Quality Family Time: at Smith we’re all about ‘QFT’. It is the holiday Holy Grail for parents and their progeny, and the object of all our Smith & Family signposting efforts. And who better to seek out some especially delicious ‘QFT’ at Alain Ducasse’s Hostellerie de l’Abbaye de la Celle in Provence than one of our favourite cooks, Bill Granger?
The beloved Australian restaurateur was the perfect person to join our Parent Panel and review a hotel in France for us. Not just because he knows all about what makes a great place to stay, but because the father of three who divides his time between Sydney and Notting Hill is experienced at being on the hoof as a tribe. ‘We all lead such busy lives, that it’s rare for the five of us to find the time to really be together, without having to worry about rushing to the next thing,’ our anonymous reviewer told us after his spell en famille in Provence. ‘Hostellerie de L’Abbaye de la Celle gave us the opportunity to slow down and just enjoy some proper family time.’
Thankfully that’s exactly what the Grangers got at this 18th-century manor house in the village of La Celle. And because the expansive grounds are gated, they had no qualms about letting the children roam out of sight. As well as being a chic place to stay, whatever your age, it’s a feast for all the senses. There’s the Alain Ducasse restaurant, the Wine Conservatory (vineyards showcasing more than 88 types of grape), a fabulous turquoise pool and that rolling Provençal countryside to explore. But the Granger family’s most precious QFT? Time that was spent decadently together in the big bed.
‘We originally organised to have breakfast in our rooms, thinking Natalie and I would be having breakfast in bed while the kids were in the adjoining room. The reality was something quite different. On the first morning – and on all the remaining days! – the girls insisted on climbing into our bed to share the feast with us. It could have been a nightmare, but the crisp light was coming in through the shutters, the home-made pastries, omelettes and fruit, freshly squeezed juices, pots of hot chocolate, coffee and tea, an array of house-made cereals in individual glass jars, as well as house made preserves, spectacular French butter, served in the most elegant china and silverware, with piles of enormous linen napkins, were to die for and each breakfast was one of those moments you treasure.
As they were leaving, they were all ushered into the pastry kitchen to find out a little more about the Ducasse magic. ‘The girls were offered hard caramels in an array of flavours from salted to mango and were each left with a bag of bonbons to take home. Delicious, of course, and the way to our girls’ hearts, but the real treat was for me, because we got to walk through the entire kitchen to collect them – a beautifully spacious series of rooms, with gleaming copper pans everywhere. I definitely want a kitchen like that when I grow up!’
Their five-course dinner included the most spectacular classic fish soup with rouille, a succulent baby shoulder of lamb for two, with asparagus, and an incredible array of goats and sheep’s cheeses. ‘Realising the kids wouldn’t want to sit trough a long formal meal the wonderful staff offered them a choice of simple dishes and even Edie, who is quite a sophisticated eater, was grateful for the more relaxed option of gnocchi and fish.’
Granger says it was like being at a friend’s rich parents, friends who have impeccable taste and know how to live. ‘Traditional, beautiful, light and spacious. The rooms were possibly the most beautiful we have ever been in. They were so vast that once we opened up the adjoining doors and could see through, it was like being in an apartment. A really, really pretty apartment that we could happily see ourselves living in.’
This family-friendly hotel is in La Celle, a little rural village in the heart of Provence; Marseille is around an hour’s drive away, as is the coast. For more information or to book, ring our Travel Team on 0845 034 0700.