Head to Mougins, in the hills above Cannes, for some serious pampering from head to toe
We’re pretty much spoilt for choice when it comes to seeking out gorgeous spa hotels in attractive European destinations, but only very occasionally does somewhere crop up that’s so special it makes you want to return again and again.
Le Mas Candille, just outside the medieval village of Mougins in the hills above Cannes in the south of France, has that je ne sais quoi. It’s home to Europe’s first Shiseido spa, a Japanese-style pampering Mecca located in its own landscaped gardens. The spa's setting is undeniably gorgeous and it has excellent facilities, but it’s the whole package that really makes Le Mas Candille unique.
The secluded hotel, originally an 18th-century mas or farmhouse, is infused with Provençal charm and surrounded by mature cypress trees and olive groves. It has mesmerising views across endless acres of terraced parkland towards the pre-Alps, and the magical setting and lavender-scented air instilled a sense of calm before I’d even set foot in the spa.
It was a balmy spring day without a single cloud in a clear blue sky, when we sat down for lunch in the Michelin-starred Le Candille restaurant, the windows flung open to let in a gentle breeze. I took a moment to breathe it all in, soaking up the views across the purple-tinted Mougins valley towards Grasse, and could picture the buzz of Cannes below us; mopeds zooming along La Croisette, children busily building sandcastles on the beach, the glistening Med lapping the shore.
Lunch was superb and it’s no surprise that the restaurant is considered one of the best in the area, which is hardly lacking in the gastronomic department. We feasted on dishes like red mullet wrapped in courgette flower - which resembled a work of art - and a duck dish that came in two parts, first the slow-cooked drumsticks confit, then the roasted breasts that were theatrically carved and served up at the table. Crowd-pleasing desserts, like an apple clafoutis tart, are worth the journey alone.
We didn’t stay the night but checked out some of the rooms and suites, a blend of old-world character and contemporary chic. Six suites opened in summer 2009 are the height of luxury, each accessed by its own private staircase and with large panoramic terraces. As with all the other rooms, they're like gold dust during the annual May Cannes Film Festival, when the hotel is awash with famous faces.
And so to the peaceful spa, an idyllic hideaway in which to relax and re-energise (and you may need to after all that calorie-laden food). It’s separate to the rest of the hotel and has a Zen-inspired ambience, with a minimalist, Japanese design, scented oils and lots of candles. There are two outdoor pools set in private gardens, as well as a hydrotherapy pool, sauna, relaxation room and two hot tubs in the landscaped grounds. There’s also a gym that takes advantage of those breathtaking views over the valley towards the Alps.
The treatments are sensational and are based on Shiseido’s oriental Qi Method, which encourages deep relaxation and stimulation of energy in body and mind. Still with me? Without going into too much detail, the method uses a combination of oshiboris - basically special Japanese hot towels that melt away stresses and strains - and shiatsu massage on the body's tsubo points, which are situated on the path of Qi - or energy - flow. The aim is to release tension and create a state of utter relaxation and contentment. I opted for a Deep Cleansing Care facial, which uses steam to achieve fresh, invigorated skin.
Once thoroughly rested and pampered, there’s as much - or as little - to do in the area as you may desire. Highlights include Cannes, where you can admire the gleaming yachts in the harbour, climb the cobbled streets of Le Suquet in the Old Town, gawp at the famous hotels along La Croisette and shop 'till you drop on Rue d’Antibes. The artists’ hilltop enclave of Mougins is more sedate and full of character, with its galleries and cafés, or you can snap up perfumes and tour the Parfumerie Fragonard centre in Grasse, also just a short drive away. It's definitely worth hiring a car during a stay here so you can get around with ease, and bear in mind taxis are very pricey. Mougins is around 25km from Nice airport.
Doubles at the hotel cost from around €300 and half day spa packages from €210. There are regularly special offers and packages available on the hotel's website at www.lemascandille.com.
EasyJet has daily return flight to Nice airport from around ₤55. Visit www.easyjet.com