Château de Fonscolombe is just 20 minutes’ drive from the vibrant town of Aix en Provence, but the 12th-century château and its 30-acre park feel like another world, discovers Gina Baksa.
“Château de Fonscolombe was going to be a family home,” General Manager Cedric Cauvelier tells me over cocktails in the Orangerie. “But Mme Martel decided to open it to the public and so it became a five-star hotel just last year.”
Imagine a luxuriously restored Provençal château just south of the Luberon; its 18th-century Quattrocento magnificence brought back to life surrounded by a beautiful estate. More than 180 rare and mature trees breathe life and tranquillity into the sumptuous park, formerly the home of the de Saporta and Fonscolombe French noble families. Three centuries of history are imbued in these walls and grounds – even Britain’s Queen Mother once stayed here and planted an Atlas cedar tree whose canopied branches continue to provide shade for guests. Her historic former bedroom, complete with a canopied four-poster bed, is available for guests and enjoys stunning views over the surrounding parkland.
The 18-month restoration was carried out by the late and much-missed Hélène Martel-Massignac, the Château’s owner and former Caravelle Group CEO, together with a team that included architects Corrado de Giuli Morghen, alongside Arnaud Behzadi and Vincent Bastie from Artefak. The refined interiors are the work of talented Cathy Crinon.
The team has faithfully preserved the heritage of the château, while adding modern comforts such as air conditioning in the new wing, and a dedicated spa on the lower ground floor where I enjoyed a sublime massage from Nicole.
There are 13 historic rooms and suites in the main house, with a further 37 rooms and suites in the newer wing with a classic yet modern design. My suite was beautifully appointed with windows looking out onto the gardens, two bathrooms and an elegant lounge area. The bed was divine. Extra special touches were namely the exquisite bouquet of flowers waiting for me, alongside a chilled bottle of Château de Fonscolombe’s own rosé. Each day there’s a thoughtful gift of chocolates and fruit.
I was given a tour of the historic salons on Château de Fonscolombe’s ground floor: exquisite wallpaper, centrepiece chandeliers, artfully crafted doorframes and mirrors were just some of the decor highlights amongst the cosy seating areas. The furniture is partly original 18th century and adds subtle sophistication to these grand, light-filled rooms.
There’s even a pool table and a baby grand for ivory tinklers, while double-height impressive French doors open out onto a terrace with 180-degree views of the surrounding estate. The vistas are magical: Magnificent centuries-old cypress, oak, Lebanese cedars and plane trees stand sentinel among the extensive grounds, providing a welcome respite from the Provençal sun for reading and dozing. To my left, the alfresco tables for the l’Orangerie restaurant which has 120 covers (inside and out) for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
All my meals were superb, a creative amalgamation of Provencal and international cuisine, and the inventive menu uses local provenance where possible. Choose from succulent delights such as langoustines and fine tarte for starters, followed by a range of mains including lamb and mullet.
The cheeseboard is delicious and includes local varieties such as Banon, Tomme de Provence, and Brousse du Rove, while the desserts, comprised of chocolate, honey and ice cream are not to be missed. There are also various tasting menus that combine the best the Château has to offer. I can confirm the breakfasts are Château de Fonscolombe are to die for: a generous smorgasbord buffet of charcuterie, breads, cheeses, yoghurts, juices, cereals, fruit and a variety of hot options including fabulous omelettes.