Nature and discovery in the hills of Vence

13 June 2022

 Guests of Château Saint-Martin & Spa can now enjoy a unique breakfast atop Baous des Blancs with Executive Chef Jean-Luc Lefrancois

Five years ago, while visiting L’Apogée Courchevel, former Olympic skier Florence Masnada found herself comparing notes with the hotel’s Executive Chef Jean-Luc Lefrançois. He too is an avid skier, and so very quickly they began devising a way to share their two passions – snow and gastronomy. “We were discussing a way of sharing our passions with our guests,” recalls Lefrançois. “I realised I could escort them myself. Perhaps the best part of my job is that my two passions are totally entwined. For example, I get my endurance from playing sports – I’m also a triathlete – which comes in handy when it’s busy in the kitchen.”

That initial conversation planted a seed and now Lefrançois is melding his love of the great outdoors and culinary excellence in the South of France.

Indeed, this summer, Château Saint-Martin & Spa is offering a new wellbeing experience designed to appeal to hikers, nature lovers and sports enthusiasts alike. The day will begin with a serene hike in the hills of Vence, where guests will encounter local flora, and unexpected landscapes. Then, Lefrançois will guide guests to the nearby summit of the impressive Baous des Blancs, where once at the top, guests will enjoy an energising breakfast in a unique and tranquil setting with breathtaking views over the Côte d’Azur and its rolling hinterland.

“I really love to spend great moments with people, share passions, discover nature and connect over food,” says the chef, who credits his grandfather for instilling his love of food. “My grandfather used to be a baker and he loved cooking. He was very passionate and happy to make delicious things for his grandchildren such as galettes and apple jelly.” But it was a fortuitous encounter as an apprentice chef that cemented his culinary ambitions. “One day my Master of Apprenticeship brought me to Paris to discover some of the city’s best restaurants, and we had lunch at Le Bristol. We met the chef who told me that if I get my diploma I could do an internship there. So my first experience of high gastronomy was at Le Bristol – of which I’m still very proud.”

As for sport? “My passion for sport came even earlier than gastronomy, because I loved spending time in holiday camps, participating in as many activities as I could,” remembers Lefrançois. At that time my neighbour and friend was passionate about cycling and knew everything about Le Tour de France; my idol was Eddy Merckx so I painted my bike in the same colour as his. I was even recruited to become a professional football player, but I didn’t ask my parents because I was sure they would refuse On the bright side, I would not have been a chef if I had become a football player.”

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