France is known around the world for its vast and varied offerings, from the museums and boutiques in Paris and the beaches of the Cote d’Azur, to one of the regions that many people dream of discovering—Provence. We turn our attention to the charming destination with its rolling hills and picturesque towns and share with you the best hotels, spas and restaurants to discover.
The French commune of Les Baux de Provence is arguably one of the most beautiful villages in the country, and with reportedly only 22 people residing here, the village lends itself to being one of the most sought-after destinations for people looking to escape the hustle and bustle of larger towns. In the heart of town is where to find the Château des Baux, built in the 10th century and perched high overlooking the village. It is here that you can discover the reconstruction of the trebuchet that was used to attack fortified sites during sieges. Measuring 16 metres in height, the trebuchet was designed and reconstructed based on medieval drawings and visitors to the site can attend daily catapult demonstrations.
Just five minutes from the chateau is another incredible site worthy of a visit. Unlike any other cultural space, the Carrières de Lumières, once a stone quarry, organises temporary exhibitions that showcase the works of renowned artists including Chagall, Monet and Renoir. Using 100 video projectors projecting images onto the entire surface of the former stone quarry including the ground, the space becomes an interactive show, as visitors are invited to walk around discovering the works while the images are projected on them as well, in turn becoming part of the show themselves. Through 5 Dec. 2020, Vincent Van Gogh is being honoured at the Carrières de Lumières, with the "Starry Night" exhibit, bringing his most famous pieces, including "Sunflowers," "The Church at Auvers" and of course "The Starry Night," to the unique exhibition space.
Made up of three mountain ranges, the Lesser Luberon, the Greater Luberon and the Eastern Luberon, the Luberon region is dotted with picturesque villages found in the valleys around these ranges. One of the most famous villages in the valleys is Lourmarin, which is surrounded by lush vineyards and olive groves, and where Albert Camus once lived and worked. Full of charm with winding streets taking you through its heart, passing quaint squares and boutiques offering regional delights, the village is the epitome of the French countryside, which has been captured and idolised by many around the world, most notably by British writer Peter Mayle who wrote "A Year in Provence," later made into the film, "A Good Year."
While the village is the real gem here, you will also not want to miss seeing the Renaissance castle. If you are in the area on a Friday, make sure you make time to discover the Lourmarin open-air market showing off its local talents and edible specialties. Colourful handmade ceramic bowls, herbs and spices and locally made soaps are only some of the souvenirs that you can find.
While in the region one of the most extraordinary natural wonders to discover is the Ochre of Roussillon. Often referred to as the Grand Canyon of the South of France, the Ochre of Roussillon sees hiking trails that guide tourists up the fiery red valley, with magnificent panoramic views on display. Meanwhile, for thrill-seeking visitors, a visit to the Verdon Gorge is not to be missed. Europe’s largest canyon, Verdon Gorge is striking in colour with its turquoise waters attracting kayakers and rock climbers who scale its limestone walls. And for visitors who would prefer to smell the roses, or rather the lavender, Provence is renowned around the world for its lavender fields, most notably those located in the village of Valensole. The small village is home to the Musée de la Lavande, a museum dedicated to the popular flowering plant, and is also the host of the annual Lavender Festival, which is held on the third Sunday of July.
If you are planning on winding your way down the coast, a stop at Marseille is highly recommended. France’s second largest city, and the country’s largest city on the Mediterranean coast, Marseille, brings the charm of a port city and the attraction of a big city together to offer visitors a slice of quaint with a topping of city lights. The city’s main attraction is of course the port itself, the Old Port, which is encircled by cafes and restaurants from which visitors can enjoy a glass of rosé wine as they watch the boats come in and out of the harbour. Looking up from the port visitors can see the Notre-Dame de la Garde basilica that beautifully sits at the highest point of Marseille. The Romano-Byzantine basilica is perched on the highest point of the city, offering a breathtaking panoramic view of Marseille.
When the sun is out and the water is calm one thing that is not to be missed while in Marseille is seeing the Massif des Calanques. Stretching over 20 kilometres, the limestone calanques can be discovered and admired by boat along the turquoise waters inching you close to the breathtaking cliffs. Boat cruises are organised daily between April and October, though are subject to weather conditions. See your concierge to organise the trip or visit the ticket offices peppered around the port where the boats leave.
For visiting enthusiasts of great architecture, a stop by the Cité Radieuse will count as quite the interesting discovery. The building complex built in the '50s was designed by Swiss architect Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, Le Corbusier, who created a city within a city with this avant-garde complex that is made up of 337 apartments, shops, bookshop, a restaurant and even a hotel. The Cité Radieuse, a listed historical monument, offers guided tours, walking you through the remarkable building that demonstrates how every detail was thought out by the architect, from how the post was delivered to every home to how every apartment was alternated in design, so as to reduce noise exposure from the neighbours.
WHERE TO STAY, EAT AND RELAX
Of course visiting the Luberon region is incomplete without sampling some of the fine French wines produced here. Just 10 minutes from Lourmarin is the village of Lauris, sitting on a cliff with a panoramic view of the Durance Valley, and it is where you will find Domaine de Fontenille, a hotel built on 35 hectares with sweeping vineyards. Made on-site, the hotel’s wines, including the rosé with delicate notes of raspberry, are all served at the establishment’s Michelin-starred restaurant, Le Champ des Lunes, where chef Jérôme Faure is at the helm. The menu changes frequently but is always modern and features fresh and seasonal produce, with the dishes beautifully complemented to one of the house’s wines, which also includes a certified organic rosé.
Besides its proximity to the Circuit Paul Ricard, where the Grand Prix de France is held, the Hotel & Spa du Castellet, the five-star establishment is a wonderful discovery for visitors looking to unwind and indulge in award-winning cuisine. Winner of the 2017 Prix Villégiature award for Best Hotel Restaurant in Europe, the hotel restaurant is a three-Michelin star table that showcases the culinary talents of chef Christophe Bacquié. While the menu changes regularly with the chef using only the freshest seasonal produce, one of his signature dishes that is always the star of the menu is the Aioli Moderne, a fresh bouquet of vegetables served with a creamy aioli sauce, bringing the tastes of Provence to your table. Another highlight is the cheese course. While most restaurants bring the cheese trolley to you, at the Christophe Bacquié Restaurant, diners are invited into the cheese cellar where a spectacular show of different French cheeses is fantastically displayed.
The Hotel & Spa du Castellet also boasts a six-hole golf course for avid golfers looking to work off any extra wine and cheese they may have indulged in. Recognised by the French Golf Federation, the course is located in the heart of the hotel’s gorgeous park. And for visitors looking to prolong the bliss of being away and in the countryside, the hotel also has a spa on-site where massages and facials can be enjoyed.
For a unique accommodation experience, the Crillon le Brave is quite the hotel and spa to spend your time in the French countryside. Located in the heart of the tiny Crillon le Brave village, the hotel seemingly melts into the village with the house-like rooms and suites opening directly onto the streets of this picturesque town, offering guests a local resident feel. The five-star hotel boasts two restaurants including La Madeleine, the establishment’s fine dining restaurant that puts the spotlight on regional produce and an impressive wine list that references over 600 wines, with a majority from the surrounding Rhône Valley. The hotel also organises wine tastings for connoisseurs as well as guided visits to neighbouring vineyards.
Another incomparable experience in Provence is courtesy of La Bastide de Gordes, the region’s only Palace hotel that is nestled in the postcard village of Gordes. Nominated for the 2018 Prix Villégiature for the Most Charming Hotel in Europe award, the hotel boasts, arguably, Provence’s most famous swimming pool. Overlooking the stunning Luberon valley, the hotel offers guests a relaxing dip in the pool with a gorgeous panoramic view that is both wonderfully relaxing and luxurious with its blissful silence bar the sound of the water splashing. When the sun begins to set a glass of chilled rosé is mandatory and there is no better seat in the house to watch the romantic sunset than from the hotel’s La Citadelle restaurant. The restaurant offers sweeping views of the valley from its terrace, and serves traditional Provencal dishes.
For your stay in Marseille the recently opened Les Bords de Mer hotel is a great little address that makes you feel like you are sleeping in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea with its floor-to-ceiling windows opening onto the great blue water. With only 19 rooms, Les Bords de Mer is a chic boutique hotel that gives guests the opportunity to relax and block out the noise and really enjoy the calm of the sea. Direct access to the beach and exclusive entry to the neighbouring Cercle des Nageurs, the members-only swimming club where the French Olympic swimming team trains, are only some of the highlights that come with staying here. The hotel also boasts a rooftop swimming pool, inviting you to take a dip while looking down onto the boats sailing in the distance, and sprawled over two floors is the spa where an indoor pool, a steam room and sauna await.