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Château Domaine des Etangs Transforms

A historic family-owned château in a breathtaking but forgotten corner of rural France is reborn as a sophisticated culinary and spa retreat.

By Alice Cavanagh via WSJ

The late French billionaire Didier Primat’s holiday estate, Domaine des Etangs, was an 11th-century castle in the remote, untouched Charente Limousine region. Primat carefully restored the historic buildings and grounds, creating “a big playground for the whole family,” recalls his daughter Garance, 37, the third of eight children, whose childhood memories include caring for pigs, rabbits and chickens on the property.

Since her father died in 2008, Garance has worked to fulfill his dream of transforming this estate—located just over three hours southwest of Paris—into a retreat for vacationers from around the world. This month she opened the property as a lavish hotel. The château has seven suites, seven free-standing cottages, a 40-seat restaurant, thermal Roman baths and more than 2,100 acres of rambling hills, forests and lakes to explore with bikes and wooden rowboats.

Garance, who shares her father’s passion for the outdoors, enlisted the celebrated landscape gardener Camille Muller to fashion the estate’s wild, expansive gardens. “Camille doesn’t try to control nature; he serves nature,” she says. To refurbish the château and cottages, sprinkled around the property, she worked with Parisian architect Isabelle Stanislas and local stonemasons and craftsmen, taking care to preserve the buildings’ “bones” by leaving original stonework and timber beams exposed. The rooms were furnished with a mix of elegant contemporary pieces and antiques owned by Garance’s father. Immense artworks by photographers Thomas Ruff and Dieter Appelt hang in the château’s suites.

The estate’s restaurant is one of the few fine-dining outposts in the region, a pristine landscape relatively unknown to tourists (and an easy drive from Cognac and Bordeaux). Chef Fabien Beaufour, 31, a former executive sous chef at New York’s Eleven Madison Park, sources fruit and vegetables from an abundant kitchen garden and beef from Limousin cattle raised on the property. Next year, Garance will open a luxury spa in the estate’s old windmill. “My father didn’t have time to finish the castle, so I decided to continue his work,” she says. “This was our family’s home—but it’s a place you want to share with other people.” From $650 (low season) to $2,000 (high season) per night; domainedesetangs.com.

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