“Golf au château, fine food, a seductively chilled hotel and 2 self-catering villas for 2-6 in a quiet corner of the Périgord”
Les Merles’ guest rooms have been slotted into the triple-storeyed corps of the original château. Standard or deluxe status is based on size and how good a view you get, but all rooms, with the exception of the small basement single, feel light and airy thanks to their mostly south-facing windows. Suites are differentiated by their separate living rooms and come with baths and showers; there’s also a large 2-bedroom apartment with a kitchen and private terrace. Ground-floor rooms gain from the extra ceiling height whilst those on the attic floor feel cosy, tucked in beneath Les Merles’ ancient rafters. Our choice of room would be No 7, a suite with a sweeping vista of the wooded valley.
The decorative palette sticks almost exclusively to white and black with an occasional splash of brightness in the form of zesty-coloured lampshades. If the spare, angular look is reminiscent of Nineties minimalism, the Starck perspex chairs, ornate chandeliers and Old Master repros add a more eclectic note, as do period fireplaces, radiators and planked floors.
Mattresses are laid atop dark, boxed bases; 2 singles are slotted together to make doubles which, unusually, are made up with 2 double duvets and a double bank of pillows, all clad in the best Dutch linen. At the end of each bed i-escape guests will find a black box containing complimentary satin bed slippers. All rooms come with a TV, DVD player and safe box, but no minibar. The bathrooms have double sinks, wall-mounted toilets and bidets, stacks of black and white towels, hairdryers, and bath products carrying the château’s logo (3 blackbirds). Big twin mirrors up the feeling of space, as does the floor-to-ceiling white tiling.
The monochrome, rather Zen look of the hotel rooms spills over into the 2 self-catering villas, set 100m away from the main building. These have been added since our last visit, but they look enticing: each has 3 bedrooms (all twin), 3 bathrooms, a full kitchen, and a living room with shuttered French doors and huge grey sofas. The muted décor - polished concrete floors, white walls, dove grey beams - is offset by bright wall prints and sparkling chrome candelabras. Outside are private terraces with sleek chairs, tables and umbrellas, and a swimming pool which is shared with the Van Grinsvens, who live next door.
Les Merles' culinary pitch is 'New Périgord Cuisine', which looks to the region's time-tried recipes and uses a 'keep it seasonal' brief. Much of the content is lifted straight from the estate's organic veggie garden and orchards.
La Bruyère Blanche restaurant - where you can dine à la carte or opt for a 5- or 8-course set menu - has a black-and-white colour scheme dovetails beautifully with high ceilings, dark screed floors, Philippe Stark chairs and atmospheric lighting. In summer you can dine outside in the huge gravelled courtyard.
Everything was immaculately presented and tasted superb. A starter of duck liver paté with baby carrots caramelised with lime and black pepper was followed by a main course of tender fillet of beef in a red wine sauce accompanied by gratin dauphinois. All offerings on the cheese board were from the Périgord and my meal ended with a scrummy crème brulée served with slivers of orange.
I loved the château's wine guide, which only lists local varieties from the Bergerac. In addition to the year, ageing process and grape varieties of each wine, you’re treated to anecdotes about the particular vineyard and its owners.
Expect a big breakfast spread of cold cuts, regional cheeses, yoghurts, fruits and cereals. Bread is freshly baked in situ, as are the pains au chocolat and croissants, and - always a nice touch in my eyes - tea or coffee is served at your table.
The villas are let on a self-catering basis and have sleek, steel-clad kitchens equipped with a fridge, freezer, oven, hob and microwave, plus pots and pans, crockery and cutlery, and a chunky wooden table seating 6. There’s a supermarket a 10-minute drive away where you can stock up on provisions, but you’re welcome to book a table at the restaurant if you don’t fancy cooking.
Staying in a fairytale castle is as appealing to kids as it is their parents. Chateau les Merles welcomes kids with open arms and there's plenty to recommend it to families, from the wide lawns and pool to the fantastic location, offering a chance to explore the region. The second generation of the Van Grinsven family have their own offspring so they cope easily with yours.
Book either the apartment, sleeping 4 in 2 double bedrooms, or the 3-bed villas (sleeping up to 9). Villas have kitchens and private parking. The deluxe rooms and suites can take additional children's beds.
Babysitting and day care are available by arrangement.
Remember baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking
The hotel's restaurant doesn't have a specific kids menu but kid-friendly options are available on request. For self-caterers, the villas are well kitted out with microwaves, dishwashers, washing machines and more. The nearest supermarket is 10 minutes' drive away.
The swimming pool and patio area with loungers is gated and open 9am-8pm