Club Med Opio in Provence
by Marlene Fanta Shyer
(June 21, 2007) Since Larchmont is chockablock with Francophiles, what better vacation choice than Provence? Whether you are fluent in French or can only manage a "Merci beaucoup," for a family trip, a honeymoon or just a summer getaway, a possible option is the newly refurbished, "upscaled" Club Med Opio. This leopard has changed its spots, or at least brightened them, and while there is no beach at this village, the surrounding countryside is reason enough to stay here. It's located a convenient fourteen miles from the French Riviera, and there's a nonstop flight from New York that gets you to Nice in less than eight hours.
The resort's setting, on a Cote d'Azur bluff, consists of a panorama of pine trees, olive groves and mountain views; what's seen from the outdoor dining terrace will do wonders for your photo album. Unless you crave one, there's not a dull moment: The village has been filled with every possible vacation option for adults or children.
Originally, the Club Meds, short for Mediterraneans, were simple unlit straw huts on a beachfront, without heat and with shared washing facilities. The idea came from a Belgian water polo champion, Gérard Blitz, who saw the postwar need for a simple, affordable vacation and built the first village in Majorca in 1950. He and a hundred kindred spirits created the "all-inclusive" concept, and those who couldn't afford the price of admission worked as Gentil Organisateurs, roughly translated as Gracious Hosts. Staff members are still known today as GO's, and at Opio, are young, friendly and usually bilingual.
This paradise for families does actually live up to its promise of something for everyone: babies to teens get their age-appropriate clubs with at least two staff members as chaperones. They have their own swimming pool, and a variety of choices in activities, including a summer "circus" which teaches kids to fly through the air on a trapeze twenty-five feet above the ground (over a net!) tennis or golf lessons, snorkeling, archery, hiking, panque. If they're still awake after dinner, (eaten with counselors or parents,) a nightly family-friendly floor show will keep them entertained.
For adults, there's a child-free swimming pool, gym, with various fitness classes every day, a spa that includes hammam and sauna, a nine-hole golf course and twenty others (with eighteen holes) in the area. These incur extra charges, but otherwise everything else is included in Club Med's weekly rate, except spa treatments, champagne (sorry!) and the excursions.
The excursions are the icing on the Opio cake, because the village is located within a forty minute drive of the best that Provence has to offer: Grasse, known for its perfume industry (a tour of the Fragonard factory is fun and there are merchandise discounts), Cannes, the waterfront home of the famous annual film festival, which is also boutique and people-watching heaven, and on the way, the medieval Mougins, where Picasso spent the last fifteen years of his life. Treat yourself to a meal at the world famous L'Amandier restaurant here, 25 Euros prix fixe lunch, 34 or 44 for dinner (without wine) and don't miss the most dazzling town of all, St. Paul de Vence, inspiration for artists and writers for centuries. This is the second most visited village in the country and for good reason; its winding, narrow streets and ancient stone facades are a browser's dream of open-door art galleries, bakeries, and artisans' tiny shops.
The Club Med accommodations are newly refurbished, in separate three-story buildings, each named for a local herb, (as Jasmine, or Romarin, which grow in the area.) As is the rest of the resort, the design of the rooms is colorful, clean and modern, but the rooms are generally small and the lighting could be more generous. Each is furnished with two twin beds, a chair and a flat-screen TV. Some rooms connect to an adjacent duplicate, some have a trundle bed so that a family of three might be able to squeeze into the space. To Americans, spoiled by larger hotel rooms, these may seem like a tight fit. You might also miss the ubiquitous domestic motel amenities of ice buckets, washcloths, CNN and TV movie options--there are only two English-speaking channels available here--and the wake-up call that sometimes doesn't come. Even so, a top Parisian design team has been at work and its creative touch is everywhere. Also on the plus side, wireless internet will soon be available throughout the resort and there will also be a business center for those who choose to leave their computers at home.
The price, depending on the season, begins at about 1068 Euros per person for seven-night inclusive packages, (tips not expected). The food, which is served buffet style, is plentiful, varied, fresh, and excellent. There is a lavish spread of hors d'oeuvres served with a choice of pastel drinks at the cocktail hour at poolside every evening and the bar is always open. The bartenders seem more than happy to fix a daiquiri or a Kir at any time of day or night and all you really need is a "Merci beaucoup." What more can you possibly expect from a vacation?
Marlene Fanta Shyer writes for adults and children - and sometimes about Larchmont, where she lived for many years. For more info on the club, see www.ClubMed.com, or call: 1-800-CLUB-MED.