A stay at this luxury villa in the hills above Cannes will make you never want to think about choosing a hotel again, says Carolyn Boyd
Renting a gîte or villa among family or friends is a great way to share the cost of a holiday and keep the ‘per head, per night’ at a minimum, but when it comes to the luxury end of the market, you have to wonder if the same money would be better spent on a top-of-the-range hotel. However, if the heavenly experience of staying at La Bergerie is anything to go by, then you’ll never want to hear the word ‘hotel’ again.
I’ll admit though, before my visit, I had my reservations: how much love can you have for a newly built villa (it was finished in 2012), surely it would lack the character of an old ‘mas’ or farmhouse? And to have staff – wouldn’t that be a little uncomfortable or awkward? My prejudices were unfounded, but not before my friend and I had been admitted entry at the porter’s lodge of the Terre Blanche resort where it is based, and driven nervously through two more huge iron gates. This place is where the rich and famous come to hide out, before dipping down to Cannes for days and evenings out – not that the owners were keen on hosting either Madonna or the Kardashians (they turned them down). For someone who revels in finding character-filled chambres d’hôtes, or stays in unusual places such as tree houses or gypsy caravans, I didn’t feel at ease.
And then we arrived. And the door opened before we had even parked and Geneviève, the property manager, and Aurélie, the hostess, welcomed us like long-lost friends. As our bags were taken from the car, we stood gawping at the double-aspect staircase around us, the stunning flower arrangement in the hallway in front, and the sight of the swimming pool in the garden. Were we really allowed to be here? Then something strange happened: I’m not sure whether it was the gentle aroma of the fresh flowers, the sip of the pink champagne, or the smiles of our wonderful hosts, but we began to relax. And that was how we stayed for three whole days.
Patrick, the amiable chef, had prepared some delightful appetisers to accompany the champagne, and as we all stood chatting in the huge kitchen, with its large, convivial dining table, striking art work and adjacent family room, I started to think that it might be OK to like this place. While the villa itself is completely private (hence its appeal to celebrities and VIPs), it enjoys the facilities of the Terre Blanche resort, and so after being shown our beautifully decorated rooms, we set off for a quick swim/sauna/steam at the spa a short drive away.
By the time we returned, the sun had set beyond the stunning Provençal hills. Despite its size, the villa had taken on a cosy evening feel, nowhere more so than in the master bedroom where a fire flickered away in front of two elegant chairs: the perfect place to sit and read a book. If that weren’t tempting enough, the huge bathroom offered a large, inviting bath, a huge shower cubicle and a generous dressing room with wall-to-wall closets. My measly few items for three days away seemed paltry in comparison to the space available – oh for a steamer trunk filled with designer garb. It seemed appropriate to ‘dress’ for dinner, as you might in a smart hotel, but we needn’t have – this was our pad for the weekend, and we were starting to realise we could do or dress as we pleased. As the mastermind behind the villa’s amazing cuisine, however, Patrick deserved to have us make as much effort with our attire as he had with our evening meal.
He had been to the market that day, and told us enthusiastically what he had bought and how he had prepared it. And what a feast! From the starter of Breton scallop with soy sauce glaze and espuma (foam) infused with bourbon vanilla and Jerusalem artichoke, through to the main course of cold-smoked (by Patrick himself) John Dory, slivers of yellow turnip and crushed potatoes, it was clear that this was a chef with flair. This was most evident as he served the latter: on each plate, a small glass globe filled with fresh herbs contained a sprig of rosemary, the tip of which he lit, so as the plates were carried to the table and placed in front of us, a spiral of rosemary smoke wafted under our noses transporting our senses to the maquis of the Luberon.
These two perfectly portioned dishes left room for the sumptuous dessert of caramelised meringue, chocolate and pistachios, the sweetness of which was offset by the cooling praline mascarpone foam. With wines poured intermittently by Aurélie, and a café gourmand to follow, we felt that we had died and gone to heaven. How amazing, we imagined, to fill this enormous house with a dozen loved ones and enjoy such incredible meals together.
The next morning, we could appreciate the full drama of La Bergerie’s setting. Outside the huge windows of my bedroom, beyond the carefully designed gardens, the view was breathtaking. Gentle wisps of mist settled on the woods and hills around and, not counting the golf course in the distance, it was hard to believe that there was anything else around.
We spent the day exploring the surrounding area, following precarious roads perched over forests and cliffs near the villages of Seillans and Fayence. They led us to the Moulin de la Camandoule, a former mill that is now a charming restaurant, where we enjoyed traditional dishes with a twist – more John Dory, this time with hazelnut and grapefruit. The interior still boasts the cogs and chains of the old mill, with weights, forks and other paraphernalia embedded in the concrete and flagstone floor.
On next to the Château Font du Broc winery, whose cellars are 20 metres below the manicured grounds and stables. Before tasting its delicious wines in the shop, we ventured down the vertiginous staircase to see the cellar, where thousands of litres of wine mature in enormous barrels. The attention to detail in the elegant arches was evident from the carved pillars, each one done by a different master craftsman. With a bottle of both red and white packed up for the journey home, we weaved our way back to La Bergerie, where Patrick was preparing another gourmet meal.
Again, he took us on a gastronomic journey, with a soft-boiled egg and bohemian vegetables to start, then a main course that spoiled my tastebuds like never before: polenta with nuts, and a slow-roasted steak with red wine jus. The dessert, in contrast to the warming beef, was packed with fresh flavours – a mandarin sabayon with ginger and a lime sorbet with a heady shot of Cointreau poured over the top. We finished the evening sipping more wine in the villa’s cinema room, feeling my most relaxed in years despite my constant mental arithmetic: if we split the full-board cost 12 ways and took into account the amazing food, it would be worth every penny to come back.
Tel: 0208 878 4433
Stays cost from €19,500 per week based on 12 sharing, with concierge, chef, two hostesses and daily housekeeping.
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