A year in Provence would be nice, but a few days will also do the trick
In life, there are moments of cliché and there are moments of transcendence. And sometimes, in rare and fortunate settings, they dovetail to create something that is breathtaking, seminal—forever etched into your memory, like a stolen kiss or a glorious sunset. Provence—revered by Cézanne, Van Gogh, Matisse, Gauguin, and Picasso; immortalized by Peter Mayle; hijacked by Brangelina—is as clichéd as it gets. This southeastern province’s Mediterranean climate, coupled with quaint villages brimming with crumbling churches and those ridiculous lavender fields, contributes to a symphony of senses that any monkey with a screensaver could rhapsodize about. So it’s just another moment in paradise when Dorothy, our pint-sized biking guide (Veloloisirprovence.com), stops by the side of the road to point out the spreading carpet of red poppies, blooming with abandon. You can’t help but wonder how the inhabitants can live so casually with such spoils: olive oil, rosé, perfume, truffles, afternoon idylls, and now flowers that line the fields in artful licentiousness. It’s this unbridled beauty that makes for the most cliché of moments: Enjoying France’s Countryside Charm. Yet no matter how many times you visit Provence, inured to its postcard allure, this moment of rapture always jumps up and bites you dans le derrière. This time around, it’s a different kind of beauty that has brought me here. I’ve ensconced myself at Le Couvent des Minimes (Couventdesminimes-hotelspa.com), a retrofitted 46-room former convent that has fully embraced worldly delights as part of the Relais & Châteaux empire. But it’s the hotel’s owner that’s truly special: L’Occitane en Provence (Loccitane.com), the skin-care behemoth that has made a fortune capturing the region’s spirit in those little green bottles. The factory still operates in nearby Manosque, but post-bike ride we’re a tad more interested in the newly refurbished L’Occitane spa in the hotel—kitted out in playful white-and-yellow tiles and modern organic furniture—and the chance to have our tight muscles kneaded out to the heady scent of citrus, verbena and lavender. In this light-filled sanctuary, L’Occitane showcases its products from derivatives and variations of essential oils, celebrating local ingredients such as lemon, honey, and that verbena and lavender. Post-treatment, a quick stop at the spa boutique, with its array of fragrant goods, yields a collection of restorative magic to tote home.