Gardens & the Environment
Natural stay in our chateau hotel in the south of France
We wanted Capitoul, chateau hotel in the south of France, to be a distilled expression of the surrounding environment of garrigue and vines - a testament to thousands of years of coexistence between people and nature and living proof that humanity & the environment can and must go hand in hand.
To help us realise this ambition we contacted world renowned botanist Olivier Filippi who saw an opportunity to show how beautiful gardens can be created in even the most challenging environments, without pesticides, herbicides, fertiliser or even water. Olivier joined us to provide the plants and botanical know how and introduced us to James Basson who took up the challenge to restore the landscape in his trademark naturalistic style, combining daring planting and the restoration of the existing gardens to realise beautiful dramatic gardens integrating seamlessly into the surrounding landscape.
An inspirational figure to landscapers and gardeners worldwide Olivier is a botanist and horticulturist whose books on Mediterranean plants and landscapes are the reference texts for sustainable gardens in hostile environments. A lifetime researching Mediterranean botany is brought to life at his nursery in Mèze where Olivier develops drought and disease resistant plants from specially developed mother plants.
James is a world-renowned designer specialising in Mediterranean landscapes and in particular in dry, sustainable gardens inspired by and integrated into the surrounding environment. His superb realisations have delivered countless major international awards including the 2018 Victoires du Paysage and four Chelsea gold medals including Best in Show 2017.
With breathtaking views of the flamingo-dotted lagoon the gardens at Château Capitoul have been created by James who worked with Olivier to develop a palette of Mediterranean plants specifically adapted to the dry, rocky landscape, capable of prospering without fertilisers or herbicides or even water. The gardens reflect his naturalistic style combining new planting and the existing gardens to ensure that over time the newly created spaces integrate perfectly into the surrounding landscape.*
James has used a palette of over one hundred species, where holm oak and Aleppo pine are under planted with field maple and judas trees, filled with alternating drifts of sculptural Mediterranean forms of euphorbia, lavender and rosemary, designed to deliver sensual waves of seasonal change emblematic of the landscape of the Massif de la Clape.
*Note the gardens in the hameau are newly planted and so are for now sparse and dry rather than lush and mature.
Unlike the new gardens in the hammeau, the established gardens below the Château required clearing the tangled undergrowth neglected for generations. As we pared back the spiky jungle we identified the vestiges of a late 19th Century garden planted with the combination of local and exotic species emblamatic of Art Nouveau planting. Restoration is now underway as existing plants are nursed back to life, supplemented with new seedlings in keeping with the original scheme.
In the kitchen gardens we produce vegetables, fruit, herbs & aromatics for use in our restaurants (and bars!). Exclusively organic, we use heritage seeds and permaculture influenced growing techniques to ensure the very best tasting produce. There are also many edible plants and flowers are to be found on the estate. Rosemary and thyme in abundance, but also sage, fennel and peppery wild asparagus as well as many other little known species foraged by head gardener Caroline and found in the dishes prepared by our chefs.
We consider ourselves temporary custodians of Capitoul : every aspect of the restoration has been carefully weighed to preserve and enhance the natural environment and rich architectural and social heritage of the Château, while simultaneously breathing new life into the estate, placing it once again at the heart of the local community.
This approach informs everything we do: from dry gardens to environmentally friendly pools, low emission equipment to organic waste treatment, ecologically friendly design and construction to chemical free cleaning and extensive use of home grown and local produce.
Inspired by the architecture of the villages around the lagoon, the hameau has been built to exceed the energy performance of exacting French standards with most of the properties built into the rockface to ensure a very high level of thermal inertia. Natural, traditional and reclaimed materials are to the fore: reclaimed terracotta roof tiles, limestone renderings and traditional wooden shutters with wooden beams and huge bay windows framing the extraordinary views.
The area around Capitoul is home to an extraordinary array of plant, animal and birdlife. Apart from Gruissan's famous flamingoes nearly 400 of the 950 species of birds observed in Western Europe present in the area at least part of the year. Protecting this biodiversity was a very important consideration when developing the estate.
The plantation of over a hundred species of local plants in pesticide and herbicide free gardens is the foundation of our approach, augmented by careful tree surgery, nesting boxes and roosts and over 2km of stone walls - a very rich ecosystem for both flora and faune - lichens and mosses, reptiles, bird species, insescts and small mammals.
Colourful Rollers and Bee Eaters as well as Shrikes, Pipits and Hoopoe are all frequent visitors, while birds of prey wheel in the thermals above - If you are really lucky you might see a pair of Bonelli's Eagles known to roost on the craggy cliffs of the Massif.
Capitoul has also long been recognised as an important site for bats. Watch our for large colonies of Soprano Pipistrelle and Leisler’s Bats coming out of the rocks and eves to feed over the lagoons in the evenings.
Keep an eye out also for the Ocellated Lizard with it's jewelled back and serrated collar. Once prolific to the area the lizard is now classified Near Threatened. Still present at Capitoul we hope the dry stone walls and specially constructed 'lizard hotels' around the estate will entice them back in numbers.