Long, long ago, two mighty chateaus safeguarded the countryside of Languedoc – Chateaus Les Carrases and Chateau St Pierre de Serjac. Pilgrims headed south, safe under their gaze. Bands of soldiers trooped by their fortifications. Yet, as with all things, these castles eventually succumbed to time and elements. Their owners moved on. The structures started to collapse. Bits of stone were recycled to create new buildings elsewhere. Eventually, all that was left was rubble.
Centuries later, upon the footprints of these old chateaus vineyards appeared. With people living longer, healthier lives, demand for wine had grown remarkably.Shortly afterwards, a tiny aphid known as the grape phylloxera began to savage the European wine industry. The Languedoc was one of the first regions of France to emerge from the blight and those who owned vineyards became very, very wealthy. The owners of these vineyards, knowing some of the past of the region, erected beautiful chateaus where the old ones stood. They were decorated to the height of fashion and lavish parties were thrown where the leading lights of the Belle Epoque attended, artists, writers and musicians. The good times lasted for decades – almost fifty years – before mechanisation and the changing tastes of society meant that the shutters were drawn once more.
Was this the end?
Again, not quite.
Enter Karl Hanlon, an effusive, exuberant management consultant from Dublin who took an opportunity where he saw it and bought the Chateau Les Carrases. Shortly afterwards, it was ready to accept discerning guests as a luxury hotel. Buoyed by the success of this first venture, he purchased Chateau St Pierre de Serjac for renovation and reopening. Today his company, Domaine et Demeure, manages both properties.
Karl wasn’t content just to sit back while others did the work. He was instrumental in poring over the chateau’s records to select colours and patterns that matched the past decor of the properties, whilst still offering a contemporary, stylish feel. At Les Carrases, efforts were even made to source the original vines that had been sold off in the eighties, to ensure a continuity of winemaking at the chateau.
I asked Karl what sets the Chateau Les Carrases and the Chateau St Pierre de Serjac apart from other hotels in the area. He told me that a concerted effort has been made to reflect the golden age of the chateaus, while remaining very modern, chic and stylish. This is reflected in the decor, furnishings, activities on offer and dining options. He wants guests to quite literally imbibe the heritage of the place and experience a moment of tranquility. As Karl says, ‘Our places are very French, quite luxe (especially St Pierre) but also very relaxed, laid back and chic. Contemporary really, rather than old style Chateau formality. So what we’ve tried to do is to capture the belle époque spirit, but to represent it in its contemporary context.’
For those intrigued to try either of Karl’s revitalized chateaus, there is plenty to do in the area. Both lie within a short drive of no less than five different UNESCO world heritage sites, such as the mighty fortress city of Carcassonne. Guests are encouraged to pick up a bottle of the estates’ wines to take with them as they explore this most charming and inviting of French provinceS,
Interested in trying either of these wonderful properties? Come and learn more!