France Provence at Terre Blanche

Nestled in the hills with views as far as the eye can see, this posh Four Seasons resort — with its glorious golf courses, award-winning cuisine and one of Europe’s most beautiful spas — is just a short jaunt from the French Riviera.

I was given a dream assignment: To learn and write about the French region of Provence. Needless to say, I took it on with gusto — or better stated, with vigueur!

To do so, I boarded an Air France jumbo jet at Bush InterContinental Airport and awaited take-off. I was flying to Paris and then on to Nice. Admittedly, it would be a delightful trip, and I was eager to get going!  

A luxury van picked me (and five other female American journalists) up at the Nice Cote d’Azur Airport about noon the next day and drove us directly to Provence at Terre Blanche, the posh and heralded Four Seasons resort. The 45-minute drive took us through some of the region’s most beautiful countryside. 

Arriving at Terre Blanche, we were warmly welcomed by the resort’s general manager and various members of his staff. All were carrying bouquets of fresh flowers for us to take back to our private villas.

Because I would be playing a round of golf the following day, I was taken to a charming villa situated on a hillside overlooking one of Terre Blanche’s picture-perfect courses. I loved it!The interior of my villa was bright and airy, and the decor featured natural wood and stone finishes. The artwork was striking and Provencal in spirit.

There was a separate living room and a large and luxurious bedroom. The bathroom was over-the-top. There was a deep-soaking tub, separate glass-walled shower and  double vanity. The Provencal tiles were colorful and charming.

Back in the living room, there were French doors that opened onto a large, private terrace. I was enchanted by the distant views of the valley and mountains and  the villages of Fayence and Tourrettes. I was lured outside.I stretched out on a cushioned lounge chair and soaked in the sunshine. My lunch and a glass of Rose wine from Provence were sitting on a small table to my left. Both were refreshing and tasty, though, neither were quite as delicious as simply being there.

After a couple of hours of R&R, I called for a golf cart ride over to Le Spa. Awaiting was a 50-minute Signature Massage — a treat that — after many hours of flying — couldn’t be more appreciated.After signing in at the spa, I was led to the women’s lounge and locker room. I passed a palatial indoor pool. The size of it was amazing and its beauty unmatched by any spa pool I’d ever seen. Standing there, all I could think to say was “WOW!”

When I got to the treatment room, the masseuse encouraged me to relax, close my eyes and think of a place I’d like to visit.She suggested, “Perhaps it is a place with a large body of water with nearby chairs that you can lie on and relax?”

Perhaps she too was thinking of the pool at Le Spa. Or, perhaps, she had simple   become very accustomed to water-loving visitors like me who, at that precise moment, could not possibly think of any place else.

Afterwards, I met the other writers and our hosts at the resort’s chic and contemporary restaurant, Faventia (Fayence in Latin). It featured sweeping views of the  nearby villages of Callian and Montauroux and a warm and airy interior. There was local stonework on the walls, which  provided an elegant backdrop for  fine sculpture and art. The evening’s menu was a gastronomical experience; it showcased Mediterranean cuisine with Provencal influences — thanks to our chef, 28-year-old Stéphanie Le Quellec, considered one of the most promising culinary talents in France. (Last year, she won the French version of the “Top Chef” TV series.)Among the many nice things about staying at Provence at Terre Blanche is its close proximity to Fayence, built on a hillside and composed of eight beautiful “perched villages.” It lies just minutes from the Mediterranean coast and dates to 909 A.D. Its name (in Latin) translates to “a favorable location.”Fayence is home to dozens of twisting narrow streets and shady squares, all beautiful and bustling with locals and tourists popping in and out of a variety of tiny shops and gourmet cafes.My traveling buddies and I were driven over to Fayence for dinner on our second night in Provence  — to dine at Le Restaurant de France, a popular and very typical French bistro.It was housed in an ancient building, and its atmosphere was warm and cozy and intimate. The owner pre-selected the menu for the night, and all of us were delighted. Multiple courses — two featuring seafood and lamb — were creatively seasoned and prepared in pleasant and surprising ways. All were paired with fine wines from the region. A rich and delicious apple tort with ice cream was the perfect ending to the evening. The following morning, we were treated to an hour-long ride to St. Tropez on the French Riviera. The road took us over hills, into valleys and through more charming medieval villages. The joy-filled journey was a wonderful prelude to our arrival at a truly dreamy destination!

St. Tropez boasts white sandy beaches and stunning architecture. It attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists each year — including many of the world’s most celebrated and elite. 

The famous folks, like the rest of us, go to St. Tropez to work on tans, drop money on unneeded things and take in all the sights from behind their trendy Foster Grants.  They hang out at sidewalk cafes, sip coffee or wine and hope to see or be seen by some of their favorite film stars.

In the 1950s, St. Tropez became a popular destination for many of the world’s finest artists too, so it was not unusual to bump into the likes of Picasso, Francoise Sagan or Jacques Prévert and others. 

Housed in a disused chapel, the Musée de l’Annonciade displays an impressive collection of artworks by Matisse, Bonnard, Dufy and Signac, who set up his home and studio in St-Tropez.

Upon arrival in St. Tropez, we stopped for lunch at L’Escale, an upscale and highly fashionable restaurant located directly across the street from the St. Tropez pier and its impressive line of yachts.

The first thing you notice at L’Escale is the “lack of floor.” There are no stone tiles or wooden boards, just a thick layer of cool, white sand. So, of course, we — like everyone else — took off our shoes before walking in!

Tables were covered with white starched cloths and adorned with silver candelabra, crystal and fresh flowers. Beautiful! The food? Some of the finest Provencal fare in St. Tropez. 

After lunch, we took in as many sites as possible, including the 17th-century Citadel, which dominates the hillside. The views (and peacocks) were great. The dungeons there shelter a Musée Naval, dedicated to the town’s maritime history and the Allied landings in August 1944.

We had little time for shopping while in St. Tropez. However, when strolling along rue Georges Clemeneau, we spotted Atelier Rondini. Since 1927, people have been coming to this little shop from around the world to buy custom-fitted sandals. Happy to report one of us walked away with a trendy — and perfectly fitted — pair of red Sandales Tropeziennes.

Our last stop in St. Tropez was a pastry shop on the Place des Lices, the city’s main square.Situated in an ancient, two-story building, the bakery is a must-see for visitors to St. Tropez. It was opened in 1955 by Alexandre Micka, a Polish pastry chef.

Later on, during the making of the movie, Et Dieu...créa la femme (And God Created Woman), Micka began selling sandwiches and pizzas to the film crew. The actors became especially fond of Micka’s large, cream-filled tarts. Brigitte Bardot, star of the film, suggested Micka give the dessert its own name. He did, and it was then the famous Tarte Tropézienne was born!

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