We descend from the clouds, gliding over mountains, vineyards and vibrant shades of neatly fenced acres of property.
The stretch of land leads to the ocean, impossibly blue with small fortunes of super yachts rocking in the harbour. Greeted by a warm rush of sunshine and salty air, we made our way across winding countryside to the enchanted village of Mougins. Nestled on a hilltop, this cultural town has played host to a collection of artists, designers and celebrities, including Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior and Winston Churchill.
Just below the hilltop haven is Le Mas Candille. Once through the iron gates, follow the trail of Cyprus trees leading to the stunning 5 star hotel, tucked into the mountainside. The expansive property is guarded by a main 18th century converted farmhouse, with 19 traditional Provençal styled bedrooms. With guestrooms and suites set in neighbouring houses, the Relais & Châteaux hotel has classically styled rooms with luxurious interiors.
A tree shaded path leads away from the main house of Le Mas to La Bastide, where my room was located. With homely, but chic interior design, the room was fitted with modern amenities and a stunning white marble bathroom. But, I had more pressing desires than interior design.
Desires easily fulfilled when in France – I was starving, and couldn’t have been more delighted to settle down in the sunshine for lunch on the terrace of Le Candille Restaurant. We started with delightfully autumnal-coloured welcome snacks: A sphere of pumpkin, a savoury macaron of carrot & cumin, and a delicate roe-topped smoked slamon sandwich.This was followed by a starter of langoustine with artichoke puree and lemon foam.
And a main of perfectly cooked scallops in a coconut and lemongrass foam.
When in France, any chance to showcase sweet or pastry skills is appreciated – especially by my sweet tooth.
A decadent chocolate torte filled with cream and orange was a delightful ending to a less than light lunch.
Feeling close to the point of bursting, the hospitality continued with tea, coffee and a tower of treats: homemade wine gums, lemon macarons and delicate walnut cakes. Although I could barely breathe, who can deny the art of patisserie?! It would be rude not to just taste, wouldn’t it? I indulged.
Satisfyingly filled to the brim, we left our new home on the Côte d’Azur to visit the neighbouring town of Grasse, known as the world’s capital of perfume.
Before exploring the museum, we wandered the slightly scented streets.
We ambled through 17th and 18th century buildings, up and down ancient steps, and through towering arches, which opened onto squares or stunning views. Peaking out behind the tower is 11th century Notre Dame du Puy cathedral, which was rebuilt in the 17th century. This houses three paintings by Rubens, which you’ll have to visit for yourself, should you be a fan.
As one would expect in a quaint hillside town such as Grasse, there were plenty of stray cats meandering through open legs near market stalls, hoping for an offering of fish. This one retired his efforts and found a comfortable perch to carry out his chat-nap. We returned to the Musée du Parfum for a tour of this town’s most influential export. And amongst beautiful collections of bottles, old machinery and historical processes, were shown the herb garden that inspires the perfumes. The indoor herb garden has a rainforest like climate to house tropical plants and herbs, where the outdoor enjoys a normal climate. The smell of jasmine perfumed the air, as well as citronella and lavender. We then visited Parfumerie Fragonard, where we saw the modern day production of Fragonard Parfum.
And were then invited into the perfume lab to create our very own scent with one of the experts.
This was a bit like revisiting my chemistry class, having to measure and distribute different quantities of base, middle and top notes into my beaker – creating such a lovely reminder to leave with.
We made it back to Le Mas Candille in time to watch a brilliant display of colour from the setting sun over the hotel’s grounds. Isn’t the infinity pool stunning? Especially with the towering Marion Burkle statue adding an alluring element to the view. With the sun sinking beneath the horizon, it was time to entertain our palates with yet another gastronomic feast. Michelin-starred Restaurant Le Candille, headed by Chef David Chauvac, has a classically designed dining room, with views of the French Riviera countryside. We were the first to try the newly-created autumnal menu, and despite some minor teething issues, enjoyed an incredible dining experience.
We began with an amuse bouche of truffle and mushroom mousse, topped with bacon.
Pan-fried ceps on toast with a Vitelotte potato foam covering more ceps underneath.
And to finish, monkfish stuffed with black garlic, steamed fennel, rockfish jus and olive oil.
After finishing our feast, with wine, bubbles and conversation flowing, my French fantasy came true. I considered requesting the cart, s’il vous plaît. Instead, I modestly sampled 6 different French cheeses, with the most beautiful fig compote, all smothered on freshly baked baguette.Dessert, (yes dessert! have you learned nothing?), was a grapefruit, citrus and orange surprise, topped with a meringue sphere and tangy citrus sorbet. This had a pretty presentation and was certainly palate cleansing.
Tomorrow, we get a behind the scenes look of a different sense.