City breaks are great but sometimes, when you’ve had enough of the urban grind, what you really want is to get right away from it all and just gorge yourself on delicious Mediterranean food and knock back loads of lovely French wine. Oh, and maybe gaze out at the gorgeous scenery of the Sorgue valley and blue mountains of the Luberon in southern France.
Residence Provence Country Club by Summer France, an eighty minute drive from Marseille airport through fields of cherry tree orchards, lies nestled in the sun between L’Isle sur la Sorgue — the antiques capital of Provence — and the idyllic village of Gordes (officially one of “The Most Beautiful Villages in France” according to the national body that decrees such things, L’Association Les Plus Beaux Villages de France).
The place is perfect for kicking back and relaxing, but you could, if you’re feeling energetic, try your hand at canoeing down the nearby rapids, cycling or hiking through the sweet-smelling lavender fields of the surrounding Provençal countryside or even playing eighteen holes of golf on the neighbouring seventy-hectare course, ‘Saumane’ which is acclaimed by many to be one of Europe’s finest.
The club’s traditional Provençal-style houses are divided into apartments sleeping four to eight people and arranged on the edge of the golf course with its own lake. At night, the lake’s resident frogs hop out from under the serenely lit fountains and on to the banks to croakily serenade you whilst you sip cocktails on your private balcony or terrace. In typical Gallic style, there are shutters on most of the windows, and the exteriors are painted in muted pastel colours. Whilst the paintings on the walls might not be by Cezanne or Van Gogh — both artists were inspired by the beauty and mesmerising light of the region — the generously sized and well-appointed apartments are chicly decorated with quality furnishings that lend an open and airy feel.
By the clubhouse, next to the tennis courts, fitness suite and south-facing outdoor swimming pool, there’s a bar and restaurant that serves lunch as well as breakfast, although you may prefer to get your morning croissants piping fresh from the local boulangerie — they’ll even deliver to your door during peak season — or the supermarket; both are just a short stroll away along a canal-side tow-path that teems with wildlife and natural charm.
To enjoy everything this region has to offer, a hire-car is recommended. However, you will find that the best local restaurants and most picturesque scenery is easily reached on one of the bikes that are available to rent in the nearby town. If you do choose this option, then Summer France can arrange transfer to and from the airport in one their luxury mini-coaches. They can also shuttle you into town on market days or for dinner in the evening, in case you want to take full advantage of the excellent local wines (most of which cost substantially less than their equivalent UK price).
Which brings us on neatly to the most interesting part: the food and drink! The good news is that there’s lots of it to choose from here and it’s all gorgeous! At the commune of Fontaine de Vaucluse just a few miles away, it’s pretty much obligataire for any food-loving tourist worth his or her salt to stop for lunch at Petrarque et Laure. Here they serve excellent yet well-priced steaks against a highly Instagrammable backdrop of the Sorgue river as it meanders down from its nearby source at France’s largest natural spring (the fifth largest in the world).
L’Isle sur la Sorgue offers the widest choice regionally for gastronomy and shopping. After a day spent browsing the various artisanal workshops and antique stalls, you can take your pick from the multitude of restaurants and bistros that line the pretty streets and alleyways of this market town. Many offer a high-quality menu du jour of three courses for around €18. If you’re after something a bit special, seek out Le Carré d’herbes on Avenue des Quatre Otages. It’s hidden away in a courtyard behind some commercial looking buildings but is worth the small trouble to find. If you choose to dine outside, you’ll be seated in a giant bird cage on quaint salvaged patio furniture. In London, this kind of restaurant would seem ostentatious and contrived… and three times the price. But here, the effect is charming and understated. Plus, the food is totally heavenly.
If even the short journey to either of these two villages cannot prise you away from your apartment at the club, you could opt to have your own private chef, Eric Viens, come over and cook a delicious bouillabaisse for you. He’ll throw in a Provençal cookery class into the mix as well which makes the price of €30 per person (based on dinner for eight) great value. The ingredients cost extra but the really fun part is that Eric will spend the morning shopping with you, showing you where and how to obtain the best and freshest produce from the local farm shops and grocers.
To lubricate all that gourmet eating, a visit to the vineyards of Le Château La Canorgue in Bonnieux will equip you with all the organic wines you’ll need for your stay. If the impossibly beautiful seventeenth-century sandstone Roman Villa and pristinely kept grounds seem familiar, it’s probably because the vineyard has starred in two well-known films and TV series about wine: ‘A Good Year’ with Russell Crowe and ‘A Year in Provence’. For even more of a visual feast, a walk through the mustard coloured quarries, earth pillars and cliffs of the Ochre Trail in Roussillon — known as the Grand Canyon of the South of France — is not to be missed.
A week at Residence Provence Country Club is as ideal for families and couples as it is for a group of food-loving friends who fancy getting away from the usual European city-break haunts. There’s plenty to do, both indoors and out to keep everyone happy. And of course, there’s that glorious Provence sunshine too. It’s enough to capture the heart of even the most hardened city-dweller.