Luxury Explorer Review

Luxury Explorer review

Villa Gallici

France, Provence

The prettiest boudoir-chic-petit-luxe hotel in France, with an enviable location in Aix-en-Provence

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Location

Aix-en-Provence

Travel Information

Marseille Airport - 25 mins

Top Tips

Dining al fresco beneath the plane trees is heavenly

X-Factors

An interior design triumph

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THIS PROPERTY

All that glitters
Boudoir bliss

MORE REVIEWS OF
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All that glitters
Boudoir bliss

All that glitters

Arriving at Villa Gallici, situated on the leafy northern edge of Aix-en-Provence, is always extraordinarily uplifting. Regardless of the month in which you visit, this petit-luxe bijoux peach always erupts with a zest quite unique: a Provençal tang married with a Florentine piquancy. This enticing continental partnership exudes genuine homely allure, hence its unrivalled number of deeply satisfied 'repeat guests'. It is also just a 25-minute drive from Marseille airport.

When you're immersed in the cosseting luxuries of this ambrosia coated country sanctum, surrounded by a fusion of Provençal flora: olive trees, flowering oleander, trailing geraniums, climbing roses, wisteria, cypress trees, plane trees, rosemary and banks of lavender; you forget that a fascinating town pulsates only a few steps from the regal wrought-iron gated entrance.

Aix-en-Provence is picturesquely situated at the foot of Mont St-Victoire and dates back to 124BC when the Romans, after victoriously battling the Celts and the Ligurians, turned Aix into something close to their hearts: a spa. By the Middle-Ages, Aix was already home to many artists and troubadours, while wealthy counts of Provence built castles in the surrounding countryside.

The last count of Provence, René of Anjou, has his statue standing proud in the main Cours, in honour of his prolific poetic writing known as 'le bon Roi René'. Following his death, France acquired Provence, but it still remained a hive of creativity, housing and inspiring poets, writers and artists alike as well as becoming a university town, as it is today.

Much more than nothing

When Flaubert first arrived at this chilled town in 1845 he described it as "Aix: rien" – nothing. He soon changed his tune when he fell in love with Aix-raised, born and bred, Louise Colet, and consequently spent much of his time here resulting in a life-long love affair with the place. The list of Aix's creative pageantry is topped, perhaps, by Paul Cézanne, who was born here in 1839.

There are constant reminders of the town's visionary ancestors and, though the many fountains were added in the 18th Century, there is a definite sense that this town has cascaded its sparkles for over a thousand years. Today, the old streets are filled with perfume stores, boutiques, art galleries, delicatessens, bistros and cafés. The venerable squares, lined with plane trees and centred with a fountain or statue, buzz with students, locals and visitors, clutching a pastis, vin rose or kir royal while watching a Frenchman's favourite pastime – a game of boules. Aix-en-Provence is often referred to as 'petite Florence', which is why our little 'oasis', a short stroll up the hill, is so decoratively appropriate.

A relais extravaganza

There is no other place like Villa Gallici because its hybrid makeup is so enchanting that no other hotel we have visited could possibly repeat such impassioned incandescenses.

The bedrooms, junior suites and suites are blissful boudoirs of the highest quality, some with terraces or private gardens. Sofas in velvet stripes of burgundy, toffee and olive have classic fringed paisley throws adorning the backs and arms; beds for princesses with coronets and draping covers are a vision in toile de jouy; round tables covered in Provencal paisley, or soft white linen, parade green porcelain parrot candle holders from Limoges aside planters of tumbling scented tea-roses. Hand-painted furniture, gilded solid-carved wood, excessively comfortable armchairs and sofas covered in rich fabrics from French and Italian design houses; decorative painting in all styles: grottesca, baroque, rococco, chinoiserie, tromp l'oeil, murals, hand-painted papers; silver leaf, gold leaf...it all swirls together in an extravaganza that feels warm, exciting, romantic and extremely cosy.

Villa Gallici was an interior design triumph that began with three designers, Gil Dez, Charles Montemarco and Daniel Jouve, who owned the honey-toned 18th Century villa in the early 90s before the current spellbound owners, Nanda and Roberto Polito of Baglioni fame, acquired it. They kept it in the sophisticated warm style to which its guests had become enticingly accustomed. The design relationship with the three imaginative artists has continued throughout the French Baglioni portfolio; however, for us, Villa Gallici has the most vivid personality of them all.

During our last visit, we had a richly decorated boudoir in shades of romantic deep ruby with views onto the luxurious long pool that sits sensationally among a fusion of local flora: very befitting for our wedding anniversary. Outside on the dining terrace and around the poolside, crisp white linen on 'typique' ironware replaces the scrumptious décor of the interior, allowing the exquisitely maintained gardens to provide the frills.

As always, our open-armed welcome was heartening with the hotel manager directing us to a tray of warm, oven-fresh madelines together with an almond and honey-perfumed nectar. Soon after we closed our boudoir door, the manager returned with a broad smile and wide silver tray with a spread of complimentary goodies; a hand-tied posy of scarlet roses, 'madeleines à la lavande', rose biscuits from Reims, and a bottle of chilled Laurent Perrier.

Divine dining

In the warm summer months, dining al fresco on the aged flagstone terrace beneath the plane trees is heavenly. In the cooler months, dining within the cosy, relaxed yet refined and luxurious dining room – with a glowing fire, candles, and figurine table lamps with pleated tasselled shades – is equally enchanting. The event is never brief as you sit in the comfort of deep velvet armchairs or small down filled sofas, in an atmospheric lighting so gentle, that you are lulled into an evening-long radiant dalliance.

The chef, Christophe Gavot, provides palate pleasers that work beautifully within the cosseting surroundings. His style is Mediterranean-Provençal, using local, seasonal ingredients wherever possible; I defy anyone to make a naturally sweeter gazpacho with pimento and cucumber.

His dishes have a comfort factor too, being generous in size and not calorie-restricted; scampi with a twist, butter-soft terrine de foie gras, pink lamb tenderloin with a coating of goats' cheese, plenty of truffle, sea bass cooked in a court-bouillon with local herbs, red cabbage and sweet potato – all delicious. However, he will cater expertly for those wishing to dine on grilled fish and salad. The wine list is short but well formed, with some excellent Bandols and white wines from Cassis, including our favourite: Château Simon.

Having wrapped ourselves up in Villa Gallici's unique velvety enfolds, for three whole days and nights, we felt recharged, thoroughly spoilt...and...rebooked. We are, again, on that list of spellbound repeaters.

Sophie_Marchant
Sophie Marchant

Boudoir bliss

Villa Gallici in Aix-en-Provence is one of the most endearing, enchanting and embracing hotels you will find anywhere, let alone in this wonderful spa town with its opera festivals, galleries, shops, museums and alluring old town shaded by the plane trees on Cours Mirabeau.

Chic Boutique or Petit Luxe?

It's charme, charme, and charmant. Boudoir, boudoir de plus en plus, petit salon, Chelsea chic, Nobilis. It has a Provençal-Florentine-style with beautiful gardens enclosing a magical private universe. The warm and wonderful staff have no airs and graces. It's discreet, cosseting, homely and almost decadent in its appeal; but there is also a citrus freshness that lingers, creating a vibrancy that is fairly unique to this part of the world.

Rooms and Suites

There are 18 rooms and four suites, all spacious and romantic with a familiar Baglioni boudoir twist, beds made for that essential all-cosseting comfort and bathrooms, strewn with rose petals and sweet peas. The four suites have terraces with views of the lush gardens and Saint Victoire mountains. We stayed in a corner room with a private terrace, loungers and views of the pool and glorious Provençal, almost tropical, gardens.

Breakfast on your terrace, complete with what seemed like 10 different jams in adorable glass pots, is an imperative here. It all has that 'je ne sais quoi' aspired to by so many, but achieved in this way by so few. The restaurant is Provençal in essence, though the dishes seem to span the Mediterranean with exquisite surprises. Eating under trees on the glorious terrace is truly magical and citronella fresh.

Shopping

The shops in Aix – if you want to sprinkle some Provence around your home – are fabulous. L'Esprit des Liux en Provence, 10, Rue G. de Saporta has some of the finest and most colourful home accessories whilst Terre e Provence, 6, Rue Aude, has crockery to kill for. You can buy fabrics to re-cover some cushions, candles and home sprays you can't get back home and nougat to go nuts for.

The chic retreat

Villa Gallici is an excellent hotel to base yourself while exploring some of the other areas of Provence. From here you can visit Les Beaux, St Remy (both places host favourite restaurants), Avignon, and, of course, for those viticultural enthusiasts, you can organise a visit to Chateauneuf du Pape. The hotel is only 20 minutes or so from Marseille Airport, 30 min from Avignon (with Eurostar and TGVs) and only 90 minutes from a lunch at Club 55 in St Tropez!

This really is the place to stay in Aix-en-Provence. For a weekend, a week, or en-route to the Riviera; a stay here will stimulate your chic and sensual senses for a long time and, like many before you, you will be destined to return for more.

Sophie_Marchant
Sophie Marchant


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