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The re-birth of the auberge

In this age of disposability, we often find old buildings razed to the ground and new characterless buildings replacing them but not so in a small village in Provence.  Le Brûlat is part of the commune of Le Castellet located between Toulon and Marseille and just fifteen minutes from the coast.  Since September 2016 there has been a major renovation of the most significant historic building in this village. Le Brûlat is actually the oldest hamlet in the commune Le Castellet and evidence of its existence can be found in the Middle Ages.  In 1371 it was called “Les Cabanas” but it would take its current name from the large fire that burnt “Logis brûlé” at the beginning of the 18th century. The original house “le Château” was built in 1594 by Robert Frangipani who was the nephew of the archbishop of Aix at that time.  Folklore even says that it was here that frangipane was created.  The next owner was “Monsieur du Castellet” the Lord of the village and he transformed the large building into an Inn.  As the Lord he also had the bread oven, a privilege of his standing. After 1647 the building became an Auberge, with few buildings in the village, it was a necessity as it stood on the Grand Chemin Royal, the old main road that linked Toulon to Marseille. In 1781 the building became the horse and carriage relay point which continued until the Revolution.  We know it was still the “Auberge du Brûlat” in 1819 when it was sold to M. Gardon.  The bread oven was still in existence at this time.  The house stays within the family until 1970 when it was bought by M. Bailleux. The Stephens family bought this amazing run-down building in May 2016 from the Bailleux children.  The aim, to bring this sad house back to life.  Mas du Brulat is incredibly significant to this village, standing on the curve in the road overlooking the square and the petanque court.  The thought of knocking it down and starting again was never an option but frequently mentioned by others.  The owners didn’t want to keep this for themselves but rather open up for all to enjoy. In Summer 2018 the building returned to its roots as a place to eat and stay.  An Auberge of today.  Mas du Brulat now offers five double ensuite bedrooms, a junior suite and two one-bedroom suites.  All the rooms have ensuite bathrooms or shower rooms and are tastefully decorated. The hotel is warm and luxurious with a homely feeling.  On the first floor there is stylish guest sitting area with a beautiful green sofa to relax in after a day visiting the wonderful vineyards of the area. The hotel hosts the L’Olivier Restaurant which has been launched with the assistance of the Chef Patron Clive Dixon.  Clive and Nick March head up the kitchen and have created wonderful dishes for our diners.  Clive’s career in the kitchen started at a young age with him being awarded a Michelin star at the age of 25 when he worked at The Lords of The Manor Hotel in the Cotswolds.  From there he went on and headed up kitchens for 3 Michelin starred chefs Pierre Koffman and Heston Blumenthal.  Nick worked alongside Clive in Bray and in summer 2018 left the Michelin starred restaurant The Sportsman to once again work alongside Clive. For Clive the simplicity of great ingredients cooked with care, attention and good craft is what excites him about food.  The feeling is that this coupled with great hospitality is the key to a perfect restaurant.  The menus change regular depending on the food that is bought in the local markets.  In honour of the building Monday nights is “Auberge Night” – a set four course menu for €35. Our guests can sit on our terrace enjoying their meals while looking up at the splendid hilltop village of Le Castellet or overlooking our gardens and renovated swimming pool.  The swimming pool is steeped in history being the original “Bassin” for the whole village.  We are proud to have been able to transform it into a place once again used by visitors to the establishment.   After eating guests are welcome to sit in the gardens or enjoy our bar with its nearly painted mural depicting the olives groves and lavender fields of the area.  Clare, the Maître d, will be able to recommend wine from one of the local vineyards – the hotel aims to support local businesses. Spring 2019 will see the conclusion of the renovations with the vaulted cellars being transformed into a wine bar for everyone.  The hope is to retain the original water source that is found in the “Caves” and install a new bread oven fit for this magnificent building. Preparations are well under way for the first Christmas and New Year at the hotel.  Two and three night packages have been created for clients.  These packages include evening meals in the L’Olivier Restaurant.  There is also the option of one night stays.   New Year’s Eve will include a magnificent champagne reception plus a five course meal. The hotel and restaurant are open year round except for a four week break from 6 January 2019.  The hotel is surrounded by the vines of Provence with over two hundred vineyards for you to visit.  If you prefer things a little faster the hotel is located ten kilometres away from the famous Paul Ricard Race Circuit, home of the French Formula 1.   Here you can participate in track days or take the family karting.  Next door to the circuit is the massive Adventure Park where family and friends can swing in the trees.   There is also the option of a day at the beach which is a twenty minute drive from the hotel.  At the coast there are numerous restaurants to try or you can take a cruise along the coast and visit the Calanques of Cassis.  The hotel is also closely situation to two golf courses. After a busy day exploring the local area you’re able to return to the hotel and enjoy being looked after by the hotels attentive staff. Why not jump into the pool to cool off or sit in the landscaped gardens, soaking up some sun with a glass of wonderful Provence wine before heading to the terrace to enjoy a superb lunch or a leisurely dinner? Whether you are staying at Mas du Brulat for a day or a week, I’m confident your stay will be both an enjoyable and relaxing one! Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Mas du Brulat

Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson is Editor of A Luxury Travel Blog and has worked in the travel industry for more than 30 years. He is Winner of the Innovations in Travel ‘Best Travel Influencer’ Award from WIRED magazine. In addition to other awards, the blog has also been voted “one of the world’s best travel blogs” and “best for luxury” by The Daily Telegraph.

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  1. All credit to the owners who lovingly restore these auberges. It doesn’t take just love and vision usually it takes a lot of investment too. As this post reminds us, a lot of these buildings were in a pretty poor state needing extensive renovation and refurbishment. As with many businesses there’s a huge risk, when you start renovating you just don’t know what major and expensive problems you are going to find. I wonder if there is a French version of Grand Designs that tracks these epic restorations?

  2. I’ve stayed in a few auberges, though I’ve never quite been sure of the definition of what an auberge is. What I like is that they are usually quite small and the owners take an interest in you. As it’s a lot more intimate you get to know ther guests too. Often they are English, heading south along the autoroutes, so you pick up a few travel tips from them too. I’ve been lucky in that most of the owners speak some English as my French is non existent.

  3. I think the owners did a marvellous job in restoring Mas du Brulat. It looks amazing now. The outside has retained its rustic feel, but the inside looks modern and cosy. The accent colours really does help make it hip and fun.

  4. Rebirth of the auberge? I doubt that it ever went away. I’ve stayed in some fantastic authentic auberges down the years during my many travels around France. Though this one seems to be a particularly fine example of the species, a truly historic building lovingly restored to something that is probably beyond its former glory.

  5. I would love to sit down and have a glass of one of the local wines with the owners. They must have some great stories to tell about the renovation of the auberge. They must have found some little pieces of history during the process. And what more do do want than to stay at the birthplace of frangipani?

  6. It’s always interesting to see how a building of the past transcends time, being handed down or sold and reinvented over the years. I’m glad this was put into the hands of those who could transform it into something everyone can enjoy, and it certainly sounds like a wonderful place to eat, sleep and enjoy your visit to the area.

  7. Oh wow, what a fantastic transformation; judging by the photo of the exterior previously it looks like this place has had a significant make over and it looks fab, so congrats to the Stephens family! Not a bad location either with plenty to do nearby. It’s fascinating to learn a little more about the history and how the swimming pool was once what I assume was like a communal bath for the local people of the village.

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