Fancy getting away from it all? Escape to a boutique hotel surrounded by olive groves and overlooking the French Pre-Alps. It's peaceful & secluded but just minutes from Nice and Cannes.
Le Mas Candille is a secluded, luxury hotel set in the hills near the village of Mougins, just twenty minutes from Nice. Once an 18th century farmhouse (or ‘mas’) it now has five stars, three pools, an award winning spa, a Michelin starred restaurant and sometimes, despite that stereotypical image of the sunny French Riviera, torrential rain.
As I checked in, a downpour was doing its best to distract me from the delights Le Mas had to offer. A glass of champagne and a fire, glowing in a massive grate, awaited me in the bar. But I stood at the window, my eyes drawn to the terrace - where I’d hoped to have lunch overlooking the mountains.
My presence disturbed a red squirrel. It clung, motionless, to the side of a 200-year-old olive tree before scampering upwards, round its trunk. On the terrace, wet flagstones glistened while the twists and curves of wrought iron furniture found their reflection in large puddles.
A quiet, understated charm
There was no view. Certainly no panorama; just grey, low-lying cloud. But even in the rain, Le Mas, with its sandy-coloured walls and pale green shutters had a quiet, understated charm.
The next morning clear skies revealed France’s Pre-Alps, stretching as far as the eye could see. Among them, the distinctive Grenouillere, its summit topped with fresh snow.
As I enjoyed the view over breakfast, my waiter pointed out Grasse the perfume capital of the world, nestling in the valley, and in the foreground, Mougins, its houses dotted among olive groves.
Palms, papyrus and a secluded infinity pool
Taking advantage of a break in the weather, I took a stroll through the hotel’s grounds to the striking, oval infinity pool overlooking the original farmhouse. Paths lined with rosemary led to borders of agapanthus and mimosa. Modern art - sleek statues largely of the female form, fashioned by a local artist - hid among the foliage. Palms, papyrus and bamboo grew in abundance.
And then there were the spindle-shaped cypress trees, descendants of the one which centuries ago gave the hotel its name.
It’s said there was once a cypress so tall that travellers, cutting through vineyards and farmland, used it as a beacon or candle (“candille” in Provencal dialect), as they journeyed from Cannes to village of Vence….
Le Candille, a beacon and a Michelin starred restaurant
Today, Le Candille is also the name of the hotel’s Michelin starred restaurant run by chef Serge Goulourmes.
His fusion of Italian and Provencal cuisine produces dishes such as tatin of foie gras and armagnac, john dory with candied shallots and chicken with truffles and sorrel cappuccino. Presentation is immaculate - a spiral of tiny prawns, a perfect line of petals, slithers of asparagus arranged in neat, parallel lines.
That evening, after an indulgent afternoon in the spa and dinner overlooking the twinkling lights of Grasse, I retired to my suite, a cosy blend of comfort and luxury. Mod cons included two flat screen TVs, free wifi, an Ipod docking station and a shiny Nespresso machine primed for my first cup of coffee.
Days out in Cannes, Nice, Vence & Monaco
If you want to explore, Le Mas is a perfect base for day trips - Cannes, Nice, Vence and the glitzy principality of Monaco are all within easy reach.
I stayed closer to home, taking a quiet stroll into Mougins with its cafes and artists’ workshops, spending a few hours in Grasse’s international perfume museum and catching a ferry from Cannes to the island of St Honorat, home to Cistercian monks – which was when the rain clouds returned, this time darker than ever.
As the island’s paths turned into muddy streams and prickly cacti deterred our group from detours, we sloshed towards the 15th century monastery, our posh Le Mas brollies surrendering, one by one, to the wind.
We huddled in the ruins of the original chapter house, looked out over a roaring sea and found it hard to imagine that the island’s mild climate was perfect for wine making.
But the proof lie, bottled, just round the corner, and with several varieties on offer, who could say no to a tasting?
Our session was held in a room close to the Abbey where the red Cuvee Saint Lambert 2007 (also available in the restaurant at Le Mas Candille) went down a treat.
Looking at my notes I see I described it as “sophisticated”, “spicy” and “warm”. Our sommelier used the phrase “un vin qui seduit” – a wine which seduces – which I thought suited it perfectly.
It was something Le Mas Candille seemed rather good at too…
Le Mas Candille, Boulevard Clement Rebuffel, 06250 Mougins
Le Mas Candille is a Relais & Chateaux hotel. Facilities include 3 pools (including a hydrotherapy pool with and a pool specifically for children), 2 outdoor jacuzzis, a petanque area, Japanese gardens and a Shisheido spa with relaxation room, sauna and open air fitness centre. Restaurants include La Pergola at the infinity pool, for al fresco dining (open May-Sept) and the Michelin star Le Candille.
Rooms from 295 euros a night.
Mougins: Mougins art studio, 1 Place des Muriers, Mougins Village – includes statues by Marion Burkle whose work is also in the grounds of Le Mas Candille.
St Honorat: www.abbayedelerins.com Ferries depart regularly from Cannes, the crossing is about 30 minutes.
Le Mas Candille is 7km from Cannes and 25 km from Nice International/Cote d’Azur airport. There are regular flights to Nice from several London and many regional airports. The hotel can arrange airport transfers.