Indulge your fantasies as the King of Provence in a postcard-perfect estate that serves as a model for wine resorts well beyond the Riviera. From grand living and fine-dining to country pursuits and spa-wallowing, it’s fit for a Princess too. The mood is as quaffable as the estate’s best-selling rosé.
Set in deepest Provence, seemingly far from the Riviera hotspots, this sprawling wine estate is still only an hour from the coast at St Tropez. But bronzing yourself on the beaches misses the point of this bucolic patch of Provence. Far better to drink in the blissful wine country views (and the wine) and ponder adventures in the Var uplands. The vast Chateau de Berne will also keep you busy enough with hiking, cycling, quad-biking, pétanque-playing, spa-pampering, wine-tasting and fine-dining.
The estate lies just north of medieval Lorgues, with its popular market and gutsy inns, or a 20-minute drive from the magnificent Le Thoronet abbey. More adventures await in the perched villages of the Haut-Var hills, with water sports on tap in Lac de Sainte Croix, by the Gorges du Verdon.
Under a far-sighted English owner, Berne is a trailblazing luxury wine resort, building on the firm foundations laid by the previous British owner. Serial entrepreneur Mark Dixon is now the region’s second-biggest rosé producer. Not bad for a Brit who modestly calls wine-making his weekend job. Once beyond the domain gates, the drive to the chateau itself takes a further 10 minutes, which gives a sense of the scale of this 1,500-acre wine estate.
The setting is a slow-burn, from the noble 18th-century castle to the jasmine-trailing pergola and terraces gently sloping down to vineyards. The bar, spa and boutique convey an urban sharpness while the clubby library is resolutely old-school. From the statement-making lobby a magical underground passage doubles as a secret wine cellar and cheese store. Outside, wander past poolside cabanas and the Zen garden, with the pools perfectly sited for contemplating the countryside. Even if it’s utterly Provence it’s still an urbanite’s vision of rural perfection that somehow feels rather English.
This is a model wine resort with year-round events, from food festivals and jazz picnics to mini marathons, nature rambles and vintage rallies. The activity options are staggering, from botanical walks, wine-tasting and cookery courses to taking part in the olive harvest. Not to be outdone, the spa also offers yoga in the vineyards, along with meditation and reiki. After quad-biking or pounding away at pétanque you might need some more poolside contemplation.
Yet the Relais & Chateaux property is more than the sum of its parts, despite a sleek Cinq Mondes spa and one of the most illuminating wine-tasting experiences in Provence. And, of course, the ravishing gourmet restaurant and hearty bistrot. Service is supremely confident, especially in the main restaurant. Don’t miss the amazing wine and food shop that showcases the best of Provence, including the estate wine, which is going organic.
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