Last summer we spent four weeks in Europe. We began with a week in Paris, then a week celebrating belated birthdays with friends in Greece. Afterwards, we wanted somewhere we could unwind together. Somewhere restorative and tranquil.
We settled on Aix-en-Provence, a beautiful, historic town in Southern France.
A few summers ago a girl friend and I had planned to visit, but we didn't manage to fit it in with our other plans. This time the stars aligned.
Aix sits nestled just north of Marseille. Steeped in romantic history, it was the former, medieval capital of the Provence region, known as a centre of learning and arts.
We did some research on the area and accommodation, and decided on Château de Fonscolombe. Lying a short distance North of Aix-en-Provence, it has a rich history dating back to the 18th century.
We arrived through pretty, iron gates flanked by sloping walls in quintessential Provencal, creamy, pale yellow.
The tree-lined drive lead to a beautiful parking lot at the back of the Chateau, hedged by an oval fountain with statutes and manicured gardens stretching out behind.
A discrete sign tantalisingly directed the way to the piscine (French for pool, if you never saw Life of Pi).
Our ground floor room was decorated in a chic, minimalist style and opened up to a courtyard and nearby restaurant, with an olive tree framed in the window.
We felt immediately at home.
We had arrived in the afternoon, and after settling in, had a light lunch with fresh juices and Norwegian salmon. Afterwards, we went for a short walk around the grounds of the hotel, eager to explore and take in the splendour of the chateau.
The evening light danced off honey coloured stone and white umbrellas, naturally making us snap happy.
The next day we had a slow morning and took advantage of the Provencal buffet breakfast, laden with fresh, local produce. Fat blueberries glistened next to tart raspberries, the croissants were morsels of flakey, buttery perfection (still the best we have had to date). The coffee was hot and made fresh.
After breakfast, we worked off two or so of our ten croissants, and made use of the bikes on offer and rode around the property. Hidden among the surrounding trees, we came across beautiful, lichen covered statues and an old water fountain. We wondered at the stories and people to which they had borne witness.
The grounds are planted with over 180 species of tree; a product of the château's owners’ avid interest in science and botany. 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.
Eventually, we meandered back to the château and explored inside its many rooms and salons, festooned with Chinese silk wallpaper, regal furniture and chandeliers. Large, glass windows allowed the golden, Provençal light to filter through and offered picturesque views out to the manicured lawns and green field beyond.
The château underwent a renovation that was completed in 2018, which added modern amenities but carefully retained its original features and tasteful grandeur.
Later, we strolled a mere 20 meters from the backdoor of our room to tables set up under the bowing branches of a 200-year olive tree. We sipped icy, white wine from the château's own, organic vineyards – a blend of buttery chardonnay and zingy sauvignon blanc.
We did some admin and caught up on our books. A doting father kept an eye on his young children, who insisted on playing near the pond and running rings around the olive tree – their infectious laughter filling the air. We ordered light snacks when we grew peckish, saving our appetite for dinner at a Michelin restaurant at the nearby Château de la Gaud.
We arrived at dinner near sunset, and settled in on the terrace with sparkling rosé. Our sips and easy chatter where punctured by the gurgling of fountains, and our admiring murmurs of the sun setting over the hedge garden and rolling hills of Provence.
We flew through five or so courses (the final one taking us to back of house and the chef's table) and a wine pairing, before regrettably saying our goodbyes and returning 'home'. We slid into bed full and very content.
Our time in Provence will continue in Part II.
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