Those in search of a life filled with sun, salons and stately ease will find it at Château de Fonscolombe, a restored 18th-century seat near Aix-en-Provence. Owned by wealthy humanists for more than two centuries, the château finally threw open its doors in 2017 after spending 18 months under the knife, a project that saw more than 50 artisans working on its historic rooms. Pale paints and bright fabrics were used to lend a modern touch, but the Chinese silk wallpaper, regal furniture and golden chandeliers ensure the house is still every inch a noble. On the ground floor, the salons are as sumptuous as ever, giving guests a place to sip cocktails over backgammon, billiards or a novel by Victor Hugo. In the restaurant, adept chef Nadège Serret cooks up a perfect storm of modern Provençal cuisine, best enjoyed on the shady terrace with a bottle of the estate's own wine.
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A cheese plate and tasting of two wines with the sommelier; Silver- and GoldSmiths also get free breakfast
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 4pm.
Double rooms from £271.39 (€318), including tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of €3.30 per person per night on check-out.
Rates don’t include breakfast. The Continental menu (€26 an adult; €12 a child) includes homemade bread and pastries; on the à la carte menu, you’ll find gourmet offerings like dry-cured Savoie ham and smoked haddock.
Many of the chateau’s owners were keen on science and botany – one of the reasons the grounds have been planted with over 180 species of tree. One of the oldest is the atlas cedar at the front gate, said to have been planted centuries ago by one of England’s queens.
The hotel’s usually closed from November to April each year.
At the hotel
Landscaped gardens; library; beauty salon; games room; free WiFi throughout; laundry. In rooms: flatscreen TV, minibar, Mitchell and Peach bath products.
Our favourite rooms
Even the entry level rooms have terracotta-tiled floors and views of the gardens or château court, but we’d swing for one of the junior suites, which often have regal features like high ceilings, marble fireplaces and reading nooks hidden behind plush curtains.
The heated, outdoor pool is in the gardens, a few minutes’ walk from the steps of the château. Sunloungers and parasols are arranged around the outside, and there’s a pool house with a bar that’s open in summer, ensuring drinks and light bites are within arm’s reach.
After a day spent exploring the estate, limber up in the impressive hammam salon, which has a tall, arched ceiling, a wooden-fronted hammam and an elegant lounge area with a tree of life painted on the wall. There’s also a beauty salon for massages, hand treatments and facials, and a fitness room with rowing and resistance machines, free weights and floor mats.
If you’ve got space to spare, bring an extra bag for a few bottles of the hotel’s wine.
All of the château’s common areas are wheelchair accessible, as are some of the suites on the ground floor.
In summer, go for one of the tables in the terrace, which are shaded by the fan-like branches of bald cypress trees.
You no longer need a gilet-veste or a wig to get in, but guests do tend to smarten up a little for dinner.
Restaurant L’Orangerie is the most modern space at the hotel – something the architects took full advantage of by installing floor-to-ceiling windows, giving most tables a view across the gardens and forest. Helming the kitchen is chef Nadège Serret, who spent years working alongside French culinary heavyweights before taking up residence at the château. Her menus always change with the seasons, showcasing the best of southern French produce – some of the vegetables and herbs come from the hotel’s own garden. For the best experience, go for the seven-course tasting menu, which changes according to Serret’s inspiration that day.
The lounge bar is in one of the regal salon rooms, and the parquet floor, deep armchairs and gilt-framed paintings make it the perfect match for a mid-afternoon cocktail or post-dinner cognac. The wine list is extensive, and includes all the estate’s own wines. There’s also a second, smaller bar next to the wine cellar used for private tastings.
Breakfast is served from 7am to 11am; lunch from noon to 2pm; dinner from 7pm to 9.30pm.
There’s a reduced room service menu with pasta dishes and cold plates.
The château is in the communeof Le Puy-Sainte-Réparade, about 20 minutes’ drive from Aix-en-Provence.
Marseille International Airport is closest, and can be reached directly from London Heathrow. It takes around 40 minutes to drive from the airport to the hotel; private transfers are available from €85 each way.
High speed TGV trains arrive at the Aix-en-Provence Mediterranean station, a 15-minute drive from the centre of the city. Trains from Lyon take an hour to get there; services from Paris take three. The hotel can arrange transfers from the station for €65 each way.
You won’t need a car if you’re planning on sticking to the hotel and its grounds, but with national parks, stately châteaus and mediaeval villages within a short drive, having your own set of wheels will certainly come in handy. If you want to hire, the Smith24 team can arrange it.
Worth getting out of bed for
To stay at the château is to experience life as it was enjoyed by the aristocrats that built it. Once filled with visiting nobles, the salons offer the same leisurely atmosphere and distractions as they did in their heyday, including an antique billiards table, a piano and backgammon sets. If it’s peace and seclusion you’re after, try the library, home to a set of original Victor Hugo novels. Outside, you can follow in the footsteps of courting nobles by taking a turn around the French gardens, which are perfumed by Provencâl flowers and shaded by rare trees. When you do venture beyond the hotel’s grounds, be sure to make the trip to Ventabren, a historic hilltop town crested by the ruined château of Queen Jeanne. The steep cobbled streets, stone water fountains and 17th-century church are have been painstakingly preserved over the years, and the town also lays claim to the largest stone aqueduct in the world, a triumph of 19th-century engineering that rises 83 metres from the valley floor. For art and 18th-century architecture, visit the Caumont Art Centre in Aix-en-Provence, a gallery housed in the town’s most sumptuous hotel particulier. In summer it's given over to the work of a single artist; in winter, touring collections adorn the walls. Aix also hosts several popular markets, where traders sell authentic Provençal goods. Ripe fruit and plump vegetables are sold at the bottom of the Cours Mirabeau every day; on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, local crafts are on sale in the Espace Cézanne and antiques can be bartered over on Avenue Victor Hugo. You’ll see references to Aix’s most famous resident, Cézanne, all over the city. His hillside studio – which he worked in every day for the last four years of his life – is in Les Lauves, a 15-minute walk north from the city centre.
For a long alfresco lunch with excellent wine, try La Terrasse at winery Château La Coste. The menu is typically Provençal and many dishes are made with produce plucked straight from the château’s kitchen garden. As the name suggests, the seating is all outside, centred around a stone fountain and bordered by the manicured gardens. For dinner, book a table at Le Saint Esteve, where Chef Mathias Dandine has earned a Michelin star for his efforts in the kitchen. The focus is naturally on the food, but the soaring mountain view is just as impressive – book in advance to secure a table on the terrace. For a meal in a more historic setting, try Villa Gallici, where the dining room has a parquet floor, patterned velvet chairs and custard-and-cream wallpaper swirled with flowers. Both the à la carte and set menus are rooted in the region’s cuisine, but chef Christophe Gavot doesn’t shy away from playing with more modern cooking and flavours. Book well in advance.
You’re unlikely to find anywhere local that does a better cocktail than the hotel.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this country house hotel in Provence and unpacked their wine from the hotel estate, a full account of their stately break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Château de Fonscolombe in Provence…
In 1730, the French aristocrat was sitting pretty. As the first stones were being laid at Château de Fonscolombe, the French Revolution was still a good 60 years off, and Paris was arguably the most fashionable capital in Europe. Roving from one country seat to the next, nobles would no doubt have gathered at Fonscolombe, enjoying the distractions of the salon and the privacy of the perfumed gardens, where a romance could blossom away from prying eyes. We don't have details, of course, because the house would have been off limits to anyone without rank and title – until now. After 18 months of restoration and refurbishment, the château opened its doors in 2017, giving in-the-know travellers a chance to enjoy a slice of that same life of leisure. The salons are now in full swing again, with spaces for sampling the estate wines, reading Victor Hugo and playing the baby grand piano. The gardens have never looked better, and are now home to an outdoor pool with a summer bar – something the 18th-century inhabitants didn’t have. Another area that’s undoubtedly better is the food – rising star Nadège Serret is at the helm in the kitchen, bringing a forward-thinking attitude to classic Provençal cuisine. Both the tasting and à la carte menus are worth taking your time over – in fact, we’d recommend eating there at least twice…