This 13th-Century Chateau Doubles as France’s Best Wine Resort
The beach pairs well with rosé.
If late last summer you wandered over to the beaches of Narbonne in France’s Languedoc-Roussillon region (lucky you), you may have seen something unfamiliar: three billowy white tents and, in the sand, wooden deckchairs and canopy beds topped with white cushions—a bonafide beach club. Around the grouping, no other structures. In the wavy heat of the sun, it could almost seem like a mirage.
And if you went back two months later, you would indeed be questioning yourself. This year those white tents, canopy beds, and beach chairs—otherwise known as L’Hospitalet Beach Club—opened for just two months, bustling with visitors (mostly local) enjoying oysters, fresh grilled fish seasoned with local herbs, and wines from owner and winemaker Gerard Bertrand. In accordance with sustainable laws in the area, the club is completely broken down at the end of the beach season, leaving only rose imprints in the sand (from the beveled bottles of Bertrand’s Cote des Roses rosé). Now, like a magic trick, the beaches are empty. To be filled again next April.
Usually when you picture the South of France, your mind may first roam to the glitz of the French Riviera, its turquoise-blue waters attracting sun-kissed celebrities. But further west, you’ll find something just as captivating but much less well-known: unassuming Narbonne, an old Roman port from France’s time as part of Gaul. The small town’s massive history can be literally stepped on—a strip of the Via Domitia, the stone route for the passage of Roman soldiers between Italy and Spain, lies exposed in the town square. (A new museum, Narbo Via, is dedicated to this ancient maritime capital’s rich Roman history.)
Another remnant of the Romans? The wine. Narbonne is home to the protected massif (or karst) of La Clape, a former island now attached to the mainland through earthen deposits in the River Aude. It’s also a biodiverse nature reserve rich in garrigue (low-growing vegetation), breezy with dramatic hills, salty with Mediterranean air, and craggy with porous limestone—all descriptors that make it textbook-perfect for winemaking (there’s also the hidden green pool of The Gouffre de l'Oeil Doux, or “Sweet-Eyed Sinkhole,” worth a hike if you’re in the area). Taking from Greek traditions and utilizing the area’s natural resources, the Romans set about creating dense vineyards centuries ago. Today, there are some 30 vineyards in the region, vines latched into the limestone, drinking the salty air.
In 2002, winemaker Gerard Bertand bought 1000 hectares (2471 acres) of scrubland, with 82 of those hectares (about 202 acres) dedicated to vineyards. A former rugby star, Bertrand learned the art of winemaking from his father Georges Bertrand, who had learned it from his father, Paule. Though he’s a third-generation oenophile, his journey to winemaker—and entrepreneur—extraordinaire begins with that 2002 parcel, which, alongside vineyards, included truffles on the roots of its trees, wild lavender, olive groves, and a rustic 13th-century chateau. The three-story structure would eventually become the base of Château l’Hospitalet, with 17 suites and 13 rooms overlooking the sprawling olive groves; today, a second hotel, several restaurants, a spa, and two pools also dot the property. (The beach club is technically on the state’s property, which Bertrand rents.) That 800-year-old chateau, plus its natural surrounding landscape, inspired a lifestyle.
“The original chateau dates back to the Romans and used to be a hospital,” explains Véronique Braun, Communications Director for Château l’Hospitalet. “That’s why [the property is] Chateau l’Hospitalet. There were monks here taking care of people in the Middle Ages, who were already cultivating the vineyard.”
Bertrand looked to the property’s natural garrigue for inspiration, witnessing how all its elements worked together in harmony. Under his care, grapevines would be harvested via biodynamic agriculture, cultivation practices adhering to the cosmic rhythms of the planets and stars.
And as balance shapes the vineyards, so too is it in the property’s lifestyle elements: Chateau l’Hospitalet has also become a destination for art and gastronomy. Wander the property to see steel sculptures like “Hospitalitas” by rugby-champion-slash-artist Jean Pierre Rives, or stay inside and explore the exhibition space, new artists displayed every year. A jazz dinner happens every Friday night, culminating in the summer jazz festival, Jazz à l'Hospitalet—next year marks its 19th anniversary. “It hasn’t gotten bigger because the festival takes place in the courtyard and it can't get bigger because we only have 1,500 seats,” says Braun. “But we can say it gets bigger and bigger every year because of the artists that we have a chance to welcome here.”
And restaurants like the gastronomic L'Art de Vivre and homey rotisserie restaurant Chez Paule—with terracotta accents, wooden beams, and recipes from Bertrand’s grandmother—offer elevated fare steeped in local traditions. An upcoming wine bar will offer programming for 60 people, plus special wine cocktails, sparkling wines, and orange wines.
In August 2021 came a new addition to the property: Villa Soleilla, twelve airy suites and a pool, all designed to bring the outside in. “The idea was not to be overwhelmed by too much design but to feel the harmony with nature,” says Braun. Hues of green, yellow, and soft reds allude to the seasonal elements outside, glass doors overlook the vineyard, and textures like wood and stone give the space a visceral edge.
But you’ll want to experience more than just overlooking those vines. Take a wine tour across the vineyards on foot or bike, enjoy a tasting (or several), or blend your own vintage in a class. “It’s quite an adventure,” says Braun. “You start with choosing one wine that you’d like to do, like a blend of red. Then you taste every varietal separately and do your own blending.” Participants taste each other's blends and rate them, choosing a winner of sorts. But really, everyone wins—you get to leave with your bottle.
Or you can just relax. In 2021, Chateau l’Hospitalet added a spa, also overlooking the signature vineyards. Using products by the French brand Biologique Recherche, the focus is also on balance, but for your skin. “Every treatment comes with a personalized analysis, to specify what your skin needs,” notes Braun. No grapes or wines are used in the treatments, but Braun assures us if we want to sip before or after—or during—that can be arranged.