Crowning the top of a small rounded hill in the heart of Provence is the tiny village of Crillon le Brave. Picture perfect, it rises up out of terraced vineyards, lush olive groves and orchards that, when in blossom, blanket the valley in beautiful pinks and white- all in the shadow of the magnificent 6,000-foot high, snow-capped Mont Ventoux. Clustered at the top of the village is the Hostellerie de Crillon le Brave, a nest of honey-coloured stone houses believed to date from the 17th century. When Torontonian Peter Chittick stumbled upon the site in the spring of 1988, he couldn’t believe his good fortune. “ I could have searched a lifetime to find a spot like this,” he says in hindsight.
The story actually begins in 1985 when Peter, then 27 and a recent law school graduate, was leading bicycle tours through France. Like popes, poets, artists and hundreds of thousands of camera-carrying tourists before him, he fell in love with Provence. And he dreamed of opening a country inn.
His dream became a goal-in-the-making when he enrolled in an MBA program at a business school in France to get a better platform for starting a business there. As a class project, he wrote the plan for an intimate little inn, right down to the French country antiques and provençal table linens. As a tour guide, he had encountered many of the problems of small hotels and knew firsthand the expectations of seasoned travellers. As a result, he knew he wanted first-class service in the warm and friendly atmosphere of a country home.
By the time he graduated in the spring of 1988, the blueprint was in place and within three weeks, he discovered Crillon le Brave – and Maison Roche. Adjoining an old church, the house had once served as the priest’s home and village school. The Paris industrialist who had spent 15 years transforming the crumbling ruins into an idyllic country home had decided to sell. “It was a stroke of good luck,” says Peter. ”It would be hard to write a better script.”
Returning to Canada, he and his longtime friend Craig Miller, a business consultant who also yearned to start his own business formed a partnership and
assembled a Canadian investor group. By January 1989, when the pair had raised the required capital, they launched into the renovations to convert Maison Roche and adjacent buildings into an inn Before the official opening in September 1989, the old stable had become the dining room and a professional kitchen and more guest bathrooms had been added.
The two entrepreneurs left no stone unturned in their goal to capture the essence of Provence and create a haven to soothe the soul and seduce the senses. Golden sunlight dapples the sunflower-yellow and ochre walls of the cosy parlour and reading room. Soft lights, a crackling fire in a large open fireplace and lush bouquets of flowers make gourmet meals in the vaulted stone dining room romantic and memorable. Bedrooms with tile floors, white walls and beamed ceilings are dressed in an abundance of cheery provençal prints.
The 24 rooms in several houses are linked by passageways and cobbled streets, each offering its own spectacular view of the surrounding countryside and embracing the terraced garden and pool. It is the perfect location from which to explore all that Provence has to offer.
Today 50 families live in the village where the only other commercial venture is a small restaurant. Crillon le Brave was the 16th-century home of Henri IV’s fiercest and most respected warlord, known as Le Brave Crillon. His statue commands the village square outside the Hostellerie and church. In the Middle Ages, church bells tolled each hour twice – two minute apart in case farmers in the field didn’t hear them the first time. The tradition continues today until 11 p.m. each night when the bells are silenced in consideration of Hostellerie guests.
Two years ago Canadian Pamela and Hector de Galard joined the Hostellerie as managers, leaving Peter and Craig time to explore the opportunities for additional ventures in Provence, London and Toronto.
Provence is home to some of the world’s most charming hotels, but none more so than the one that five years ago was named Country House Hotel of the Year in France; the same one that is owned and managed by Canadians.
Canadian Living 1997