B&B and Beyond: Château Le Thil, France
One of the region’s grape-growing families has given new life to an 18th-century manor house
Saturday 19 October 2013
When even the airport has its own vineyard, you know you’re in wine country. And for a truly fertile visit to the Bordeaux region, you can’t do much better than Château Le Thil, an 18th-century manor-cum-haute B&B that’s a 20-minute drive from the city and the latest addition to an impressive, grape-centric family operation. Run by Alice and Jérôme Tourbier, it’s a mile down the road from Château Smith Haut Lafitte, the renowned grand cru estate owned by Alice’s parents Daniel and Florence Cathiard. There, Alice and Jérôme run the luxury hotel and spa Les Sources de Caudalie. But the much smaller Le Thil, which they snapped up last year, offers a more intimate, retreat-style guest experience among the vines.
Alice has described her style as “buco-chic” – or, to translate, “bucolic chic” – which nicely sums up the rustic refinement of Le Thil’s interior. It has the high ceilings and stately dimensions you’d expect from a château, but also benefits from an eclectic decor which makes it feel entirely homely. The bedrooms are notable for fine wooden antiques and gorgeous patterned feature wallpapers. Meanwhile, the well-appointed en suite bathrooms have free-standing claw-foot baths, his and hers sinks, rain showers and a selection of products from her sister Mathilde’s renowned Caudalie beauty line. With eight standard rooms and one suite to choose from, however, each has its own quirky details.
Whichever you get, the views are spectacular: situated at the front of the house, each room looks onto the château’s rolling lawns, lake and woodland. If there’s a criticism, it’s that the king-size beds are, in fact, two twin beds shoved together, meaning you may want to be careful to avoid sleeping near the middle.
You can sit at separate tables in the wood-panelled ground-floor dining room and serve yourself from an extensive buffet spread, including granola and yoghurt, croissants and pains au chocolat, tomatoes, cheese and charcuterie. The star performers, though, is undoubtedly the tray of cannelés de Bordeaux: miniature, crème-brûlée cakes with a custardy interior and a caramelised exterior, they’re alarmingly moreish.
After Alice’s parents bought Château Le Thil last summer, the Tourbiers did a complete refit of the house within just nine months. That speaks volumes of their expertise as hoteliers. As well as running Le Thil and Les Sources De Caudalie, they also have another boutique hotel/spa complex just outside Paris, Les Etangs de Corot. They are, says Alice, currently looking at a further site in Alsace.
You can get to the neighbouring Smith Haut Lafitte estate easily by foot, via the oak-lined Allée Royale. There you can borrow a bicycle and explore the vineyards and surrounding countryside, then take a tasting tour of the winery (00 33 5 57 83 11 22; smith-haut-lafitte.com; €9.50). Rising up the ranks for both its whites and reds, it is a fascinating mixture of the hi-tech (a Bond lair-ish secret underground cellar with an automated trapdoor) and the traditional (its own cooperage or barrel workshop).
For a different kind of wine experience, there is the Vinotherapie spa (00 33 5 57 83 83 83; sources-caudalie.com) at Les Sources De Caudalie – one of eight around the world set up by Alice’s sister Mathilde. She has pioneered development of skincare products utilising antioxidant-rich grape extracts; a crushed cabernet body scrub costs €85 (£72).
Finally, it is certainly worth making time to explore Bordeaux’s historic centre. Since former prime minister Alain Juppé first became mayor in the mid-Nineties, he has restored the once run-down city to its former glory.
The pit stop
You really should go to – and stumble back from – Les Sources De Caudalie’s Michelin-starred restaurant, La Grand Vigne. With starters and main courses around the €40 (£34) mark, and desserts at €16 (£13), it’s certainly not cheap, but chef Nicolas Masse’s intricate, delicate cooking is impressive. For a more casual meal, the hotel’s bistro-style restaurant, La Table Du Lavoir, is situated in a beautiful conservatory space. Three courses cost €38 (£32).
Château Le Thil at Les Sources De Caudalie, 35B Chemin le Thil, Léognan, Bordeaux, Aquitaine, France (sources-caudalie.com). B&B doubles start at €240 (£203).
I travelled with easyJet (0843 104 5000; easyjet.com), which flies from Gatwick from £36.99 one way.
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