Wednesday 22 February 2017

Perpignan: Unquenchable thirst for chic vineyard

A weekend at the French resort of Les Jardins de St Benoit left Triona McCarthy feeling pampered and her teetotal mum tempted to sample the local wines

Triona McCarthy

Published 24/07/2011 | 05:00

ECLECTIC: Accomodation in individual shutter-windowed houses at Les Jardins de St Benoit is
a combination of contemporary and traditional
ECLECTIC: Accomodation in individual shutter-windowed houses at Les Jardins de St Benoit is a combination of contemporary and traditional

My Mum Margaret -- a life-long teetotaler in her 50s --announced on the last day of a long weekend in the Languedoc region of France that she'd actually like to try a glass of wine -- the next time she came here. Well I never!

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I was in there like swimwear; googling flights back to Perpignan on my iPhone faster than you can say Alcoholics Anonymous.

You see, after staying in the famously beautiful wine region soaking up the wine (me), the sun (mum) and the local culture (both of us), my Mum had decided the French know a thing or trois about drinking wine.

Mum now reckons the French actually "appreciate" wine, unlike the binge-drinking mentality in Ireland that she's used to seeing, especially among her own children.

After a turbulent time in both our lives -- including the death of my lovely sister Tricia last year -- we decided we needed to get away from it all and just totally chill out.

Aer Lingus has just introduced a direct route from Dublin to Perpignan in the south of France, the ideal airport for us to visit Les Jardins de St Benoit, a tres chic resort that I had read about. Part of the stylish Garrigae group, the stunning vineyard estate is getting rave reviews. Just what we needed of a weekend.

On Saturday morning, decked out in our matching Breton stripy tops -- we like to get into character -- we boarded our flight in Dublin and arrived into Perpignan airport just after 2pm.

We had a resort car pick us up instead of hiring a car because, as we were only there for the weekend, we were not planning to do anything more strenuous than apply SPF.

We were so busy admiring the bright blue sky, lush landscape and flirty French driver that we didn't even feel the hour that it took to arrive at Les Jardins de Saint Benoit -- right next to the shabby chic village of Saint-Laurent-de-la-Cabrerisse.

The on-site facilities include restaurants, a terrace bar, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, sporting facilities, shops, and a spa -- exactly what we needed. There is also a children's club.

After we had checked in, we were told to pop downstairs to the spa where we were invited to fill some empty bottles with the natural, locally produced lotions and potions to bring back to our villa and refill then everyday as needed. How eco friendly.

Then it was off in a golf buggy to our villa.

The individual shutter- windowed houses vary in size from modest one-bedroom cottages to six-bedroomed villas. I loved the eclectic interior of our three-bedroomed cottage -- a combo of contemporary and traditional, complete with a full kitchen for the domestic goddess. However, being more of a domestic godhelpus I made more use of the nearby restaurant and snack bar.

There was also a terrace and private pool. Thank God -- my body is less a temple and more of an amusement park, so slipping into my itsy, bitsy, teeny, weeny bikini in public was not an option.

I contemplated a swim, but mum wanted to catch the last of the sun that day so we decided we'd stretch our lovely legs and have a wander round the village of Saint- Laurent-de-la-Cabrerisse -- less than two minutes' walk. It's tres petite with just a hairdressers, a boulangerie and a mini market where we stocked up on teabags and milk.

Then it was back to our villa and a quick change before trotting through the cute pedestrianised streets to the restaurant in the main area, which overlooks the pool.

The menu was filled with dishes using the fresh fruit and vegetables from the surrounding gardens, and before I knew it I was sipping some vino from the vineyard and licking my lips after devouring too many gourmet dishes while admiring the rolling hills in the distance. It doesn't get any better than this I decided.

The next morning we were back down for brekkie and then we were off to the spa.

Mum and I had the heavenly Aromatic Envelopment Treatment, which makes best use of lavender, rosemary, mint and organic essential oils to leave you feeling fabulously rejuvenated.

When mum came to join me in the relaxation area, where we sipped our herbal teas, she told me it was the best she'd felt for a long time.

We were there in June, but during the summer season you can enjoy Les-Jardins-de-St-Benoit's art and French cookery workshops. There is a nearby market every Monday offering food cooked by the local food producers.

If you do feel the need to go off site, it's best to hire a car so you can visit all the tourist hotspots nearby, such as the stunning beaches, the walled medieval city of Carcassonne or the Roman ruins of Narbonne, about 40 minutes away by car. We, however, went no further than the reception desk to hire bikes.

We tried to guess which rock stars live in some of the impressive houses nearby. Apparently, James Blunt, Tom Jones and George Michael have places in the area.

It was back down to the restaurant that evening where a local wine producer chose wine to go with each course we ate. This was when mum decided she quite liked the idea of wine complementing food instead of just being a means of getting drunk.

As I'd had a few glasses, I was being my usual bold self and I had to tell her how my first lover was French and perhaps that's now why I thought I was a Francophile -- mum pointed out it was probably the wine.

We both agreed that while Les Jardins is an a.mah.zing place to go with the girls, it is above all a place for families. There's a garden where kids can learn how vegetables and herbs are grown, they can fly-fish or play with the animals at the petting zoo. The children's club is outstanding, with its range of activities, such as art and handicraft workshops and then there's the adventure playground as well as the farm.

We'll be back with my nieces and nephews some day because I definitely want to see mum after a few and see what kind of language she speaks then.

GETTING THERE

For more information visit www.garrigae-resorts.com. Aer Lingus is operating twice weekly flights from Dublin to Perpignan on Tuesday and Saturday until October 29, 2011. www.aerlingus.com

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