Hotel review: Chateau Saint-Martin & Spa in southern France
Words by Rob Chilton
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Checking in at this cool art hotel
Although there are countless beautiful, typically French villages to explore near Chateau Saint-Martin & Spa on the Cote d’Azur (Saint-Paul de Vence, Mougins, Tourrettes sur Loup and Eze for example) one morning of your stay at this peaceful countryside retreat should be dedicated to a long breakfast on the terrace. And when we say long, we mean long. This is a breakfast that should last so long that it comes perilously close to impinging on your lunch.
Secure a shady table on the terrace overlooking a green valley and the French Riviera and let the impeccably polite staff bring you a pot of strong coffee to stir the synapses into life. As the pretty fountain nearby gently tinkles away, sit and savour the view with every sip. Then take a stroll inside – stopping to admire the Matisse prints while you do so – to choose from a spread of freshly-baked golden pastries. There’s cheese, cold meats, fruit and a chef wearing a toque rustling up fluffy omelettes. Try everything. Take your time. Go through the set of jams on your table. Order another pot of coffee. Enjoy the silence. Perhaps grab a newspaper from the lobby and have a flick through it if you have the energy. This is a breakfast you won’t want to rush.
Chateau Saint-Martin & Spa is a healing hotel in Vence, 15km from Nice airport where guests are welcomed by stunning gardens of lavender and jasmine that are sleepily patrolled by butterflies and bees. Amid the gardens are striking pieces of sculpture by Bernar Venet, an artistic theme that is continued in the lobby with an exhibition of modern art by Erick Ifergan. But walk through the lobby and the wood panelling, elegant mahogany furniture and giant 18th century tapestries from Aubusson and Gobelin turn the clocks back to a bygone age.
The chateau has a fabulous history, stretching way back to 350 when it was once the residence of Saint Martin, Bishop of Tours. Reduced to ruins, it was rebuilt in 1900 by a Polish count and turned into a hotel in 1954. The ruins are still visible and have been classed as historical monuments. Renovated just this year, the hotel has 40 comfortable and stylishly sophisticated rooms, plus six villas up in the hills. Bamford toiletries and ridiculously fluffy bathrobes ensure that getting ready for your day out is a joy.
Classy, modern and cool but with astonishing history, this tucked-away treat in the south of France is a dreamy base to explore the region. Just make sure you don’t skip breakfast.
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