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Le Jeu Provençal

That brought us to Le Frégate's renowned eighteenth.

"A tremendously difficult finishing hole," Levy warned, "with several lakes on the left cascading down to a big one in front. You have to have great timing and carry 240 yards to clear the water from the back tees. If you stay humble, play the right side and kick back left, you'll be all right."

Only Levy was. It is very easy for the uninitiated to end up hunting balls in the scrubby garrigue while whistling for Hashish and wondering about the possibility of snakes. "There are only the vipers," Levy replied, "but they're small, and the only risk is stepping on one."

Donating a ball to the herbal fringe, we adjourned to Le Clubhouse Frégate for a marvelous two-hour repast of sea bass grilled over fennel twigs, and numerous samplings from a salad bar resplendent with delicate French lentils, carrot and celery-root crudités, fresh mozzarella submarined in the finest olive oil, a bruised rainbow of local olives and fat Marseilles figs, all accompanied by a bottomless glass of fine Bandol vin gris that seemed also to carry whispers of lavender and pine. The enchantment of Provence had set in.

It is the perfect postflight balm to retire to one's own noble chambers in the flawless Chãteau du Domaine Saint-Martin. Le Saint-Martin stands castlelike on the limestone spine of the Alpes-Maritimes, near the butted town of Vence, only twelve miles from Nice International Airport. The chãteau itself is but steps away from the chapel Matisse decorated in the late forties and early fifties to thank its Dominican nuns for nursing him through an illness terrible. The chãteau has quite a history. In 350, Saint Martin, evangelist of the Gauls, came to the original estate that then took his name. In 1115, the Count of Provence bequeathed the property to the Crusaders returning from Jerusalem on the condition that they protect the region. The present-day chãteau was built in 1936. It is mercifully easy to find because it is a member of the Relais & Chateaux tourism organization, whose administrators erect logically placed signs to guide you to the gates.

Your home here is a thing of spacious grace--a broad sitting area, a generous rose-de-Provence marble bathroom. The best part is an arched private terrace where you take a breakfast of fresh Provençal fruits en saison and morning breads, accompanied by exuberant church bells and the scents of juniper and lavender rising from the sunlit hill below. All that after a dinner the night before in the chãteau's palatial dining room, partaking of Chef Dominique Ferrière's specialties: grilled fillets of rougets (red snapper), famed Sisteron lamb in a salt crust with herbs from the house gardens, a fine Côtes de Provence and a cloudlike lemon-soufflé tart with a snifter of sweet muscat de Beaume de Vence.


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