The South of France divides opinion: some choose the rolling countryside, the rustic chateaus, and tiny neighbourhood restaurants – plus there is sleep issues – the vast bottles of rosé, fish that's more costly than gold and beaches where every grain of sand is chopped up and sold to the highest bidder.
At times Cannes, St Tropez and Antibes (to name a few) appear to cater purely for that haves and also the have yachts with the less opulent travellers still paying with the nose for fairly average French fare. Then there are French waiters, there are been humiliated by a French waiter, it is a unique experience. The up-down look, the English replies to your broken French and, a particular classic the ‘thanks-for-coming-stand-there-while-I-ignore-you-for-fifteen-minutes.’
Mas De Pierre: The Lowdown
It was with this in mind that I took a weekend to go to the newly renovated Mas De Pierre. A Relais & Chateau hotel brilliantly located twenty minutes from Nice airport, and located near the outskirts of Saint-Paul-de-Vence. A five-star hotel in Southern France, I had been pretty nervous arriving within my lb45 Fiat 500 rental. How wrong I was; your accommodation from the food to the staff and the setting encapsulates everything that's great relating to this part of France.
From as soon as we arrived, we were greeted warmly (by those who knew i was reviewing, but additionally people who didn't) and shown round the amazing grounds of the hotel. It resembles a vintage countryside home and, to be honest, the garden may be worth the trip alone. A lot more than three hectares of sights and smells cause you to want to leave London and never go back again. Around every corner were fountains by local artists, art hidden among the bushes and they even had their own vegetable patch. The bar? Set amongst a herb garden in which the head chef was positioned cutting fresh herbs for your night's dinner. This is a Provence to become happy with.
Mas De Pierre: The Rooms
There are 48 rooms as part of the renovation each created by Patrick Ribes who has done a good job at blending the contemporary (TVs, dimmer switches etc) with the traditional (beautiful natural stone floors and monochrome low-key photography). The superior rooms start at EUR165, and that may sound a lot but for a five-star hotel in this area (and of this quality), it's worthwhile. Ours was among the 19 deluxe rooms set around the gardens; all these rooms has its own small balcony or outdoor space so that you can take in the garden, without actually going in it.
The bathrooms are bright and large with plenty of local Fragonard products that you'll want to cram into your bag (and sorry Mas De Pierre a few did come back with me). And the whole hotel is placed around a heated pool. Meanwhile, they're proudly family-friendly with a table tennis table hidden within the garden as well as (slightly strangely) a bouncy castle hidden around a large part (it was – it had been fun).
Mas De Pierre: The Food
A French hotel, naturally, prides itself on its food. We'd a table booked at La Table De Pierre where head chef, Emmanuel Lehrer, offers gourmet cuisine with regional specialties. The restaurant spills out onto the terrace overlooking the garden. With a setting such as this it would be difficult to possess a bad dinner, and this was, in fact, among the best we'd ever had. We began with warm green asparagus, bacon royal-style, Iberico ham along with a parmesan emulsion. I've never been sure about emulsions but I was more than happy with this rich, cheesy foam to form a delicious warm duvet around the combination of crispy bacon and fresh French asparagus.
The other starter was, well…vegetables. Not just your everyday veg though, not again, they were in the local farmer, with turmeric lukewarm vinaigrette and grilled sesame. Each one was a lesson with what vegetables actually taste like when they've travelled in the sun towards the kitchen within hours.
Our main course though was truly something special: a rib of beef to share forwards and backwards people. Precisely what every steak lover searches for: crunchy and crispy on the outside, soft and rare in the middle. Carved while dining, this was French cooking at its finest. Did I mention the truffle mash? Just describing it' want to print this site out and eat it. With starters around EUR20 and mains EUR35, yes this is expensive but stand out and actually in line with lots of restaurants in the area. It had been no doubt the best meal we had on our trip. A special mention too to the breakfast; I'd an English breakfast at a hotel in great britan last week which put that to shame. Fresh honey, fruit, bread and all sorts of beans and bacon you could want.
Mas De Pierre: Things to Do
If you do seem like leaving the poolside, your accommodation is actually well positioned and that i would recommend renting a car. St Paul De Vence is under 5 minutes away. Although architecturally amazing, the city is now slightly overrun with tourist shops, parking signs, and selfie sticks. A much better bet one evening is Tourettes Sur Loup – visit La Cave in the night for many of the greatest views in the region. Antibes is, obviously, worth a trip, the brilliant concierge, and the hotel told us about Plage de la Garoupe. It's an idyllic sandy beach with a decent public area if you don't seem like splashing out on a-sunbed. There's also a number of casual places for supper if you don't wish to break your budget.
Mas De Pierre: The Verdict
Overall this is a beautiful hotel in a a part of France which has a reputation that doesn't represent everything the region has to offer. Mas De Pierre takes all the best parts of Provence and plates it, plants or places it on your pillow. Yes, in france they may have had the final say with a two-hour delay the result of a strike, but following a stay in May De Pierre, nothing's changing my thoughts – I am a convert.