There are tiny scratches at the hotel Crillon le Brave in Provence left by my fingernails as they dragged me out of there when my stay was over. I just did not want to leave. The setting itself is picture perfect, the hotel occupies an ancient hill side town in Provence which dates from Roman times. There are panoramic views over the valleys filled with vineyards below and the snow capped mountains above from the crumbling stone buildings which date from the 16th and 17th centuries.
Entrance to Crillon le Brave
Once inside, the rooms themselves are enormous with every modern luxury. Our room (No. 35) was almost the size of our two bedroom apartment in London. The bed was so comfortable and large that you could easily lose your husband or boyfriend in there. A handy feature if ever there was one! Everything you could need was on hand, free unlimited wifi, a well stocked mini bar, flat screen TV, Bose sound-dock and DVD player. The bathroom was also palatial with a fantastic rain shower and bath, soft white towels and a plethora of L’Occitane products.
View from our room at Crillon le Brave
Once you leave the cosy confines of your room there is a swimming pool looking out over the valley a bar and sitting area with board games. Here you can have a pre dinner drink and start studying up on the wine list. The list presents an exhaustive tour of the surrounding regions and there is no better introduction to the local wine than through Cédric Demeneix the sommelier. Each night he guided us towards a fantastic bottle of wine and intuitively knew to suggest an option within our price range. He also introduced us to the makers of Domaine du Tix an amazing small family winery which makes the most brilliant, crisp Viognier from 2009 (€12.50 a bottle direct from the winery) and a peppery nuanced Syrah, the 2009 Bramefan (€13 a bottle direct from the winery). We loved it so much we went to visit the winery and bought two cases to bring back to London.
Legs of lamb slow cooking over the fire in the restaurant
Make it past the bar and you are in the restaurant proper which is like a cellar with vaulted ceilings and exposed grey stone walls. It is moodily lit in the evening and at one end a huge log fire burns with legs of lamb hanging over the flames to slowly roast. The lamb has been slow cooked for five hours and can be ordered off the menu (€23) served with a hearty ratatouille in a tiny Le Creuset casserole dish. It is a typical meal from the kitchen which has a heavy emphasis on seasonality while still turning out food cooked with accomplishment and finesse.
There are some stand outs on the menu including the creamy, thick pumpkin soup (€20) which is laced with chopped hazelnuts and topped with a cloud of egg white. Better still was the duck breast, sliced and served with sweet black figs and artichoke hearts cooked to a point of softness (€24). However, a puff pastry tart of ceps, topped with rocket and a crispy disc of Parmesan (€16) erred on the dry side.
The sweet end of the meal is also strong. The chocolate fondant (€13) is a master class in how to a chocolate fondant should be, rich and runny. Masterchef eat your heart out. There is also a large cheese plate which you can choose from or for the indecisive (that would be me) you can go for Madame Vigier’s selection of three cheeses (€9) which includes two goats cheeses, one coated in ash and a firm, nutty and slightly sweet Comté.
Salmon ballotine with scallops and truffles
On our final night at Crillon le Brave we were served a special truffle menu which was made up of six courses all featuring truffles. In some courses this worked brilliantly. In particular, the earthy truffles shone when paired with a delicate king prawn bisque and when they were nestled in mashed potato and teamed with beef fillet. However, truffles and dessert seemed to me to be a step too far and so by the time it got to the sixth course of a duo of chocolate served with a truffle sauce I was officially truffled out. Very spoilt of me I know, but we had just eaten a five course lunch of truffle dishes as well. Sometimes there can be too much of a good thing.
Duo of chocolate – featuring more chocolates
Crillon le Brave is between head chefs at the moment so while the food is very good, it didn’t live up to the absolute perfection of the rest of the hotel. Still, Crillon le Brave has to be one of the most amazing places I have ever stayed and this is coming from a girl who nearly bankrupted herself and her husband on her honeymoon with an addiction to luxury boutique hotels. If only I had grabbed on a little harder with my fingernails perhaps I would still be there.
On the road to Crillon le Brave
Details: Crillon le Brave, Place d’Eglise, 84410 Crillon le Brave, France (Ph +33 (0) 490 65 6161)
Damage: Budget Breaking
Gourmet Travel Tips
- To get to Crillon le Brave from London you can fly to Marseille or take the more relaxing option and travel by train. The Eurostar goes from London to Avignon direct during summer which takes less than six hours and return fares are from £109. During Winter you catch the Eurostar to Lyon and you can change there to catch the TGV to Avignon. Crillon le Brave is 30 minutes from Avignon. Tickets cost around £300 return.
- We visited Crillon le Brave for a truffle and wine weekend which included three nights accomodation, breakfast and dinner every day, a class in how to cook with truffles, wine tasting at Chateauneuf de Pape and a morning truffle hunting followed by lunch. We were guests of the hotel but usually it costs €1,130 for a couple for the weekend. If you go on a normal weekend or weeknight rooms are usually €230 to €470 a night.
- While in Provence spend some time browsing through the antique stalls and market at Isle-sur-la-Sorgue or head to Aix-en-Provence to visit Cezanne’s studio and eat callissions.
Gourmet Chick was a guest of Crillon le Brave and Eurostar.
A tour of our room at Crillon le Brave
If you liked reading this you should read my review of our adventures truffle hunting in Provence as part of the truffle and wine weekend.