“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 is very much a family affair and the Van Grinsven slot easily into their role of keepers-of-the-castle. Golf and gourmet food are the château's twin pillars; guests come to pit themselves against a fiendish 9-hole course or book one of the 15 rooms safe in the knowledge that they are guaranteed a gourmet treat. There are also 2 3-bedroom villas away from the main hotel for families, groups and those who want that little bit more privacy. The 'keep it local' culinary philosophy, the friendliness of the welcome, and the sheer beauty of the setting all go towards making Les Merles, figuratively at least, right on par.
- Top gourmet cuisine which is well worthy of the Périgord’s excellent matières de base
- Big, airy rooms with views over the pool and out across the golf course and vineyards
- Judith and Karlijn, the Dutch Van Grinsven sisters, take genuine pleasure in looking after you
- Creative, clean-cut, contemporary design in the 15 bedrooms, the dining areas and the 2 villas
- A devilishly challenging 9-hole golf course
- Only 10 minutes' drive from Bergerac airport
- Unless you're a golfing whizz, count on losing a few balls to the water features and forest
- Both the golf course and restaurant are open to non-residents so expect to see quite a few other folk around
- A good deal of the furniture and fittings smacks of the big Swedish store; it looks good but feels a tad unoriginal
- The grounds encompass several privately-owned holiday homes, although they're a fair distance from the main building
Best time to go
Our top tips
- Boutique Hotel & Villas
- 15 rooms + 2 villas for 2-6
- Restaurant (+ self-catering in villas)
- All ages welcome
- Open all year
- Outdoor Pool
- Pet Friendly
- Disabled Access
- Beach Nearby
- Off-street Parking
- Restaurants Nearby
- Air Conditioning
- Guest Lounge
- Tennis Court
- Bicycles Available
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.
- Central heating
- Cots Available
- Dvd player
- Extra beds
- Safe box
- Satellite tv
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.
- Children meals
- Organic produce
- Room service
- Vegetarian menu
- Pit your skills against the 9-hole golf course, trying to avoid water features, sheep, ditches and the veggie garden
- Improve your swing on the driving range or practice your short sweeps on the putting green
- Book a place on one of Les Merles' cooking courses and learn how to prepare a few of the restaurant's flagship dishes
- Treat yourself to a 'bone therapy' massage or a beauty treatment
- Spend a day canoeing or fishing on the Dordogne
- Just 10-15 minutes away, Bergerac, self-styled gateway to the Perigord, has a vieille ville of cobbled streets and half-timbered houses, as well as boat trips, a Saturday market and an interesting tobacco museum (where smoking is forbidden!)
- Forget the hype about Bordeaux and discover the unsung vineyards of the Bergerac; reception can organise tours and tastings
- Play tennis and swim, then feel better about choosing the 8-course dinner menu!
Activities on site or nearby include:
- Cooking classes
- Hot air ballooning
- Shopping / markets
- Wine tasting
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.
Family friendly accommodation:
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.
Kids Activities on site:
- Large lawn to play on
- Fenced pool
- Putting green and driving range
- Tennis court
- Swings and slide
Kids Activities nearby:
- Waterpark and go-kart circuit on the edge of Bergerac
- Canoeing the Dordogne
Families Should Know:
The swimming pool and patio area with loungers is gated and open 9am-8pm
- Airport: 15 minutes (Bergerac), 1 hour 20 minutes (Bordeaux)
- Hospital: 10 minutes
- Shops: 10 minutes