The hills around Vence, in the foothills of the Alps just behind the southern coast of France, are known for the clean, pure breezes that blow through year-round, cooling off the summer heat and helping residents fortify themselves for whatever lies ahead. In the year 350, a particularly well-situated hilltop was chosen as the site of a bishop’s residence; years later, it became a rest stop for the Knights Templar on the crusade route and, later, a boutique hotel. Today the property, known as Château Saint-Martin & Spa, Oetker Collection, which remains true to its roots as a retreat, offers its guests a chance to refresh and regroup in a historic setting that has long specialized in creating its own universe of peace–and keeping the rest of the world at bay.
Built like a chateau with thick stone walls, cool interior passageways and an unassailable position on top of its own hill, Château Saint-Martin nonetheless feels more like a mas, a Provençal country home, than a fortified castle. The Mediterranean tradition of using local materials and doing as little as possible to them, so that their inherent beauty comes through, is visible throughout the 34-acre property. The decoration of the guest rooms, suites, and private villas is simple and elegant, the better to show off spectacular views of the mountains and the sea from every balcony and window.
The decoration is simple and elegant, the better to show off spectacular views of the mountains and sea.
Nature is never far away at Château Saint-Martin. The hotel’s sheltered, romantic grounds spread up, down, and over the hilltop in a series of manicured lawns, pools, and terraces. Dining, whether from the hotel’s Michelin-starred gastronomic restaurant or the more casual bistro-style menu, is almost always taken al fresco on the terrace overlooking the valley, thanks to the area’s famously clear and sunny climate. One of the great joys of a stay at the Château Saint-Martin is an outdoor massage at the hotel’s La Prairie spa, under a leafy pergola with the scent of rosemary and lavender wafting in from the garden.
For guests who simply can’t imagine going inside when outside is so pleasant, the hotel has four garden cabanas at their disposal. The lattice-work wooden structures, fitted with chaises longues and giant umbrellas spilling onto the lawn, work just as well for couples seeking seclusion and shade between dips in the pool as they do for families looking for their own private headquarters for snack time or nap time. Guests whose idea of bliss is to base themselves at Château Saint-Martin to explore the region can start their journey of discovery at the hotel’s chapel–a spare, serene room that is now the home of “Tree of Life,” a delicate and haunting sculptural work by the Moroccan artist Erick Ifergan.