On his death, his daughter Garance Primat decided to convert the property into a luxury resort and embarked on the restoration of the 13th-century château, which was once a stronghold of the Knights of Chasteigner de la Roche-Posay.

She enlisted the services of Parisian modernist architect Isabelle Stanislas, renowned for her work with Cartier and Hermès as well as for her renovations of the French presidential palace.

Today, the light-filled château offers guests a supremely sumptuous stay with a liberal dash of whimsy throughout its generously proportioned ground-floor living rooms, library and bar, and seven upstairs rooms and suites named after the planets and stars. There’s a toddler-sized set of armchairs and sofa alongside the museum-quality furniture for the grownups, for instance, and the Lune Suite in one of the towers offers an homage to French cartoon character Tintin and his rocket to the Moon.

You’ll also discover Garance’s eclectic and often irreverent art collection dotted throughout the château (and grounds), alongside inventive sculptural light fixtures. In the basement are Gallo Roman-inspired baths with steam and ice rooms, plus an indoor pool, while under the rafters there’s a games room with billiards and card tables, toys and trunks full of dress-ups. Breakfast is served in the château very much in the ‘en famille’ style. Guests help themselves in the kitchen to an expansive selection of pastries, breads, charcuterie, cheeses, cereals, compotes, and eggs cooked to order by the chef, which they can enjoy on the flower-filled terrace in fine weather.

Families and groups of friends might prefer to stay in one of the atmospheric stone farmhouses, which range in size from one to five bedrooms, with living rooms graced with expansive fireplaces, kitchens, barbecues and outdoor terraces. Complimentary electric cars make access to the restaurant and spa a breeze.

The excellent Dyades restaurant, in the former stables, alternates between offering bistro fare and a multi-course gastronomic menu with vegetables and fruits, flowers and herbs sourced from the hotel’s organic kitchen garden, local farms and the nearby coastline. Think razor clams in a garlicky parsley sauce, an inspired eggplant Parmesan, Limousin entrecôte, and crème brûlée made with local honey. Picnics of salads, cheeses and baguettes, pastries and fruit are delivered in wicker baskets to be enjoyed by the pool, on a rowboat or in any of the private pods dotted around the expansive property.

Guests are spoiled for choice when it comes to things to do. Products from renowned British La Eva skincare range is used for treatments in the serene spa, located in a beautifully restored walnut mill. Walking trails weave through the forest and there’s even a special fitness circuit. Boats and stand-up paddleboards are ready to glide across the ponds. Bikes are on hand for exploring the country lanes and the resident guide will help you spot wildlife and learn about the fascinating history of the estate. There’s a floating tennis court, an outdoor pool, a plant-filled gym in a glass atrium and even a whimsical adventure playground, complete with swings, in-ground trampolines, cubby house, and a giant chess set.

The dragonfly’s delicate shape adorns keys, towels, napkin rings and more at Domaine des Etangs. A symbol of equilibrium and grace, it’s the perfect image for this luxe but relaxed country hideaway.

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