Surrounded by palm trees, tropical plants and the soothing sound of crickets, you could be forgiven for thinking you are on the French Riviera.
All that’s missing is the balmy temperatures, azure skies and humid stickiness.
You would never guess this corner of Mediterranean opulence has been recreated in the heart of the rolling Northumberland countryside, more used to drifts of snow in the winter and temperate, but unspectacular, climes in the summer.
The multi-million pound transformation of the former Percy Arms Hotel at Otterburn into a wedding and function venue in the style of a French country manor, Le Petit Chateau, within a stunning Mediterranean garden, is the brainchild of North East entrepreneur Duncan Fisher and his leisure company The Apartment Group, which owns several venues including Newton Hall and the Joiners Arms at Newton-by-the-Sea, and As You Like It at Jesmond.
Quirkiness and fun are top of the agenda at all of Mr Fisher’s venues – and his latest venture is no exception.
He said: “It has been an incredible challenge to create a stunning French chateau with spectacular Mediterranean gardens in the middle of Northumberland, but that is exactly what we have achieved.
“I talked to four landscape gardeners who said it couldn’t be done and that I was bonkers! However, we eventually found an amazing team and, with a tremendous amount of research, determination and crafty thinking, we have created our own little piece of fantasy in Northumberland.”
He was inspired by family holidays by the Mediterranean and the fact that his partner Amanda fell asleep in the sunshine while he was looking round the derelict hotel.
In order to guarantee that ‘far-away feeling’ Mr Fisher said that he needed to introduce three specific items to ensure that every visitor to the chateau would feel instantly transported to the South of France – palm trees, fire and crickets! Well, there are plenty of palm trees, many 10 years old and raised to withstand the harsher elements of the Otterburn winters, and fire in abundance, with three luxurious specially commissioned fire pits on the terrace, as well as a spectacular ring of fire that dances around the water fountain.
As for the crickets, Mr Fisher said: “I knew that fine details such as the sound of crickets were essential if we were to recreate successfully that French Riviera feel. Once again, it wasn’t straight forward but we persevered and crickets are now heard everywhere at Le Petit Chateau!”
The buildings have also been transformed with every piece of historic fabric carefully stripped back and sensitively revealed.
Le Petit Chateau has a choice of stunning options to hold a celebration or ceremony, which include an enchanting ‘Belle Epoque’ chapel, complete with storybook timber shingle roof, outdoor terrace with retractable cover and a sumptuous ballroom with floor to ceiling glass doors which open straight onto the Mediterranean gardens.
In keeping with the finest French royal palace, the venue is bursting with fantastic features including a grand marble fireplace that was flown in from New York, oversized timber beams, vintage chandeliers and outrageously extravagant and lavish furnishings.
Mr Fisher said: “The project was made extra special by the fact that plenty of local tradesman and craftsmen played a considerable part. I lost count of the times that someone from a neighbouring village would simply pop in to tell us what they could do, and without doubt, some of the most exciting and unusual features at the venue have only been made possible with the involvement of these people.
“We have fashioned a spectacular venue that, while oozing oodles of style and sophistication, still remains enormously playful and full of fun.
“People now have such an enormous choice when it comes to wedding venues, however I think it is extremely important that people don’t forget to have plenty of fun – and Le Petit Chateau helps them do just that.
It’s only a few weeks since Le Petit Chateau opened its doors and already Mr Fisher’s ‘je ne sais quoi’ has resulted in more than 160 wedding and function bookings. But not even he can order that Mediterranean weather – although I wouldn’t put it past him to have a go!
WEDDING VENUE FOR 230 GUESTS
Le Petit Chateau can cater for between 30 and 230 wedding guests and has a civil ceremonies licence for up to 160 guests.
The hotel boasts 29 boutique bedrooms and suites, many with freestanding baths and private roof terraces overlooking the Mediterranean garden.
Also part of the extensive refurbishment is the creation of the William de Percy, Coaching Inn and Creperie, on the site of the old Percy Arms, which continues the tradition of a pub there.