Family-Friendly France

Club Med makes the Cote d’Azure stress-free

By: Julie Mautner

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Guests can relax at any of the three pools.
Everyone loves the idea of the South of France in summer. But the reality? The crowds, the traffic, the high prices, the attitude? Not so much.

But with the June 2007 reopening of Club Med Opio in Provence after a $40 million renovation it’s possible to avoid every one of those height-of-the-season hassles. Within an hour of my arrival, I felt totally blessed rather than stressed. Call it the kinder, gentler Cote d’Azur.

Club Med Opio is a great base for exploring the famous hill towns of Grasse, St. Paul de Vence, Mougins and others. Cannes is down below at the seaside, just 10 miles away, with Nice and Monaco farther up the coast. The Club’s Excursion Desk organizes sightseeing trips and also works with guests to plan custom sorties.

The 435 rooms are pristine, with cool stone floors, puffy white duvets and shiny red armoires. (Rooms range from standard to balcony to suite.) Bathrooms have creamy stone sinks and showers are big enough for two. A plasma TV picks up a few English channels and the A/C blows stronger than the legendary Mistral. My Club Room was small but filled with conveniences, such as twisty halogen spots for reading in bed, powerful hair dryers and plenty of electrical outlets (converters and adaptors are available, but it’s best to bring your own).

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Club Med Opio offers tennis, golf, archery, trapeze, 4x4 treks, guided hikes, painting classes and other activities, either free or for a small fee. There’s a lovely spa, a well-equipped gym and a few exercise classes each day. A shop sells sparkly cover-ups, sunglasses and other resort essentials. With three pools to choose from, there’s never a shortage of lounge chairs. With multiple bars and cafes, chilly drinks are always at hand.

At the legendary buffet, the strategy is to blend local specialties with “safer” international cuisine, pleasing foodies and non-foodies alike. The choices were so extensive, in fact, that it would be hard to imagine even the pickiest eater going hungry. Local wines are placed on every table, and beer, coffee, juice and soda is self-serve. A second restaurant, at the golf course, offers table service and an a la carte menu.

Club Med’s all-inclusive policy is a particular treat in summer when local restaurants are crowded and often very expensive. And with the dollar at its current low, the savings can be substantial: In this part of France, it’s common to pay about $4 for a cafe au lait and as much as $68 per person for a bad bistro meal. Club Med’s no-tipping policy is a convenience as well.

Club Med Opio has comprehensive facilities and activities for babies (four months and up), toddlers and teens. There’s a children’s restaurant, a circus school for kids, a baby-food buffet and more. Opio beautifully illustrates the company’s ongoing commitment to the upscale family market. Club Med is in the midst of a $530 million restructuring, letting go of less-desirable clubs, renovating others and building new ones from the ground up. Four new Clubs will open in the next two to three years, including the first with five tridents (the company’s highest rating): Club Med Albion in Mauritius, which opened last month.

If you’re thinking that a stay at Club Med Opio means giving up any of the pleasures of a French country vacation, that’s simply not the case. After a long day of hiking, I felt totally pampered as I kicked back on a deep terrace couch, pastis in hand, and watched the sun set over the valley. The scent of lavender, rosemary, jasmine and pine perfumed the early evening breeze. A handsome GO played guitar while I eavesdropped on the conversations (in Dutch, Italian, French, Spanish and English) around me. If there was anything less-than-perfect happening here, I wasn’t going to be the one to find it.

Seven-night all-inclusive packages start at $1,068 per person, land only.

Commission is 10-15 percent for land and up to 10 percent for air.