Boutique hotels are quite hard to come by in the South of France, but just 25km from Perpignan in the sleepy village of Belesta, you will find a unique place to stay at the Riberach Hotel. At 370 metres above sea level Belesta is wedged into the hillside overlooking the Rousillon Plain with its dramatic scenery and vineyards stretching as far as the eye can see.
Belesta used to mark the frontier between the kingdoms of France and Aragon and it has its own medieval castle, as so many places here do!
On the hillside, facing south, the village is located in front of the majestic Mount Canigou, the emblematic mountain of the Eastern Pyrenees and symbol of the Catalans.
As you drive the winding road into Belesta you can see the Cave-Hôtel**** du Domaine Riberach set into the steep hillside overlooking this beautiful landscape.
The hotel is the creation of architects Luc Richard and Karin Pühringer who have converted an old winery into a hotel, restaurant and spa. An important part of the building remains a winery where the Riberach wines are made by a small co operative of enthusiastic local wine makers.
A warm welcome awaits in a cool reception
The hotel is an eco hotel which uses geothermic heat to power the hot water and to help make the wine. The hotel pool is a natural eco pool and all wine production is entirely organic. The rocky vineyards means that all grapes are picked by hand and no pesticides are used.
The eco pool at Riberach
Some of the rooms have been created within old wine vats and are quite sumptuous, but they all have very tasteful decor and use local materials like the lovely pebbles which are used as building materials, and quite indicative of this region. The restaurant “La Coopérative” sits at the site of the presses of the old cooperative winery in the centre of the hotel with a stunning view out over the valley. It is a gastronomique restaurant so be prepared for some interesting dishes based on local ingredients. If you’re looking for moules and frites you may be disappointed.
Frozen, creamy Oysters!
We had a wine tasting of the wines made by the Riberach wine co operative. Sharp, dry and clean they are definitely not catering for the mass market taste, but are quite unique due to the lime soil and very dry micro climate. Habits of wine drinking have changed in France. The French population are drinking a lot less quantity than they did but drinking a better quality of wine.
Riberach wines – not to be rushed
The graphic brand for the Riberach wines is a snail – I asked, why the mollusc?
Luc who designed the brand, told me it was very French and very Catalan. Apparently snail barbecues are poplar here. Also he said the speed of the snail suited them, handcrafted wines take time. Good answer!
Tourism is a very big part of the French economy. So is wine – and this region is no exception. The countryside is packed full of vines groaning under the weight of huge bunches of the sweetest green and black grapes you will ever taste. The famous muscat grape grows here and makes the heavy sweet wines of the area including Rivesaulte.
Sweet Syrah grapes
In fact this part of France has around 700,000 acres under vines and is the single biggest wine producing region in the world. The Languedoc Rousillion region is responsible for more than a third of France’s total wine production and produces more wine than the entire US. Quantity there most certainly is, but now the winemakers are concentrating more on quality, wines made here are enjoying a resurgence in popularity across the world.
This region wich grows all kinds of grape varieties, makes an especially good range of roses which (after champagne of course) are my tipple of choice.
If you are looking for somewhere special to stay in this beautiful part of France, look up Riberach and head for the hills!