Greetings dear readers and friends. It’s been quite a while since I’ve done a new post, but Provence is better than ever…. and we couldn’t be happier that the spring season is upon us.
Besides being involved in some writing projects, I’ve spent the last few months enjoying time with my family and taking a few small trips around the South of France. We had a wonderful ski vacation in the Queyras national park – not far from the Italian border, in the Southern Alps.
And just last weekend I had the pleasure of staying at the beautiful Lou Calen hotel in the village of Cotignac – thanks to a very kind introduction from Susana of Provence Living. If you’re not yet acquainted with her website and very popular Facebook page, it’s one of the top resources for the South of France.
When I hit the road last Saturday, I realized that it had been a good 5 years since I had lasted visited Cotignac. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, but, boy, there have been a lot of amazing changes since then. Already a charming, and visually breathtaking village, the opening of the Lou Calen hotel, its adjoining micro-brewery La Tuf, and the exquisite on-site Jardin Secret restaurant (which features lively Didier’s wine bar in the summer months) has taken the village’s “wow factor” to a new level.
Where to start? First of all, the location of the hotel couldn’t be better. Right in the heart of the village, but in a tucked-away position behind Cotignac’s main thoroughfare, Cours Gambetta, Lou Calen is both easily accessible and well-secluded. Guests have the impression of being in a quiet oasis, but with all of the village’s amenities within walking distance.
From the picture-perfect gardens, with their cut away, flower-lined trails that lead to the hotel’s more exclusive residences, to the immaculately designed rooms (Le Pigeonnier, where I stayed, was simply gorgeous) this property is the stuff Provençal dreams are made of… 100% South-of-France ambiance guaranteed.
The current Lou Calen, which extends over a parcel of more than 7 acres, represents an ambitious project to restore the hotel to its former glory, while respecting the ecology and biodiversity of the region. (You can read more about the hotel’s colorful, and storied past, here on their website.)
Adherents of the “slowlife” movement, Lou Calen invites guests to take a pause from everyday life and get in-tune with the rhythms of nature and easy-living. Visitors can take advantage of the hotel’s extensive list of “experiences” – including historic and cultural tours of Cotignac, painting and writing workshops, yoga retreats, meditation seminars, and pilates courses – to name only a few.
After having tasted the incredible dishes at Jardin Secret restaurant (more about that in a minute!), I’d say I have a particular preference for Lou Calen’s gastronomic activities – which feature gourmet packages for two (a 4-course dinner at Jardin Secret included), introductions to local vegetables and edible plants, and tours of surrounding wineries.
I personally can’t stop thinking about my Sunday lunch experience at Jardin Secret with talented, and gracious, chef Benoit Witz. Wow, wow, wow. One of the best meals I’ve ever had in France (which is saying a lot in a land of really good eats). The dishes just kept coming and coming! The set menu price is currently €48 and worth every last cent.
On tap for the afternoon… Truffle toasts (appetizer), Pumpkin spread with chocolate flakes, smoked salmon, baked parsnip cubes, crunchy winter vegetables (appetizer), Asparagus with mimosa-egg vinaigrette (entrée), Lamb with Jerusalem artichokes (main), Cheese course (all goat cheeses), Mandarin riz au lait (dessert), and an extra side of homemade vanilla ice cream and tarte tatin thrown in for good measures. Mama mia, if this wasn’t a meal to remember!
Sunday lunch at Jardin Secret with expats Trevor (from England), Susana, center, (from Tokyo & the US), and Jackie (from Canada).
And it turns out that Lou Calen has some big additions coming right around the corner – including the opening of a glass-rooftop terrace, the Verriere, a Pastis bar, and the Grand Bistro, which will welcome diners on an indoor, or outdoor, terrace seven days a week.
Whatever your Provençal vibe, nature-lover or confirmed gourmet, Lou Calen is definitely the hottest thing going in Cotignac and most likely in all of the beautiful region known as Provence Verte (Green Provence).
1 Cours Gambetta
Ph: 00 33 498 141 529