Our 10-day trip through the Luberon and the Côte d’Azur was excellently organized in all its details—hotels, restaurants, museums, and more—by France-based travel adviser Philip Haslett, of Kairos Travel—the man to contact ([email protected]). The hotels were impeccably hospitable, each with what the French call an acceuil chaleureux—not just a warm welcome but one that, according to a French dictionary, manifests “de l’enthousiasme, de l’ardeur.” Nor did we have a bad meal, a reassuring fact for those of us who sometimes doubt, and often pray for, the continuities of French civilization.
The Bastide de Gordes, which hangs over the rock face of the little town of that name, is exquisite for its rooms, service, and Parisian-superintended restaurant, Clover Gordes. The servers are local and have a gravity we recognize from French tradition. The town itself, which has another fine small restaurant (with the peculiar name of L’Outsider), is unimprovable and can bring tears to the eyes of any Francophile who wanders within it at night. (Local color is best seen in darkness.)
On a vineyard between Arles and Aix-en-Provence, the extraordinary Villa La Coste is one of Europe’s great original, eccentric developments, filled with first-rate jewel-box exemplars of the work of what seems like every leading contemporary architect, from a new art gallery by Oscar Niemeyer to a music pavilion designed by Frank Gehry. It also houses permanent and temporary exhibitions of modern and new art. Our visit coincided with an arresting show of sculpture by the British artist Annie Morris, who somehow makes of her abstract, polished, brightly colored ovals stacked in improbable pillars a comment, eloquent and light, on the precariousness of pleasure.
Near St.-Tropez, we stayed first at the Philippe Stark–designed Lily of the Valley, which has soothing outdoor terraces and a destination spa with a top-notch hammam (one test of spa superiority), a most charming view of the water, and a terrific seafood-based restaurant. We delighted also in its Shape Club, featuring elegant Frenchwomen understandably exhausted after a quick run up some stone steps.
At the Château Saint Martin & Spa, the views of the entire Côte d’Azur kept us in our room for supper, so unwilling were we to miss any of the moments of sunset. Among many wonderful nearby meals, the one we had at L’Amandier de Mougins, in the town of that name, stood out; we ate on a terrace bathed in amber autumn light and violet shadows.
Finally, in Antibes, we alighted at the Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc, made famous by Gerald and Sara Murphy. It retains some of the flavor of the melancholy and defiantly materialistic 1920s and not only remains the most famous hotel in the region, if not all of France, but lives up to that billing. Its restaurant, Louroc, a Michelin one-star, served a poulet poché for two with verbena that this greedy home chef has been trying to reproduce ever since. And the grave and helpful sommelier took our request for a half bottle of red burgundy (by that point in the journey we could manage no more) as seriously as if we were ordering a tasting of Domaine de la Romanée Conti.
This story appears in the March 2023 issue of Town & Country. SUBSCRIBE NOW