In a frenzied spurt of digital spring-cleaning I unearthed some photos and notes from last year’s trip to France and I just had to share. After our magical few days in Lake Como and before we headed to the Greek Islands, Damien and I took a trip to the South of France and had a couple of days stay at the gorgeous L’Occitane owned hotel and spa, Le Couvent Des Minimes.
The converted convent was originally founded by monks in 1613 and has, over the years, been restored into a stunning boutique hotel and spa, with modern artsy interiors, incredible dining options and a world class spa. Its position, sprawled across a vast hilltop in Mane, at the base of the Alps-de-Haute-Provence is perfectly poised to enjoy the rustic beauty of the rolling countryside, which is dotted with postcard perfect towns.
Entering the winding stone driveway with the car windows down, I can detect the mingling of hundreds of different Spring scents - cyprus and lavender, lemon balm and verbena in full rampant bloom. As we park and stroll through the grounds I notice chic Europeans everywhere, their deep tans contrasting perfectly-cut linen clothing.
Offsetting the classic 17th Century architecture, the décor is modern and colourful with amusing art and sculptures peppered throughout. Vaulted ceilings give the feeling of space and light. But the main event is, of course, the Spa.
When my appointment time rolls around I practically skip there in anticipation. I’ve booked myself in for a deep tissue massage, hoping to unkink after the 24 hour flight from Sydney. The space is light and peaceful in tones of cream, lemon yellow and charcoal. I’m given a locker and change into a beige towelling robe and logo-emblazoned cloth slippers, before heading through to the relaxation room to fill out my forms.
The U–shaped space features marle grey beds that are angled around a balcony that has an impressive view to the pool and beyond that, the bright green hills of the surrounding towns. Moving strings music plays and there’s a sense of perfect, pastoral calm.
My therapist introduces herself as Anna and apologies that she “has not much English.” She has gorgeous russet skin and corkscrew curls, and is quick to laugh. I immediately warm to her lovely, soft energy.
As is the custom at L’Occitane spas every treatment starts with a foot ritual. Anna gently washes my feet in a bath of Lavender and Bergamot relaxing salts then pats them dry in her lap, before placing my slippers on for me. I lie down on the bed and instantly feel myself surrender to its cushy embrace.
I find that with massage, you know in the first few seconds what kind of experience you’re in for. That first touch is so important in predicting the sensitivity and the intuition of your therapist. Anna doesn’t disappoint, as she lays warm, confident hands on my shoulders and proceeds with a flat handed movements all over each side of the body – from the toes to the ears – patting in oil into the skin. At one point she uses hot stones on shoulders, their warmth dissolving all my tension. She cups her hands over my ears, giving me the sensation of being wrapped up, cocooned. Just as a new song starts, a haunting African chant, she places her hands in sync on my shoulders. I get the sense that the massage has been choreographed to be timed with the music. This is a very well-designed experience.
When it’s sadly over, Anna wipes me over with a warm towel and puts my slippers back on. I find myself robed again and ensconced in the relaxation room with a cup of date, rose, and orange flower tea. I suddenly notice the gorgeous photographs of the Provencale fields during flower harvest on the walls and stare at them blankly in a pummelled, massage reverie.
The rest of the stay goes by in a blur of garden strolls and fine meals. On Saturday, we head to neighbouring town, Manosque, to visit the Provencal markets and fondle crimson ox heart tomatoes that are as big as our son Max’s head. We buy juicy strawberries and eat them in the village square and talk about how much we miss him.
The next afternoon we climb up the terraced grass hill behind the convent (the little platforms are known as “restanques”) with a bottle of champagne and picnic of local cheeses and crusty baguette. There are sheltered daybeds positioned to take in the view. We while away the afternoon until sunset and then wander into the nearby town of Forcalquier for dinner. We chance upon a creperie that serves the most deliciously crispy galettes (buckwheat crepes) then stroll around the citadel, giggling from all the champagne and apple cider.
Like all good things, our little Provencal fantasy must come to an end. But I rally to put this on the ‘come-back-to’ list. For Francophiles, spa fanatics and L’Occitane fans there couldn’t be a more perfect place to visit than Le Couvent Des Minimes.