There are few places that live up to the promise of a relaxing luxury vacation away from the tedium and mundanity of commuting London. There are fewer still that completely and utterly obliterate any expectation, dream or hope of this fantasy in favour of a reality which is oh so much better. Hotel Crillon Le Brave is one such rare gem.
Nestled away at the foot of Mont Ventoux, surrounded by vineyards and olive groves, lies a gorgeously scenic village lost in time and shaped in limestone sourced from local quarries. In this tiny little village sits Hotel Crillon Le Brave – a boutique hotel twenty-five years in the making, which has grown from identifying as one large country house to encompassing eight more buildings (some as old as the 13th century) containing a total of 36 rooms, within its own little hamlet community.
Owner, Peter Chittick, describes how he got the idea to open a hotel whilst at Law School. His particularity and eye for detail is evident as he speaks about the 20 or so properties that he and his then-girlfriend, now wife looked at before coming across the one in which we are currently quaffing Rosé in (Read our interview with Peter here). What is clear as he shows us around the impressive array of buildings, introducing us to the Vincent – the Head Gardener who is planting Cyprus trees by the new spa – and Lambert – the main contractor who, along with his grandfather and father, have done all of the building work at the hotel, including overseeing the three incredibly expansive new suites and the spa they sit on top of which are opening in May – is that the hotel is truly a labour of love. There seems to be no aspect of it that Peter is not aware of and no person working on it that he doesn’t know.
This passion is reflected in the faultlessly charming General Manager, Sebastien Pilat, his effervescent team member, Iris Le Gars, and the fantastically “French” sommelier Benoit Leitbus. Each one of them can regale you with stories about the old owners of the buildings making up the hotel, the odd quirks of winemakers (some who refuse to allow you into their cellar if you’ve had a shower in the past week or are wearing perfume), and anything you may need to know about the region, the hotel, or the suppliers of the food.
The hotel boasts three dining choices: Restaurant Jérôme Blanchet, the main and most romantic choice, housed in a stunning stone vaulted dining room; Bistrot 40k, open in the evening and serving rustic food and wine all produced within 40km of Crillon Le Brave village; and finally, the daytime Le Grange, a glass-fronted modern affair with sweeping terrace covered in wisteria, overlooking the shining turquoise pool of the hotel, and the vineyards and olive groves of Provence beyond.
Click here to read our review of Restaurant Jérôme Blanchet and here to read our one of Bistrot 40k
Bikes are provided to all guests wishing to explore the plethora of delightful villages that the region is made up of and we highly recommend taking them for a spin. Other activities on offer include wine tastings led by the hotel’s excellent sommelier, cheese tastings from the sweetest and most delightful lady, Claudine Vigier (whose story of finding love over cheese will make you believe in Fate and whose passion for her products is utterly contagious), and truffle hunting (November – March).
However, do not feel guilty about staying in the hotel, lounging by the pool and soaking up the sun, or ducking into the sweet little spa for a massage. The atmosphere and character of the place will you to do as little as possible in the best kind of way.
The rooms are beyond spacious, each furnished with beds big enough for even the most vertically gifted to lie horizontally on – you know, just because you’re on holiday and you can – luxurious bathrooms equipped with large, high-pressure showers, baths begging for bubbles and a glass of wine; L’Occitane products; a Bose Wave system with Hotel Crillon Le Brave’s very own complimentary 25th anniversary CD; a mini-bar stocked with local beverages, including the hotel’s own rosé; and every other comfort and luxury you would ever need. The best part of these light and chicly decorated rooms however is the breath-taking views every single room affords. We can guarantee that once you drag yourself out of your lavish bed in the morning and open the curtains to greet Mont Ventoux and the rolling fields beneath it, it will be a concerted effort to ever leave this place.
All in all, we cannot recommend Hotel Crillon Le Brave highly enough. It is the perfect couple’s retreat, oozing romance in a dreamy landscape with a coveted climate (barring the Mistral wind). We guarantee that you will feel utterly spoilt by the incomparable service, the warm hospitality, lush accommodation and epic quiet charisma of the region.
In the summer of 1988, Peter Chittick and his future wife Carolyn Fairbairn, went about searching for a Provencal property to convert into a hotel. Twenty-five years later, Hotel Crillon Le Brave is still evolving, growing strong and attracting more and more interest for its paradisiacal charm. On our visit to the hotel, Candid got the chance to hear a bit more about the space from Peter’s own mouth.
Interview with Peter Chittick, Hotel Owner
When did you realise that you wanted to open a hotel?
I’m from Canada originally and I was a lawyer. I went through law school and when I was at it I worked for a company called Butterfield & Robinson which sends Americans through Burgundy in a van and had them stay in nice hotels and that sort of thing. All through law school I was spending my holidays in France and Europe generally and got the idea to maybe leave law and start a hotel.
So I went to a business school in Fontainebleau, just outside of Paris. That’s where I met my wife who’s British. Right after business school we came down to Provence and started looking around. We probably so twenty properties. One of the agents said “Oh, we’ve got this property” which they hadn’t even seen yet. They brought us up here; this was July ’88. We came and [it was owned by] this French family – they were really really cool, charming people and had the kids in the pool and everything like that. We walked in and said “Well it’s great but we can only do 8 rooms so it’s not really big enough” but then he said “Well, I own that building and I own that building and I own that building…”
So I ran back to Canada put together a group of investors and we bought the place, opened the following year in ’89 with about eighteen rooms.
How did it go?
It was really hard; it was kind of a disaster and I made pretty much every mistake an MBA could make. It was really tough but we got through that and then became part of Relais & Châteaux, and things just started getting better. I was going back and forth while my wife was working in London so we were commuting back and forth a bit too much. In 1994 our first child was born so I had to leave here and go there.
I moved to London and got involved with two guys who’d started a hotel in Winchester called Hotel du Vin. I joined them as a third partner in that and we opened Tunbridge Wells and a group of hotels. We did that for almost ten years and then sold it. I took a year off and went traveling with the family and then joined Soho House. I was a shareholder and partner in that for three years until we sold to Richard Caring. Since then I’ve been doing a variety of consultancy stuff in the UK on hotel projects and have spent time back down here getting more involved again.
What’s going on now at Hotel Crillon Le Brave?
We’ve got a new project we’re working on at the moment which is three new suites opening in May.
The spa has one small treatment room with the original hay trough full of lavender which we bought with the place. When we opened the room – which used to be the stables – up, there was this beautiful donkey cart that hadn’t been touched since 1800s. There were wooden tools and everything. The spa also has a double treatment room which is long and vaulted – really pretty.
The top suite used to be our storeroom and was half the size. We raised the roof and made it bigger and open.
Why is this such a great area to holiday in?
This area is the sunniest in Provence. Carpentras is the sunniest in the region. You do get the Mistral wind – the legend is that it either blows for three, six or nine days and even with three it feels like nine days – but we are slightly protected by the Mont Ventoux.
Here we get extremes of weather but even in height of summer, it cools down in the evenings.
Here we get extremes of weather but even in height of summer, it cools down in the evenings. Provence is all villages and the people who come here are very much “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.” They’re almost exclusively couples who stay for two or three or four days. It’s really a couples’ destination. They come, get the bikes, ride over to Bedoin, have a beer or wine in the square…They don’t do much. They relax.