This review is taken from our guidebook, Mr & Mrs Smith Hotel Collection: France.
Usually, our problem on holiday is finding the hotel in the village. This time, it’s different: Crillon le Brave is the village.
Salt flats, rivers and ravines traversed, we’ve at last reached our intended peachy-hued Provençal hilltop. But a bistro with postcard stands outside seems the only show of hospitality. We pull into the carpark by the mairie and admire the town hall’s pristine white woodwork and a proud red, white and blue flag. It’s perfection. ‘He looks like he wouldn’t tolerate anything less,’ says Mr Smith, gesturing towards the mustachioed statue of Crillon the Brave himself. After a gulp of the countryside view rolling out from the hillside, we seek out the luxurious hideaway that bears his name.
Seven houses clustered around the 16th-century church make up this hip hostellerie – there are just a handful of private homes in the village. Neon arrows are conspicuously absent. All we get to nudge us discreetly towards reception are subtle grey signs on the pale stacked-stone exteriors. Pretty chalky-blue shutters flung open to the panorama indicate which boudoirs are among the hotel’s 32 bedrooms. There’s one thing baffling Mr Smith, as we enter the hotel. ‘Why the abundance of fluoro Lycra?’ he asks, tilting his head towards some folk clad in eye-wateringly tight get-up. ‘Unusual sartorial choice for a boutique hotel,’ he says, clearly feeling like a bit of a cliché in his beige linen. Then we spot our fellow guests’ wheels. ‘Now that’s what we should do tomorrow!’ he declares, puncturing my hopes of fitting in a Cowshed spa treatment with talk of gears, gradients and pedal power.
We’re not staying in the main house but in a separate enclave – it’s worth splashing out on a suite here. With keys in hand (and facial covertly booked), we are chaperoned by a kindly attendant through a maze of footpaths, which make hand-holding navigation necessary. (Not literally: it may be romantic here, but the staff don’t go that far.) A skip down some stone steps, over a cobbled terrace, and we’re at our suite. Unlocking a little iron gate at the end of an alleyway, it’s like having our own pied-à-terre in this charming hamlet.
Without a shred of nostalgia for metropolitan style, we admire the gentle, traditional furnishings. They perfectly suit a room that essentially acts as one giant window seat. ‘Just try and take your eyes off that view,’ says Mr Smith, as I gaze out over the pale terracotta roof tiles and rocky ramparts. Fluffy oak and cherry trees, neatly coiffed vineyards and bedheady fields give way to gently sloping limestone-topped hills. What is especially beguiling about the Vaucluse is how untouched it feels. On this balmy late-summer afternoon, we’re as far from the rat race as weekend-awayers can be. It’s impossible not to daydream about living here.
Taking our fantasies to the main terrace, we’re soon picking at pre-dinner olives and almonds, glugging crisp local rosé. The peaceful patio is set to become a glass-walled all-day bar in the near future, giving this stylish retreat a new hub where guests can breakfast or cocktail. Lights a-twinkle below, we ponder Crillon le Brave’s year-round allure; as we admire the farmland in the distance, our charming waiter tells us of cherries, strawberries, apricots, peaches, nectarines, blackberries, grapes dominating the restaurant menu in summer. We’re just in time for fresh figs, but we’d love to come back for truffle season in November and March.
Salmon tartare and a steak cooked perfectly à point are superb compensation for trufflelessness. Then, suddenly, in the candlelit restaurant that we thought was packed with couples and groups of cyclists, we realise we’re all alone. As the purr of voices drifts from one of the sitting rooms above, we resist the temptation to gatecrash a game of poker, and sneak back to our suite. Seven church bells gently prod me from my slumber, eight hours later, but a peek outside says the rest of the world has yet to start the day. I collapse back in bed to ponder a day of swimming, cycling and spa treatments. Following a lion’s helping of croissants, naturally.
The headline act of my lazy morning is that herbal treatment, care of the Babington House-inspired Cowshed mini-spa. An expert therapist gently talks me through sweet-smelling unguents that rival the local lavender. An hour later, I muster just enough energy to roll from my towel-enveloped cocoon, down the few steps to the view-drenched pool. I listen to the sound of trickling water, and wonder what Mr Smith is up to. Rather than picture him whizzing through the hills on a bike, I suspect he’s logged onto the WiFi in our room, downloading music. He told me he wanted to create the perfect Gallic soundtrack for our cycle ride; hopefully by now he’s noticed the CD already provided in the room. Crillon has most things covered, leaving guests to do very, very little if they choose.
Bicycles aren’t my usual request from the concierge, but eventually I get my derriére into gear for that promised excursion. (We skip the skin-tight shiny threads. I don’t care how de rigueur Lycra is here – no one needs to see Mr Smith’s details.) A wobble or two later and we’re cruising... for all of half an hour. If only we could get our act together and seek out the antiques markets or gorges we’ve heard all about. But a glass of red on Crillon’s terrace beckons. What better endorsement of a hotel than having its guests race back there – to do absolutely nothing?