With Spring around the corner, it’s time to start planning some getaways for the warmer months ahead. For the ultimate tranquil haven, look no further than Coquillade Provence Resort & Spa, writes Jessica Jonzen
THE OLYMPIC-SIZED SWIMMING POOL IS ONE OF THREE AT COQUILLADE PROVENCE
Winter – it’s not you, it’s me. No, on second thoughts it’s definitely you. After an interminably long season of cold, dark days, the green shoots of Spring are finally appearing. And with that, thoughts turn wistfully to rosé flushed sunnier climes.
I find that few places capture my imagination quite like Provence. Its particular magic first captivated me on a family holiday in my early teens, and from then on nothing – not even the prospect of spending two days jammed in the back of the car with my siblings to get there – could dim my passion. From the patchwork of vineyards and lavender fields, to the sleepy sun-bleached villages and the exquisite light (not to mention the bread), Provence has always had my heart.
So it was a particular thrill to be able to return with my 12-year-old daughter, Ottilie – although admittedly this time in far greater style. An hour’s drive from Marseille airport and nestled on top of a hill in Gargas in the heart of the Luberon Regional Nature Park stands Coquillade Provence Resort & Spa, a hotel which truly epitomises the Provence of my imagination.
Set within a lovingly restored ancient hamlet, parts of which date to the 11th century, this family owned Relais & Châteaux hotel was recently named Travel + Leisure’s number one resort hotel in France. And don’t let the word ‘resort’ put you off; despite having 63 rooms, with four hyper-luxurious pool suites to be added to the number later this year, Coquillade, named after the iconic Provençal coquilladou lark feels like a charming village rather than a sprawling all-inclusive.
ONE OF THE SHUTTERED BASTIDES AT COQUILLADE PROVENCE
Having swept up the cypress-lined driveway, we were warmly welcomed into the airy entrance lobby, with its panoramic views of the surrounding 36 hectares of vineyards. Works of modern art stand alongside carefully sourced antiques and comfortable furniture, with extraordinary floral displays throughout.
Directly off the lobby, I was intrigued to see a bookcase which held books exclusively by Hermann Hesse. Having read Siddartha as a teenager on holiday in Provence, it was a lovely coincidence to discover that the owners of Coquillade are in fact the grandsons of the famed German-Swiss writer and artist. Two of Hesse’s watercolours hang on the wall.
The elegantly and thoughtfully decorated rooms and suites are dispersed around the estate, which is beautifully planted with white roses, herbs, salvia and grasses – the flower beds abundant even during our visit in October.
Some of the rooms are set within sympathetically renovated 18th century bastides (country houses), others are found in cottages built within the last few years. Modern or old, all share the same quintessential muted Provençal décor and crisp white bedlinen, and have a garden, veranda or roof terrace. The larger suites have glorious views over the valley, their own sauna, jacuzzi, double rain showers and a large dressing room. Each guest also receives their own personal pillow, which they can then take with them on departure or donate to a local charity.
After squealing with delight over our room, we decided it was time to visit the pool – well, one of the three on offer (one indoor at the spa, one children’s pool and we plumped for the full Olympic-sized extravaganza.) This has to be the most beautiful pool I’ve ever swum in. Big enough to do some proper exercise, it was also a haven of tranquillity, flanked by cypress trees, fountains, and elegant sun loungers.
With three restaurants and a bar, there is plenty of choice at mealtimes at Coquillade. Our first meal was – rather surprisingly – a Thai lunch, served on the Bar’s sun dappled terrace, and absolutely delicious. In the Summer months, this would also be the perfect spot for a pre-dinner cocktail.
AL FRESCO DINING AT LES VIGNES, COQUILLADE PROVENCE
For fine dining, there is Avelan which will be overseen by the newly arrived chef Pierre Marty, who trained alongside Alain Ducasse for 14 years. Rustic, seasonal dishes usually made with vegetables grown in Coquillade’s own organic kitchen garden, are found in Les Vignes, or there’s the more casual Cipressa beside the pool(s) where you can enjoy a pizza, home-made pasta or an enormous antipasti and pudding buffet at lunchtime.
Coquillade is more than just a temple of indulgence, though, and is very popular with the cycling community. During our stay, a Lycra-clad group arrived who’d cycled all the way from Paris. The hotel has its own dedicated cycling centre on site and our e-bike ride was the unexpected highlight of our trip. Our charming guide took us on a tour of the surrounding villages, including Rousillon, regarded as one of the most beautiful villages in France. Our e-bikes enabled us to glide almost effortlessly up the hills, so we could enjoy the views across the magnificent ochre cliffs without even breaking a sweat. Gleefully whizzing through the French countryside with my daughter is an experience I won’t ever forget.
Back at the hotel, other activities to tempt you from your sun lounger include fitness classes, tennis and pétanque, and you can also book a guided wine tasting tour around the vineyards. They grow some 15 different grape varieties at Coquillade, including Syrah, Grenache, Caladoc, Marselan and Chenanson, which go into the making of the award-winning red, white and rosé Aureto wines. As I was in the company of my 12-year-old, I bypassed this experience but it includes a visit to the cellar, learning the different winemaking techniques and – of course – tasting the wines. I made do with a glass or two at dinner instead.
Any good hotel worth its salt has a spa as a matter of course, but the award-winning Spa at Coquillade is a cut above. At 2,000sqm, it’s one of the largest in the region and combines classic treatments from around the world with modern science. There is even a dedicated children’s spa menu. Eleven treatment cabins, an ice fountain, hammam, Kneipp basins and a whirlpool, all overlook the hotel’s vineyards, while the indoor pool is a blissful retreat. To round off our stay, Ottilie and I had massages side by side – another unforgettable treat. And I didn’t think Provence could get any better.
Coquillade Provence Resort & Spa offers rooms from 750€ per room, per night including a welcome gift, a selection of the minibar, breakfast, access to the Spa, fitness classes, and access to the Aureto Winery throughout your stay. Jessica and Ottilie were guests of Coquillade Provence Resort & Spa
(LEFT) A SUITE AT COQUILLADE PROVENCE (RIGHT) ONE OF THE NEW POOL SUITES, DUE TO OPEN LATER IN 2023
(LEFT) THE RESORT IS MADE UP OF A RESTORED ANCIENT HAMLET (RIGHT) THE ENTRANCE IS LINED WITH LAVENDER FIELDS
(LEFT) BAR LALIQUE (RIGHT) THE LOBBY AT THE SPA