Vaucluse

Vaucluse

Vaucluse

  As a keen cyclist, last September I came to the  Vaucluse department of north-west Provence  with a plan to tackle Mont Ventoux, among  the toughest climbs of the Tour de France.  Then I arrived at my hotel, Crillon le Brave,  and found its tranquil beauty fostered a sense  of ease in me that was at odds with going  hell-for-leather up the side of a mountain.  The hotel crowns a village of the same name, the  honey-coloured buildings of which drip down the hillside  into a sea of Provençal green, a verdant landscape of  vineyards and olive groves. While some hotels can corrupt  their natural setting, that’s not the case here – Crillon  blends perfectly into the scenery because it is made up of  what were once villagers’ homes, most of which were built  in the 17th and 18th centuries.

A SENSE OF PLACE  

  Although the village, which  dates back to Roman times,  thrived through the ages,  a malaise had set in by the  start of the 20th century.  Inhabitants had deserted it, a  situation compounded by two  wars and a lack of direct water  supply. Yet its beauty meant  it wasn’t to be forgotten; in  the 1970s, new owners began  to resurrect the houses, and  by the late eighties the first of  several buildings was acquired  for transformation into a  luxury hotel.
  As such, its grounds aren’t  like that of your average hotel – it’s a labyrinthine series of  sun-baked cobbled roads, tumbling stone staircases and  shady tunnels. In spring 2017, the property was taken on by  Patrick Pariente as part of real estate firm Bertie Albrecht  Company. Together with his daughters, Leslie Kouhana  and Kimberley Pariente, he has focused on retaining its  original features while upgrading the interiors and facilities  (and the hotel was refurbished over winter 2018-19 after  my stay, reopening for the season next month).
  And what original features they are. Spa treatments take  place in the tranquil vaulted stables of the 18th-century  Maison Décor, next to the church in the heart of the  village. In Maison Reboul, a door in the floor leads to the  wine cellar of former inhabitant Monsieur Robert Reboul,  where he made his own vintages (rumour has it the  impressive cellar the hotel now boasts would have had little  competition). Maison Roche, the first building acquired  in 1989, was the home of the priest and thus also served as  the village school.
  There is much to explore, but I arrive at sunset so my  first priority is to make my way up to the terrace, where  I’m greeted by the sight of Provence laid out before me,  aglow in golden light. If the weather is clement – which,  of course, it often is – you can enjoy an evening meal here  from the fine-dining Restaurant La Madeleine while taking  in the view.
  A level below the bar and restaurant terrace is a pool  of aquamarine, surrounded by loungers for guests to  make like lizards and bask in the sun. Needless to say, it is  infinitely more inviting than nearby Mont Ventoux, which  looms out of the landscape, its barren, windswept summit  scant reward for the 21km ascent with a 1,610-metre  elevation gain.
  In the 1967 Tour de France, UK cyclist Tom Simpson  died trying to get the top, although he had amphetamine  and alcohol in his blood system, as was the custom for  competitors at the time. I’m assured that it’s not a fate that has befallen the many people who stay here  with the intention of making it to the top.  Still, the pool seals the deal – I’ll give Mont  Ventoux a miss this time.

Crillon le Brave

LAZY DAYS  

  Last year, responsibility for fine dining at the  hotel was placed in the hands of chef Julien  Marseault, whose culinary philosophy sees  him combine produce of Provençal provenance  with his own heritage (encompassing Brittany and  Corsica) in dishes such as lobster salad with peaches and  nectarines, balsamic basil and smoked beef. Tasting menus  get oenological support from the extensive wine cellar,  with sommelier Gaelle Devos able to provide astute wine  pairings for each course, many from Provence itself.
  I plump for the seven-course tasting menu. It is  sublime, with a cheese board worth losing the top button  on your trousers for. Not only do I head to bed in an  over-sated torpor, but I also awake with a woolly head.  Fortunately, not too woolly to prevent me watching a stunning sunrise that sets the Virginia Creeper adorning  the buildings ablaze.
  While enjoying a suitably reviving breakfast on the  terrace, I ponder how to spend the day. Now that I’ve  crossed mountain scaling off the to-do list, there is little  on the agenda except a good spa treatment and a dip in the  pool, before gazing at the scenery for a few hours. Still, by  late afternoon I feel compelled to try to burn off some of  the many calories I’ve totted up. I take advantage of the  free bikes offered by the hotel and cycle to nearby Bédoin,  a lovely downhill journey.
Bédoin is a bustling little village, particularly if you  manage to visit on Monday’s market day, and a pastis in  one of the pavement cafés is recommended. As night falls,  I tackle the uphill cycle back, the stars above providing a  visual feast to fuel my efforts.

SUITE LIFE  

  Should you decide to exert yourself on a visit here, the  accommodation at all levels will provide a comfortable  sanctuary in which to recuperate. However, if you  have the means, the Suite Prestige Ventoux takes some  beating. Set across two floors, it has a pair of roll-top  baths positioned side by side and a private terrace with  superlative views that can also be enjoyed from the  upstairs bedroom.
On my last day, it’s back to the pool again. In between  dips, I enjoy watching the mix of guests staying at Crillon  – from the young men powering up and down the pool  before they head off to take on Mont Ventoux in the  afternoon, to the peaceful white-haired couples relaxing  quietly and companionably together.
  An early evening stroll through the hills, one of  several guided routes provided by the hotel, is a fitting  finale to my visit. I return as the sun sets, the shadowy  silhouette of the complex against the ochre sky drawing  me back.
  Whether you are looking for a restful break from the  daily grind, a romantic escape with a loved one, an actionpacked weekend of mountain biking or a more leisurely  one exploring the nearby Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine  region, Crillon le Brave is a wonderful choice.

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