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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

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