Étang de Thau, lagoon and protected site.
For anyone who loves oysters and their benefits, wine and history.
Valmagne Abbey, one of the most beautiful Cistercian abbeys in France
One of the oldest vineyards in the Languedoc.
the best period
Spring and Summer
Treat yourself to a weekend of luxury by the Étang de Thau. Dive into the calm and soothing Thau Lagoon between Montpellier and Béziers, opposite Sète. On the menu: indulgent oysters, fabulous spa, gourmet vibes, vineyards and age-old heritage. I'm taking you to the pearly lair of the Tarbouriech family, who have been farming oysters since 1962, then the majestic Valmagne Abbey that's been making wine for 800 years.
It's the perfect place to learn about oyster farming, oyster beds with solar panels and the special Tarbouriech oyster breeding cycle. The pretty road opposite Sète has views of the Étang de Thau in the distance. We have a leisurely drive through the vines to Domaine Tarbouriech in its own little world at the end of the road... Bright light and peace and quiet reign. The beautiful manor looms ahead and oysters are everywhere, even on the paths gleaming in mosaics. Oyster lovers, we have reached the Tarbouriech family's pearly lair.
Worth a detour
Fellow foodies, before you get here, treat yourself to a lunch break by the Etang de Thau in the pretty oyster farming villages of Bouzigues or Mèze.
It's 2pm. It's too early to check into our lodge but ideal for a spot of oyster-based pampering. It's time for the couple's massage. Domaine Tarbouriech's spa is the place to let go and let the team take care of you. Oysters haven't been left out: you'll see them in the interior design and they're in the cosmetics too. You'll feel like a million dollars.
The Chinese have known about oysters' renowned virtues and powerful assets for millennia. Maison Tarbouriech drew inspiration from how oysters are used in China to create "ostréathérapie'' (oyster therapy), make their own cosmetics and open their spa.
Let's go on a pre-dinner ride on bikes loaned by the property. We're heading for the endless Saint Barth pontoon to visit the Huître Tarbouriech oyster bar.
Sunset and total peace, just picture it: an untamed beach and inland sea peppered with oyster farms. To the left, Sète glowing pink. To the right, Agde Hill carves into the horizon as the sun slowly sinks down to the other side of the world. Simply magical...
The UNESCO World Heritage Canal du Midi covers 360km from Toulouse to Marseillan. Its mouth is 2km as the crow flies from Domaine Tarbouriech. A must-visit!
It's time to head back to the property for a gourmet experience at La Folie. Naturally, I suggest ordering the oyster tasting menu packed with original and understated flavours. Your can taste the passion... 3 special Tarbouriech oysters with bold garnishes washed down with Picpoul de Pinet to tantalise your tastebuds. Chef has a surprise in store: you can watch him cook!
Picpoul de Pinet is a classic Hérault grape variety that goes down a treat with shellfish and seafood. To find out more, check out the Hérault wine tour. View the Hérault wine tour...
After dinner, it's time for bed in the cabin lodge. Our home for the night is a tastefully renovated barn. Stone, wood, metal, beautiful and relaxing, just like the rest. Wonderful. Feast on the breakfast buffet the following day: fresh fruit juice, homemade jam, local produce, fruit, pastries, cakes and fantastic bread. Everything's delicious... and organic!
We leave the property with a big smile on our faces. The Tarbouriech family provides a whole host of things to do celebrating oysters and Thau Lagoon so there's only one thing we want: to come back soon!
Did you know?
The inventive Tarbouriech family has designed the Solar Tide, a system that reproduces the Atlantic's tides to give the Special Oyster its "grandeur" and its smooth yet exciting flavour.
We're off to the majestic Valmagne Abbey which we see 30 minutes later, at the end of a plane tree-lined road deep in the Languedoc vineyard. The 12th century abbey and winery are open to visitors and we take in the cloister and beautiful shaded fountain. With our heads in the heavens and our feet firmly on earth, we gaze at the radiant gothic-style nave and its huge Russian oak vats.
The vats appeared when the monks fled during the French Revolution and the new owner turned the church into a wine cellar, building these famous Russian oak vats that can contain up to 435 hectolitres.
In the dimly-lit cellar, we start by tasting the "Vitrail de l’Abbaye" soaked in Sète sea spray. You can taste the earthy terroir and pebble soil that produced "Portalis", the builder's vintage. And what can we say about the founder's vintage, the sun-drenched and full-bodied "Turenne"?! When the abbey was put up for sale in 1838, Henri de Turenne bought it with the Bishop's seal of approval. He did extensive work and expanded the winery. Since then, Henri de Turenne's descendents have been taking care of Valmagne Abbey and bringing to life both the abbey and farm.
We get a warm welcome at the Valmagne Abbey restaurant. Frère Nonenque's vaulted dining room oozes peace and calm and the arbour on the terrace is very welcome. Chef serves up honest dishes made using organic ingredients from the vegetable garden, local and farm produce, all "homemade".
Before we hit the road again, we wander around the garden and its 120 plants which all have information panels with pictures. We're amazed to learn about the flowers and plants that we loved seeing and eating at lunchtime. It's like being a kid again, getting our hands dirty and picturing nature in full bloom.
Frère Nonenque is popular so book the abbey restaurant in advance! Its small menu of fresh produce changes with the seasons. We recommend parking at the car park by the abbey entrance, there's always space.