Provence has long been a favourite destination for Brits of a certain age and income, as immortalised by the Peter Mayle book turned John Thaw starring mini-series. Rustic food and abundant rose wine, quaint villages and landscapes loved by Van Gogh and Cezanne sat slap bang next to the glamour of Nice and Cannes, combined with an enviable Mediterranean climate – so far, so very grown up. But there’s more to this famed French region than middle aged men in shorts and A-listers sunning themselves on mega-yachts, as we were to find out when we visited Terre Blanche, a five-star but most definitely family-friendly resort in Tourrettes.
Although it is hidden away among the mountains and medieval hills of Provence, Terre Blanche is fabulously fuss-free to reach. We flew direct from Heathrow to Nice with BA in two hours, a perfect flight time for children, enjoying glorious views of the Cote D’Azur as we descended along the chic coastline of azure seas, expensive yachts and golden beaches. Once reunited with our bags, a driver from the resort was on hand to whisk us to our destination a mere 45 minutes away, with a slightly quicker journey if you arrive via Cannes – or if you take advantage of the helipad on site. Not in a rush? Eurostar offers direct services to the region, taking approximately six to seven hours.
After two centuries as a Provencal family estate, Terre Blanche (French for white stones, a nod to the favoured local building material) was bought by none other than James Bond himself, actor Sean Connery, in 1979, before passing into the hands of its current owner Dietmar Hopp, who transformed it into the resort it is today.
Arriving at reception, you are struck by the clever mix of modern and traditional design – the limestone villas with their classic terracotta rounded roof tiles, housing a chic welcome desk and lobby of black and grey, with hot pink flower arrangements and modern sculptures. Indeed, the whole resort teams with interesting art work – roughly 300 pieces from Hopp’s personal collection for guests to enjoy, from bold abstract canvases to naturalistic sculptures. It makes a refreshing change from identikit ‘made-to-order’ paintings that many hotels seem to favour.
Terre Blanche’s 115 suites and villas are laid out over 750 acres of hillside, along winding paths teaming with lush trees, bushes and flowers, with views across to the neighbouring villages that the layout is intended to echo. Not only is it pretty as a picture, but it smells utterly divine – a combination of the renowned local lavender and abundant jasmine bushes.
Another predominant trait of this resort is space – between buildings (but thankfully there are golf buggies to whizz you around!), between tables in the restaurant, and inside the rooms. Our premier suite was vast, with a living room big enough to house a dining table and king-sized bedroom, both of which opened onto a private terrace, plus enormous dressing room and even bigger bathroom. It’s a clever layout too, meaning children can settle down on the sofa bed (or second queen bed if you’d rather) while parents still have space to relax. Interconnecting room are available but not really necessary, given that the minimum suite size is 645 sq ft and two children up to age 12 can share with parents for free.
For larger parties, there are a number of villas, including the fabulously decadent Villa Terre Blanche, which includes three bedrooms (each with their own bathroom, dressing room, terrace and separate entrance), library, and dining room with private kitchen for staff. That’s not to mention a piano for impromptu sing-a-longs, infinity pool and outdoor Jacuzzi, both with child safety barriers and gates. It would make holidaying with your hated in-laws seem worth it.
WHAT WE ATE
Terre Blanche has four wonderful restaurants to choose from, but you simply must start the day with breakfast on your terrace. It is served with a flourish by the staff, on charming china so you can enjoy at leisure while you enjoy the views and the birdsong (but if your pastries disappear when your back is turned, blame the local cats, not the birds…). A lazy lunch can be taken by the pool at Le Tousco, which serves a mean Caesar salad and is next to a dedicated children’s restaurant Le Pitchoun, which offers little ones lunchtime and early evening buffets, should they wish to dine separately to mum and dad. Alternatively, Les Caroubiers at the Clubhouse boasts fantastic views of the golf course.
For a truly gourmet dining experience, Faventia in the main building is open on five nights offering contemporary French dishes, while next door is Gaudina, serving food all day. Children are very welcome here (and crucially, made to feel welcome), as is the French way. After a refreshing Provencal martini of thyme vodka, elderflower and lavender on its lovely terrace, we stepped into its stylish, high ceiling dining room for a meal starring simple but high quality Provencal fayre: oxtail terrine with aromatic herbs (grown on site), a delightful risotto with saffron and Menton lemon, and apple pie with buckwheat ice cream. Make sure you indulge in some local strawberries and shortbread – they give the British versions a run for their money.
If you want to venture away from the resort, La Table D’Yves is a wonderful spot, offering a pretty leaf covered terrace with views up to Fayence and a menu of inspired by local market ingredient, such as asparagus, cod and raspberries.
THINGS TO DO
For all the relaxing sleepy pace, Terre Blanche caters completely for the active holidaymaker. Golf fans will be in paradise playing the two championship courses, Le Riou and Le Chateau, or practicing their swing at the Leadbetter Golf Academy and Biomecaswing Performance Centre, with its cutting edge technology to analyse every aspect of your game. There’s a junior programme for mini Rory McIlroy’s too, starting from age 7.
There’s no need to break a sweat doing anything other lazing by the stunning infinity pool however, which boasts views across the valley and staff on hand to supply water, sun cream, baby swim nappies and even cherry slushies. A smaller children’s pool sits next door and the whole area is surrounded by a smart fence with childproofed gates, for peace of mind. Both an indoor and outdoor pool are available at the resort spa, which sits away from reception in its own striking building that includes a sauna, hamman steam room and gym. There’s an extensive treatment list, including massage for children aged 5-16 designed to relieve growing pains and a princess hair and nail styling.
The children’s activities are given as much thought and effort as those for the grown-ups, with a dedicated clubhouse nestled in a valley beside the golf course. It runs from April to November, catering for ages 2-12, with its own golf cart complete with seatbelts to ferry little guests around, a secure 0.7m pool and soft outdoor flooring. Activities cover everything from superhero days to meeting the donkeys, magic lessons and sports. Teens are not left out though – during the summer, the hotel runs day trips to Cannes and St Cassien Lake so they can try out boating, wake-boarding and other sports.
EXPLORING THE AREA
No visit to France is complete without a vineyard visit. We enjoyed a tasting at postcard perfect Le Chateau d’Esclans, which dates from the 1850s but is known for its much more modern, award winning Whispering Angel wine that put Provence’s much-maligned rose back on the map. Terre Blanche’s concierge can organise day trips such as this, as well as transport, meaning there is no need to hire a car.
In fact, the resort has buggies (not for the fainted hearted!) which you can use to explore the nearby villages. We took a trip to hilltop village Fayence to visit the traditional Provencal market, where you can buy cheese, meats and olives to your heart’s content, as well as delicious tomatine paste that goes wonderfully on bread. Pottery, beautifully crafted wooden kitchenware and tablecloths, and famous Marseilles soap in a rainbow of colours can also be snapped up. We couldn’t resist buying a jasmine-scented bar, a reminder of that fragrant Terre Blanche air.
Afterwards we drove over to the equally charming medieval village of Seillans, considered one of the loveliest in the region and home to La Gloire de Mon Pere restaurant. It really doesn’t get much better than a long lunch of steak and decadent desserts, sat next to the pretty fountain in the square outside. Picture postcard perfect.
Despite the grown up design and vibe, families are most definitely at the heart of Terre Blanche. There’s a real attention to detail and class of service that combines with an atmosphere of utter rest and relaxation, making a stay at this resort perfect for parents and children alike. It caters to all interests too – whether you are an art lover, garden fanatic, golfer, foodie or spa devotee (or all of them), you’ll find plenty to feed your passion.
From €350 a night for a family of four sharing a suite deluxe. Includes access to spa, Albatross Golf Performance Centre, Kids’ Club and breakfast for children aged 7 and under. For reservations, contact +33 (0)4 94 39 90 00 or firstname.lastname@example.org. http://en.terre-blanche.com/