The Duchess of La Rochefoucald. The Royal judge of Sainte-Foy-La-Grande. A chateau known as ‘Little Versailles’. Lord and Lady of Saussignac. The Hundred Years War. And talk of Louis XIV.
If these elements in the history of Chateau des Vigiers all sound like they could be the script for a French version of Downton Abbey, it is not an especially misleading suggestion; this is precisely what a stay at this beguiling Dordogne golf resort feels like.
Chateau des Vigiers dates back to the 16th Century, when Jean Vigier, the aforementioned Royal judge, bought the property from the Lady of Saussignac.
Construction of the chateau began in 1597 on the ruins of an old 12th Century military fort.
The architectural style chosen by Vigier was typical of the era and was known locally as ‘Little Versailles’ because of its resemblance to the iconic palace in south-west of Paris that is close to the venue for the 2018 Ryder Cup.
The river Seignal that runs through the valley south of Sainte-Croix – which is an hour east of Vigiers – was for a long time the frontier between France and England during the Hundred Years War and suggests that the chateau was actively involved in that period of history.
Indeed, the elaborate dovecote – a building that was used to house doves and pigeons and was often used to assess the value of an estate – that quite randomly sits to the side of the 9th green on the Vignes nine was a product of that conflict. It was built in the 17th Century when the lords of the manor were fighting for Louis XIV.
In their absence, Jean Vigier’s daughter Marguerite ordered it be built. Despite a legal challenge by the Lord of Saussignac that lasted 40 years it remains to this day, a pretty reminder of the long and distinguished history of Chateau de Vigiers.
An admirable amount of the 16th character lives on in the chateau, even though it has been updated to comprise modern facilities and to a certain degree furnishings.
There are handsome staircases and robust bare stone work. There are intricate tapestries and ornately carved marble fireplaces. There is period furniture and grand window panes. There are drawing rooms, a billiard room and a beautiful library; you might be beginning to realise that this is not a standard golf resort.
The bedrooms continue the feeling of being somewhere different. There are 25 of them, all individually decorated and in several price points – but rest assured the lowest-priced room is anything but budget. In fact you’d probably struggle to tell much of a difference between them.
There are a further 40 rooms in the ‘Relais’, which sits right next to the 1st tee of the Lake nine. It is a much more modern building – it would be hard not to be, compared to the chateau – yet still oozes the rural ambience that is such a theme of Chateau des Vigiers because it is styled on traditional tobacco-drying barns. Relais guests have their own breakfast room, pool, fitness room and sauna.
The aforementioned Lake nine is one of three loops at Chateau des Vigiers here, and is the most recent addition having opened in early 2008. The other two loops – the Valley and the Vines – were opened in 1992 having been designed by renowned English architect Donald Steel.
They form what most would regard as the premier 18. The Lake nine might be this golfer’s favourite: the greens are more sporty and have a lovely natural feel; the short holes are delightful; and the 9th is probably the most memorable hole on the property – although the last on the Vines would have a good claim to that title too.
Both, naturally, have the handsome chateau as an aristocratic backdrop and indeed it is in sight for the majority of holes across all three nines.
The Lake begins with a gentle opener and is followed by a lovely par 3 that is probably the resort’s finest short hole. It plays to a green that beautifully and naturally falls away to the left. The chateau is a majestic background for both the 3rd and 5th, the latter a really cool hole with an ancient wall down the left and a funky green. Not quite North Berwick, but a highly likeable hole nonetheless.
Another fine, natural green complex at the 6th is the notable aspect to that two-shotter then after a cross-site par 3 at 7 comes the nine’s only par 5, which starts with a blind drive with a marker post to guide you into the bottom of the dip and then a long shot into the elevated green.
That brings you to the tee of the 9th, which would be no doubt be described by many as the signature hole. It starts with a right-to-left drive down and round the corner of a ridge that sits much higher than the lake that guards the green.
Steel chose this as his favourite hole from his long career and it’s easy to see why. You can’t afford to be too conservative with your drive even ‘though it is tight, for this is well over 400 yards off the tips and you really need to get your ball scampering down the slope that links the plateau fairway with the one 50 yards below to give yourself a chance of hitting the green in regulation.
Not only does the lake wait up the left side of the green but it is elevated, so trying to find that with a mid-iron is patently a much more appealing prospect than a hybrid.
The start to the Vines nine is altogether more relaxing, an open scene that lets you swing freely off the tee – although the vines on the left will often make recovery shots from that side awkward… or indeed nothing more than a chip out sideways.
The opening two holes play uphill before a nicely contoured short hole with a idiosyncratic green starts the descent. That continues with a modest par 5 that ends at a cool green complex, a small undulating target encircled by fall-offs and mounds. That hole brings you back to the chateau and what a brilliant little match you can have before drinks and dinner on these four holes….
After a reachable par 5 comes a tight drive on 7 – or at least it appears so on the tee, because in fact it opens up as you travel down a hole that sits beautifully in the natural folds of land. The classy green complex does likewise, with hints of the work the great Harry Colt did in France 100 years before.
The best, as on the Lake, is left ‘til last. The same length as the 9th on the Lake, the Vines’ version plays downhill between trees then up to a green in front of the chateau with the dovecote to the right side.
Like the Lake’s 9th the green is tiered, likely providing a bit of drama right to the last shot of the day.
On the Valley loop, the first hole to really grip you comes at the 3rd, a lovely uphill par 3 that is cuddled by rocks behind the green. Elsewhere, the course loops round the edge of the property then down towards the Relais with a strong 4-3-4 combination, the second two-shotter being one of the Valley’s best holes. It is semi-blind and requires the guidance of a marker post on land that slopes markedly right to left. You just have to trust the post…
Director of golf Matthew Storm, who hails from Hampshire and is one of the resort’s many long-serving employees, is a reassuring voice all British golfers can understand.
Saint Emilionnais opened three years ago and is already among the Top 100 courses in Continental Europe. Tom Doak’s first Continental design is tremendous fun, offering wonderful variety and memorable hole after memorable hole. It’s under an hour’s drive from Vigiers.
At Chateau des Vigiers, you will eat well, whether breakfast in the chateau, lunch in the brasserie or dinner at Les Fresques. Les Fresques is arguably the highlight of the entire resort. Situated in the château, head chef Didier Casaguana was awarded a Michelin Star in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017. This is the most refined dining experience imaginable and is complemented by a predictably comprehensive wine list given Chateau des Vigiers’ location in one of the world’s most famous wine producing areas.
You might well prefer the brasserie, Le Chai, though which is set in an old wine-making building 100 yards from the chateau. It’s not chips and burgers here though; this is high-quality food albeit in a more informal setting, with its terrace overlooking the putting green.
Under new ownership and new management, Chateau des Vigiers is widely upgrading its facilities and the Maria Galland Beauty Spa was the most notable early beneficiary of this desire to improve. It is now a very swish area of the complex with a hydrotherapy pool, sauna, jacuzzi and a wide range of treatments underlined by the link-up with leading brand Sothys. There is an outdoor heated swimming pool outside the spa, and as pleasant as it is, it is earmarked for an upgrade too.
Chateau des Vigiers is an exceptional, distinctive golf resort, and it is only going to get even better.
Travel essentials for your trip
Chateau des Vigiers is refined and very, very comfortably worthy of its 4-star status – but it is not ludicrously expensive by any means. It is also worth booking directly with the hotel via their website too for the best deals. The best rate is a non-flexible deal of €125 a night per room for two people sharing. There is also an unlimited golf package for €269 that includes accommodation in the chateau, buffet breakfast, and unlimited golf (or 30 minutes of treatments for every night’s stay if there is a non-golfer).
Off the course
You can experience French culture in the various markets in the area that sell local specialties and fresh produce. Wine tasting is also a must; Bergerac and Aquitaine are two of the finest places to enjoy the local wine and surrounding vineyards, including the likes of St Emilion and Pomerol which are both within an hour’s drive. Sporting activities include canoeing in the Dordogne, sky diving, hot air ballooning, go kart racing, water skiing, horse riding and 10 pin bowling.
This is a really big advantage of a golf break at Chateau des Vigiers – it’s just so easy. You’ll see plenty of British (mainly English to be fair) cars in the car park from those who have driven via the tunnel or ferry. Or you can fly into the either Bergerac airport – only 25 minutes away – and Bordeaux, which is about an hour east of the resort. Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Nottingham, Southampton, Gatwick, London City and Stansted go to Bergerac. Add in Liverpool, Belfast, Bristol, and Luton for routes into Bordeaux.
The verdict from the resort
Managing director Niels Koetsier tells NCG:
Our goal is to end 2018 ranked well inside Continental Europe’s top 50 golf resorts.
2018 is a significant year for golf in France, with the eyes of the world upon us when the Ryder Cup visits our country in September, and we have been welcoming record numbers of golfers to our wonderful facility.
Our goal is to end 2018 ranked well inside Continental Europe’s Top 50 golf resorts, and among the top five golf venues to stay and play in France.
Our enchanting location, our beautiful accommodation, our gourmet dining and of course our majestic golf course and chateau all make Chateau des Vigiers a unique experience, and our recent improvements make memories even more magical.
We knew we needed to make some progress in certain areas and the new shareholders have already spent in excess of one million Euros on upgrades.
That can clearly be seen with areas such as the spa but also on the golf course, where we have really invested in the greenkeeping team and after a wet winter we saw the benefit by late spring. All 27 holes were in wonderful condition by June with super playing surfaces on greens, tees and fairways. We think we now have one of France’s best-maintained golf courses.
Niels has been managing director at the resort since 2017, having previously performed a variety of roles at Chateau des Vigiers.