Visitors to Sebastian and Lizzie Smith's delightful home in the medieval Provençal village of Montauroux find they only have one complaint - they run out of superlatives. Its idyllic setting could hardly be bettered: in a seemingly remote corner of the Var and yet barely 30 kilometers from the bustling Riviera coastline, it offers a chance to relax, breathe fresh air, unwind and recharge the batteries.
The house itself, lovingly restored by artist Sebastian, Lizzie and local craftsmen, is a former Prieuré dating from 1680. It sits on the quiet rue de l'Eglise, facing the Norman church of St. Barthélémy and a broad flight of stone steps leading to a jewel-like chapel rescued from dereliction by Christian Dior, who chose Montauroux for his summer residence at the Château de la Colle Noire.
Perched on its hill-top, about a thousand feet above sea level and off the beaten tourist routes, Montauroux is a living village with a genuine sense of community. The locals, proud of their history, celebrate with summer fêtes, musical evenings and pétanque competitions in the beautiful main village square.
If guests want ideas for excursions, Sebastian and Lizzie are happy to impart their knowledge, recommending good places to eat, arranging a visit to a local vineyard or suggesting trips to scores of places of interest. A special attraction is the range of outstanding art collections that grace this stretch of the south of France. If their aim is simply to relax or to explore this beautiful region, and whether they come for a full holiday or a long weekend, visitors are promised a warm welcome at le Prieuré.
One of the three elegant guest rooms looks onto an appealing mix of narrow streets and ancient houses with their roman tiled roofs. At the rear, the guest rooms face west across the valley, with a sweeping vista that takes in the neighbouring village perché of Callian, evoking a cubist composition from the brush of Braque or Picasso. These are rooms with a view to delight the most discriminating of characters from an E M Forster novel. A ground floor sitting room with wood burning fire opens onto the west facing terrace where guests can enjoy breakfast or relax in the evening sun, whilst the terraced gardens step down the hillside with walks among the vines and the mirabelle, cherry, fig, almond and olive trees.
Local activities include tennis, hiking and walking, horse riding, mountain biking, cycling and gliding. The Lac de St. Cassien, only a short drive away, offers fishing, sailing, canoeing, rowing and swimming and is also an ideal spot for picnics, just lying in the sun or renting a pedalo. There are several golf courses in the area, the nearest being the prestigious, world class Terre-Blanche. At the Gorges du Verdon you will find excellent canoeing, rafting and kayaking facilities and superb walks. Other places of interest include the perfume factories at Grasse and the 12th Century Cistercian Abbey at Le Thoronet. All the local villages have festivals and markets throughout the year and even the Cannes Film Festival and the Monaco Grand Prix are within easy reach. If lazing the day away on the beach is your thing then there are many within easy reach including the long stretch between Mandelieu and Cannes and St. Aygulf further to the west.
There are several reasonably priced restaurants within walking distance of Le Prieuré serving a range of local and national dishes. The Bar du Clos in the main square is a great place for a glass of rosé or a pastis either at lunchtime or in the evening. They also serve amongst other things, great pizzas and a fabulous steak tartare. There are also many other restaurants and bars within a short drive catering for a wide range of tastes, details of which are available at Le Prieuré.
The wines of Provençe have greatly improved in recent years and there are numerous vineyards to visit within the immediate locality with their own distinctive varieties of rosé, red and white. Go and visit them, have a taste or two (degustation), buy a bottle or a dozen and enjoy the experience.