Travel: Le Mas Candille, South France
Surrounded by olive groves and with sweeping views of the snow-covered Pre-Alps, Le Mas Candille, an intimate five star hotel, offers peace and seclusion just minutes from Nice, as Karen Bowerman discovers
‘I see you’ve brought the English weather with you!’ The receptionist remarked, welcoming me in from the rain.
He was the third person to make the joke that morning but the first to deliver it with aplomb. My frustration with the Cote d’Azurs grey clouds began to ease.
I’d arrived at Le Mas Candille, an intimate, luxury hotel set in the hills near the village of Mougins, just 20 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.
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Champagne and a cosy fire
As I checked in, the 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.
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.
Mountain views at breakfast
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.
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 an artist in Mougins 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 the village of Vence.
Michelin starred cuisine
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, slivers 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.
Time to explore the area
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 Grasses 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 islands paths turned into muddy streams and prickly cacti deterred us from detours, our group sloshed towards the 15th century monastery, our posh Le Mas brollies surrendering, one by one, to the wind.
A spot of wine tasting
We huddled in the ruins of the original chapter house, looked out over a roaring sea and found it hard to imagine that the islands mild climate was perfect for wine making.
But the proof lay, bottled, just around 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 Mougin France
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 per 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: http://www.abbayedelerins.com/
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.