This review is taken from our guidebook, Mr & Mrs Smith Hotel Collection: France.
We are, it turns out, the only non-honeymooners at Les Rosées, and it isn’t hard to see why – it just doesn’t get much more romantic than this. As pretty as its name, it’s a lovingly restored, traditional Provenc?al country house, sitting in the same flower-filled garden where it has snoozed peacefully for more than 400 years. The village of Mougins, only a 20-minute drive from the glitz of Cannes, is to be our gloriously tranquil base for exploring the most glittering stretch of the French Riviera.
Arriving late and weary, we don’t fancy venturing out for dinner, but a little life-saver of ham and cheese with a glass of wine in our room is rustled up, no problem. We are in the Isadora suite (a favourite of Liza Minnelli, apparently), whose big bedroom opens onto a turreted lounge. After our long car journey, the bed, with its clouds of crisp linen, is heavenly.
The flagstoned rooms have a rustic feel, yet they’re stylish and restrained, decorated in warm, earthy tones, a? la French country chic. I’m quite happy making like Minnelli in my turret, but there’s another low-key lounge downstairs, full of magazines and books, and with a grand piano. Homely touches betray the influence of the owner’s Canadian wife: all-organic breakfast is a treat of croissants, home-made jams and cold meats, served on white tablecloths in the idyllic garden. The pool is a good size and, if we weren’t on the doorstep of so many of Europe’s A-list towns, we could easily spend a blissful day reading in the shade of the trees.
I convince Mr Smith that we have to visit the famous Fragonard factory in nearby Grasse, the perfume capital of the world. After the olfactory excesses of the city described in Patrick Suskind’s novel Perfume, I am a little disappointed by how clinical it all is today. A guide explains the whole process, from distillation to bottling. Did you know that to extract one kilo of rose essence you must distil 3,000 kilos of roses? The tour is free but ends, predictably, in the factory shop, with a fairly heavy sell. Mr Smith grumbles, but agrees to treat me to a tiny bottle (only, I suspect, because our attractive and fragrant guide recommends it so warmly). The products at Les Rosées are Fragonard, so I’ve already had a chance to sample them in the luxury of our pretty, Provenc?al-style bathroom.
Wanting to clear our heads, we decide to head to Cannes for a spot of sea air. I work on the culture desk of a newspaper, and I’ve always found myself more than a little envious when the film critics set off to the famous festival every year (though, as books editor, I do get to sit in a rainy tent in Hay-on-Wye). So I am very much looking forward to finally promenading the Croisette, even if it isn’t red-carpet season. Some enticing smells along the front remind us that it’s lunchtime; after much indecision over the choice of rather intimidating beachside restaurants, we settle down for lunch and some serious people-watching. No wonder everyone tends to wear giant sunglasses – all that bling can be rather blinding.
Daring to join the rows of oil-slicked bodies, laid out like so many king prawns, takes more than a little courage. Once we’ve taken out a small mortgage on two sunloungers, we join everybody in pretending not to be ogling everyone else.
We have only been enjoying this for half an hour or so before the sun is eclipsed by the arrival of a scary-looking DJ and a boombox so large it can surely be heard in Monaco. We wander off to the marina for a tour of the yachts.
After the glare of Cannes, coming back to mediaeval Mougins is rather like taking a languid, flower-filled bath. All winding bougainvillea- bedecked streets of artisan shops, fountains and restaurants, it is exactly how you would imagine a picturesque village on the French Riviera to be – only more picturesque.
And it’s always nice to follow where Jean Cocteau, Man Ray, Christian Dior, Catherine Deneuve, Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel have led. Most famously, Pablo Picasso spent the last 15 years of his life in Mougins, high on a clifftop overlooking the Côte d’Azur, after he married Jacqueline Roque. The village’s Musée de la Photographie has a wonderful collection of portraits of him and other 20th-century icons.
It is early evening by the time we get back to base, and Mougins’ townspeople and tourists – all elegantly turned out – are beginning to emerge for drinks in the square before dinner. There are so many lovely-looking restaurants that it’s almost impossible to choose one, but in the end we plump for Le Petit Fouet, liking the sound of its name. Thank goodness we did, or else I might never have discovered strawberry soup. The ‘Little Whip’ is also a foodie emporium, and I buy several pots of posh jam for a fraction of the price they’re sold at in the French delicatessen near my London office.
The highlight of the trip for Mr Smith is undoubtedly driving along the heart-stopping coastal roads. For me, it has been the complete tranquillity of Les Rosées, a soothing contrast to our high-rolling, scent-inhaling, beachwear-clad excursions to Grasse and Cannes. I probably stand as much chance of persuading the film critics to let me tag along for the film festival next year as I do of ousting Nicole Kidman out of a leading role. Still, that doesn’t mean Les Rosées won’t play a star part in the sequel to our séjour in Provence – coming soon.