Callas: Les Gorges de Pennafort

Callas: Les Gorges de Pennafort

The change in the landscape is dramatic. The country road, surrounded by lush vineyards, enters a forest of green oaks, where the air is deliciously cool, and suddenly emerges into a spectacular gorge of red ocher cliffs known as “le petit Colorado”. Hidden away at the foot of a canyon is the Hostellerie Les Gorges de Pennafort, an elegant 16- room hotel in a traditional, blue-shuttered Provençal bastide, run by Michelin one-star chef Philippe Da Silva and his wife Martine.

Da Silva, born in the nearby village of Cogolin, spent some 25 years in Paris as chef of the renowned restaurant Chiberta, before returning to his native turf in this wild corner of Provence in 1995. “I’ve been interested in cuisine since I was 14,” he says with a warm smile, “and I’ve always loved the southern cuisine de grand-mère, like potato salad with olive oil, or vegetable pistou soup.” There’s a playful and passionate glint in his eyes as he gets going on the subject of food. “When I was a kid, the entire village used to go to the baker’s to cook their Sunday chicken or pork in the wood oven. Meals were always festive.”

“Today,” he adds, “what is most important to me is to use the very best local products. We don’t try for sophistication here—it’s all about flavor.”

Like Da Silva’s generous and artfully authentic cooking, the hotel has an unpretentious, welcoming vibe. The cheery, comfortable rooms, some with outdoor terraces, are decked out in a pretty Provençal decor, with flowered bedspreads in traditional boutis quilting, and gleaming marble bathrooms. The latest addition is the small spa, with a fitness room, a Moroccan-style hammam steam bath and a wide range of treatments, from purifying anti-age facials with Thalgo beauty products to a body scrub with sea salt, sugar and Mediterranean fruit. Best bets: the toning Ayurvedic massage with hot essential oils of sandalwood, cedar and patchouli, or a relaxing massage with organic lavender oil. There’s also a newly revamped outdoor swimming pool with a wooden deck looking onto the gorge, and a perfect pond replete with ducks and swans.

But the biggest draw is Da Silva’s gorgeous cuisine—the reason sports and film stars, and government bigwigs from Monaco, drop in incognito for lunch. (Yes, there’s a helipad.) Plan to linger a while at the table, since meals begin with a few delicate amuse-bouches—a shot of creamy zucchini flower soup, for example—and end with an extravagant farandole—literally, a fanfare—of wildly creative and heavenly desserts.

It’s hard to resist the homemade chestnut bread and mini-baguettes with rosemary and fleur de sel, and starters range from delicious lobster salad—with fresh asparagus, tomatoes confites and green apples—to Da Silva’s sublime signature dish, foie gras ravioli in a creamy sauce with shaved Parmesan and truffle.

Next might come perfectly cooked sea bass with wild mushrooms, or a fillet of Saint Pierre (John Dory) with olives and shellfish, or a generous veal chop with finely diced seasonal vegetables. Everything, from the produce plucked from the hotel’s kitchen garden to the superb olive oil pressed at the mill down the road in Callas, is the real deal. Desserts include poached pear with a flaky ginger biscuit and caramel ice cream, feather-light grapefruit tiramisu with pineapple-basil sherbet, and a cigar-shaped dark-chocolate pastry served with a foamy “whiskey-cigar” emulsion. The impressive wine list offers a good choice of award-winning Var vintages, including a velvety red Château Saint Julien.

Hotel guests can work off the culinary extravaganza on the tennis courts, or stroll through the gorge on well-marked paths. For extreme sports fans, the mighty Gorges du Verdon are only a short distance away, but chances are you’ll want to stay put. Pennafort is the flip side of buzzy Saint-Tropez, and less than an hour’s drive from the coast.

RD 25, Callas, website

Doubles from €185; fixed price menus €49, €65, €80, 9-course tasting menu €140. Prices are per person without wine.

Originally published in the January 2011 issue of France Today

See our complete hotel guide



Share to:  Facebook  Twitter   LinkedIn   Email

Previous Article The French-American Foundation Weekly Brief
Next Article The Dordogne Valley in Corrèze

Related Articles

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *