WITH SO MANY OPTIONS ON OFFER, PICKING THE PERFECT RETREAT IN SOUTHERN FRANCE CAN BE DAUNTING. Melissa Twigg VISITS CHATEAU SAINT-MARTIN AND FINDS ALL THE ALLURE OF PROVENCE IN ONE LUXURY HOTEL
The luxurious Château Saint-martin & Spa captures all the allure of Provence
National stereotypes are often overblown, but the one about the French bon vivant who puts the pleasures of life first is still alive and well. From art and architecture to food and wine, the French seem to do it better—and Provence in particular is the poster region for that wonderfully European concept of l’art de vivre.
Château Saint-martin, half an hour north of Nice yet deep in the Provencal countryside, encapsulates all that is delightful about the world’s most visited country. Perched on a hilltop above the medieval town of Vence, it was once the residence of the 12th-century Knights Templar Commandery and its unparalleled sense of history will envelop you throughout your stay.
We arrive at dusk to find a rambling ivycovered house with shuttered windows and typically southern tiles, encircled by Cyprus trees. Entering the château through the imposing door, we are struck by the art, which includes a renowned Gobelin tapestry from the 18th century hung across an entire wall.
Set in a 13-hectare park filled with more than 300 olive trees, the hotel boasts views across the Côte d’azur and is located in that special spot on the French Riviera where the Alps meet the Mediterranean. We are
welcomed with champagne on the sprawling terrace, from where we can peer over the rooftops of Vence and out towards the sea. It is an unusually clear evening and those of us with good eyesight can even make out the distant Corsican mountains on the horizon.
Every room celebrates the unparalleled setting. Beds face French doors that open onto wrought-iron balconies, ideal for enjoying a glass of rosé in the evening and celebrating the simple pleasures in life. In the morning, escape the crowds and enjoy breakfast there: a feast of croissants, pain au chocolat, yoghurt, fruit, omelettes.
Days seem slower here. The setting of the swimming pool distracts us from our books; facing the rolling valley below, it is surrounded by craggy mountains. There is a clay tennis court set in an olive grove and a pétanque lawn if you are feeling Gallic one afternoon. But if the idea of exercise jars with these unhurried, leisurely days, then make an appointment at Le Spa Saint-martin by La Prairie, where therapists channel their talents into removing the aches, pains, wrinkles and redness that accumulate through the year.
In Provence, all activities ultimately lead to food and drink—and Château Saint-martin is no different. The gourmet Le Saint-martin, which has a Michelin star, is overseen by head chef Franck Ferigutti and offers exquisitely made traditional French food. Then there’s Le 180°, on the terrace overlooking the Mediterranean, which uses local products to make high-end Provencal cuisine, and finally L’oliveraie, set above the swimming pool, is the ideal spot for long lunches of fresh salads, cheese and numerous glasses of rosé. Unsurprisingly, the hotel also boasts one of the largest wine cellars in the area, with more than 15,000 bottles of some of the world’s most exclusive vintages. The smooth-talking head sommelier, Géraud Tournier, is happy to walk us through a selection of wine to ensure every drop matches our meal.
If you feel your days are getting a little too lazy and you’re in the mood for a little Cap d’antibes glitz and glamour (and celebrity spotting), take a 30-minute drive to Château Saint-martin’s famous sister, Hôtel du CapEden-roc, to relax around its pool and swim off the jetty. Other great day trips include the artists’ town of Saint-paul-de-vence and nearby Nice and Cannes.
When picking a holiday destination, ultimately one chooses between the charm of a private house and the ease of a luxury hotel, but Château Saint-martin is a rarity in that it combines the two. This is perhaps the reason why so many couples choose to get married there. Home—but only better.
food with a view The magnificent terrace looks out to Vence and towards the Mediterranean
pool cool The turquoise swimming pool is set among the olive groves