Make Provence at the top of your travel bucket list

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Its irresistible mix of countryside swathed in vineyards, colourful markets and a sunny, warm climate has been attracting artists and actors, holidaymakers and secondhomers for decades.

Sitting in the south-east corner of France, bordering Italy, the glamorous resort towns of Nice, Saint-Tropez and Cannes line its sparkling Mediterranean coast – every inch of it the French fantasy.

The Hotel Crillon le Brave, a five-star retreat in the heart of the Vaucluse department, turns dreams of relaxation and romance into reality.

The drive there, an hour from Marseille airport, is enough to fill you with all the wonder and optimism Peter and Annie Mayle felt, quitting their jobs in England for a better life in rural France, then telling the tale in the best-selling memoir, A Year In Provence.

Along winding lanes, we passed fragrant lavender fields and tiny flower-filled villages as the peel of old church bells drifted on the breeze.

The hotel is part of a cluster of 17th century tiled houses perched on a hilltop. Linked by alleyways and courtyards, they become 16 rooms and 18 suites, perfectly pitched for a starry-eyed sojourn.

Start with lunch at the Table du Ventoux, where chef Adrien Brunet nurtures the philosophy that the essence of a recipe is not to transform the product, but to accompany it, enhancing its original taste.

Putting Provence firmly in the culinary spotlight, he uses produce from within a 25-mile radius, cooking up traditional dishes as well as gourmet offerings. Waiting staff will recommend the drinks, teeing things up nicely for that wine-induced snooze in a shady spot by the pool.

Drift into the evenings with the Provencal tradition of pastis, the sweetened, aniseed-flavoured liqueur, on the terrace, the views of Mont Ventoux, the region’s highest peak, ever present.

Fancy some bubbles? Sip champagne in twin roll top baths in your bedroom with your beau while staring across the valley as the sun goes down.

No room or suite is the same here.

Each is styled to fit its unique space with carefully selected artifacts and antiques. There are wooden beams, terracotta floors, plaid fabrics, as the far-reaching countryside views take centre stage.

Outside in the vaulted stone former stable buildings, there is a serene and snuggly spa, which is free of sounds and daylight, giving it a true feeling of escape.

If you have the inclination to explore, a novel way to see the sights at a leisurely pace is on an e-bike – the hotel will organise hire for guests.

Stupidly, I fell off mine – tipping over like Del Boy at the bar – as I hadn’t realised it would be so heavy.

Undeterred, and with a plaster on my grazed knee a seven year old would be proud of, I found the electric bike a most welcome addition to the holiday.

The lanes are easy to navigate and pretty traffic free – except for being held up by a women’s cycling race.

If you think you’re up to it, you could attempt the 6,263ft Mont Ventoux, which often features in a stage of the Tour de France.

South from Bedoin is considered the most difficult ascent. Giving the “Beast of Provence” as it’s known a swerve, we opted for an easier route, visiting the handsome Chateau Pesquie, a family-owned wine estate at the foot of the mountain.

Three generations of the Chaudiere family have put their passions into producing wines with great character here. After a tour and a tasting we enjoyed a picnic in the magnificent grounds. There is everything you need for a lovely lunch at the vineyard shop.

Our next stop was Pernes-les-Fontaines, a historic market town just south of Carpentras, which has, as the name suggests, an array of fountains .

There’s a trail to see the 40 styles and sizes, the most famous is “Gigot” next to the Ferrande Tower.

We also visited the old church and the ancient dungeon and climbed the 11th century clock tower to take in the view. The market comes to town three times a week and has everything from hand-made pottery to jewellery and fresh produce .

But we couldn’t wait to get back to Crillon le Brave for dinner at La Madeleine, the hotel’s fine dining restaurant.

Chef Brunet was happy to recommend his personal gastronomic favourites like foie gras and tuna tartar, asparagus with a fresh goat cheese ravioli and oyster with an aniseed potato soup – all accompanied by gorgeous wines from the Ventoux region.

The hotel is one of three owned by Parisien fashion and property tycoon Patrick Pariente. His two daughters Kimberley and Leslie play a leading role in design and have been featured on French TV.

The same attention to detail can be found at Lou Pinet, another five-star Pariente property, near Saint Tropez, made famous by celebrities such as Brigitte Bardot.

The family took it over in 2017, transforming it into a picture of Sixties glamour with hand-painted ceramics and artwork.

The emerald green swimming pool set in landscaped gardens is a highlight and a beautiful place to relax or have a cocktail.

If you are a meat eater you have to try the beef. Riccardo Giraudi, of Paris’s famous Beefbar who was awarded a coveted Michelin Plate, has a sister restaurant at Lou Pinet’s.

There’s a wide range of cuts, including flavoursome Wagyu and Kobe beef. The tomahawk steak is huge and mouth-watering. Like its sister hotel in the hills, Lou Pinet, which is the Provencal dialect for the pines, offers the perfect escape, with 34 fabulous rooms and suites.

Don’t miss the Tata Harper spa and the invigorating Remodelage body rubdown by Martine De Richeville – a deep massage regarded as a secret weapon to a youthful and energised physique.

While you’re there, the threemile section of the Sentier du Littoral coastal stone trail running along the Cap d’Antibes is a highlight for its panoramic sea views, shady wooded areas and swimming spots. It’s also a site where lookouts prepared to raise the alarm against English invaders.

We stopped for lunch at Les Graniers, a beach-chic restaurant. Tables are set out under parasols on the wooden decking, with some right down at the water’s edge.

Sharing fresh langoustines and a bottle of rose, conversation turned to upping sticks and enjoying the fruits of French rural living.

A year here? Pas de probleme!

BOOK IT

Rooms at Crillon Le Brave from £296 B&B, crillionlebrave.com Rooms at Lou Pinet from £364 B&B, loupinet.com

GET THERE

Fly direct to Marseille with Ryanair (ryanair.com), easyJet (easyjet.com) and British Airways (ba.com)

MORE INFO

https://uk.france.fr/en

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