Off the motorway, up to Old Mougins, down a narrow street and then down a large alley of olive trees – welcome to Le Mas Candille.

I had already done this trip twice in summer, but this time was different. The sun had just set, the lights were on, and the Christmas lights sparkled on the fir tree at the reception entrance.

The smiling receptionist accompanied us to our room in the Mas, an old 18th century farmhouse now renovated to reflect a gentle balance between tradition and modernity. We felt at home, or rather, as in the countryside: soft carpet, wooden cupboards, a large comfortable bed with a nice view of the cypress, pine, and olive trees which make up the foreground of the surrounding landscape. I love these places outside of the summer season, because an entirely different charm emerges.

By the time we had unpacked and refreshed ourselves, it was already past 8:30pm.
To get to the gastronomic restaurant, we crossed the bar, which features a beautiful fireplace. I’ve always liked chimney fires, the atmosphere is so warm, even cozy. An ideal setting for a digestif or a hot drink after dinner.

The gastronomic restaurant Le Candille is panoramic. In the evening when it’s dark, it feels like you are floating in the air. To be surrounded by nothingness, the silence is so golden.

Xavier Burelle’s cuisine is comforting and delicate. A lover of fresh produce, he plays with the seasons and highlights a specific ingredient as the key that he uses from starters to desserts. This time it was the artichoke. And yes, we had artichoke for dessert.

Xavier made his debut in Paris and in the South East of France; his cuisine pays homage to his journey and his adopted region, Provence. He creates his plates in a very refined way, with a main element, a garnish and a sauce. And he’s good at sauces. At general cooking, too, but his sauces…

For the first starter in his signature menu, we tasted his interpretation of Bouillabaisse. An original hot-cold take in a beautiful glass.

Then followed his flagship starter, which I couldn’t get enough of: his seasonal vegetable tart. This one was made with both cooked and raw carrots, topped with white balsamic and olive oil from Saint-Jeannet. The base of this colourful and springing bouquet is a crumbly shortbread dough. Toasted multicoloured cauliflower tops brought colour and crunch to this composition.

For the record, before I tell you more about the menu, last summer I talked with Xavier for my last photo series on chocolate and vegetables. Indeed, for 4 years now, I have had the chance to exhibit my works at the Salon du Chocolat. Each year, I call on pastry chefs and cooks whose work and staff I admire. I challenge them to offer me a unique creation based on chocolate and another ingredient that I photograph in natural light, at 60mm and at a certain angle. The proposed creations are not intended to be part of a card or a showcase. The goal is for chefs to get out of their comfort zones, to get rid of the constraints of a plate. Xavier had therefore offered me his vegetable tart, which he had embellished with chocolate shavings and placed on a pebble bed. The sun rays shone through the cypress trees, I chose to shoot from that angle, with half a sunny tart in the shot. The picture shone. During the hanging, the 25 prints measured 1m by 70cm. What has and always does amuse me in making these series is to never influence the chefs by other people’s work and, in the end, to discover a certain harmony despite each person’s work and radically different universes. I would like to take this opportunity to again thank Xavier for his participation. It was important to me.

So, after the vegetable tart, we enjoyed an incredible pigeon pie and vegetables from Provence, like a ratatouille, with a light anchovy juice that I greedily enjoyed. The puff pastry was buttery and cooked to perfection. And I’m not even talking about the garnish, which stood out wonderfully and melted in the mouth. An absolute delight.
Saint-Pierre cooked unilaterally, purple artichokes, Monalisa gnocchi, coffee bone juice. A dish with unique but masterful concoctions, which I had already had the pleasure of tasting. In this dish, Xavier worked on the bitterness of the purple artichokes and the juice in a frank and exemplary way.

Roast venison loin, quince purée and game sauce with sweet spices – otherwise known as the dish that smells of the holiday season. In that moment, we felt as though we were wrapped up in a blanket in front of the fireplace.

Finally, pastry chef Olivier Roth offered us his incredible artichoke and orange dessert, consisting of spiced artichoke purée, praline cream and orange sorbet. The balance was a perfect addition to this wonderfully tuned dinner, with delicious wines selected by the sommelier.

Waking up at Le Mas Candille means witnessing a trickle of warm colours appear on the hills of Mougins. In the morning, the gastronomic restaurant hosts the breakfast buffet. After the dark evening skies, we discovered the early morning panoramic view of the trees and contemporary works of art scattered throughout the gardens. The view is breathtaking.

Breakfast is complete; it can be healthy, with a wide choice of squeezed juices, sliced fruits, breads and pastries, dairy products, cold meats, cereals, smoked salmon and à la carte eggs. Enough to fill the stomach properly before a full morning loaded of… idleness!

In the summer season, Le Mas Candille opens its swimming pools. I’ve already been there for a summer, it’s great for swimming. But in winter, it’s closed as it’s not heated, but still as pleasant to look at. That day, the sky was beautiful, completely empty of clouds. From a certain angle, one could have confused the blue of the sky with that of the water. It was very beautiful.

Depending on where you are standing, on the side of the rail to enter the water, the hashtag #LeMasCandille to the right of the voluptuous statue seems to be far away; as if it sat on the hill in the background. It’s a bit like the HOLLYWOOD sign, yes.

 At lunchtime, chefs Xavier Burelle and Olivier Roth offer a market menu that changes every two weeks, with two choices of entrees, mains and desserts.

Seared tuna with satay sauce, carrot cream with lemon yuzu, emulsion of coconut milk and lime, and Opera-style foie gras, lemon jelly and caviar, and brioche for starters.

Sea bass in gratin, mashed potatoes with lemon zest and basil.

Like a Paris-Brest, praline cream and coconut sorbet, and caramel and passion fruit Millefeuille with guava freshness.

All in its simplicity and deliciousness. It was perfect for lunch.

It’s funny how the rain announced our departure, a bit like in a film, where after the blue sky, the rain marks the end of the enchantment. Like it’s cleaning everything up, like it’s time to return to reality. But, in reality, those few drops did not stop us from enjoying the open-air bliss at the Spa Candille with their ESPA products. Besides, I even wonder if I didn’t enjoy the experience more. Feeling the cool drops fall on our head and drip down our cheeks while our bodies, immersed in the hot jacuzzi, let themselves be carried away by the swirls.

The same goes for the sauna, built like a small, hidden, wooden hut, where we could watch the falling rain through the small window while the temperature rose and the steam was released. The concept of time was totally abstract, but my hour-long Swedish massage, which I wanted to be invigorating and relaxing at the same time, had to be for me the greatest treat. The masseuse had magic fingers, she was fantastic! I fell deeply asleep while she massaged me and I woke up fully relaxed. My immersive massage was based on aromatherapy, and I highly recommend the care behind this brand and their products!

It was hard to leave, especially since the rain had fell even harder when we left. It was a bit like saying goodbye, even though we are only a few hours away from this little corner of paradise.

Unable to bear such long separations, I sincerely think of returning to Le Mas Candille very soon.

A big thank you to the whole team, Tina, Caroline, Xavier, Olivier … and Alexandre, for coming with me.

Géraldine Martens
@geraldinemartens