Spellbound in the Côte d’Azur

[slideshow_deploy id=’9532′]

If articulated with a French accent, Château glides off the tongue nicely and Saint-Martin lands with a rich plop – an aural delight. Having recently visited the five-star property, I promise it is every bit as lavish as it sounds.

Château Saint-Martin and Spa is set on a 35-acre park, cradled by the medieval arms of several communes on France’s southern belt. Its name beckons with a graceful finger, vowing comforts and leisure at their most grandiose.

Its first-rate service can extend as far as 35km towards Monaco or 28km to Cannes – a private helicopter will fly you to either locale. Our group, however, settled for a span of 15km, the approximate distance to Nice Côte d’Azur Airport.

We touched down on French soil sometime before lunch. A suited pillar holding a simple placard, Château Saint-Martin, came to life at the sight of us. He wore a warm expression while he introduced us to the Côte d’Azur: “Hello Would you like to smoke a cigarette?”

The chauffeur spoke a flurry of French intermingled with familiar English as he drove into the valley, the heart of the French Riviera. We were enchanted by the lush scenery. Green. Everywhere. Perhaps sensing this, he pulled off to the side and pointed. Below us, the town of Vence, blanketed in vert. Upwards, our destination, perched on a hill. He continued the ascent.

We arrived at a black gate carefully peeling itself back to reveal the hotel. Prompt personnel received us aided by the surrounding garden. Perfectly pruned plants shot up to the sky. Shrubs of green hugged each other close to the ground. Olive trees, centuries in age, lined the paths. Then, the piece de resistance: ruins of a 12th century Knights Templar still stood defending the chateau’s western wing. Its missing bricks allowed streams of sunlight to dot the ground. A dramatic red door barred from entry, its key still intact under the hotel’s protection. Ivy seemed to have its way with what remained of the wall.

The archaic presence yielded an ethereal drift. And we still had yet to be swooned by the bedrooms.

A brief tour swept us through the grounds. Arches soared to meet high ceilings just to fall back down on marble floors – a sequence which guided towards the spa and infinity pool (both, glorious). The garden behind the hotel was just as impressive as the land at the approach. Sun loungers decorated the grass in a clean and orderly fashion. Stone paths ushered us to a quaint gazebo, a heart-wrenchingly romantic setting for an intimate wedding. Back inside, the white carpet cushioned our gait. The floor’s pairing against light walls exposed spacious hallways. By contrast, the bar was draped in dark, rich textures and set on hardwood floors. It seemed English and gentlemanly by nature.

We were led to our chambers separately. Bearing a soft left near the restaurant and descending a delicately carved spiral staircase brought me to my bedroom, my sanctuary. Lucky number seven. A heavy gold key permitted entrance. Inside, modern fixtures played along nicely with classic touches of typical French. One of my favourites was an old-fashioned writing desk. I entertained thoughts of being a writer from some time past, locking up the more salacious journal entries inside the desk’s drawer. Its slender key would have been a fitting charm on a chain worn around the neck. These slightly juvenile affections didn’t matter in Room Seven because all I had to answer to was the breathtaking view from the balcony – my own piece of the French Riviera. Mine, mine, mine.

I was told each room faced the very same scene. Guests must have tingled with delight as I had upon discovery of their own private conversation with the valley. Later, while dining on the terrace, we saw a young lady grab her beau by the hand, leading him to each possible viewpoint. With a wave of the arm, she presented her Riviera to him. It was now his too.

While the sight to behold was often discussed, we never stopped talking about food. The hotel’s entrancing mannerism had weaved its way onto the dining table. This was perhaps most tangible in a dish to start – The Mystery of the Egg. A beaten brioche arrived encased in crusty breadcrumbs and immersed in Parmesan cream. Knife and spoon were laid out to sandwich this plate of mystery. It wasn’t a scotch egg, no, though looked similar. A knife’s tentative poke made the edible orb jiggle slightly. An incision, however, revealed the secret: a perfectly shaped yolk simmered then collapsed with its shelter, spilling into a sea of parmesan cream – a spoon made sense. It was exciting and insanely delicious.

Each meal always seemed to produce a better dish than the last. Both restaurants were gastronomic dreams, featuring menus designed by two-starred Michelin chef, Yannick Franques. The dining affair was made all the more lovely by intuitive and friendly service.

When I willingly parted with the view of the valley, it was to visit nearby French communes: walled medieval towns with narrow streets, fresh foods and beautiful art. Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall had left pieces of their expression throughout this region. I was in awe by what I saw but felt a pang for a residence that I wished was mine.

But back at the Château, in Room Seven, I could gaze forever and ever at the Côte d’Azur I owned.

Château Saint-Martin achieved this unwavering balance of total extravagance whilst offering a light and airy impression. Everywhere, prestige and exclusivity oozed but so did friendliness and kindness – there wasn’t an ounce of pretension. Physically, elements of the hotel were wonderfully ancient and classically traditional without sacrificing ultra-modern amenities. It also conveyed a social environment ideal for couples, families, peloton of cyclists or a ladies’ weekend away – all the while, catering to your private moment with the French Riviera.

by Erika Soliven

Stay at Château Saint-Martin and Spa from €326 per night inclusive of buffet breakfast, tax and service (exclusive of city tax).
Telephone: +33 (0)4 93 58 02 02