It was a first for me. The crisp, rolling hills of Provence and the Rhône Valley – a favourite with hikers and cyclists – are a part of France I’ve never visited before. But familiar with coastal drives down the Côte d’Azur from Nice to San Remo as a child, stopping by La Turbie and Rocquefort, I was at least a little prepared for the enchanting scenery…
We flew into Marseille, just a small group – myself, Lucy and Camila, the perfect sized mini-squad for a press trip! – and made the hour and a half journey to our village hotel Crillon le Brave, 45m northeast of Avignon at the foot of the imposing Mont Ventoux.
The village is made up of nearly 250 houses, eight of which and stables, in charming 16th-18th century sandstone, make up the hotel; the first part was renovated by Canadian hotelier Peter Chittick back in 1989 (fellow hotel directors, Robin and Judy Hutson are behind New Forest’s Limewood, The Pig Hotel and The Pig on the Beach).
As soon as you arrive, you’re ready to settle back a gear, the whole place has an instantly calming effect – it feels like a retreat, time to get away from the busyness of real life and the outside world. The incredible view combined with architectural remnants and higglety-pigglety steps up and down to the pool, winery and restaurant made for an immediately all-absorbing experience.
We stopped first for some lunch on the La Grange terrace – all the food is exceptional and in generous portions, so be prepared to feed up! – before heading to our rooms. My L-shaped room, beautifully Provenςal rustic but elegant too, was one of the very first 11 rooms, in the very first building renovated for the hotel, Maison Roche, once home to the village priest and village school. With a wonderfully large bathroom (free-standing bath goals!) and perfect valley view, it was the ideal haven.There are just over 30 rooms and suites in total and from what I understand every room is totally unique, each with its own perks and quirks.
And all the rooms are kitted out with lovely organic Bamford products too. As is the Spa de Ecuries (the old village stables) where I had the most exquisite massage. A little foot wash first, choice of oils (local lavender for me!) and then a plunge into deep, deep relaxation as my therapist worked well on my tense muscles. Just hard enough – “Is this pressure ok, Madame?”, why yes, yes it is – which is what I like. Hazy daze afterwards with a soothing herbal tea.
That evening we ate at the main Restaurant Jerome Blanchet. Exquisite dining on sea bass carpaccio and partridge before the most incredible cheese board, (sorry, make that a mini table) appeared and we all made room for several soft, goat’s, hard and blue cheeses before bed called.
Blessed with beauteous sun and blue skies the following morning, we set up for a bike ride (they were Trek, for all you biking aficionados) and delicious pique-nique. The hotel often organises cyling weekends for enthusiasts and is kitted out with all the gear. We took a gentle little ride down the hill (first time on a bike for in years!) to a nearby but quite unknown pink quarry where we clambered up and down for photos before diving into yet more glorious food.
The rest of the day saw us lounging by the beautiful blue (and heated to a very agreeable 29 degrees) pool, lapping up the sun before a wine-tasting. Our super knowledgeable sommelier took us through four wines, including a gorgeous white from the nearby Chateaux Neuf de Pape. We swished, swirled and spat and chose our favourite red (a Vintner) which we drank that night over the Bistrot 40k menu – all produce sourced from within 40k of Crillon le Brave – in La Grange. Suffice to say, everything was ridiculously delicious and we ate ourselves silly!
The atmosphere was incredibly chill. Surprisingly, there were kids there but of the extremely well-behaved variety which kind of suits the vibe. And once we started posting to Instagram, we discovered friends had been to Crillon le Brave for honeymoons and engagement trips, which totally made sense as more than anything it feels like a place for romantic meals for two and some serious one-on-one time.
Pretty hard to get up and go the next day, but off we went for a little local sightseeing. Despite the rain tipping down, we checked out the antique markets at L’Isle sur la Sorgue, stopped by a cool café and had a little wander round the local market and streets. After a chatty lunch in Jardin de Quai, we hopped back in our car to Avignon where we headed for the Palais de Papes. The enormity was overwhelming, the scale of the building just completely awe-inspiring and we did the proper tourist, headphones on, traipse around the palace and its incredible rooms. So much history to absorb…
One final Avignon café and Crocque Monsieur later, and we headed back to the airport for home. An absolutely exquisite few days and I’m already trying to tempt my cycling obsessed husband with a bike-orientated return trip!
Sometimes the rain really doesn’t matter, big brolly in hand and lots of things to see is often just as magical…! And last little note, being mid October, the days were quite crisp, although warm enough to swim and sunbathe when the sun shone, but definitely worth bringing a few layers! Hope you enjoyed this epic photo story and next trip (New York, eek!) coming up soon…
I stayed as guest of Hotel Crillon le Brave, a huge thankyou to the whole team, and Cecile and Lucy for being the most incredible hosts. Nightly rates are available from €310/£230* per room per night for two people sharing including breakfast. To book, email firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone +33 (04) 90 65 61 61
All photos taken on the Olympus Pen E-PL7.