Imagine a place in shades of green and terracotta, bathed in warm sunlight beneath a blue sky. As far as the eye can see, fields roll and the symmetrical patterns of vineyards dance before your eyes, while tiles the colour of rust give way to the occasional ancient stone chateaux. Quite simply, this is Provence; one of the prettiest regions I’ve been lucky enough to lay eyes on.
I was taken there earlier this month to stay at luxury resort, Terre Blanche Hotel Spa Golf Resort. Situated around 45 minutes from Nice airport, the Terre Blanche land was bought and developed by the Hopp family holding and opened in 2004.The management of the hotel and spa was under the Four Seasons brand until October 2012 – it is now independently managed and is included in The Leading Hotel Of The World collection. The resort name pays homage to the white stone that features throughout the resort, which has been designed to reflect a typical village in Provence; a concrete path winds its way through trees and shrubs, passing by red bungalows until finally it reaches the driving range and golf training centre that, for golf fans, is a highlight of the resort.
The main building contains a chic reception, a comfortable but stylish lobby, various meeting and conference rooms, the prestigious Le Faventia restaurant (contemporary French gastronomy), and Le Gaudina, the informal restaurant and bar, with its cool monochrome stripe chairs and outdoor terrace overlooking the resort. Each “bedroom” is outside the hotel: individual suites and villas of different types (each with its own balcony) punctuate the winding resort path – such a simple idea, but one that made me feel very secluded, without feeling isolated.
On arrival, we checked in and our luggage was whisked away, while the concierge zipped us around the resort in a golf buggy, dropping us off at our rooms. Inside, I found a suite with a living area (including a sofa bed and a TV with CBeebies – great for families) and a bedroom, both of which opened out onto the balcony. The bedroom joined a double bathroom via a walk through wardrobe, giving a sense of space and luxury but being basically practical too. The interiors were in keeping with the idea of being in a Provencal village; rustic tones of red and orange with tiled floors and wooden features. The best thing I found about the rooms were the handy little surprises that you realise you need as soon as you don’t have them. For example, each room has a shaving kit with disposable razor (so good when taking only hand luggage), a universal plug adaptor, a laundry bag, robes, slippers, a professional hair dryer (nothing worse than a crappy hairdryer in a 5 star hotel, don’t you think?), a golf umbrella by the door and – wait for it – FLIP FLOPS! Yep, flip flops, for days spent poolside, meaning you don’t have to bring your own. (This also means more space for prettier shoes). All these carefully considered extras came standard but, if by chance there’s something else you need, the hotel will happily oblige.
After twenty minutes in our rooms to freshen up (we took 7 am flights in order to arrive at Nice airport mid morning, where a transfer picked us up and took us on to Terre Blanche for noon) we were taken for lunch in the informal restaurant, Le Gaudina, where they often have local jazz pianists playing on the grand piano. Tres chic. We enjoyed a delicious three course lunch, which consisted of two fish dishes and creme brûlée for dessert. I love creme brûlée but, sadly, it’s not always done well. Terre Blanche’s creme brûlée? The best I’ve ever had. Firstly, it was huge – two times the size of a standard dessert – which made me very happy after a morning of airport coffee. Secondly, the consistency was super creamy and, thirdly, it had just the perfect amount of vanilla. Lastly, and the piece de resistance, was the crunchy top. Made with honey farmed by Terre Blanche’s own bees, which are kept on the resort, the topping was sticky and chewy and yum. The unexpected extra sweetness of the honey was indescribably good – it was as though I was eating straight from the honeycomb. It’s was the best creme brûlée I’ve ever tasted and the dessert alone would be enough to make me return to the hotel! If I lived in the South of France, I’d make a point of having a weekly fix.
We finished lunch with coffee and headed off for a tour of the hotel and grounds, which were super pretty and obviously well maintained without looking obviously landscaped. The hotel is huge and very spacious, but there’s no sense of rattling around; despite being a luxury hotel with amazing pieces of art (sourced locally, while the sculptures belong to the hotel owners) it feels relaxed and friendly and warm, which is so important for travellers – a home from home should be the mantra of all hotels, but it’s not a particularly easy ambiance to achieve, especially for higher end accommodation.
We were shown the two golf courses and driving range, as well as the training school. Even as a non-golfer I could appreciate how beautiful the courses are and understand that the Terre Blanche golf facilities are really rather special – the resort was voted 2013’s ‘Golf Resort of the Year – Europe’ as a result of its two top of the range 18-hole championship golf courses. The courses are great for both novel and keen golfers (the ‘Le Chateau’ course is listed as one of the best in continental Europe), while the training and sports facilities are second to none; there’s an expert trainer in residence (Jean-Jacques Rivet, highly respected head of BioMechanics and Sport Performance at the European Tour Performance Institute) and a simulation and assessment suite to boot. It made me wish I played golf so I could get the full experience, but I knew there was a visit to the spa the next day so got over it pretty quickly!
By this time it was mid afternoon and we were wilting a bit after a long day. We were invited to enjoy our suites and the pool so, being a sun baby, I opted for the pool. On arrival, I was stunned: the infinity pool gave way to a spectacular view of the resort and Provencal landscape. Once I got my breath back, I made my way round the pool, where the curtains of the cabanas swayed with the breeze and the white stone reflected the hot sun. I chose a lounger (already with a terry towelling cover to protect the cushion) and a pool attendant brought me a fluffy white towel and mini bottle of water. Now that’s 5 star. I settled on my lounger and didn’t move for two hours, just taking in my surroundings and getting to know the other ladies on the trip.
After catching some rays, I retuned to my suite to take a bubble bath and get ready for dinner back at Le Gaudina. It was fun chatting with the other press and Terre Blanche representatives, who told us all about the hotel and surrounding area (more on this tomorrow). Dinner was gorgeous – the restaurant retained that friendly, relaxed vibe within chic surroundings, with excellent service and excellent food. We spotted Kelsey Grammer (aka Frasier) and discovered that Kellan Lutz of Twilight fame had plans to visit too. It’s little wonder that celebrities choose Terre Blanche, as the staff (and guests) are discreet and polite and everyone is treated in the same way, with a friendly and attentive manner, without the risk of feeling overwhelmed.
After dinner we retired to our suites (on foot or by buggy, the choice was ours) for a good night’s sleep. Nestled in an enormous bed amongst a pile of fluffy white pillows, I slept soundly before awaking to another beautiful morning in Provence…