Chateau de Montcaud: sunshine and silk in southern France
The newly restored chateau has re-established its links with the art of silk-making
In between the neat rows of vines covering Provence’s rolling hills are, incongruously, tall stands of bamboo. Their ancestors were brought from China, along with the silkworms that would supply Italy’s silk-makers and merchants - among them Alexandre Collain, who built the Chateau de Montcaud in 1848.
A recent renovation of his incredible house - now a boutique hotel - draws out the theme of silk, threading it through every element of the interior design. A spa, opening soon, will even feature Montcaud’s own products made from silk extracts.
The love that has gone into this sensitive reinvention is evident throughout. Overseen by new managers Andrea and Rolf Bertschi and carried out by local artisans, the makeover roots the hotel in the very heart of its Provencal location as well as its history.
When they embarked on the restoration, the Bertschis found the original plans for the parkland surrounding the chateau in an attic. They plan to recreate as much of it as they can - look out for the 19th-century maps by the restaurant - but their first priority was the building itself.
Historical fireplaces, high painted ceilings and huge windows have been preserved in the bedrooms, which house a selection of vintage and modern furniture - I spent a long time on the chaise longue gazing out at the glorious blue sky. The beds, which are huge and luxurious, sit below “living paintings” of coloured silk, which seem to change with the light.
Our room, Collain’s original bedroom, looked out over cedar trees, an ornamental lake and the hotel’s swimming pool, while others up in the attics feature mezzanine floors and private roof terraces. More modestly proportioned (but equally well furnished) rooms at the back of the chateau look out over parkland, which contains a self-catering holiday rental - the former gatehouse.
A gastronomic delight
For those not cooking for themselves, there’s Le Cedre de Montcaud. The restaurant, under head chef Matthieu Herve, showcases local, seasonal produce on both its tasting and a la carte menus.
Our tasting menu started in a stable courtyard, where dusk fell as we enjoyed champagne and a procession of canapes - ginger macaroon with foie gras, crisp pillows filled with smoked artichoke and aubergine, and a brill tartare mousse. Once settled in the restaurant, the main courses included roast pigeon with truffles, mediterranean tuna tartare with verbena and quail’s egg, followed by the most beautiful piece of beef served with girolles and tarragon.
Alexandre Cohen, the sommelier, deserves special mention. He delivered perfect pairings, each with a story, from a pouilly fuisse to a surprising chilled grenache, which imaginatively complemented each dish. Dessert, a deconstructed tarte tatin, was enhanced by an artisan sparkling cider - and the cheese trolley alone is worth the trip. Don’t miss the comte or the Corsican soft cheese flavoured with thyme.
This wasn’t just a meal, it was an experience to touch all senses. And silk reached into the restaurant, too: a textured artwork running down one wall is the handiwork of the first silkworms reintroduced into the area.
Further afield in Languedoc-Roussillon
This lesser-known corner of Provence includes some of the celebrated Plus Beaux Villages de France - the country’s most beautiful villages - as well as a rich concentration of food producers and vineyards. Borrow bicycles from the chateau or drive further afield.
La Roque-sur-Ceze (above) is perched high on a hill, and the climb to the castle is rewarded by an incredible view over the Ceze valley to Mount Ventoux. A less strenuous stroll downriver to the Cascades du Sautadet shouldn’t be missed - the sound of rushing water fills the air as the Ceze river tumbles over sharp cliffs cut into the rock over thousands of years.
Afterwards, we had a leisurely lunch in Goudargues before following the Ceze upstream to Montclus, another tiny Provencal village with a maze of narrow alleys, tiny shops and boules matches. With more time, you could drive down the Ardeche gorge, visit the caves at Chauvet and admire the towering natural archway at Pont d’Arc.
You might want to squeeze in as much sightseeing as possible on the way in from Marseille airport - Uzes, Avignon or the Pont du Gard, for example, would break up the 90-minute drive nicely. And once installed at Chateau Montcaud, you may never want to leave.
Chateau De Montcaud, Hameau de Combes, from £147 per night, B&B, for two people sharing