Surprisingly, none of my French acquaintances had heard of Crillon le Brave, the charming little village that had recently stolen my heart. They would do a sweet Gallic shrug and raise their eyebrows expectantly to ask, "Should I know it?" Yes, most certainly, yes. And yet, I couldn't quite peg how I had heard of it myself until we visited and I came across the hotel of the same name.
Oh, of course! As someone who is something of a hotel geek (I have a deep appreciation for luxury hotels--not only when having stayed in them on assignment but also that, in having worked in them, I know what is required to make them tick effortlessly along), I had definitely seen the property mentioned on several "Best of Provence" lists. The gleaming metal plaque declaring it a member of the prestigious Relais & Chateaux group induced a further "got it!" moment and the lobby with a stunning view over the valley beckoned welcomingly beyond.
I was immediately surprised by the utter lack of pretension surrounding this five-star hotel, one that occupies seven buildings of the hill-top village. My curious--if timid--glances were met openly and there was none of the "and you are?" of some resorts (amazingly, I was effectively thrown out of the Hotel Nord Pinus in Arles recently for doing the same). There was no sign of bling (ok, save for the "highly preserved" guest who tottered out of the lobby wearing a poured on Pucci mini-dress and too high Costume National booties, while clutching the chain of her Chanel Mini Flap as she headed to the café next door...but I digress) and hardly any signs at all actually. The key idea here seems to be: discreet, relaxed elegance.
On our second visit to the village, we stumbled upon to the entry of the terrace bar by chance, having been drawn to the arched doorway by the strum of a guitar trio playing in the background as lucky visitors sipped local wines (7€ the glass) and looked over the evening's set menu (a surprisingly reasonable 30€).
If you are looking for something a little more formal, you might wish to have a seat under the gorgeous stone vaults of the Restaurant Jérôme Blanchet, which looked smartly elegant. Follow Ben up the staircase, he will show you the way.
I thought it smart that, while the hotel is such an important contributor to the village's economy, its presence is never over-whelming and the staff always gave us a friendly nod despite the fact that we clearly weren't guests (with our two tail-waggers in tow). A well-run establishment, full of true Provençal charm.
Hotel Crillon le Brave
Tel. +33 (0)4 90 65 61 61
For an excellent and informative guest review (with lovely photography to boot) please click here.
Similarly to the hotel, you would never know that L'Amiradou is a luxury villa rental based on its outward appearance. After chatting with the directrice, a Crillon le Brave native, she offered that I step inside while she searched for a business card. As I glanced down at the plush silk carpet under my feet, I knew that I was in a special place. The surrounding living area oozed a serene but finely edited ambiance.
The name of the property comes from the local Vaucluse dialect meaning a belvedere or panoramic view point. Each of the six bedrooms (there are only two per floor and each level is accessible by elevator) opens out directly towards the Mount Ventoux...
...as do the pool area and terraces. It didn't take an enormous amount of effort to imagine floating on my back while gazing at the mountain then hopping out to sip rosé until sundown. Daily breakfast and housekeeping services are included in the weekly rates, which run from 10,285€ in low season to 12,100€ per week in high.
If the property manager's kind efficiency was anything to go by (and it was), a group of friends and family would be tremendously spoiled during a stay at L'Amiradou.
Tel. +33 (0)4 90 12 89 50
But I don't wish to give you the wrong idea. Crillon le Brave is not only for the well-heeled. Au contraire, the village is a popular base for those that are chasing after the Holy Grail de velo of pedaling to the top of the Mount Ventoux, one of the most infamous legs of the Tour de France.
We saw several vans topped with bicycle racks pass while we sipped our Perrier menthes at Le Petite Crillon and could envisage famished cyclists gratefully tucking into a burger maison (14€), spaghetti with pesto, parmesan cheese and pine-nuts (12€) or an "Indian" salad topped with curried chicken breast as well as (oddly?) bacon and egg (13€). Any bistro that has a separate club sandwich menu is just fine by me...especially if home-made frites are piled up on the side...
Le Petite Crillon
Tel. +33 (0)6 1094 82 57
While I was instantly charmed by the new team that runs Le Saint Romain, Remi was taken by the view, one that overlooks the other side of the valley and the Dentelles de Montmirail. Le Mairie or town hall is hoping to keep Crillon lively throughout the year and so have brought Severine and her husband Francois in to operate the restaurant and bar (which offers a full menu of entrée, plat, dessert for 13€ for weekday lunches), as well as a tiny food shop. The gîtes d'etape, shared hostel style rooms are only 15-20€ per night. A one-bedroom rental runs for 90€ with the possibility of demi-pension where dinner is provided by the restaurant. Severine, who is originally from Avignon, has only been onsite since July. I asked her if she was happy with her move and if the locals have been welcoming (something that is truly not a given in the South of France). Without a moments hesitation, she broke out into a large smile and responded, "Very!"
Le Saint Romain
Esplanade de la Marie
Tel. +33 (0)4 90 65 34 25
www.lesaintromain.fr (website not yet operational but will be soon)
Ah but I saved my chouchou for last. Remi and I have been entranced by the terrace of Le Vieux Four on both of our visits, lingering despite being there at off-hours before the dinner service. The auberge is tucked away on a small square lower down the hill than the hotel, right next to L'Amiradou. My food radar seldom fails me and I know that this is un spot, a true find. At 29€, the menu is limited to three choices each for entrée, plat and dessert but these seemed comforting with interesting touches. I definitely hope to return--to Crillon in general and Le Vieux Four in particular. I could be wrong, but to me this sweet little gem is placed in just about as perfect a location as I can think of...
...and if the restaurant's cat is this content, perhaps I could be too?
Restaurant le Viex Four
144 rue le Vieux Four
Tel. +33 (0)4 90 12 81 39
I hope that you enjoyed this little list--something to keep in mind while planning your next visit to la Belle France.
And oh! Stop the press! A fun surprise. The beautiful Jeanne (inside and out) of the gorgeous blog I dream of, has just posted about our meeting this summer! I will let you pop over to learn about how our friendship first started (although it might ring a bell for long-time readers) but it was wonderful to take it to the next step and meet in person. I am absolutely crazy about Jeanne and the entire merry band that she had with her that day--her husband Will, her friend Heidi, Heidi's husband Angel and their gorgeous and crazily cosmopolitan girls, Penelope and Paloma. Isolation from truly kindred spirits can be one of the biggest challenges of being an expat and trust me, I made the most of the time that I had with them (even if I did tell them the history of Arles until their eyes started to glaze over a bit--ooops). I have a feeling that this won't be Jeanne's last visit to Provence--she caught the bug!
To read more about our meeting and see her view of Arles, please click here.
Have a lovely week everyone!