On my previous visits to the iconic Luberon and Gordes region, I have often left thinking what might have been. There is no question how gorgeous this famous part of Southern France is but the sheer volume of tourists all year round, can make for a far from relaxing adventure. I came across a little accommodation jewel in the delightful village of Crillon le Brave near Carpentras, where relaxation is of paramount importance and the influx of tourists almost entirely non-existent.
I had previously stayed at the excellent Hotel Crillon le Brave during a winter break and immediately fell head over heels for this little village in Provence. This time round we unearthed an equally delightful alternative in the shape of La Maison de Crillon.
Open from April to November, La Maison is a luxury bed and breakfast idyllically located on the hillside of Crillon le Brave. Recently opened by a Parisian businessman in 2015, the reincarnation of ‘La Maison’ has a refreshingly romantic touch to it as given that the original building was a run-down farmhouse that had been lying dormant and empty for the last 60 years. Over the course of the last two years, the owners painstakingly reconstructed this derelict plot of land into a smart Provencal home with a new identity.
One of the charms to La Maison is that they have resisted the temptation to join the potentially affluent high-end hotel route and have stuck to their values. La Maison was a personal project not built on burning ambition or 100% occupancy rates but to get the right kind of people to enjoy their first experience with the view to coming back year after year. They have kept advertising to a minimum and prefer word of mouth as their favourable form of recommendation.
The property reflects a luxury, 5-star hotel but without the services thus staying true to a traditional bed & breakfast. This means that outside of a delicious breakfast, which they serve, you are required to find lunch and dinner. This is not a taxing task given the delectable options that are available close by.
What La Maison lack in services they more than make up in other areas, particularly it’s location and ambience. A sprawling but neat as well as spacious terraced-garden is home to a gorgeous swimming pool with premier views of the valley and Mont Ventoux. The sun loungers are spaced far away from your next-door neighbor and everything is geared towards relaxation. A pool house offers drinks and refreshments with an honesty system in place. For those who want a touch of sporting endeavor, there is an open-aired gym, a petank strip and also a badminton court.
Speaking with Jean-Baptiste, who manages the property, this is a tranquil part of Provence and they want to keep it this way. Children are not allowed and everything is catered to completely and utterly leaving the reality of every day life behind. Stepping inside into the main building, you find a simple reception desk and a well stacked bar, which incidentally is home to bottles of Pomerol. Rest assured there is quality here in abundance.
A large oak table houses a substantial continental breakfast, which you can eat in peaceful solitude on the outside terrace overlooking the valley. The dining room adjoins a large, tastefully designed lounge area with a Parisian-chic influence. Large, comfy sofas can persuade one to sit down with some appropriate reading material and a glass or two of rouge. There is also an extensive library to choose from with books available in different languages.
Walking downstairs from our terraced suite (one of three at the property with 9 additional deluxe rooms situated in the main house) all you can hear is the monotonous sound of crickets talking in the mid-day heat. The lack of tourists and general noise is almost deafening in its glorious silence.
Stepping outside of La Maison, there is much to see and do
This part of the world is famed for its markets and they do not come much better than L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, a short drive away. This is the antique capital of France and the largest ‘marches aux puces’ (flea market) outside of Paris. Often called the Venice of Provence for it’s attractive walkways, bridges and a canal, this is a beautiful town. On Thursdays and Sundays L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is a hive of activity, sounds and smells. You can pretty much find anything you want if you look hard enough and for most budgets as well.
Countless stalls (up to 500 during the summer months) display a wide array of fresh produce for the pallet (look out for fresh pesto sauce from this area, it is delicious), through to dozens of stylish antiques houses. The market attracts international buyers and sellers from all around the world given the quality of the antiques.
But this would not be France without sampling the culinary delights in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. The key is not to plan and just keep walking. Follow your nostrils and appetite as well, because in true Provence style, you will see men and women in aprons beckoning you over with giant slabs of salami and cheese.
Each year I go I always stop off at two particular establishments, the first being ‘La Maison Jouvaud’ to pick up a pastry. For lunch, if you can get a table, the ‘Le Moulin’ restaurant is sensational.
The toughest part of the Tour de France – cycling heaven and hell
There are of course many other places to explore, not least Mont Ventoux. If you are a cycling enthusiast this is the stairway to bicycling heaven or in my opinion, hell.
A tortuous cycle up this imperious mountain is ascension of 1600 metres or so at a gradient of 7.5% (whatever that means but apparently this is cycle chat). According to my cycling buddies, this is the toughest part of the Tour de France.
I preferred ascending by vehicle, pitying the mightily brave who start their 20km ascent from the road just outside the pleasant town of Bedoin, to the summit. The views at the top are amazing especially if you catch it on a clear day.
La Maison de Crillon is an exciting find and if you invest in a few nights there it will not let you down especially if you are looking for a bit of peace and quiet away from the helter skelter of daily life.