Valerie Schneider-Reboul, whose family owns the Breitling watch brand, tells Melissa Twigg of her three-year project to remodel a historic chateau into a luxurious boutique hotel that celebrates all the rustic appeal of Provence
Fields of headily scented lavender, bottles of pale pink rosé, market stalls selling shiny heaps of olives and blocks of pungent cheese... There are a hundred reasons to visit Provence, but the arrival of Chateau d’Estoublon as an upscale bed and breakfast is one of the most convincing arguments we have heard yet.
A short drive from Aix-en-Provence, Avignon and Marseille, the Chateau sits in the heart of Provence’s famous golden triangle. It dates back to the Middle Ages, when it was owned by the counts of the noble House of Baux, who tussled over the land with kings and popes.
In 1998, the Chateau was bought by an equally illustrious family, the owners of Breitling, and was inherited by the eldest daughter, Valerie Schneider-Reboul, a few years later. Since then, she has achieved the astounding accomplishment of transforming a centuries-old chateau into a modern establishment with every creature comfort while managing to retain its ancient charm.
“The interior still resembles the history of this 18th century castle,” she says. “I have always respected the vocation of the place and when I renovated it I was careful to keep the decoration. I was inspired by the traditional materials, colours and smells of the mountain: wood from floor to ceiling, chimneys, honey tones, perfumes of wax and burning tea.
“In Provence, where I spent my childhood, the walls of my house were ochre-coloured; there were tomatoes on the ground, pergolas in the garden and olive trees,” she continues. “At Estoublon, I wanted our guests to live the life of the chateau as they would in their dreams. We combined the whims of a palace, the codes of the luxury hotel and the tenderness of a family home.”
And that is where Chateau d’Estoublon is particularly brilliant. It offers guests all the tangible indulgence of a five-star hotel, with deep four-poster beds, delicious bath oil in the bathroom and nightly turn-downs, but with the heady charm of a house that is more than 700 years old.
Schneider-Reboul’s relationship with Provence shines through every step of the
way, with Provençal patterns on the cushions, Belle Époque writing desks from the region and statues bought in Arles. And perhaps because it was a labour of love, Schneider-Reboul spent two years longer on the project than she had expected, dedicating nearly three years of her life to renovating the chateau, its 10 bedrooms, two dining rooms and ceremonial halls, and the sprawling grounds.
“The real challenge was to ensure that each room was different and didn’t resemble the other, like in a family home,” she says. “On the first floor, I have used the history of the chateau to make an intimate atmosphere, warm with large fluffy sofas around the fireplaces, game tables and a billiards table.
“Provençal curtains embroidered in the 18th century inspired the decoration of each bedroom and suite,” she continues. “It is difficult to pick a favourite, but I do love the watchmaker’s room, which was inspired by my father. I also love the Chinese pottery and furniture, Indian and African inspiration, and the great fresco painted in the grand salon, and the hunting trophies.”
Schneider-Reboul may have had an extraordinary canvas to work with, but her tools were pretty spectacular as well. She inherited or bought antique beds, 16th-century dining tables, ancient maps and hundreds of paintings charting the history of French art.
“Finding the right art was so important for me,” she says. “In one of the salons, on the ground floor, next to the fireplace, there is a painting depicting a woman wearing an Arlesian [from Arles] costume, a typical outfit from the region. I had spotted this canvas several years earlier at an antique dealer. I fell in love with this painting at first sight, but it was a bit overpriced and I gave up. When I decorated the castle, I thought of this woman. And I called the antique dealer to see if by any chance she still had the painting. She did— as if it had waited for me.”
As well as her dedication to the interiors, Schneider-Reboul has focused love, attention and quite a bit of money on the land surrounding the house. This is because she is committed to turning it back into the living, breathing chateau and working farm it once was.
One of her first acts was to revive the centuries-old olive press and turn the olive trees found across the estate into the money-makers they once were. Cold-extracted and bottled on site, Chateau d’Estoublon’s extra virgin olive oil is now for sale. In an ultra-stylish black glass bottle with a spritz nozzle, it looks more like a Parisian perfume than a kitchen ingredient.
She also turned the vineyard into a pesticidefree one. “We wanted to produce organic wine. In collaboration with winemaker Eloi Dürrbach, we implemented a protocol for organic farming, renovated the cellars and acquired oak barrels. Since 2012, our wines are made from organic grapes and we endeavoured to give this place noble materials.”
Schneider-Reboul has succeeded in turning her home into the physical embodiment of every fantasy we have ever had about Provence, right down to the heady scent of the fig and lemon trees surrounding the chateau, and the blaze of colour from lavender bushes in the garden. And that’s no mean feat.
HISTORIC LUXURY From left: The Chateau d’Estoublon has been transformed into a modern establishment, but it retains its 18th century grandeur; no country pile is complete without a billiards table
CLEAN LINES One of the many bathrooms reveals the gentle curves so beloved of 18th century French architects