Holiday Mode: Activated
Everything one needs to immerse oneself in relaxation – or exercise – can be found at Coquillade Village
Review and Photography by Andy Barnham
Opened in 2008 after two years of renovations the resort of Coquillade is – as its longer title La Coquillade Provence Village suggests – quite literally a hamlet in the Provence region of south France. However, Coquillade isn’t your typical French hamlet tucked away in the Luberon hills. Following his passions of wine and cycling, the location was bought by Andrew Rihs in 2006 with the aim of creating a wine tourism complex. For those who haven’t heard of Andrew Rihs, he’s the billionaire Swiss former CEO of hearing care solutions company Sonova (which hold approximately 24 per cent of the global hearing aid market) who took over the bicycle manufacturer BMC in 2001.
Rihs is joined by fellow Swiss natives Carmen and Werner Wunderli who are the on-site creative and business talent behind Coquillade responsible for the transformation from hamlet to what it is today. Awarded five stars in 2011, Coquillade now offers a heliport, tennis courts, la petanque, two outdoor swimming pools, three restaurants (fine dining, casual and poolside) and 1,500 square metres of spa and treatment rooms including gym and indoor pool. I say today as, like Rome, Coquillade wasn’t built in a day. The fine dining and bistro opened 2008 with the poolside restaurant opening in 2013 whilst the spa, along with 35 new rooms, were completed in 2015. I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear new additions to the village continue to be built; the latest project being the onsite boulangerie. Were the zombie apocalypse to happen survivors could do worse than retreat to the virtually self- sufficient establishment. Oh, did I mention the vegetable garden and the 36 hectares of vineyards and winery? However, as Coquillade is closed from November to March, one hopes if the end of the world were to happen, it would be during season.
If Coquillade sounds like quite the destination, it is. The 63 rooms and suites are all uniquely decorated and all have a view and outdoor space of some kind be it a small garden internally or a terrace overlooking the vines. The quid pro quo of the naturally lit bedrooms and living areas are relatively dark bathrooms with small windows, but I suspect most guests will gravitate to and spend the majority of their stay stretched out beside the pools enjoying the rolling hills and views Coquillade has to offer. For the ecofriendly, never fear, the complex has had an EU Ecolabel since 2012 and was built with energy reduction and geothermal systems in mind. If 63 rooms sounds too much for those seeking a quiet getaway in the middle of the countryside, don’t be deceived. The village is so spacious that should you want to be alone in your own Provencal picture postcard, you can.
If the multiple pools and spa just aren’t your jam, then Coquillade also has a fully equipped BMC bicycle centre. On offer are top of the line mountain and road bikes which can be rented for €30/40 for a half/ full day with local guides available to take you round the region. For those who take up the challenge, the local town of Roussillon is a must. Local importance in the ochre industry aside, the views over looking the region from the hill top town are stunning. Anyone hesitating about making the climb on two wheels; try the electric bikes BMC has to offer. The four main different settings offer full on masochistic mode which feels like cycling through mud all the way to touching the pedals and off you go! This ostrich felt like he was flying along using the highest levels of assist barely breaking a sweat during the climb to Roussillon. Indeed, the BMC centre is so well equipped, potential clients from all over the region are directed to visit and test their wheels of choice; anyone who then completes a purchase is refunded their rental cost.
When it comes to the food, the three different options offer just about anything you can desire. Having originally been centrally overseen, it was decided to let all three restaurants be run independently by their chefs to help generate a sense of individuality, which is exactly what’s happened. Whilst the bistro is open at lunch, go for the poolside Il Ristorante, complete with food fired genovese pizza oven. The pizzas and mains are incredibly fresh and light… and that’s if you have any room left from the anti- pasta buffet (the ratatouille is a must). Book to avoid disappointment. The aptly named Le Bistro looks onto the vineyard and offers al fresco dining around a wood fired grill between July and August. Headed by English chef Benjamin Higgins, who’s been in France for over six years, Le Bistro offers local and regional products, along with what’s ripening in the vegetable garden, with a regularly changing menu to reflect what’s in season. It also doubles as the breakfast room in the morning. Open Tuesday to Saturday, the 40 cover fine dining restaurant (this rises to 60 during summer with extra seating on the terrace) starts with the three course Discovery menu at €80, rising to the €135 seven course Tasting menu; don’t forget, you’re in France so the cheese course is a whole course entirely and not part of desert and if you’re going for more than three courses, bring a healthy appetite!
For those who drive to the Coquillade has a pair of Smart cars on offer for those who wish to pootle around the Provencal countryside and would prefer to navigate the country lanes in something suitably sized. Other methods of travel to the village include Marseille- Provence airport which is an hour’s drive south with flight times of approximately two hours from the UK and also Avignon TGV, 45 minutes west of Coquillade, offering direct fast speed trains to London with a journey time of just over six hours.
If Coquillade sounds too good to be true, then maybe it’s aims of trying to be all things to all guests can be considered over ambitious. The regular additions have led to a ‘village’ but free of a focal, beating heart as elements are spread over a large area with no obvious central location. Yes, the wifi is patchy. Yes, the gym has the latest machines but overall layout could be better and expect dinner to take some time to be served in the fine dining restaurant and an early finish at the bistro. However, the sheer variety of what is offered and the incredible levels of friendly staffing (the hotel has high levels of season after season returnee staff) is extraordinary.
Enquiries: Coquillade Village, Hameau Le Perrotet, 84400 Gargas, France / +33 4 90 747171 / www.coquillade.fr/ or www.relaischateaux.com/gb/france/coquillade-vaucluse-gargas