Provence Revisited

In 2010, Conde Nast Traveler Magazine designed a series of iconic itineraries for their readers. The goal was to take some of the world’s most beloved (and touristed) destinations around the world, and with the help of top travel specialists, unearth the regions secrets, treasures and unmissable experiences. These itineraries are designed for those who have never been a destination as well as for those who have been there a dozen times, and plan to go a dozen more.

The Iconic Itinerary, Seven Perfect Days in Provence, was designed by our Senior Consultant and France Specialist, Jill Jergel, who has stayed in touch with the ever changing hotel and guide scene in Provence long before and long after the itinerary was released.

Jill recently re-visited Provence visiting Villa Gallici, Le Vieux Castillon, La Bastide de Gordes, and Le Pigonnet and. We’re excited to share her experience, opinions, and expert insights.

 

Villa Gallici
Until 1991, the sprawling Provencal villa that became the 22 room ultra-deluxe hotel Villa Gallici was a privately owned mansion where arriving guests were enveloped by quality interiors and beautiful Objects d’Arts that are placed just-so.

Villa Gallici has now morphed into an exceptional bijou of a small luxury hotel; the grounds are carefully manicured with graceful statuary and waterfalls over moss-covered old stones. At night, and the building and garden are positively ethereal.

Perfectly draped French cottage windows surround inviting velvet setees, and full length French Doors that lead to a secluded terrace with mammoth lanterns and over stuffed cushions—I absolutely love it.

Some would say the hotel is exquisitely decorated, while others would say overly decorated; some would say it smells divine; some would say the omnipresent fragrance of lavender is overbearing. But all will agree, the beds are decadently delicious. I made the perfect decision to stay here the night France turned back the clocks, as to enjoy an extra hour in bed.

Husbands take note (especially mine!), next time you need a special, slightly sexy, “make-her-swoon” kind of getaway, I highly recommend the Villa Gallici in Aix en Provence.

Le Vieux Castillon
Castillon is a charming, practically untouched, medieval village 10 minutes from the brilliant Roman Aquaduct, Pont du Gard. Since the 60s and 70s, there has been a Relais & Chateaux property tucked into a series of medieval houses that, quite frankly, hasn’t received the updating that it needed to warrant our recommendation.

Under the experienced eye of GM Alexandre Firer, that has all changed.

Surely a new “must include” on an itinerary in Provence, Le Vieux Castillon, a recently renovated 21-room boutique property, will provide an extremely comfortable base to use while touring the western side of the Rhone. The chef has a gifted touch, but if more casual meals are preferred, there are several excellent options in the village that you can walk to in under two minutes. Several architectural gems were uncovered during the renovation, from fireplaces dating to the 1500s to stained glass windows bearing a C for Castillon, now in their chic little bar. Boasting a huge swimming pool, overlooking a vast stretch of valley, Le Vieux Castillon gets our vote for “best renovation” and “most exciting new hotel” in the region.

Bastide de Gordes & Le Pigonnet

“It starts at the top,” a common phrase that came to mind twice as I toured two well known, longtime favorite hotels, both boasting new owners of only a few months.

In both, I see a complete transformation in the hotel’s mentality and I’m not referring to strictly updated furnishings, renovated bathrooms or a new chef. It starts with the welcome at the front desk, a true team approach with the staff working together and sharing information. There is a spring in their step and visible sense of pride. The team remembers your name on the second morning and the porter is genuinely interested in your day. There’s a new theme coming from the top – it’s called hospitality!

Bastide de Gordes, located in the heart of this insanely popular and much photographed village of Gordes. This property re-opened June 24 of this year after a 15 million Euro renovation. Fifteen million Euros renovation – thought it warranted repeating. The new owners hail from the Savoie, the Alpine region of France. Having been to the hotel on numerous occasions under the previous owner, I immediately notice a hint of Edelweiss and you can’t miss the staff wearing dirndl’s and lederhosen!

The room interiors are quite traditional, even British, in decoration. Is it a bit out of place in the #1 Luberon village of Provence? A little bit – BUT – it’s excellent quality and all very well done. Some great ideas have been implemented, including creation of a much-needed greenspace by the pool and turning the former breakfast area into a stunning suite with a private gallery-perch of the view. An underground parking garage is planned (a God-send in this village with nonexistent parking and half the visiting population in the south of France trying to park!) and the formal restaurant has several appealing dining nooks with creative and cozy lighting.

The staff’s sense of pride was obvious to me and the exquisite new face of this enviably positioned hotel is indeed an attractive one that Frontiers will recommend with enthusiasm.

Le Pigonnet
Talk about breathing new life into an old building!   The small group of new owners have quickly set about turning this old fashioned dowager hostel into one of Aix-en-Provence’s most chic locales for residents and guests alike.

One of the first updates was to show off their beautiful grove of old plane trees by creating an enticing al fresco lounge area where the long summer Provencal evenings could be spent listening to local carefully sourced musicians, while sipping a creative cocktail.

Updating the bathrooms was next, using the au courant natural stone & wood materials which are so popular now. New DIVINE beds, exceptional design lighting fixtures and snazzy art work, not to mention huge rectangular rain shower heads in a spacious and proper shower stall.

The owner’s daughters is a graduate of the prestigious and world renown Hospitality college in Lausanne and her eyes are glistening with anticipation and excitement at the clean slate challenge she’s been presented, of turning the hotel into the chic showcase she’s envisioning. Her vision and ideas are excellent – and evident everywhere from the new menu covers to the strategically placed candle globes in the bar.

Not all of the rooms are updated yet, but this is a property within a 20 minute drive of the Marseille airport where bleary-eyed arriving travelers will be welcomed and the sad-to-go departing guests can have one more delectable dinner in comfort that will not break the bank.

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