Little village and 'exquisite light' at heart of what's best in French Riviera
THEY say writers, artists, poets and painters are drawn here by the 'exquisite light'.
And at dusk, you can see why. Long shadows stretch across old ochre and rose-painted houses and tilt the red-tiled rooftops upwards with the changing light.
It's like stepping straight on to the canvas of an abstract Cubist painting.
So it comes as no surprise that the prolific Pablo Picasso is among the many artists to have called this place 'home'.
Cobbled streets weave their way through the small town, past art studios where painters proudly parade their work on balconies and outside doorways — even the graffiti here is elaborate enough to stop you in your tracks.
But it's not just the magnetic, picture-perfect setting and heritage of this ancient town that is attracting the A-listers of the world to these hills near Cannes.
I am here, as the Black Eyed Peas and Penelope Cruz have recently been, to stay at the reputable Le Mas Candille hotel, a member of the exclusive Relais and Chateaux group, set in 10 acres of grounds on the lush outskirts of Mougins village.
"There is something particularly special about this place: the atmosphere, the setting, the sense of peace," said Cath Couzens, director of Perceptions PR, as we approached the five-star hotel from Nice airport.
Cath knows this place well: "It's a real treat to be back here," she says.
The Le Mas Candille logo (a dove) is delicately fashioned into the double wrought-iron gates of this plush pad, reiterating the hotel's reputation for serenity.
It serves as an entrance, a portal almost, to the world that is Le Mas Candille — giving way to an avenue bordered by olive trees, which meanders towards an unassuming, typically Mediterranean 18th century converted farmhouse.
If the old adage that 'the best things come in small packages' bears any weight here in France, then this place wins hands down with an unpretentious flair, an unassuming facade, an effortless creation of chic.
Silent, sliding glass doors welcome guests to a warm-coloured reception where finely-dressed staff are on hand to whisk away your luggage and attend to your every need.
There is even an opulent chaise-long in the corner in case you fancy a French-style rest.
The hotel is made up of three 'living spaces': Le Mas — authentically classic French-styled rooms in the converted farmhouse, La Bastide — more modern and spacious rooms in the newer part of the hotel and La Villa Candille — six new suites all with bright interiors, spacious lounges, large bathrooms, high-tech equipment and private terraces with mountain views, designed by architect Michael Zander and launched in July, 2009.
My 'home' from home for two nights was in La Bastide, a separate block of newly-built rooms which sit next to the hotel's breathtaking outdoor pool, and in between the old farmhouse and Europe's first Shisedo Spa — an exclusive concept based on the Shiseido Qi method.
Pictures representing the area, reminiscent of our own English Riviera back home in Torquay, hang on the walls with a bright Jacquard bed-spread and exquisite chocolates and biscuits at the ready which would seduce the palate of any traveller.
This is luxury in its finest form: flawless; impeccable; second to none.
And this goes without mentioning the hotel's Michelin-star restaurant, Le Candille, headed by the charming and gregarious Serge Gouloumes who has just introduced a new spring menu including signature dishes of wild seabass and yazu foam or farm raised poultry dodine with foie gras and truffles.
The restaurant has recently undergone a month-long renovation programme, with the British hotel owner, Mark Silver, 'delighted' with the result.
"The new restaurant's decor is inspired by the 18th century history of Le Mas Candille and evokes timeless elegance.
"We are always keen to develop the hotel and make improvements where necessary," he said.
It reflects how the hotel has a foot firmly in its heritage while the other tootsie is happy to explore what lies ahead: in the ever changing, demanding world of luxurious travel.
The result is a magical, harmonious blend of old and new with a setting suffice to seduce any romantic notions, yet with all the mod-cons of the 21st century at your fingertips.
The crowning glory in the new dining restaurant is the ceiling full of nuances of the sky, taken from the painting Le Troupeau by the celebrated local artist Jean Honore Fragonard, says Mark.
Personally, I find the restaurant's views over Grasse and the pre-Alps more than enough for aesthetic gratification.
Mark, originally from Essex, who now lives in France with his family, added: "The renovation has been a huge success and we've already had many guests comment on the light we now have in the restaurant.
"It's made such a difference and, with a number of significant events coming up in the next few months, particularly the Monaco Grand Prix or Cannes Film Festival, we can't wait to welcome both new and old guests."
I'm convinced there will be many a celebrity left agog at the restaurant, the hotel and the spa but if you're here and fancy exploring the area, away from the crowds and the throb of Monaco or Cannes Film Festival, there is a wealth of things to do, not to mention an education to be had.
The Fragonard Museum in Grasse — an old town where Queen Victoria is said to have holidayed is a must.
It's billed as 'the perfume capital of the world', with around 30 perfume factories here supplying ingredients across the globe — you can create your own perfume here.
An amble near the the Place aux Aires is worthwhile.
Alternatively, stroll around Cannes old town where restaurant tables tumble out onto pavements with glimpses of the sea.
The Valmasque forest, too, is on the doorstep of Mougins, putting this little village and it's 'exquisite light' right at the heart of what's best in the French Riviera.
If unparalleled luxury, a warm yet unpretentious welcome and a large dose of peace in an unrivalled romantic setting are what tickles you're fancy — Mark Silver's Le Mas Candille won't fail to disappoint.
I am awash with calm after just two days here.
Cath was right: "There is something particularly special about this place."