Dispatch From Languedoc
A new spa hotel in an ancient winery is a perfect base for exploring the family vineyards, slow waterways, covered markets and seafood spots in and around Narbonne
My two days in and around Narbonne, an unpretentious town along the Southwestern coast of France within the historically rich region of Languedoc-Roussillon, began at Montpellier airport. Low on sleep, having traveled all the way from Mexico City but filled with the anticipation of being somewhere new, I was whisked by a driver to Chateau L’Hospitalet, a former 11th-century hospital turned wine resort and spa. It’s surrounded by a biodynamic vineyard, where I was invited to stay in the newly opened Villa Soleilla. The drive from Montpellier to Narbonne is roughly an hour, and as the brush-laden hills gave way to rows of vines, I knew we were getting close.
Chateau L’Hospitalet is a little outside of Narbonne and surrounded by the vines of the La Clape appellation, a protected mountain range that’s home to France’s largest wine-producing region (in actual acreage). The vineyard is one of several belonging to winemaker Gerard Bertrand, all cultivated using organic and biodynamic practices. Bertrand, a former rugby player, took over the family business after his father’s death and now runs over 16 wine estates, among them Clos du Temple. He has dedicated himself to changing the region's image as a mass producer (known for table wines in the 60’s and 70’s) to one of high-quality wines that rival some of the most renowned chateaux in France.
The 11 suites within Villa Soleilla, a short walk from the main hotel, have a modern feel, refurbished from the original walls of an ancient winery. Each one has a private patio opening to views of the vine-covered hills with a glimpse of the Mediterranean. The new spa, with the coveted Biologique Recherche line and services, is steps away. The cozy king-size bed was calling my name, but I quickly freshened up and made my way to the festival Jazz A L’Hospitalet dinner and show happening that evening. This event has been taking place every year on the property for the past 19 years, which includes dinner in the park of the Chateau paired with Gerard Bertrand wines, followed by nightly performances by some of the best jazz musicians from France and the world. That night I had the incredible opportunity to watch a performance by Brazilian singer-songwriter Gilberto Gil, whose vibrant songs combining genres like bossa nova, samba, rock, reggae, funk, forro, and tropicalia set the tone for the next few days of exploration.
IN AND AROUND NARBONNE
Narbonne is a small, ancient city founded by the Romans in 118 BCE, which functioned as an important Roman seaport until the river changed course. With small winding cobblestone streets, tree lined promenades, and colorful facades, this town brims with French charm.