Provençal Charm

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

Hong Kong Tatler Homes - - FRONT PAGE - Pho­tog­ra­phy Marc Berenguer

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

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