Pure perfection

Warmth, whimsy, and cows in southwest France

Château façade avant (1)_preview.jpg

We’re swooning. Our hearts are aflutter. We’re in love! It’s a long-distance relationship, but we think it will work. Let us introduce you to Domaine des Etangs, an off-the-radar, 11th-century château set in 2,000 acres of woodland, fields, and lakes. It’s a few hours from Paris (well worth the trip), close to the village of Massignac in a little-visited region of southwest France called Charente Limousine.

It’s rare that a hotel gets everything right, but Domaine des Etangs does—and then some. And it manages to be wildly beautiful while not taking itself too seriously—a rare feat.

Allow us to set the scene . . . Journey back to the golden age of romance in a meticulously restored country retreat with elegant turrets, sweeping grounds, and a magical setting. Paddle a row boat on the water, cycle through the estate, horseback ride, or simply sit back and savor the tranquil surrounds.

Outdoors, you'll find yourself in a storybook landscape of waterways and woodland. As you stroll, look out for wildlife— from herons and otters to deer and the caramel-brown Limousin cows. Allow a heron to alight on your shoulder as you stand in a mote-speckled shaft of light (well, maybe not; we tend towards flights of fancy).

Inside, the bedrooms, set within individual buildings dotted around the grounds, are rich in period features. There’s an indoor pool in the basement with a wall of sliding doors that open onto the gardens and the main lake where a large outdoor pool and tennis courts hang over the water, looking out to a picturesque stone watermill. Idyllic!

The hotel also features a wellness space with treatments for the entire family and Michelin-star restaurant Dyades, which offers delectable dishes created with ingredients grown on site.

The château itself is, of course, a marvel, filled with contemporary art as well as a Picasso here and Matisse there (and fragments of a 200-million-year-old meteorite!). The circular staircase, where dour ancestors might otherwise gaze from the walls, is hung with whimsical images of animals. The pièce de resistance is the library with its heaving bookshelves lining the walls all the way up to the ceiling from which hangs a mini solar system of planets (pictured here).

You’ll feel like you’ve discovered a hidden gem, a secluded spot that’s been left out of the guidebooks on purpose to preserve its unique atmosphere. And guess what? You have!