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L'art De Vivre

A sensory guide to the fine French art of slowing down.

By Diane Covington

Hidden in the hills of Provence, the terraces of Terre Blanche overlook mountains, medieval villages, and fragrant fields of thyme and lavender.

 

rovence provides a feast for all the senses: lush vineyards bursting with ripe grapes, the afternoon sunlight slanting off ancient walls and cobblestones, church bells tolling the hour, herb scented spa treatments, and sumptuous local cuisine. Here are four Provençal gems where you will experience l’art de vivre, the French art of slowing down and savoring each sensuous moment. Each one includes a hotel, restaurant, and spa as a start to your “Sensory Provence” experience.

Terre Blanche Four Seasons Resort

There is an utter quiet and peace to Terre Blanche Four Seasons Resort, nestled in the hills above Cannes. When you arrive, weary from traveling, members of the staff meet you with hot towels scented with lavender and thyme. The property is set up like a small village, with individual suites looking across the valley to the perched village of Fayence. Each suite has a sitting room and courtyard, spacious bedroom and bath, with soft beds, fine linens, and cozy comforters.

A massage at the spa, followed by a soak in the heated pool and Jacuzzi, help ease the jet lag. The landscaping is designed with aromatic plants—lavender, rosemary, and thyme—their scents filling the fresh air. Golf at one of two eighteen-hole courses, visit the nearby villages, or just kick back and relax at the pool or on your private terrace. The Faventia restaurant lives up to its Michelin star, and chef Philippe Jourdin creates fresh, contemporary Mediterranean menus complemented by local and international wines. Stay at least two days to savor the experience of this special resort and the area.

FourSeasons.com/Provence

Chateau de Berne

About an hour down the winding road (passing signs for degustation, or wine tasting), enter the estate of Chateau de Berne. This charming vineyard and inn feels like the country home of a generous and wealthy friend. Like Terre Blanche, the quiet is palpable and refreshing. The cozy rooms are upstairs, with the elegant restaurant on the ground floor.

The dinner menu pairs local specialties with wines from their vineyard. Be sure to save room for dessert: a tasting plate including crème brulée and other luscious bite-sized treats. The fine peach-colored damask tablecloth and napkins, the fresh flowers on the table and throughout the rooms, and the excellent service make you feel very pampered and inspire you to stay as long as possible. Take advantage of the heated pool and spa treatments, or taste wine in the tasting room before heading down the road toward your next sensory treat.

ChateauBerne.com/aubergeus



L’Hostellerie Bérard has just 40 rooms, each with its own special charm.

L’Hostellerie Bérard & Spa, La Cadière d’Azur

It is so rare to find a true village Provençal, one like La Cadière d’Azur, which hasn’t been influenced or changed by tourism. From this hilltop village, you look out over vineyards, farms, tiny villages, and then the Mediterranean glittering just a few kilometers away. Wander down narrow alleyways and up some stone steps, and discover the sixteenth-century Church of Saint André. The tolling of its bell, which dates back to 1458 (the oldest in the region), echoes through the village.

Chef René Bérard and his wife opened the sole hotel in the village, L’Hostellerie Bérard & Spa, forty years ago. Bérard earned a Michelin star for the restaurant, and their son, Jean Francois, also became a renowned chef, returning home to work with his parents. Their daughter rejoined the family team as well, so you are being welcomed en famille, to a real French family.

The bar and restaurant offer an expansive view of the vineyards and farms in the valley below. The thirty-seven rooms of the hotel are tucked into four historic buildings next door—they are simply part of the village. Indulge in classes in cooking, wine, or painting. Or bicycle or hike through the nearby herb scented hills. All of the herbs and oils used in the aromatherapy and hydrotherapy treatments in their Aroma Spa come from their nearby organic farm—even the rose petals that decorate the mirrored surfaces are grown by the family.

Hotel-Berard.com



Chef René Bérard oversees the restaurant, a family affair that includes his son, a rising young chef.

Aix-en-Provence

Aix-en-Provence, the last stop on this sensory journey, was founded over two thousand years ago by the Romans, drawn by the abundant springs and healing properties of the local waters. Everywhere you go in Aix, you hear the soft sound of water splashing in fountains—there are over fifty of them.

The Spa Thermes Sextius is built on the site of the original Roman baths. You can see the crumbling walls of the ancient buildings and the spring, which comes up from a depth of eighty meters at a temperature of ninety-seven degrees, through a glass floor in the entry. The water, full of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and lithium, is said to relieve stress, fatigue, and even cellulite. Enjoy sensuous treatments including a salt scrub, a mud wrap, or a massage with essential oils under warm showers. (Reserve ahead; this spa is popular with the locals and gets booked up.)

The elegant Hôtel Augustin, once a twelfth-century Augustine convent, is just steps off the main street and makes a perfect headquarters for exploring the city. Cobblestone streets wind into a central square where the Hotel de Ville is located next to an ancient clock tower. Aix has over one hundred sixty manor houses dating from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, designed by architects from Italy, Paris, and Flanders. When it comes to restaurants, there are many to choose from, including the locals’ favorite Antoine Côté Cours.

AixenProvenceTourism.com, Thermes-Sextius.com

11-01-2009

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