As the 70th Cannes Film Festival kicks off, Lydia Manch steers away from the chaos of the Croisette and heads for the hills, to one of Provence’s most prestigious getaways…
An hour’s drive from Saint Tropez, 45 minutes from Monaco, ten minutes from Cannes – Le Mas Candille has all the five star frills and luxuries you’d expect from a Relais & Châteaux hotel a stone’s throw from the Côte d’Azur, along with some you might not. The French Riviera’s standard level of wealth and glamour comes with a creative edge here: the hotel’s grounds are scattered with sculptures and artworks, and its position at the edge of the Vieux Village of Mougins makes it a favourite point for people on artistic pilgrimages.
If the thought of all the narrow, curling streets of old Mougins and the hilltop view over Grasse is bewitching you? You’re in illustrious company. The village’s had iconic inhabitants by the artistic, prestigious bucketload, including Pablo Picasso, Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent. Elizabeth Taylor, Yves Klein and Jean Cocteau were regular visitors.
And the legacy of that much creativity being crammed into a small area is still in place – the narrow alleys of Mougins, winding inwards towards the centre of the old village like a snail’s shell, are filled with galleries and workshops. Artists from across Europe are still drawn here to create and exhibit their work, and the small village seems to have museums and exhibitions blooming out of every spare alcove. We walk through the grounds of Le Mas Candille, its 4.5 hectares so filled with sculptures, silhouetted against the panorama of the valley, that the hotel’s like a gallery itself, and we stop by the André Villers Museum of Photography, filled with antique cameras and photographs of Picasso from his time living in Mougins.
And we spend far longer than we mean to wandering the three floors of Musée d’Art Classique de Mougins. Opened in 2011 by businessman Christian Levett, the museum’s host to – among many things – the world’s largest private collection of classical arms and armour. Also Greek and Roman statues, sarcophogi, ancient wine vessels, through to 21st century artworks with classical influences. It’s a staggeringly wide-reaching and iconoclastic approach, with Greek helmets that Corinthian, Illyrian and Phrygian warriors fought in – some with the marks of the blows that killed them – exhibited alongside the 20th century piece Achille Sulle Sponde del Mare Egeo by Giorgio de Chirico, and the Spaniard’s helmet from The Gladiator. As a way of displaying these works it makes deep, powerful connections across the centuries and millennia, making the Greek men who died in their helmets feel far nearer to us and more human, and their deaths feel far more visceral than an isolated exhibition could easily convey.
But for all the visitors coming to Mougins on an artistic pilgrimage, there must be many drawn here by the village’s – and Le Mas Candille’s – food credentials instead. The Côte d’Azur treats good food extremely seriously, and Mougins does particularly well on number of restaurants, bars and bistros per capita. We eat lunch on the roof terrace at L’Amandier, with views over Grasse and the mountains in the distance. People play petanque in the square underneath as we’re brought fish stew and glasses of cold Provençal wine, delivering Peak France up to us in one lazy, sun-drenched swoop. We eat dinner one evening at Le Petit Fouet, where my mother’s ‘I could handle something light’ turns into ‘cassoulet’, and a stew filled with more confit duck legs, sausages and thick forkfuls of beans than we can finish between two of us.
And of course, there’s our second night’s booking at Restaurant Le Candille, the hotel’s restaurant headed by chef David Chauvac.
With the large, serene grounds, the hidden pools and the range of spa facilities – gym equipment on an outdoor terrace, hydrotherapy pool, and the ESPA body treatments on offer in the spa – there’s a definite wellness-retreat vibe at Le Mas Candille. But it’s also far too French, and far too interested in food, wine and elegance, for that to involve any self denial. This isn’t a well-being experience of a detoxing sort. This is swimming in the hydrotherapy pool, lounging in the enormous hammock, having your muscles pummeled by a dainty-looking but deceptively strong masseuse – and finally dressing for champagne on the terrace and eight ornate courses of Michelin-starred food.
Some of the hotel’s facilities are closed when we’re there at the end of April – the infinity pool with views over Grasse, and La Pergola, the terrace restaurant are only open for a window in peak season. But Restaurant Le Candille is at full throttle, nearly full every lunchtime and at night, with diners arriving from across the French Riviera in search of valley views and Chauvac’s tasting menus. Booking’s recommended, for both hotel guests and outside visitors.
And if you’re tactical with the timings of your booking you can be sitting down to dinner at one of those window tables, looking out over the valley of Grasse as sunset touches the mountains. Being tactical is important, because you want to be clinking champagne glasses while you’re enjoying the orange glow and the views – it’s difficult to focus on the sunset after the series of beautiful, carefully-wrought, extremely Michelin dishes start turning up for your attention. The menu changes regularly but highlights of our dinner suggest you can expect French-Mediterranean slants, like thin slices of veal scattered with capers and tuna sauce, bracketed with multiple ornate, tiny intercoursal appetisers and an unsurprisingly spectacular cheeseboard. Proof that the artistry of Mougins isn’t limited to the galleries and museums…
Lunch and dinner at Restaurant Le Candille are open to non-guests, and booking is recommended.
The Superior suites at Le Mas Candille are € 2110 for a two-night stay in peak season, including a buffet breakfast and access to the spa facilities and the pools. Rooms in peak season including breakfast start at € 430 for two people per night.
Le Mas Candille, Boulevard Clément Rebuffel, 06250, Mougins, France. 0033 492284343. Website.
Photography by Nicolas Dubreuil.