Sometimes you just know when you hit a family friendly hot spot. This happens to us on the afternoon we arrive at the Mas de Thau near the small town of Montagnac in the captivating Languedoc-Roussillon region in Southern France. After a warm welcome by owners Maryse and Yvan, we almost immediately find ourselves participants in a wine tasting session. Normally this would be a challenge being accompanied by children, but it appears that this is the evening the childcare service carries on into the evening hours.
So, while we taste several fantastic local wines, the kids play with the other children. Maryse and Yvan have spent several years building this slice of family holiday paradise. It is completely immersed in a beautiful countryside setting, with grape vines, pine trees and endless views of the Thau Lagoon and the Mediterranean Sea.
When it comes to the holidays, you sometimes need time to totally unwind and although we love our daughters dearly, we also feel we need a little time for ourselves. With this in mind, the Mas de Thau provides a staggering 20 hectares (about 50 acres) of sprawling grounds. It consists of a beautiful organic vineyard and the ‘family holidays resort’ as Maryse and Yvan call it. If there were a top 10 rating for the space children have to play, the Mas would surely be on it. And it is wrapped in a nice package that absolutely presents an intimate estate totally dedicated to families. So, none of that kid-unfriendly highbrow fuss that you might encounter at luxury properties. Rather, it’s a place where you can feel completely at home. Maryse and Yvan embody this feeling in their down to earth nature and very keen focus on delivering the right service. They are always around in case you need something or are up for a chat. But should you feel like it, you can also be completely on your own . Whatever you wish, it’s your holiday.
The resort offers six different gites (apartments) all named after wine grape varieties. They range from two to four bedrooms and 90 sqm to 160 sqm, and they offer all the amenities you might need. The design is what we would call French country ‘chic’ in a simple, child friendly setting. All gites are constructed at a highly professional level. Again, you really see all the passion the owners have put into it and they are still adding little things based on the feedback they receive. The biggest gites are ideal for multi-generational families and if you really have some cash to blow, you could rent the entire domain which offers you space for around 30 people with 15 bedrooms. Yvan later shows us the pictures of ‘the making of’ and we are stunned by the work it took to accomplish the transformation from a barn / cow shed to these beautiful accommodations.
The rooms do differ a bit, so if you are interested in more authentic details with, for example exposed ceiling beams and stone walls and floors, let the owners know you’d like to book the best room. We stay in Gite Le Grenache with a large 40 sqm terrace complete with outdoor table and chairs for dining or just relaxing, overlooking the vineyard. The perfect place to settle every evening to have a nightcap without disturbing sleeping kids. In the morning, the girls use the terrace to stage some of their dances for us. And here is where we have breakfast. You could easily call these meals brunches since we lie in a bit, sleeping like babies during our stay. The surroundings are dead quiet and both our king bed and the single beds for the girls in the other room are wonderfully comfortable and luxurious. Also, a real bonus is the air conditioning in the bedrooms and the living room. It can get really hot in this part of France in the summer.
Of course it’s only during extreme heat that you would be spending time in the living room to have the benefit of a cool room, relaxing sofa and armchairs, flat screen TV and DVD player. Otherwise, you will be outdoors taking advantage of all the activities on offer, both at the resort and in the local area.
If you still feel the need to be digitally connected with the outside world, all the gites have high speed WIFI. Our ‘home away from home’ provides a convenient, modern and spotlessly clean bathroom as well as a fully equipped kitchen with all required dishes and cutlery, including a washing machine and an expresso coffee machine. We are also delighted to find a basket full of essentials such as milk, juice and kid’s cereals on arrival. There is a rather big supermarket just a 10-minute drive away if you need resupplying. But given the high quality of meals provided by the chef, there is hardly any need to do any shopping. Fresh baguettes and croissant are delivered in a lovely basket to your gite as ordered the evening before. And there’s a complimentary lunch at the beach club.
Not only are we surprised by the wine tasting session on our arrival, but we are also treated to homemade pizza, shared with the other guests in the covered, outdoor lounging area next to the bar. It has the feel of a small French village, complete with century old ‘hackberries’ or nettle trees so typical of the Mediterranean climate, a boules pitch, bar and shady tables. This opportunity to meet and socialise with other guests is again something that really speaks for the small and personal setup of Mas de Thau. We meet some delightful people who all marvel at the family focused services provided to them. Each afternoon Yvan mans the bar for an aperitif. Although originally an Italian tradition, it is now a well-established French practise as well. In France, the aperitif was originally introduced as a wine-based drink to deliver malaria-fighting quinine. The French Foreign Legion soldiers even adopted use of it in mosquito-infested Northern Africa.
Well none of those hardships for us these days. The pizza tastes like heaven and reflects the talent of the Chef. He will suggest two menus for you and more simple options for the children every day. You simply pick your favourites. And your meals can either be delivered to your room or you can enjoy eating them on the communal terrace or inside the restaurant. All meals are prepared using fresh and locally sourced ingredients. These meals just as local beers and wines are included in the daily rate, as is a whole lot more. All food allergies and restrictions are catered for, so also no need for worrying on that front. Whether you fancy having a coffee or tea in the morning after bringing the kids to the kidsclub, or have a lunch time drink, Yvan is always happy to open the bar for you.
The second day there, we are well rested and ready to explore all the things the resort has to offer. There are bikes for children and adults which you can just grab and use or little scooters if you prefer. There is also a big football field, a trampoline, the bouncing castle and zip line, not to forget all the animals to interact with. The children love the donkeys and chickens and often visit them with some left over food. For now, we must rush a little because Yvan has already started the engine of a quirky, old tractor for the children to have a ride on. The little ones have their faces painted as tigers or elves. Afterwards there’s ample room for kids to discover and explore on their own.
The more structured activities revolve around the kids club. It runs Monday, Tuesday, Thursday from 9.30 to 5.00 pm with a break for lunch and offers unlimited access. Wednesday is a ‘day off’ for the parents as the kid’s club runs from 9.30 am to 4.00 pm including a lunch. Why not enjoy an exuberant day at the private Beach Club La voile rouge in the captivating seaside resort of Marseillan plage? Again, this is complimentary and part of the overall Mas de Thau experience. Furthermore, you are entitled to a baby sitting night on Thursday evening in your accommodation by the nannies. What an incredible range of childcare services. Truly impressive!
If you are still not completely rested and recharged, the nannies will pick up the kids from your gite on Friday morning at around 7.00 a.m. for breakfast at the kid’s club, so you can spend the whole morning in bed. Or perhaps go off and explore some of the excellent vineyards in the area. The Languedoc-Roussillon wine region covers 740,300 acres (2,996 km2) , three times the combined area of the vineyards in Bordeaux; and the region has been an important winemaking centre for several centuries. The Mediterranean climate and plentiful land with soil ranging from rocky sand to thick clay is very suitable for producing wine.
Alternatively, have a relaxing day at the Mas’s onsite Wellness Centre. It boasts a sauna, hammam and beauty treatment rooms. All facilities can be used on request and even massages and beauty treatments can be arranged with enough advanced notice.
While you indulge yourself in some quality time you do not need to worry about your offspring. The staff are very good with children and gear the activities toward age, so everyone has a good time. Our girls spend some delightful hours playing all kinds of (board) games and making art works. The kids club is fully air-conditioned and even provides a sleeping area for the little ones to have some rest during the activity filled day. On the enclosed terrace, there are some fun outdoor water games to cool off a little during those hazy summer days. One morning our girls, together with the staff, organise a treasure hunt across the resort with all kinds of assignments and questions. Animal loving kids can also go pony riding locally (if it is not to hot). They can do a climbing course or have a go at water-skiing; even small children around the age of four can stand on customised skies while holding on to a horizontal beam that extends above the water while being dragged by a modest speedboat. Fun for everyone!
Older children and teenagers might be interested in joining the free weekly sailing or windsurf training at the Yachting Club in Meze; or perhaps wake-board training in Kithau in Marseillan; transportation included.
With all these activities on offer, one could almost forget to mention the two, heated swimming pools surrounded by lavender and Mediterranean plants. It’s a real oasis. The whole area is completely fenced in with a lockable entry gate, so very secure for the little ones. One pool starts with a baby and toddler’s area and finishes at a deeper diving area. The girls especially like all the water games and colourful inflatables. The other pool is geared to adults to just relax or do some more active swimming. Afterwards you can relax even more in the big outdoor Jacuzzi.
Mas de Thau is at easy distance from beautiful beaches (25 mins) and there are numerous sights and activities to undertake. To start with, we recommend the nearby fishing ports where you can try the huitres gratinee at Meze. Situated on the étang de Thau, Mèze has a historic role as the oyster capital of the area. The production of shellfish, especially oysters, has been the mainstay of the Mèze economy for almost a century and the whole Basin de Thau area has built an international reputation for the quality of its seafood. Its harbour is sometimes called ‘ le petit Saint Tropez’.
The park of Bessilles, just 10 minutes from the resort offers 35 ha of natural beauty dedicated to sports and leisure. It also has an area to relax in a Mediterranean environment with a swimming pool, children playgrounds, multi sports fields and interpretation panels for ecology. Besides that, it is an ideal place for walks and biking.
For a classical French market, head for the town of Pezenas on Saturday. This is a large market that runs through the center of town with wonderful fruit, veg and fresh herbs, bread and cakes, cheeses, fresh meat, hot food, organic produce and clothes. It is very colorful and vibrant and there is no shortage of local characters going about their business.
A little bit further afield is the highly recommended city of Montpelier, the capital of the Hérault department. The city is situated on hilly ground inland from the Mediterranean coast, on the River Lez. The name of the city, which was originally Monspessulanus, is said to have stood for mont pelé (the naked hill, because the vegetation was poor), or le mont de la colline (the mount of the hill). The focus point of the city is the Place de la Comédie, with the Opéra Comédie built in 1888. Most of the buildings of the historic heart of Montpellier have medieval roots and were modified between the 16th and the 18th centuries.
To the South West of Mas de Thau, around 45 minutes’ drive, you will find another enjoyable mid-size town called Beziers. One of its highlights is the Saint-Nazaire Cathedral. Situated in the high part of town, it occupies a picturesque site, visible from afar when approaching the city on the road. A remarkable example of middle Gothic architecture from the 14th century. Béziers hosts the famous Feria de Béziers, centered on bullfighting, every August. A million visitors are attracted to the five-day event.
Finally, we must mention the remarkable village of Saint Guilhem le desert. It is one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France ("The most beautiful villages of France"), and the Abbey of Gellone, along with the nearby Pont du Diable were designated UNESCO World Heritages sites in 1999.
Although our girls do not mind visiting the odd cathedral or museum, they of course also like to do activities that are a little more geared to them. So something else we really recommend is the Pedalorail in the little village of Saint Thibéry, 25 minutes from the domain: converted pedal carts (5 seats each) that you pedal down unused rail tracks discovering the beautiful countryside, following the river of Hérault. Although lots of fun, it does require a reasonable level of fitness and we would not recommend it on the hottest of days. As an alternative you will find the delightful Parc des Dinosaures close to the town of Meze for a leisurely walk amongst the trees with a great combination of replicas, fossils and historical details. There are also several informative videos as well, with multilingual signs in most areas and a quiz for children for which they get a “diploma” at the end of the day.
# The resort has a very sociable feel and the other guests can congregate in the evenings. Dinner time was a pleasure with an aperitif with fellow guests at 6pm each evening.
# Mas the Thau puts the family first and the space for children is enormous. The kids club is relaxed and on a drop-in basis with no requirement to make a reservation. We are quite happy to leave the children in their care. And when you chose for your own program: the pool is a welcome alternative after all the exiting adventures on offer.
# And then lastly there is the domain itself which has beautiful views over the area; you really feel in the middle of nowhere, but you are close to charming villages.
This hotel can be booked through The Little Guest Hotels Collection.