France is known around the world for its vast and varied offerings, from the museums and boutiques in Paris to the beaches of the Cote d’Azur, and one of the regions that many people dream of discovering is Provence with its rolling hills and picturesque towns.
Here, we turn our attention to the charming destination and share with you the best hotels, spas and restaurants to discover.
Hotel & Spa du Castellet
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, the chef uses 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 at this fine table is the cheese course, while most restaurants bring the cheese trolley to you, here at the Christophe Bacquié Restaurant, diners are invited into the cheese cellar where a plethora of different French cheeses are 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 onsite for massages and facials.
Le Couvent des Minimes
The converted Minim convent is a dream getaway set in Provence. Just an hour from Aix-en-Provence, and set on a sprawling garden, it seductively invites visitors to spend the afternoon walking through it.
The convent is now Le Couvent des Minimes, a luxury hotel that is a country haven to breathe in the fresh air. However, enjoying leisurely strolls isn’t the only attractive call from this five-star hotel. The hotel has fast become a spa destination, thanks to its L’Occitane spa that offers treatments using the famous French house’s products, which are produced less than an hour away from the hotel. Inviting the scents of the French countryside, citrus fruits and lavender, the Massage Fabuleux, the fabulous massage—which could not have been given a better-suited name—uses Shea butter to relax you from head to toe. Focusing on relaxing you, the 90-minute treatment begins with a body massage before slowly working towards your head for a face and scalp massage.
Another drawing card to discover Le Couvent des Minimes is the hotel’s fine dining restaurant, Le Cloître. The restaurant, which boasts two dining rooms, offers diners a choice between three set menus that change frequently with the seasons and the produce on offer. While there is no vegetarian set menu, the savvy chef, Jérôme Roy, is happy to adapt to any dietary restrictions, serving up an impressive vegetable-based menu, using fresh produce and different cooking methods to add creativity to his dishes.
Château des Baux
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 who are looking to escape the hustle and bustle of larger town. The Château des Baux is in the heart of the town; built in the 10th century it is perched high, overlooking the village. It is here at the chateau 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 catapult demonstrations that are held here daily.
Carrières de Lumières
Just five minutes from the chateau is another incredible site that is 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, covering the space with wonderful images, the space becomes an interactive show, visually and musically, 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.
Just five minutes from the Carrières de Lumières is where you will also find another historical establishment, Baumanière, the very first Relais & Château hotel. Set on a majestic 20 hectares, the family owned and run hotel is steeped in history with world leaders and royalty including Queen Elizabeth all having visited and stayed at the five-star hotel.
Owned by Jean-André Charial and his wife Geneviève, the hotel plunges its visitors into the charm of Provence most notably with its Michelin-starred restaurant L’Oustau de Baumanière that serves the tastes of the French countryside. Chef Glenn Viel works alongside Jean-André Charial to create and indulge diners with a menu that highlights the produce of the region while still surprising diners with their culinary creativity. Dishes such as blue lobster cooked in creamy butter and served with beetroot and a tangy citrus fruit vinaigrette, and the signature dish of milk-fed leg of lamb are further appreciated while paired with wines from the restaurant’s wine cellar, the second largest cellar in France and which boasts an exceptional selection of rare and priceless wines as well as Jean-André Charial’s own Affectif red and rosé wines.
Hameau des Baux
Another a tiny village in the region worth discovering is Paradou, a quaint village nestled between Baux de Provence and Maussane les Alpilles, where you will find Hameau des Baux. Not only is it bursting with charm, the accommodation offers a unique kind of service that is by far the standout address of the region.
Boasting hamlet-designed rooms, the hotel serves up serenity and French charm at every corner. Furnished with vintage pieces, the address is a hotel gallery hybrid where guests are welcomed to enjoy and feel comfortable in their surroundings but are also welcome to purchase the furniture and artwork displayed. This concept, which attracts lovers of vintage furniture and modern art, in turn, means that the décor of the hotel is forever changing. The hotel also has a collection of vintage cars, all convertibles, that is made available to guests to drive around in, discovering the postcard region with the wind in their hair.
The Luberon region is dotted with picturesque villages found in the valleys between three mountain ranges; the Lesser Luberon, the Greater Luberon and the Eastern Luberon. One of the most famous villages in the valleys is Lourmarin. Surrounded by lush vineyards and olive groves, it is where Albert Camus once lived and worked.
This village is full of charm with winding streets taking you through its heart, passing quaint squares and boutiques offering regional delights. It 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, which was later made into a film, entitled A Good Year.
While the village is the real gem here, you will 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 market, which shows off 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.
Domaine de Fontenille
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. It is where you will find Domaine de Fontenille, a hotel built on 35 hectares with sweeping vineyards. The hotel’s wines are made onsite and include the certified organic rosé with delicate notes of raspberry. All are served at the establishment’s Michelin-starred restaurant, Le Champ des Lunes, helmed by chef Jérôme Faure. 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.
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 will be held on the 15th of July 2018.