Crillon Le Brave

Crillon Le Brave
With the current level of the dollar/euro exchange, I know that many people are postponing travel to Europe. My husband and I are true Francophiles, however, and refused to let that deter us. So we decided to bite the bullet last month and revisit France. Our destination was the South, a region that we had not had the opportunity to visit when we lived for 18 months in Normandy, back in ’02-’03. We began in Provence for three nights, staying in St. Paul de Vence. We enjoyed it immensely, perhaps because we managed to avoid the beginning of peak season and the tour buses that decend upon the tiny fortressed town during the summer. Our second leg took us along the Cote d’Azur to Monaco and Monte Carlo, places we enjoyed much more than we had expected. Who wouldn’t, however; to us, Monte Carlo resembled a Disneyland for adults, with pristinely clean streets, its own characters (Prince Albert’s photo is in practically every shop window), and lots of happy-faced (and rich!) people. Before heading to Paris for our final three nights and our de rigueur fix of the City of Lights, we visited the Rhone region, spending two nights in the village of Crillon-le-Brave, at the hotel of the same name. This was surely a highlight of our entire trip. Located about 25 miles northeast of Avignon with rooms set in seven different buildings, the hotel is almost a tiny hamlet enclosed in the intimate village. Our room, Number 33, was absolute perfection. A lower level sitting room and bath (including two side-by-side clawfoot tubs which led to our nicknaming it the "Cialis room") lead to a lovely terrace with spectacular views of the valley and nearby Mont Ventoux. An upper loft bedroom, equipped with a king-sized bed and Frette linens, provides beautiful vistas as well. On the property itself you will find a church, a pretty heated swimming pool, and a small spa (which will be expanded in the near future). The current owners have remodeled most of the rooms, and plans to complete the others are in place. Everything is decorated in a subdued, tasteful Provencal style. The Hostellerie de Crillon-la-Brave is a member of the prestigious Relais and Chateaux collection of hotels. Concierge service is first-rate. We were greeted with a lovely bottle of Provence rose upon arrival, and during our stay took a tour of the property with manager Patrick Gaillard. A particular highlight of our stay was the food. Breakfasts are served either on the hotel patio, in your room, or in the stone-walled breakfast room. An assortment of pastries, cereals, and yogurts are served, along with fresh fruit, meats and cheeses. Juices and strong French coffee complete the fuel for eager cyclists preparing to climb Mont Ventoux. My husband and I enjoyed dinner at the hotel on our second night, and it was a wonderful experience. Dinner is served either on an outdoor terrace, or in the spacious, high-ceilinged, stone-walled building which at various times of its history was part of the priest’s residence, the village’s school, or a stable. Patrick informed us of plans to place a roof over the terrace, so that guests can enjoy open-air dining year-round. After sitting down to an aperitif of coups de champagne and a tasty amuse buche, I began with foie gras laced with beaumes de venise, a sweet wine. My husband chose jambon and the portion was more than generous, giving doubts as to whether we would be able to partake of a complete meal. Each offering was so tempting, though, that we plowed through with pleasure. Our main courses saw a wonderful parmesan coated veal chop for my husband, and the leg of lamb for myself. The lamb is a specialty of the house, cooked over an open flame in the restaurant’s fireplace. Mine was medium rare, cooked to perfection. Each entree was accompanied by wonderful potatoes (mine being sublimely crispy frites) and vegetables. After the champagne, we opted to continue enjoying wines of the region and chose a lovely Cote du Rhone. Surprisingly, we still managed to fit in dessert. A confirmed chocoholic, I couldn’t resist the liquidy fondant, a chocolate topped by fresh raspberries. My husband chose a fresh sorbet. A little plate of petit fours, accompanied by coffee and tea concluded the meal, as well as a wonderful evening. The service was attentive, polite and friendly. The staff patiently explained unfamiliar dishes, and the sommelier offered several excellent recommendations.   Before heading to Paris the next day, we managed to stroll the pretty, tiny streets of the village and enjoy the peacefulness of the valley. Our only regret about the Crillon Le Brave was not having booked a longer stay. But I’m quite sure that we will rectify that error on a future visit.
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