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Review of Campagne en Provence, Bras, France

Posted by at 09:39 on Tuesday 09 June 2015

Campagne en Provence, popular with the retired crowd, yet also ideal for families to release free-range children where they can frolic at will with the donkeys and geese, the sheep and ducks.  Look, if it’s good enough for Angelina and Brad… 

The Setting: In the Var Region of Southern France, just in land from the
Mediterranean coast and close enough to Marseille to make the new Eurostar
service or a TGV from Paris to here a possibility, you will find the sun
bleached and peaceful oasis of Campagne en Provence in Bras, Provence.  
 
The Rooms: There are various rooms available, four 2-bed apartments three
studios or four double en suite rooms in the central B&B set in a courtyard
in a rather Italianate or rhiad style.  Perfect for families, the various
accommodations all open on to a garden that is thoughtfully divided in to
smaller patio areas, with places to sit in the shade.  Everywhere you go you
can hear the tinkle of running water, as multiple fountains gurgle and
splash, and at night are punctuated with the ribbeting of the frogs or the singing of the cicadas.
The common areas include a shop and library, a lounge, an internal courtyard
protected from the winds and the old cellar with hi-fi sound and home cinema

Main building at Une Campagne en Provence, France Photo: Lucy SymonsMain building at Une Campagne en Provence, France Photo: Lucy SymonsThe Setting
In the Var Region of Southern France, just in land from the Mediterranean coast and close enough to Marseille to make the new Eurostarservice or a TGV from Paris to here a possibility, you will find the sunbleached and peaceful oasis of Campagne en Provence in Bras, Provence.  

>> For availability and booking, see our full listing for Campagne en Provence

Double room at Une Campagne en Provence, France Photo: Lucy SymonsDouble room at Une Campagne en Provence, France Photo: Lucy Symons
The Rooms
There are various rooms available, four 2-bed apartments three studios or four double en suite rooms in the central B&B set in a courtyard reminiscent of an Italianate or rhiad style.  Perfect for families, the various accommodations all open on to a garden that is thoughtfully divided in to smaller patio areas, with places to sit in the shade.  Everywhere you go you can hear the tinkle of running water, as multiple fountains gurgle andsplash, and at night are punctuated with the ribbeting of the frogs or the singing of the cicadas.The common areas include a shop and library, a lounge, an internal courtyard protected from the winds and the old cellar fitted with hi-fi sound and home cinema

Shared dining room at Une Campagne en Provence, France Photo: Lucy SymonsShared dining room at Une Campagne en Provence, France Photo: Lucy SymonsThe Food
Guests can self cater, using the main kitchen or the summer kitchen in the pool house, down on a terrace at the far end of the property.  Locally there is much of the area’s bounty available including goats cheese, alpine cheese, rose wine, chicken and wild boar and an abundance of vegetables and fruit (80% of which come from the villager Mnsr Morell, a hobby gardener or the 2 professional growers). There is a great pride here in using what is local and in season, so Martina will create her menus according to what is in abundance. Every Tuesday and Thursday everyone is welcome to join group suppers. On Saturday there is a giant family Provencal buffet.  All these meals are generous, inclusive and expansive with many courses including nibbles, starter, main course, fromage, desert and wine all included.  Great tables are set up under the trees in the courtyard in clement weather for eating al fresco under the abundant stars and everyone piles in to the kitchen/dining room itself if it’s a bit parky. There is an honour system in the kitchen out of hours where you can help yourself to anything (including the local wine, grown in the vineyards on site) and take it on the tick.  Breakfast is a buffet of bread and fruit, home comfitures, croissants, cake and honey, cereal, yoghurt, cheese and cold cuts all laid out on the table for you to serve yourself and take to a cosy spot to munch.
 
Gorgeous garden and terrace at Une Campagne en Provence, France Photo: Lucy SymonsGorgeous garden and terrace at Une Campagne en Provence, France Photo: Lucy SymonsThe Activities
This is walking country and also the perfect base if you have an interest in wild life of any sort – nature paths to see the mammals, birds, bugs or amphibians criss-cross the 180 hectares. There are glow worms and tree frogs and multitudes of creepy crawlies including scorpions (which I can tell you with great confidence are very slow moving and will really only bite you if you step on them or very near them… and they only live indoors.  Oh.  Well that’s all right then…).  You can climb the tower and see for miles on a clear day and there are birds to watch, so bring your bins.  There’s bike hire, horse riding, canoeing and golf.  Swim in the pool or lounge in the gardens, have a sauna or take a kip in a shady spot.  Play table tennis or feed the sheep or donkeys.  
 
If you feel the need to explore the local area, do spend half an hour with Claude and his map and he will fire you up about so many incredible day trips you may find you extend your stay just to fit it all in.  What about a jaunt to the fishing village of Cassis or explore the fjord landscape of Calanques with it’s chalk cliffs plummeting in to the sea?  Why not canoe the Verdon valley? It’s only the greatest European canyon second largest in the world after the Grand Canyon, and after paddling down the slow moving river, you can beach your craft in one of the tiny harbours and swim in the clear lake, safe in the knowledge that only electric or man powered boats are allowed here keeping it peaceful and perfect for exploring with kids. Why not pop over and see the Museum celebrating the past six thousand years (give or take a few)? Norman Foster designed the Verdon Museum of Prehistory billed as the “biggest prehistory museum in Europe”.  Pop to Cotignac – a typical country village with an abundance of artists in residence where there are frequently open studios so you can see exactly what they are up to.  If you’ve got money to burn, there are flea markets, regular markets and also craft markets and if you find yourself in the Abbaye Thoronet you may just hear a Gregorian concert as it has such amazing acoustics a great many recordings are made here.  (“Check!” said Claude, “all your favourite location Gregorian albums will say they were recorded here!”  I’ll have to take his word for it…) Of course, this is Cézanne's hometown and a place which inspired many of his landscapes including the St Victoire mountain until he bailed and headed for the big smoke of Paris. The nearby town of Saint-Maximin has a fabulous Wednesday markets.  If you need to get a bit closer to God, you can hike up the St Beaume mountain from the monastery at the bottom on the St James way to where Mary Magdalen was rumoured to settle as a hermit, now honoured by visitors leaving candles and idols on the natural balcony and from here you can feast your eyes on amazing vistas of the far north across a medieval forest which has never been managed.  Spend a day in Marseilles, which is largely pedestrianized and vastly improved since being the capitol of culture in 2013.  It has a beautiful sea front and a museum honouring Mediterranean culture and fishing.  You can take a day trip to Grasse, famous for perfume making and the eponymous museum where they demonstrate exactly what it takes to make a stink.  The famous Lavender fields are at their best from mid June to mid July but prepare to be deafened by the bees who are brought in to visit by the locals for the annual symbiotic orgy of pollination and lavender scented honey exchange. You can still see the ice silos of Saint Baume where an ice economy thrived at the turn of the century.  (My pen ran out of ink at this point, but Claude had only just got started – honestly, I wanted to stay there forever and do everything, always.)
 Outdoor pool at Une Campagne en Provence, France Photo: Lucy SymonsOutdoor pool at Une Campagne en Provence, France Photo: Lucy Symons
The Green
Claude is a chemical engineer and has taken the cause for sustainability on with a passion.  His German wife, Martina, has joined him on their crusade and between them they have taken on the compound (including a chapel dating from the 10th century) and renovated and converted various parts over the past ten years, although it looks as if everything they have done has always been here, so light their touch and so sensitively the creation of this oasis in the countryside.  They harvest rainwater and brown water, they have a giant array of photo voltaic cells attached to their barn roof, producing 70% of all their power needs, they have been recognised by the European Ecolabel and are Green Leaders with Trip Advisor.  They have an electric car for the guests to borrow if they would like to have the experience of driving one.  They no longer use any fossil fuels at all; instead they rely on heat pumps. Long term there is no CO2 generated by the structure, with the maximum load of insulation, everything works perfectly. They manage their land thoughtfully, renting acres to the local farmers and vineyards. They constantly plant trees and harvest heating wood with caution; they are pioneers in Provence for reintroducing workhorses to pull out selected trees instead of employing the popular blank-cutting for easy tractor operations.  In short if there’s an easy way to do something, chances are they would reject it if the more arduous method was better for the environment.  They will inspire you, if you are so inclined, otherwise you wouldn’t know a thing, except this is a beautiful, well-tended spot where the owners are deeply at peace.  
 
Central shared living area at Une Campagne en Provence, France Photo: Lucy SymonsCentral shared living area at Une Campagne en Provence, France Photo: Lucy SymonsHow to get there by public transport
Aix en Provence is the closest station for the TGV, Eurostar now runs direct to Marseille. Claude discussed the possibility of the old industrial railway (from mining aluminium) running from Brignoles and linking to the TGV station, and by extending the old track it could be used again to service the outlying local stops.  There is a bus to St Maximum.

>> Book your ticket to Marseille

Top Tip
Walk up to the tower and get a good perspective of the whole 180 hectares (roughly 2/3 forest and 1/3 vineyard and crops) and gorge your eyes on views as far as the Alps, including all the famous peaks.   Perfect for bird watching or just a great way to wear the kids out.
 
Verdict
A fantastic place out of season to get away for a week or two and indulge in twitching or walking, Campagne en Provence is super popular with the discriminating retired crowd.  It is also ideal for families to release free-range children where they can frolic  at will with the donkeys and geese, the sheep and ducks.  Look, if it’s good enough for Angelina and Brad… 
Entrance in the shared garden at Une Campagne en Provence, France Photo: Lucy SymonsEntrance in the shared garden at Une Campagne en Provence, France Photo: Lucy Symons
>> For availability and booking, see our full listing for Campagne en Provence

>> Read more about this property in a blog about review trips.

Posted by Lucy Symons

Disclosure

Blogs posts categorised as 'Reviews' have been written with the support of one or more of the following: accommodation owner, activity provider, operator, equipment supplier, tourist board, protected landscape authority or other destination-focussed authority. The reviewer retains full editorial control of the work, which has been written in the reviewer's own words based on their experience of the accommodation, activity, equipment or destination.

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