If Cézanne were setting up his easel in Provence today, classic château Domaine de Fontenille would send his paintbrush into a veritable frenzy with its masterpiece-worthy views. Even if you’re not handy with a palette, this boutique stay will still capture your imagination: stretch out by the shimmering pool; have a facial in the spa (where famed French skincare is put into practice); and kick back with a well-thumbed novel and a glass of house-made wine on the flower-scented terrace. Feel like flexing your cultural muscles? Your new château handily comes with a modern-art gallery of its own, so it's picture-perfect in all ways.
Get this when you book through us:
A free wine-tasting session, a bottle of wine in your room and 10 per cent off spa treatments
Double rooms from £197.86 (€222), including tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of €1.65 per person per night on check-out.
Breakfast isn’t usually included in the room rate, but it’s worth the extra cost. The daily breakfast menu of patisseries, cold meats, cheeses, yoghurts and fruits is served in the dining room (€25 for over-12s; €15 for younger children).
Owners Guillaume and Frédéric are art-mad, and it shows: every room is adorned with modern pieces, either from Guillaume’s gallery in Paris or from their private collection. The château’s former wine cellar has been transformed into a chic exhibition space, which hosts vernissages in partnership with international galleries four times a year.
The château is closed annually from 7 January to 13 February.
At the hotel
Pétanque court, art gallery, meeting room (for up to 40 people), private vineyard, free WiFi throughout, laundry service, free on-site parking. In rooms: TV, iPod dock, air-conditioning, minibar, Malin + Goetz bath products; suites also have tea- and Nespresso coffee-making kit.
Our favourite rooms
For secluded luxury, couples will love the Executive rooms, some of which have a private terrace dotted with chairs and potted geraniums; inside, they’re traditionally decorated with intricately carved wooden furniture and black-and-white photographs.
The large, unheated pool is open from April to October. It’s set amid verdant lawns, and is surrounded by sunloungers and shaded spots to sit in on long, lazy summer days.
A light, airy space, the intimate spa has a hammam, a fitness centre (kitted-out with high-tech equipment) and one treatment room. The menu of massages, facials and mani-pedis is extensive; there’s also the option to get your make-up done, or have a private hatha yoga lesson. The gym and hammam are open until 10pm, in case you fancy an evening steam or a late-night go on the elliptical (to compensate for an excess of fromage…).
Pack like an off-duty Jane Birkin: pale denim, white linen and sandals; chillier winter climes call for Parisian black cashmere and glossy hair.
Children of all ages are welcome. Extra beds (€60 a night) and baby cots (€20) can be added to Executive rooms, the Park View Prestige rooms and both suites. Babysitting (which must be booked a day in advance) is available for an extra cost.
Domaine accommodates children of all ages, so you can bring everyone from tiny tots to truculent teens and they won’t mind. Although there are some on-site activities, there’s no crèche or kids club.
Families should go for one of the suites, which are super-spacious and ideal for larger broods; alternatively, the Prestige Duplex room has a superking-size bed, plus twin beds on a mezzanine level (an extra bed can be included, too).
It’s all very wholesome here, and children are encouraged to enjoy some good ol’ outdoor fun: splashing around in the pool, exploring the grounds, and discovering the custom-designed ‘Children’s House’ (a former dovecote now stocked with games and toys). Older children might find a tour around the kitchen gardens interesting, where the chef will teach them how to harvest fruit and vegetables. Smiths of all ages will have a soft spot for the Domaine’s donkeys, who are very docile and amenable to petting.
Both La Cuisine d’Amélie and Le Champ des Lunes have children’s options, including sausages and chips, and simple meat or fish dishes with fresh vegetables.
Babysitters must be booked a day in advance. The hotel has audio monitors that guests can borrow, and many of the rooms are close enough to the restaurant to have reception.
No need to pack
Travel baby cots; baby bedlinen; highchairs.
All the common areas are easily accessible with a buggy, so you’ll find it’s easy to get around with a tot in tow.
If it’s warm enough to dine alfresco, do. Otherwise, nab a table by the window; the views are almost as mesmerising as the food.
In homage to Frédéric, don Maje, Sandro and Claudie Pierlot; accessorise with classic jewellery and French insouciance.
Domaine has two restaurants, both headed up by Benjamin Pâtissier. The relaxed, bar-style La Cuisine d’Amélie is situated on the ground floor, and has both indoor and outdoor seating. The mini, ‘touch of taste’ menus are a fine example of Gallic elegance: try the griddled sea bream; smoked salmon; and herb salad with orange blossoms. In low season, it’s open for lunch and dinner from Friday evening to Tuesday evening; in high season, the restaurant is open all week long.
Michelin-starred Le Champ des Lunes is smarter and more romantic; it’s well-positioned for a hit of evening sun so it’s an ideal spot for dinner à deux, overlooking a red-tinted sunset. The menu changes frequently, and the chef (and sommelier) will recommend what to have depending on how many courses you’d like – watch Benjamin and his team whip up your feast through the window to the kitchen. In the low season, it’s open for lunch and dinner from Wednesday to Sunday. In high season, lunch is served on Saturday and Sunday; dinner is available all week except Tuesday, when the restaurant is closed.
The cosy bar feels just like a friend’s home (if that friend was an art-savvy socialite with serious cocktail-shaking skills): sofas are grouped around a roaring fire, modern art hangs on every wall and soft jazz plays from the speakers. Cosy up on a armchair and order a Rosé Rosé Josephine, a heady mix of rosé wine, red-fruit crème and violet syrup.
Breakfast is served from 8am to 10.30am, Monday to Sunday. Both restaurants have different opening times depending on the season – check with Smith24 Team for more details.
The breakfast menu changes daily and can be delivered to your room on a tray. There's also a room service menu of cold meats, local cheese and salads is available from 11.30am to 3.30pm and from 6pm 10pm.
Surrounded by 18th-century vineyards, Domaine de Fontenille is situated in the Luberon Natural Park, one of Provence’s most celebrated green spots.
Marseille Provence Airport is an hour’s drive from the hotel (www.marseille-airport.com); most international carriers run frequent direct flights, including British Airways. Slightly closer (but with more infrequent arrivals) is Avignon Airport, a 45-minute drive from Domaine de Fontenille (www.avignon.aeroport.fr). The hotel can organise one-way transfers from both for €110 from Marseille and €100 from Avignon. The price for transfers goes up by €20 after 7pm.
Aix-en-Provence station is the closest, and connects to the whole of France and beyond (including Paris, Lyon, Brussels and Geneva) in double-quick time, thanks to the TGV. The Eurostar also runs directly from London to Aix-en-Provence (www.eurostar.com). The station is 40 minutes’ drive from the hotel and one-way transfers can be arranged from €100 (€110 after 7pm).
There are vineyards and villages aplenty to explore in the surrounding area, so don your headscarf and make like a Fifties French screen-star in an open-top motor: hire one from a booth at either airport, then take the A7 Autoroute to the hotel.
Worth getting out of bed for
There’s plenty to do on-site: admire the modern art in every room, lounge by the pool, stretch out in the spa and explore the grounds (plus the rest of the Luberon Natural Park). We highly recommend you also spend some time sampling the fruits of the hotel’s 35-hectare vineyards, where they produce their own (soon to be organic) wine. While rolling hills and bottled delights are undoubtedly Provence’s most famous attractions, its museums, architecture and artistic history are just as impressive. In Avignon, take a trip to the Musée Calvet and the imposing, Gothic Palais des Papes; a 35-minute drive outside the city is the majestic, Unesco-listed Pont du Gard. Cézanne is one of Aix-en-Provence’s most celebrated artists, and there are tributes to him all over the city: a dedicated room in the Musée Granet, and walking tours around his favourite locales (a route marked with ‘C’-stamped studs leads you from his first house, all the way to his grave at the Saint-Pierre cemetery).
Head toLa Petite Maison de Cucuron (a 20-minute drive from the hotel) for exquisite set menus of braised hare; beef fillet with black-truffle shavings; and scallop risotto. A 45-minute drive from the hotel, Mas de l’Amarine makes an ideal day-trip: set in lush, flower-filled gardens perfect for postprandial strolling, this modern restaurant-with-rooms specialises in relaxed, brasserie-style dishes. L’Insolite (10 minutes’ drive from Domaine) serves pizzas on their wisteria-shaded terrace – they also boast a wide selection of regional wines.
We left a very cold and grey Heathrow Airport at 7am, and snoozed through most of our short flight to Marseille, before we bounded off the plane into the Mediterranean sunshine. We collected our hire car and set off towards the Luberon range to begin our 48 hours of rest, relaxation and French dining. The weekend had begun…
A lunch pit stop followed in the charmingly French village of Eygalières – a picture-perfect spot with a lovely selection of cafés and restaurants where we basked in the sun, as we dined alongside locals enjoying a leisurely Friday lunch.
We declined the offer of a second (and possibly third) carafe of wine; we were too desperate to reach Domaine de Fontanille, our home for the next two nights. After winding our way through picturesque countryside, hilltop villages and vineyards aplenty, we arrived.
Set on a 17th-century estate in Luberon, complete with its very own vineyard, the hotel’s main house is a breathtakingly beautiful château. It was lovingly restored a few years ago, with its original features carefully maintained, and a feeling of contemporary, understated luxury throughout.
We dropped our bags in our bedroom – a beautiful hideaway decorated in soft, calming colours – and threw open the shutters to reveal a view of the verdant parkland stretching out to Lauris in the distance. The grounds surrounding the house were studded with mature trees, and a very French terrace was accentuated by a fountain – the ideal setting for soaking up the last rays of sunshine and sipping a glass of rosé (from Domaine’s own vineyard, no less).
Before supper, we pottered around the gardens enjoying the aforementioned wine and sunshine on the terrace. For our first night, we’d booked into the acclaimed Michelin-starred restaurant (one of two at the hotel), Le Champ des Lunes.
After an apéritif, we faced a difficult choice between the tasting menus on offer and settled on one with three savoury and two sweet courses. The chef who oversees both of the hotel’s restaurants is Jérôme Faure, who won his first Michelin star when he was just 30. Now 38, his reputation precedes him – he's renowned for combining unusual flavours designed to ‘wake up the tastebuds’. Ours were certainly stirred as we worked our way through a lavish, creative feast of diverse flavours: langoustine, red pepper, raspberries, tarragon and goat cheese, wild-deer gravlax, home-grown beetroot, rose and black cardamom, blueberry and caviar…
Afterwards, we waddled up the stairs to our bedroom and collapsed into the huge, comfy bed. Heads resting on soft pillows, embraced by luxurious bed linen, we quickly drifted off into a deep sleep.
Breakfast was an equally gourmet affair – the ‘chef’s menu’ had a gluttonous four courses – but we were still rather full from the night before, so simply opted for croissants and toast spread with locally made jam. Our plan for the day was to explore more of the Luberon in the morning and then head back to the hotel in the afternoon to enjoy the gardens and pool and make the most of the gorgeous sunshine – possibly our last dose of the year…
We spent a wonderful day visiting Gordes and other beautiful towns in the region, then we returned for our lazy afternoon. Being a bit of a beauty addict, I booked a facial – after all, I couldn’t visit a hotel with a spa and not try it out. Treatment rooms are up in the eaves of the château. Here, I was tended to by one of the most glamorous women I’d ever seen. Dressed in a pearl-encrusted black sweater and immaculately made up, she was the personification of French elegance. The facial was one of the most relaxing I’ve ever experienced. I was alternately coddled in warm flannels and massaged with cooling potions. It was mesmerising; combined with the scent of the gorgeous Nuxe products, it sent me into a calm, meditative state.
That evening we opted to eat in the more casual, bistro-style restaurant. In the summer guests dine out on the terrace next to the fountain; we visited in autumn, so we ate in the cosy library overlooking the terrace. The menu had a selection of small plates to share: a highlight was the artichoke salad with lemon, bottarga and rocket, washed down with a delicious cuvée Fontanille.
Our departure morning came around far too soon. We were sad to be leaving our tastefully outfitted room and the magical country views – waking up to the sun streaming through the trees really was very special. But, our time away had definitely revitalised us – we boarded the plane home, fully relaxed and a more than a little full…