Domaine de la Baume, Tourtour

I’m not sure I want to tell you about Domaine de la Baume… This hidden hillside hotel feels like the best kept secret in Provence and is certainly the most magical hotel I have been to in this part of the world. Recently refurbished, my grandparents visited a few years’ ago and have gushed about the idyllic setting and sensational food ever since.

This 18th-century Provençal house is the former home of expressionist artist Bernard Buffet, and painterly memories of his life hang on the walls. Just three kilometres from the village of Tourtour (known as one of the most beautiful villages of France) it is hard not to instantly fall in love with the area. However, you will need a car to reach la Baume, and with only a tiny discreet signpost it is cleverly concealed and almost impossible to find.

The traditional yellow house is located amongst 99 acres of lush land, where a spectacular waterfall is found and the hotel’s olive oil is made. Domaine de la Baume is part of the Sibuet Hotels group and I was impressed to discover how involved the family are in the running of the group. Jocelyne Sibuet is the interior designer for all the hotels and she curates every item personally. She also runs the beauty brand, Pure Altitude, which is used through the bathrooms and spas.

The hotel has 15 rooms and suites, each with its own personality and style. Despite the rustic façade, the inside of the hotel is grand with period-style rooms. We were in the Torero suite downstairs and enjoyed the spacious but cosy feel of the bedroom and living space, equipped with discreet technology (flatscreen TV hidden behind a mirror) and comfortable furniture. The windows open out to wonderful views and aesthetically offer lots of natural light and fresh air. I loved the ensuite bathroom with a lovely big bath and powerful shower. I slept blissfully well at la Baume, catching up on sleep after an extremely busy summer.

There is plenty to do on site, make use of the tennis court and outdoor swimming pool, or simply walk around the Provençal gardens. But should you wish to venture further afield the staff are on hand to give suggestions of the local markets and exciting day trips. Nearby towns Tourtour and Aups are well worth seeing, or drive a little further to the famous Gorges du Verdon for some spectacular sights.

All guests are half-board (breakfast and dinner) which allows you to relax, and very soon after arriving la Baume felt like home. General Manager Davide ensures everyone is looked after and pampered during his or her stay, a trip to la Baume feels special. The chef François Martin and his wife Elodie as Pastry Chef take control of the kitchen and produce the finest food. On the first night we had dinner on the terrace, a beautiful view and starry sky ahead of us. The food is of the highest quality; exemplary produce is treated with respect and care by François. The predominantly Provençal dishes are created with skill and thought. Aubergine caviar to start and a prime but dainty cut of beef for main, with a very special rich meaty sauce.

On our second day at la Baume we were lucky enough to dine at the chef’s table in the kitchen, it was a magical and memorable lunch. My favourite dishes included an unusual purple risotto made with venere rice, ceps, olives and parmesan. It was a comforting bowl of buttery earthy food, and silence fell over the table as we devoured it. Little portions of exquisite meat and fish followed; pork that tasted too tender to be pork, beef that was wonderfully rich yet lean, and sauces that were good enough to drink. Everything looked beautiful and the smells of the kitchen surrounded us. The meal was paired with the Sibuet hotel’s Villa Marie wine, particularly delicious with the selection of local cheeses.

Secluded and stunning, Domaine de la Baume provides the perfect Provençal getaway. The service is quietly meticulous, the setting is sublime, and the food is better than you could ever imagine. Looking out of my window in rainy London, the stay I enjoyed at this fairytale house now seems like a distant dream.

More information and book a stay at Domaine de la Baume here.

Colombe d’Or, Saint-Paul de Vence

The Colombe d’Or is a legendary hotel nestled in the fortified hill town of Saint-Paul de Vence. In the cobbled streets surrounding the house dawdling tourists examine the quaint alleys and admire the magnificent views. Behind the old walls of the Colombe d’Or however the atmosphere is exclusive and elegant.

Always family run the Colombe d’Or first opened as a café in 1920 and added rooms soon after. Run by the artistic Roux family for nearly 100 years now, there is a very personal and friendly feel to the place, whether you are a regular guest or a visiting diner. Famous for its exquisite private collection of art works the indoor dining room is an impressive museum of masters, including works by Picasso, Cezanne, Matisse, Miro and Chagall.

In the balmy summer months only visitors with connections get a table for lunch here. The menu is typically Provencal, simple classic dishes made with the freshest seasonal ingredients. The timings are leisurely as the staff stroll around the terrace topping up glasses of local rose while guests chat about their summer holidays.

We enjoyed an al fresco lunch at the Colombe d’Or in early September, when the Riviera coast begins to calm down as tourists return home. Service was slow but it seemed to suit the environment, and encourages guests to sit back and relax in the romantic setting. The ornate menu features a range of dishes, it looks like it hasn’t changed much in decades. We feasted on a huge array of French delicacies for the Les Hors d’Oeuvre Colombe d’Or including thick cut pepper salami, roasted vegetables and crusty bread. For main course we each ate a whole roast poussin with sausages and creamy potato dauphinoise. It was rich and too heavy for me to finish, but the baby chicken (which had been carved at the table) was tender and had a wonderfully subtle flavour. For dessert we sampled the traditional Tarte de la Mere Roux, a soft and sweet apple tart, which had been cooked to perfection… though I felt it needed a dollop of cream to cut through the fruity acidity.

After our lunch we spent some time admiring the picturesque house and magnificent art collection. Despite its reputation and prestige the Colombe d’Or remains a quiet and intimate place to spend time whether you are staying in one of the rooms or just visiting for lunch.

More information here:

Chez Bruno, Lorgues

There are some restaurants who fluke a Michelin star, but last week I visited a kitchen which strives for excellence every day and truly deserves this prestigious accolade. Visiting Chez Bruno, hidden away in the Provencal countryside, was a unique culinary experience and for me, it provided an education about the world of truffles.

Chez Bruno was opened in 1983 by Clément Bruno, a talented chef and world connoisseur of truffles. In 1999 the restaurant received its Michelin star which it has retained ever since.Chez Bruno has always been a family focussed business and three years ago Clément’s ambitious son, Benjamin took over the renowned kitchen. He continues the much-loved traditions of his father whilst creatively renewing recipes to showcase the truffle.

In summer the outdoor setting is dazzling, a beautiful haven surrounded by idyllic gardens; in winter the cosy sumptuous indoor dining room is warmed by a roaring fire and has a magical feel. We were lucky enough to be amidst the action in the kitchen at the chef’s table. We sat quietly observing as a whirlwind of chopping, cooking, cutting happened around us.

Champagne was swiftly delivered, and I relished the opportunity to chat to Benjamin about truffles and Provencal food. He emphasised that he likes to keep his recipes simple to let the fresh Provencal ingredients, and local truffles “speak for themselves”. Although he uses both local and imported truffles, and varieties of black and white, most of the produce is found within two hours of the restaurant, ensuring exceptional quality and fresh flavour. He also mentioned that only truffles found in France, Italy and Australia are really worth bothering with. The truffle season always sees a flurry of fine restaurants offering up dedicated menus, so I’ve tasted my fair share recently, but at Chez Bruno the truffles look more elegant, taste more refined, and the aroma is even more alluring.

With the just-baked rolls out the oven and the plates prepped, it was soon time for dinner service, and our eight course bespoke meal commenced. Benjamin insisted on offering us all the speciality dishes as well as a host of other sensational treats. Scrambled egg with truffle was a comforting bowl of fragranced eggy delight with cracked black pepper on top, particularly delicious when loaded onto a piece of the crusty bread. I imagine this is what royalty eat for breakfast along with the divine truffle on buttered toast which was served next.

After watching the dedicated chefs plating up the artistic Foie gras with beetroot, lentils and truffle, we tasted this colourful dish which Benjamin said he had introduced to the menu very recently. It was a more summery combination with vinegary dressed lentils, slivers of different beetroots, chives, crumbled black truffles and an immaculate slice of foie gras – the flavours and textures worked wonderfully together. Chez Bruno is best known for its secret potato and truffle dish, which visitors return for regularly. Sensationally simple, this dish only uses half a baked potato, a rich cream and truffle sauce, slices of white or black truffle, and a little seasoning. It was my favourite dish, especially with the exotic white truffles, which are the more expensive and have a more intense taste. The potato was fluffy and soft, coated in the most irresistible cream infused with truffle flavour.

A mouthful of palate-cleansing champagne and truffle granita was presented before the meat course. By this point I was too full to eat as much as I would have liked, and felt momentarily jealous of those with a larger appetite. Benjamin personally made us magical pastry parcels filled with pork and foie gras with a jus and topped with slices of black truffle. This is the kind of dish you want to come home to after a really long day at work, hearty and luxurious.

For dessert we had refreshing Italian truffle gelato, and tasted an orange and chocolate dessert, which seemed very out of place without any truffle!

When we left, the kitchen was still a hive of activity, as the enthusiastic chefs continued to grate, shave, crumble and sprinkle the wondrous black ingredient. The truffle is a delicacy that has become too common in restaurants, especially as they are often using inferior produce. Visiting Chez Bruno was an eye-opening and immersive experience, I know now that I will never think of this extravagant, distinctive little ingredient in the same way again, and urge you to visit the Truffle King if you ever find yourself in this part of the world.

More information and book a table at Chez Bruno here: