Massignac, France

Photo: Domaine des Etangs
Photo: Domaine des Etangs

Your heart is set on a trip to France this summer, but your head is telling you to go elsewhere. The maddening crowds just aren’t worth it. Paris is full of tour groups. Parisians are fleeing the city for the coasts. Even your favorite little wine village, Gevrey-Chambertin in Burgundy, has bumper-to-bumper traffic—on the back roads. If only you could find a quiet corner in the République française.

Surprisingly, there’s an area that’s still relatively undiscovered. Poitou-Charentes, in southwest France, is in between the Loire Valley and Bordeaux along the Atlantic coast. If people know of the region at all—and few outside of France do—it’s surely because of Île de Ré, a sun-drenched island known for its consistently mild climate. The sunshine isn’t relegated to the coast, though. Farther inland, that sunshine is paired with quiet lakes, sunflower fields, and farm vehicles instead of traffic.

It’s a relaxing drive through the countryside to find your château. Yes, your château. Vineyards are full of Trebbiano grapes that are used to make Cognac. The Périgord Limousin Regional Natural Park is a dense forest with oak and chestnut trees. While the Haute Charente Lakes have quiet coves far from the busy beaches. You’re already in a relaxed state by the time you reach Domaine des Etangs.

Photo: Domaine des Etangs
Photo: Domaine des Etangs

Domaine des Etangs was originally built in the 12th century. The stone château, which sits on 2,100 acres, was renovated to become a peaceful retreat. The rustic rooms have exposed wooden beams and huge fireplaces. Vegetables and herbs, used by the restaurant, were planted in the garden. Limousin cattle graze in the green fields. Old water wheels and little rowboats sit along ponds that are lined with cattails and yellow irises. Herons wade knee-deep through the water. A tiny stone chapel looks like it belongs in a painting. Plus otters and deer roam the surrounding land.

Wake up to find a thick mist hovering above the water outside your bedroom window. It slowly starts to lift as you walk from your cottage to the château for breakfast. Enjoy your coffee and warm croissants at a table set up on the lawn as you decide what to do today. Horseback riding and tennis are both tempting. But you ultimately decide to ride a bike around the lakes and then visit the nearby castles: Château de Rochechouart, Château de Rochebrune, and Château de Rochefoucauld.

Just return to Domaine des Etangs in time for dinner. The simple dining room has a huge fireplace and red chairs. The food is anything but simple, though. Each course features an indulgence: rich butter, smooth foie gras, and lean Limousin beef. While the wine, usually the star of dinner, takes a rare backseat to a glass of Cognac at the end of your meal. There are lots of treats to discover in this quiet corner of France.

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