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.
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 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.
What did you get up to in London?
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 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 travelling 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 store room 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.
Click on the links here to read about Hotel Crillon Le Brave, its Restaurant Jérôme Blanchet, or its Bistrot 40k.