If you should lie back and think of anything, it should be Crillon Le Brave. That’ll soon put a smile on your face, if nothing else does.
It’s the place for couples, for peace and quiet and eating high-quality chèvre before burning it off on a gentle bike ride. Or – if you really want to make yourself feel good after eating your weight in cheese (which I most definitely did) – you could set yourself against the greats and take on Mont Ventoux. Iban Mayo Diez mastered that killer gradient in 55 minutes and 55 seconds in 2004’s Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré. But a mere mortal is probably looking at more around the three-hour mark. Warning: it is NOT for the faint-hearted.
And, after your near-suicidal trek up the great mountain on two wheels, you can rest up your burnt-out muscles and admire it from afar in Crillon Le Brave. The name both of the village and the hotel – which, in itself, feels like a village within a village. In fact, a hamlet within a hamlet.
Let me explain what I mean by that: in 1988, the owners, Peter (himself once a board member of Soho House) and Carolyn, bought up a provincial house in Crillon Le Brave, and turned it into an 11-bedroom hotel. As the years passed and other surrounding properties came on the market, Peter and Carolyn continued to buy them, slowly expanding their real estate and offering to hotel guests.
Each property retained the name of the previous owners, so, for example, the original building bought in 1988 is called Maison Roche because it was owned by the Roche family. And, as you navigate your way around this stunningly beautiful, limestone collection of family-named buildings, you feel like you’re walking around a hamlet, not a hotel. Because the original buildings stand – albeit with some improvements – and so the alleyways that you meander were indeed once public alleyways, trodden by locals as they made their way to and from their homes.
It’s not a place to party, it’s a place to relax. To leave your gadgets switched off and zipped away in your case. And not be bothered. Including by fellow guests who, even at full capacity, you’ll be hard pushed to bump into, except maybe over breakfast on the veranda overlooking the Provencal paysage and that infamous Mont Ventoux (because who would deprive themselves of that?); or at dinner at either Bistrot 40K (so named because everything is sourced within 40 kilometres of the hotel) or within the romantic stone walls of Restaurant Jerome Blanchet – complete with a Juliet-like balcony. What’s more, they have a wonderful no-phone rule by the pool (that looks across to that aforementioned view) between the hours of 3-6pm.
Need a massage? You’re in luck. I had one of the best full-body massages I’ve had to date – and, as those who know me will happily testify to, I’m not easy to please. Even better news; in their never-ending strive to improve their service, they’ve just opened a bigger and better spa along with two new suites to add to their portfolio of beautifully-crafted, delicately-finished and gloriously-spacious rooms – each with its own unique character and feel.
If you’re up for investigating the area by four wheels, pay a visit to the truly tasty cheese shop, Vigier, in Carpentras, run by the kind and knower-of-all-things-curd, Claudine Vigier. Located right by the town square its ceiling is lined with milk pails, aromas engulf you as you enter and the counters are bursting with cheesy treats.
Also, L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue offers a fantastic market of foods, homeware, clothes and more – all original and untainted by ‘modern demands’ (football shirts and other tasteless apparel won’t be found here). And the shops, lined with incredible antiques, design and art of all shapes and sizes, are treasure troves of discovery. As was the restaurant where we had lunch – Le Jardin Du Quai – whose set menu put others to shame.
And, let’s not forget Avignon, if not for the grand Pope Palace, the picturesque archways and balcony of the theatre, or bustling and beautiful streets and square, but for the song Sur le Pont d’Avignon.
With so much to do – much of it spent taking it easy, I should add – after three days at Crillon Le Brave I came away feeling like I’d had a week away from it all, and with a very big smile on my face.
Three nights at the Crillon le Brave start from £768 pp (two sharing) including return flights to Marseille from the UK, group C rental car and accommodation with breakfast, and the services of the Kirker Concierge to book excursions, expert local guides or a table for dinner. SPECIAL OFFER: 4 nights for price of 3, saving £175. Call Kirker Holidays on 020 7593 2283; www.kirkerholidays.com.
See more of Hannah’s writing at www.hannahberrygeorge.com or follow Hannah on Instagram/Twitter @veryberrygeorge.