The South of France – for us tourists, it means an escape to sleepy cobbled streets, rolling hills and the sunny side of life... Whether you’re perusing the fruit markets in Cannes, sipping an aperol spritz in Saint Tropez or enjoying a balcony view of the harbour in Sète, you’re bound to agree that the region has a distinct charm. Picturesque as these towns are, perhaps the most beautiful region in the French Riviera is Provence, home to lavender fields, rosé vineyards and hidden bays of turquoise water.
Tucked away in the serene countryside of Provence, just 45 minutes from Nice, is a unique hotel that takes responsibility for preserving their natural surroundings very seriously. As soon as we set foot in the 750-acre luxury resort, greeted by a line of pink rose bushes and the scent of Russian sage and oleander flowers, we left the real world behind. Terre Blanche was not just a five-star hotel, it was an oasis of tranquillity and calm. A proud member of ‘The Leading Hotels of the World’, Terre Blanche was a bespoke experience we won’t be forgetting in a hurry.
A resort for environmentally mindful travellers
During my stay at the resort, it became exceptionally clear that Terre Blanche was not just a haven of luxury. Rather, it was a hotel acutely aware of its duty to protect the existing natural environment. From the sustainably sourced food on offer, to the eco-friendly golf courses, right down to the mattress I slept on – every little detail was accounted for.
The experience and accommodation
Where to start? Staying at Terre Blanche was like living in a dreamland for a couple of days. The lush estate is 1.5 times the size of Monaco (just eleven minutes away by helicopter), meaning we were dwarfed by greenery and wild woodland making up the golf course that characterises the resort. Welcomed by warm, smiling staff, a golf buggy escorted us to our private suites, which were mini villas in themselves, complete with private living room and a balcony overlooking the mountains. A bottle of Minuty rosé on ice greeted us in the contemporary Provençal room, next to a king sized bed with a fluffy white dressing gown and slippers to match.
We were soon informed that mattresses in our suites were eco-friendly, produced by a Greek company with a virtually neutral carbon footprint. They were 100% organic too, made from ingredients like coconut fibre, horsehair, cactus and seaweed – which made for a restful, guilty-free night’s sleep!
Upon arrival, we were invited to the spa for an indulgent 60 minute massage, with 100% organic spa brand KOS Paris, to make us feel at ease. After that, we spent the majority of our time kicking back in the ‘relaxation room’, taking a dip in the 35°C vitality pool at the spa and swimming in the 600-square-metre outdoor infinity pool. Bliss.
Throughout my time spent at Terre Blanche, the food we were served was truly outstanding. All ingredients were sourced locally from Terre Blanche’s own herb gardens and in the surrounding area of ‘Le Pays de Fayence.’ I sampled oysters with an Asian twist of soy sauce and fresh spring onions on the first evening, locally caught sardines at the hotel’s wine tasting, goats cheese from Daniel Marin’s farm and vegetables from the markets in Fayence. The olive oil was also fresh from Chateau des Selves just around the corner and served as a beautiful addition to all of my meals.
Dining each night at a different restaurant in the resort, including Le Gaudina, Le Tousco and Les Caroubiers, the views were spectacular and the service was frankly impeccable. Every waiter and waitress went over and above my expectations of service, with a personable approach, professional attitude and thorough knowledge of the menu! One of the highlights of my time was the freshly baked banana bread and pastries for breakfast – and possibly the best freshly squeezed orange juice I have ever tasted (I had about 5 glasses every morning).
The greenest golf resort in Europe
Ranked ‘No.1 Golf resort in continental Europe’ by Golf World Magazine UK, the golf course at Terre Blanche was state of the art, in the flesh. I was lucky enough to take a full tour and even have a fleeting go with a golf club myself. The two 18-hole championship golf courses are some of only seven courses in France to be GEO certified. The certification means that the resort is recognised as a leader in environmental enhancement - for a whole variety of reasons we were taught about on our visit.
First of all, the hotel’s 170 strong golf cart fleet has been recently renewed with new investment, meaning the carts do not pollute or disturb surrounding wildlife. The hotel goes out of its way to educate golfers on the importance of protecting biodiversity and how to maintain surrounding flora and fauna, championing golf as a responsible sport. There are even bee-keeping workshops for children!
I also found it impressive that groundskeepers use non-polluting materials in lawn management, to keep toxic waste waters from being absorbed by the soil, and by 2020, the grass will be replaced with an eco-friendly alternative. This will reduce water consumption and the need for products to be sprayed. While surveying the resort myself, I also noticed that natural, wild woodlands are conserved around the courses to preserve the rich wildlife – a long way from the pristinely cut, chemically grown grass I was expecting!
Terre Blanche was like stepping into a haven for wildlife. During my stay I saw red squirrels, pond turtles, bats, tawny owls and even buzzards circling in the sky above. We were even introduced to five very special inhabitants, a lovely family of donkeys who make up the ‘clearing team’ at the resort. Instead of relying on mechanical clearing of the undergrowth, the hotel employ donkeys to do the work for them, leaving the fauna undisturbed in the process.
Having never heard of the resort before I visited, I have come to the conclusion that Terre Blanche really is Provence’s best kept secret. And if you’d rather not spend all your time lounging by the pool, there are vineyard excursions (where you can sample the world’s most expensive rosé!), local towns in abundance and all the time in the world to learn how to golf. I will never forget the views from my balcony, the fragrance in the air and the feeling that I had stepped outside of reality for a short time – to a sanctuary of all that nature has to offer.