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A holiday to Provence in the cooler months?
If it’s at the leading resort in France and has just been awarded one of the top 100 hotels in the world*, and it’s got a sparkly new spa, we say yes please.

Words by Bronwen Batey

There is a ‘Eureka’ moment on every holiday when you realise, you’re in the sunshine, someone else is doing the cooking and a red carpet of a day stretches out in front of you. Eureka happened for me last spring in Provence pedalling against the mistral on an e-bike. Cold hands could not stop the euphoria of freedom as I swooped past lavender fields, rolling vineyards and ancient stone ruins. Provence has a way of creating special eureka moments every day.

Visiting the South of France in the cooler months means less crowds and sitting under its blue-hued skies, glass of rosé in hand feels right no matter what time of year it is.

More than just a resort

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A new spa is enough of a draw for a holiday; however Coquillade Provence Resort & Spa is no ordinary spa resort, this is an 11th century hamlet surrounded by rolling vineyards, lavender fields and lush forests.

Cocooned in the Luberon, this region of Provence is where ‘A Year in Provence’ by Peter Mayle was set, A land of charming hilltop villages, hills carpeted in purple flowers, row after row of vines, the freshest of food and the pinkest of wines.

Home amongst the vines

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Coquillade’s hamlet of blue shuttered bastides, cobbled walkways and ancient wells has been respectively transformed into a luxury resort for the modern-day traveller, where relaxation comes with a side of great food and wine, surrounded by plush interiors.

Staying in a luxury hotel is all about the small details (a top hotel should naturally offer great service, comfortable beds and a view that isn’t a wall). Personally, up there in my must-haves are wooden hangers (the more the better); a friendly, welcoming hotel manager; beautiful bathroom amenities and huge windows (that actually open).

Coquillade Provence Resort & Spa ticked every box and more.

Here you are a resident of your own charming Provençal village, its 63 guestrooms spread out across the hamlet or built around the stone square, which also houses the resort’s new spa.

The rooms and suites are large and airy, decorated in linen hues of white and cream, some come with plunge pools, and all have the mod-cons expected of a five-star resort. Upgraded with sustainability at its heart, there are movement sensitive lighting, glass bottles, local Rose et Marius amenities and large windows that welcome in fresh Provençal air.

And the resort’s wonderful General Manager, Alain Bachmann is ever-present with a smile, his team following suit in their warm welcome.

New spa – New you

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Coquillade’s new and very glamorous 2,000 square metre spa is one of the largest in the region with a warming hammam, indoor pool and 11 treatment rooms. This is a spa for every season and one where you can take that new year’s resolution head on.

There’s a gym equipped with new machines to tone, build and stretch as well as twice-weekly yoga sessions and a tea lounge for a post-workout juice.

Spa treatments feature the all-natural USA brand, Tata Harper and Biologique Recharge from Paris, as well as scented oils and scrubs made on the estate – aptly lavender and grape oil.

Wining & Dining

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Head Chef Thierry Enderlin has been at the pass here for over five years. Originally from Alsace, his career has taken in the world of cuisine, from Spain to Thailand and beyond, so expect the unexpected here.

The food focus is fresh, local and seasonal, much of the fruit and veg are grown at the resort’s huge kitchen garden (also open for guests to meander through).

A couple of the restaurants are only open in the warmer months but even in the cooler months you’ll be spoilt for choice.

Dine by the pool at Cipressa, where a slice of Sicilian cuisine attracts elegantly dressed locals in colourful scarves, hats and linen (this is France after all) or dress up for dinner overlooking the vines at Les Vignes where rustic dishes from the region are elevated to flavour bursting heights.

The Bar overlooking the vines is the place for a pre- or post-dinner drink and doubles up as the best in the area for Thai food, (after a few days a hit of lemongrass and chilli may be what you are looking for).

The Food & Beverage Manager, Matthieu Nectoux looks after a very special cellar where over 600 different wines reside. The wine list here naturally focusses on bottles from the area, and being just south of Southern Rhone, Châteauneuf-du-Pape is popular, whilst lovers of drops from Burgundy and the Loire are well catered to.

The Wine

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Considered one of the sunniest regions in France, this part of Luberon is home to some fabulous rosé, however there are juicy sparkling wines, medium to full bodied reds and aromatic white wines produced here too.

At Coquillade, you can literally taste the wine from the vines that you see through your window. The resort’s vineyard was part of an abbey close to the hotel where monks made wine from the 11th century. The southern Rhône trio of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre are grown here alongside Cinsault and Carignan, Vermentino and Grenache Blanc.

Home to Aureto winery and its 30 hectares of vines, aureto is translated as ‘light breeze’, (I am not sure if this is the French attempt at irony considering the famous Mistral wind is a regular visitor to this region).

It’s always wonderful to meet a woman winemaker and Aurelié Julien has been the shaker and stirrer of wines at Aureto since 2009. Hailing from the nearby town of Apt, Aurelié is a scholar of all things wine-related, and this extensive knowledge and experience shines through in her philosophy and wines.

Sustainability is a key focus; the vineyard uses organic and biodynamic processes to produce a number of their wines. In late 2021, Aureto became one of the first wineries in southern France to go climate neutral. Think lighter bottles, renewable energy and organic winegrowing methods, a return to traditional viticultural practices where everything is done with a delicate touch by hand. It was a pleasure to see the innovative variety of maturation vessels at the winery, from ceramic amphorae and wooden barrels to stainless steel tanks and concrete eggs.

At the time of our visit, Aureto’s 13 different wines were not available in the UK, (even more reason to visit the resort and its vineyard). A pick of our favourites included the light salmon pink Coquillade Rosé cuvée 2021 – typical of the region and only available at the resort, with light strawberries on the nose balancing the high acidity and gentle residual sugar notes.

Available at Aureto’s stunning cellar door, the Solale 2021 rosé is a delicious Syrah-focussed blend, matured in ceramic amphora. The nose is ripe strawberries and cherries with hints of lychee and herbs offering a rather exotic expression of a rich rosé.

The Elyo Blanc 2021 is a fresh, complex white wine showcasing a unique blend of Viognier with smaller fractions of Clairette, Marsanne and Roussanne. Again matured in amphora pots and also in barrels, the nose is creamy honeydew melon and apricot opening up to a palate of pear, lemongrass, herb and flinty notes.

The Aureto Tramontane 2019 at 15.5% abv is a big busty red wine. Made from the local variety Caladoc (a crossing of Grenache and Malbec) with a splash of Syrah, partly aged in oak barrels, the pronounced nose is all ripe red fruit, vanilla and toast, leading to a palate of cherries, raspberries and plums tinged with liquorice and soft tannins.

With the vineyard, winery and cellar door within easy reach of the resort, wine tasting experiences abound here. In addition to all that Aureto can offer, guests can join visits to other wineries in the Luberon Valley, some dating back to the 17th century. Guests can also book a day trip to nearby Châteauneuf-du-Pape and enjoy a day of wine tasting and dining.

Location location

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In the heart of the Luberon, an hour’s drive north from Marseilles or 20 minutes east of Avignon. The train takes just under three hours from Paris to Avignon.
There are numerous villages to explore, from the hilltop village of Roussillon or the restaurant-lined Gargas, both also known for their ochre quarries, to the Instagram-lovers village of Gordes, with its castle and church and great restaurants, to the beautiful village and centre of antiques in France, Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.


Pips ‘n pieces

As the most southern winegrowing region of the Rhône Valley, the area is designated AOC Luberon and AOC Ventoux.

Only just over an hour away by car, Mont du Ventoux is renowned is one of the gruelling stages of the Tour de France, so it is unsurprising that this is also a popular spot for cyclists. Whether you’re a pro or a beginner, the Coquillade Village Cycling Centre can set you up on an e-bike tour with a guide, to explore the many hilltop towns (a breeze on an e-bike) or to vineyards and more.

From mid-November to mid-March, it’s truffle season. Guests can make the most of this fragrant delicacy and book an experience to visit the truffle market at Carpentras (on Friday mornings) and visit a truffle farming family and their four legged truffle hunters, before enjoying a truffle inspired lunch and more.


The Bottom Line

Being my first visit to southern France in many years, firstly I realised I need more Provence in my life, and secondly that e-bikes are a revelation!

Many hotels in Provence close their shutters over the cooler months, however Coquillade is open pretty much year-round (only closing for a refresh from January to early March), offering a good excuse to burn off the winter excesses with a spa escape or swap that ski trip with a wine tasting holiday.

Rooms start from 580€ per night including breakfast, access to the spa and fitness classes as well as the Aureto winery.

Experiences, packages, prices and dining venues are subject to change, advanced reservations are recommended.

*Awarded at the 2022 Travel+Leisure World’s Best Awards

coquillade.fr

Vineyard (aureto.fr)