Truth be told, Vence was not on top of my list during my visit to the French Riviera, until I realized that I will be staying at an Oetker Collection hotel that is tucked in the hills above this quaint medieval town. Lying secluded in a picture-perfect setting, Chateau Saint Martin && Spa is a seamless combination of its centuries-old heritage and understated luxury.
As I entered the hotel after a charming half hour drive from Antibes (it is also easily accessed from Nice and Cannes), I was captivated by the vista – pruned conical shaped Cyprus trees line the drive that leads to an enchanting ivy-covered stone building with red terracotta rooftops.
Dating back over a thousand years, this hotel was the former castle and home of Saint Martin, the bishop of the city named Tours. It then became a Roman fortification and a Templar Knight commandery and some of the ruins of the walls, registered as monuments in the French historical register, still lie around. An ancient chapel in the grounds is even now used for ceremonies. In 1900 the property was bought by a Polish Count.
Rooms and the view
The hotel is home to 40 rooms and suites while six villas spread over the hills lie just outside the hotel premises across the road. As soon as I walked into my junior suite, I dropped my bag and rushed to the balcony – before me lay a stunning sprawl extending from the turquoise Mediterranean coast to the French Alps. With two chairs and a table, I knew I’d be spending a lot of time here soaking in the tranquil landscape in this retreat.
The room was done up elegantly with minimal decor. A sofa, table, king sized bed with a pink bedcover and rattan headboard, wooden side tables and soft linens all emphasize the class that defines this hotel. I slept like a baby and kept the curtains open and was lucky to wake up to the most gorgeous sunrise bathing the French Riviera with an orange glow. The Nespresso machine was my weakness and gave the morning the perfect start.
The six villas peppered across the hillside vary from one, two and three bedrooms and are an ideal option for families, couples or friends.
French Fine Dining
The hotel, that takes its food and wine very seriously, has a one Michelin star restaurant and one of the biggest wine cellars I’ve seen in France. Le Saint Martin is all about French cuisine created with local ingredients and produce sourced from nearby farmers and from the hotel’s own olive groves and herb garden.
For my first meal, I had a beetroot carpaccio with feta and berries along with trout fish that came with rainbow carrots and sea lettuce tempura. Each course was paired with wine.
The restaurant spreads onto an outdoor terrace area that overlooks the sea and hills in the far distance. Having lunch one day, I couldn’t decide what was better – the view or the food. Thinking back, the latter wins.
The cucumber gazpacho with a slight hint of coconut and curry oil was such a refresher and the pistachio crusted sea bass was superb. The dessert was a dish named The Taste of Provence – with honey bavaroise, grapefruit, lavender cream and sorbet.
There’s a lovely outdoor restaurant L’Oliveraie that’s open from end of May till early September that serves Mediterranean flavours. But since I visited the hotel in early May I couldn’t experience it.
The wine cellar and bar
The Head Sommelier Géraud Tournier took me around the cellar that is stocked with a whooping 8000 vintage bottles from different corners of the globe. The price tag of the most expensive wine here I was told was a whopping 7000 Euros. They do wine pairings for guests with charcuterie and cheese. The oldest bottle he opened was a champagne dating back to 1982.
The Le Rossini bar was where I found myself heading each evening for cocktails in the most elegant setting. One of the tapestries on the wall is more than 200 years old. I sipped their signature cocktail – Saint Martin – with rum and peach liqueur and then moved on to Rossini, which is champagne and fresh strawberries.
The spa and pool
I took a dip in the big swimming pool that sits in the midst of olive trees but finding the water cold, I didn’t linger for too long. I did however enjoy my glass of beer from the poolside bar. Unfortunately, I ran short on time for a spa massage but a glimpse inside made me realize how luxurious and restorative it is – after all it is by La Prairie. They have four treatment rooms and a number of therapies and skincare treatments.
As I took a walk around the 34-acres of landscaped gardens, I spotted resident rabbits, heard the birdsong of cicadas and smelt the aroma of the beautiful and rare tango roses that flower from April to June and then from November to Christmas. And that’s when I realized that what’s unique about this hotel is how its old-world charm goes hand in hand with the best contemporary comforts in a setting that is surely among the most stunning that the Provencal countryside offers.
Note: The critic was hosted by the hotel, but all the opinions are her own. Deluxe room rates start at Euro 630 ++. The hotel is seasonal and will be open till 15th October 2023 and will reopen by end of April 2024 for the next season.
Phone: +33 4 93 58 02 02
Address: 2490 avenue des Templiers, 06140 Vence, France