Assignan, an ‘exploded hotel’ in St. Chinian
One of the stops we made while on my trip to St. Chinian was to the small village of Assignan. Like many provincial villages in France, Assignan had become almost a ghost town with just a few villagers left to keep the village going. That is, until Flemish couple Marc and Tine Verstraete stepped in and literally bought the village out to transform it into, in their words, an ‘exploded hotel’.
At first I was a bit sceptical but after hearing the concept explained to me, I don’t know why more deserted provincial village don’t do this. The basic concept is to take a dying village and convert it into ‘hotel’ village. The idea is you arrive, park your car and then live in the village. All the basics and more are provided for you.
Marc and Tine have bought most of the deserted houses and buildings in the village and are busily converting them into gites, shops and restaurants. There also have plans to add swimming pools and other amenities so that there is no need to leave the village, unless you want to visit the local vineyards or Chateau Castigno.
However, even that is covered with partnerships with local vintners as well as the Verstraaete’s own chateau, Chateau Castigno. During our visit to the newly opened wine bar and adjacent tapas bolthole, Le Petit Table, we met a few local winemakers and sampled the locally produced wines.
The wine bar is tiny and rustic but there is a large square in front of it with very cute gigantic umbrellas to shade you from the Languedoc sun. The tapas bar is run by Tine’s son, Fons de Muynck. Fon’s is also in charge of ‘Nomad Cooking’. Nomad Cooking takes place at the vineyards of Ch. Castigno and after our tour of the village, we headed to the chateau for lunch cooked by Fons.
During lunch we tasted the wines of Chateau Castigno which included a delightful sparkling brut nature rose, although it’s not AOC St. Chinian as they use grapes that are not part of the appellation.
We also tried the white Grace de Anges (a blend of grenache, clairette roussane) and in magnum. St. Chinian is making a move to producing more white wines and this blend was delicious, fresh but bursting with stone fruit flavours.
Mark had invited local winemaker and friend Remy Soulie for lunch as well. Remy had brought along his AOC St. Chinian wines which were full bodied but well balanced. I was surprised at the finesse of the wines. Both wines being a delicious surprise.
The ‘exploded hotel’ of Assignan is currently open seasonally but Mark and Tine have a lot in store for 2015. Some of which includes:
*A gastronomic restaurant opening April 2015, with a Belgian chef, 35 covers, exterior dining area. Wines will be mainly organic Languedoc wines, and a small selection from Marc’s own private, extensive cellar. Cooking classes will be offered at the restaurant. *Accommodation: a total of 24 rooms, all with hotel services (e.g breakfast provided, rooms cleaned and made up daily) and small kitchen area for light self-catering, at a variety of prices and grouped in various buildings eg. A 10-bedroom house, a 4- bedroom house, some two-bedroom units. Private gardens and a swimming pool for use by guests will complete the accommodation offer. Aim is to drive weekly and longer-stay rentals by providing a variety of activities and services within the village/local area. * A wine school/tasting room: June 2015. A place where visitors can enjoy a short introduction to wine tasting and learn about wine making. Sessions to be conducted by an oenologist in French and English. *Self-drive vineyard tours in 2CV cars and Vespas *A small, self-drive boat on the Canal du Midi Walking/cycling tours with “repas vigneron” picnic baskets prepared by La Petite Table *Art gallery: a small space in the centre of the village, opening May 2015, showcasing work by younger artists, to be selected by one of the Biennale de Venise curators (a personal friend of Marc & Tine) who will be working with them to guide their arts patronage projects. *Swimwear and lingerie boutique Le Petit Péché: featuring designs by Uruguayan designer (and Fons’ partner) Maria Jose Rey majorey.com *A village épicerie (upmarket grocery store)
I think this concept is a great idea and definitely one that could be implemented across not only the Languedoc but in other wine regions that are dotted with dying villages that are being deserted by the young in droves. For more information about visiting the chateau or staying in Assignan, visit their website: http://www.chateaucastigno.com/ or to make reservations at Le Petit Table: firstname.lastname@example.org