I have been testing Lexus vehicles since the very first LS 400 back in 1989, yet I only realized during this profound recent experience with the all-new RZ 450e crossover in the South of France that it was my first official media trip with the brand since I founded C! Magazine in 2001. Humorously, my Philippine media companion on this incredible Lexus trip, James Deakin, had the honor and privilege of having the most experience with the brand which includes his mind-blowing Goodwood drive in the iconic LFA supercar as our very first employee of C! until he went solo back in 2012. So please cut me some slack as I gush about my very first Omotenashi Lexus experience.
I’ve been properly aware of the extreme levels of detail and thoughtfulness that Toyota Motor Philippines and Lexus Philippines performs at for over two decades but to actually experience it firsthand has been almost ethereal. I am very grateful as the intimate deep dive also allowed me to appreciate their collective efforts at a much more elevated level. The world launch of the all-new Lexus RZ 450e EV crossover marks the first in-person media effort for the brand since the beginning of the global pandemic.
As a quick reminder, Omotenashi is a Japanese expression that essentially describes particular concepts of heightened hospitality as well as mindfulness and Lexus has not only celebrated the countenance but continually redefines it.
The Lexus RZ 450e Philippine media trip covered a week-long experience of luxury and refinement which began with an early 2:30 am pick up from my home via a chauffeur-driven (by Jess Perlada) flagship LS 500h saloon, the same car and driver would return me back to complete the total journey. We flew out of Manila for Marseille via Turkish Airlines with a connection at the awesome new Istanbul Airport. The consistency of luxury and comfort was deliberate. A special shout-out to Carlo Ablaza, Vice President Lexus Brand Department at Toyota Motor Philippines Corporation and Nadinne Capistrano, Lexus Philippines Brand Officer and the lovely Madeleine Chan, Deputy General Manager Lexus Asia Pacific for organizing and inviting us to the media junket.
Taking the lead and managing James and I throughout the Lexus trip was the wonderful, hard-working Lexus Philippines brand marketing manager Jade Sison. As a preamble to the RZ model presentation in Aix-en-Provence, South of France at the majestic Château La Coste in the Luberon Valley, we stayed at the Hôtel Dieu Intercontinental Marseille set in an exquisite 18th century building in the historic quarter of the city. Marseille is the oldest city in France, dating to approximately 600 BC by Greek settlers from Phocaea, and the current capital of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region.
From the hotel we would visit key city heritage and cultural highlights like the Porte d’Orient war memorial located on the Kennedy corniche dedicated to the dead of the army of the East and distant lands of the First World War, the ancient city’s most popular symbol the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde, the Cathedral of Sainte-Marie-Majeure, the modern architectural wonder museum called the MuCEM that is linked by one 115-meter footbridge to Fort Saint Jean, with a second 70-meter footbridge connecting to the 12th century medieval parish church of Saint-Laurent and the Palais Longchamp with its beautiful water features and lush gardens. In between touring the sights we dined in and explored the Les Terrasses du Port and Les Docks Village malls ending the day with splendid third-wave specialty coffee at Deep Coffee located in Marseille’s Old Port. Then to cap off an already packed day brimming with rich cultural enlightenment, we were hosted to one of the finest seafood extravaganzas in Marseille, the Michelin-star restaurant L’Equisette managed by Chef Guillaume Sourrieu, perched dramatically on the rocks of the fishing haven Vallon des Auffes, that features one of the very best bouillabaisse-led dégustation multi-course meals I have ever eaten.
On route to Château La Coste in Aix-en-Provence the following day, we had yet another fine eclectic dining experience for lunch at the bohemian Drôle d’endroit before taking a walking tour through the beautiful and historic town where archeological excavations have unearthed Roman architecture, some seen in common but protected areas. Founded by the Romans in 122 BC, Provence was called Aquae Sextiae. Aix-en-Provence is commonly regarded as a standard bearer for the arts prominently showcased by its famous citizen, the French painter Paul Cézanne. Our open-air cultural museum walk ended with the famous Cours Mirabeau, which was built in the 17th century.
So, the City of Water and Art makes perfect sense as the general location for the launch of the Lexus RZ 450e that melds high technology with ingenuity, creativity, and fine craftmanship. Which leads to our definitive location for testing the ultra-sophisticated Lexus RZ 450e against the backdrop of incredible art installations and vineyards at the Château La Coste.
The 600-acre (243-hectares) Château La Coste is owned by Irish billionaire, international hotelier and developer Paddy McKillen. Château La Coste is a biodynamic vineyard (Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Vermentino wine varieties), an international destination for art, architecture and natural beauty with luxury accommodations in Villa La Coste where we were billeted. The gorgeous villa suite that I stayed in particular had a 110 sqm. floor area with an additional 40 sqm. terrace with a heated pool overlooking the valley. The vast and very engaging sculpture park contains art and architecture by Tadao Ando, Louise Bourgeois, Bob Dylan, Tracey Emin, André Fu, Frank Gehry, Andy Goldsworthy, Christopher Green, Kengo Kuma, Paul Matisse, Oscar Niemeyer, Jean Nouvel, Renzo Piano, Richard Rogers, Richard Serra, Conrad Shawcross, Lee Ufan, Ai Weiwei and Franz West among many other artists. Even the simple breakfast featured special bio eggs from Philippe Barras in Le Puy Sainte Réparade! In keeping with the Lexus theme of sustainable luxury, even the corporate loot bag giveaways used very tasteful biodegradable materials and the RZ 450e test units were charged using standalone Hydrogen Fuel Cell generators. There was wine tasting of course as well as a nice excursion to the organic and fully AOP-certified 13-hectare Domaine Bajolle family olive oil farm now managed by Dr. Lisa Bajolle where we got to sample and take home some of the very fine and delicious liquid gold.
Our fabulous farewell dinner was at the neighboring 18th Century Château de la Gaude amid a snowstorm that hadn’t hit Provence in over four years during this period. The Michelin-starred chef, Matthieu Dupuis Baumal, managed the excellent dining experience at La Source and made us forget the cold temperatures.
The Lexus RZ 450e is already a mobility revolution, but the support efforts surrounding the new crossover made us all appreciate even the smallest details and nuances all the more. The driving experience of the all-new Lexus RZ 450e was already a multi-sensory celebration but the standard-setting Omotenashi Lexus Experience made it the most enjoyable media event that I have ever had the honor and gratitude of being a participant in the past 22 years in the industry.