We often try to stay in the bottom left-hand corner of France (geography clearly not my strong point), roughly Languedoc-Roussillon. It’s Mediterranean in a more unspoilt way than the Riviera, and the wine is less pretentious than its fashionable cousins on the Italian side, making it more affordable for some genuinely decent drinking wine. Last year we were driving just south west of Béziers through land that the summer heat had cooked solid into the local colours of gold and brown, interrupted only by the green trees beside canals, when a traffic jam made us divert through the unlikely-sounding village of Nissan-lez-Ensérune; on our way through we spotted a pretty building that had a Logis hotel sign outside it, so this year’s planning included the Hotel Résidence on our itinerary, even though at €83 it was a little more expensive for a night (not including breakfast which, at €11 per person we decided not to have) than we usually aim for.
It is attractively painted in cream and light blue, with a cheerful and welcoming owner as well as a private garage next door to it, in what must have been an agricultural storage barn. Hercules the Hatchback Skoda was slipped into a safe spot in the barn by the owner, and spent a happy night communing with the local mice. I was a little worried by the bondage equipment hanging on the wall, but thought that Hercules could probably cope.
We were shown to our room, through the first building, out across an enclosed courtyard with dining tables, a swimming pool and a splash of bright sunlight so intense it turned all the colours around it into more vivid versions of themselves, and into a second, air-conditioned building where our simple but cool bedroom was located.
We opted for dinner at the hotel, sitting beside the pool in the warm evening; for €33 we had the choice of three courses, then we chose a small pichet of local white wine followed by another pichet of local red wine for about €25. The wine was fine, although not interesting enough to detail here, but the dishes were nicely presented. We were given an amuse-bouche of a little round croquette, then – to maintain the Spanish theme – we followed that by gazpacho. They were both very good, the gazpacho coming with the obligatory “look at me, I’m a real chef and you should take me very seriously” squiggle of something or other squirted over it in the manner of a school child trying to erase a page of mistakes.
The squiggle was a definite theme; my pork loin in mustard sauce came with one too.
The pork was properly cooked and the sauce was nice, although as all people who can cook say regularly when they go out, I could have reproduced it myself without too much trouble. However that does not take away from the fact that it was very pleasant, and eaten in pretty surroundings with the buzz of French conversation around us.
For dessert we had a “rhum baba”, with some fruit and some cream. The baba was just right (the texture has to be correct or it’s just a cake), but neither of us could taste any rum at all. The squiggle on this dish had morphed into three red tadpoles and some green pistachio dust – I don’t know what the red was, I tried to scoop some up to taste it but it stuck like glue to the side of the plate!
We walked round the village for a while after supper – being 14th July there were celebrations happening loudly on every corner, culminating in a couple of singers who reproduced some English songs (on France’s national day?) and some French songs while a troupe of grinning dancers performed around them. By the time we returned to the hotel it was about 11.00 and the place was all but locked up, with most lights dimmed. France really is not at all the same as Spain! However, we had a good night’s sleep, having given up on the wi fi which kept cutting out.
Overall, we had a good stay at the Hotel Résidence but we didn’t feel that we really had the €10 or 15 or so worth over our usual budget. Breakfast was going to cost a whopping €11 each so we opted for delicious croissants and chocolatines with a large cup of really good coffee at the local café, stopping on the way back to Hercules to buy some beautiful local tomatoes.
As we drove away we agreed that it had been fine, and we still love the area, but we weren’t going to rush back to this particular hotel. We need to explore some more!