Fairy-tales, Cinderella and Rococo are the images that come to mind upon approaching the magical Château de Robernier. It’s hard to believe a castle like this exists here in Provence let alone be a true part of its Bourbon history.
But there it lies, beyond the acres of vineyards that are turning a tinge of red in the beginning of the Fall season. The imposing property can be found at the end of a long and rocky driveway off the north side of the Route de Brignoles, on the edge of Cotignac and just into Montfort, but without even a clear sign-post to direct the visitor. At first glance, Chateau de Robernier is a jaw-dropping and breathtakingly-elegant mansion, complete with two perfectly cylindrical blue turrets, that takes one back to a time when royalty still existed in France.
The chateau, first built in the mid 17th century then added onto in the 18th century, was purchased from a descendent member of the Robernier family, in a dilapidated state, in 2005 by Cecile Andersen and her husband, both from Switzerland, and carefully restored (over the last few years) to its original bourgeois glory. The area was once also called Robernier and stretched as far north as the border of the Var until parts of it were sold off over the centuries. Although the restoration project is ongoing, the Andersens have succeeded in lovingly transforming their 22 bedrooms, 19 bathrooms and the many reception areas (2,000 square meters in all) to opulent perfection while avoiding the common (and French) mistake of looking too gawdy or ornate. The bedrooms are reminiscent of the style of Louis XVI but without the intricate details which might normally make one feel dizzy rather than pampered. The reception area walls are tastefully decorated with white and gold trim while the floors are a soothing dark grey and white marble. Every room has very large but appropriate crystal chandeliers hanging from the very high ceilings (scaffolding had to be built to hang them) and the ground floor bathrooms were the most impressive – decorated with waxed concrete walls in a textured charcoal with a brushed effect and black velvet furniture – a gothic, but not tacky, touch.
They did all this for themselves, Cecile insists, as their home in the South of France where they love to entertain family and friends from all over the world. The busy couple normally divide their time between Monaco, London, and Provence.
The interior of the building did not feel, as one might expect, overwhelmingly palatial to the visitor. Instead it felt like a luminous and comfortable stately home that you would really want to spend the night in. I asked if it was difficult to heat the interior in the winter but Cecile assured me the fuel-powered radiators worked so well “it’s almost too hot in here.”
At the west end is the orangerie: a seven windowed corridor overlooking the gigantic gravel-filled-terrace with old Plane trees. It is by far the brightest room in the chateau and one that would make the perfect breakfast area for a five-star hotel. But the Ruppmanns have no intention of making their home a public landmark. They are quite happy sharing it from time to time but keeping it a “secret”and relatively private.
Chateau de Robernier also bottle their own wine (the grapes are taken to the cooperative in Montfort) made from their vineyards but their winery and caves are still undergoing the slow process of renovation. For the moment they do not commercialise but do consume and privately share their label.
So here is the best news (and very few people know about this): that the chateau can be rented out for a weekend, a week, or even more and used for functions like weddings, parties, and those special lunch meetings. “We have hosted four Chinese and even a Japanese wedding here this year and it’s been a lot of fun,” said the enthusiastic Cecile.
I wondered how people even knew how to book with the Andersens if they do not advertise their property at which she replied “I’m not sure…I think people just talk about us.” And talk they would, in the same way I am writing about the place. It’s too hard not to boast you’ve been there. But the princess-castle remains, for now, “the best kept secret in Provence.”