Postcard from... Provence
I had heard a lot about Domaine des Andeols (www.domaine-des-andeols.com), the rural retreat that’s a favourite with hip Parisians and design junkies for its Alain Ducasse restaurant and artwork and its peace and quiet among the 30 hectares of vineyard and the rolling hills of the Luberon in Provence. There are 10 individual houses or villas, each with a kitchen and dining room and some with private gardens and individual pools. Each house is characterised by its artwork – Warhol’s in one, Ron Arad and Mies van der Rohe furniture in another. The owner, Olivier Massart, spent long summers here as a boy, and as a successful events and fashion show director, the hotel grew naturally out of his own predilection for mixing friends with artists and photographers around the dining room table.
Figs, lavender and vines provide a central theme for the scented and immaculately landscaped grounds that are punctuated with rare sculptures and don’t have a single blade of grass out of place. From the polished concrete giant bathtubs to the slate indoor and outdoor pool and scarlet spa, it is straight out of the pages of Interiors or Architectural Digest. While it is beautiful and glamorous certainly, it’s not exactly cosy, nor effortlessly comfortable - hangs up, no doubt, of my own, very English sensibility and sense of aesthetics. You will either loathe it or love it and the dinner is undoubtedly a conversation point.
In the nearby tiny village of Banon, there is a bookshop which would be better suited to Piccadilly Circus. Le Bleuet is France’s third largest bookshop – it has four floors with great sections for children, photography and foreign travel.
For an inexpensive place to stay, try Chambre avec Vue (www.chambreavecvue.com) in wonderful Saignon en Luberon. Selected artists are invited to stay and paint, draw or sculpt for free but there are also four rooms available to paying guests with a really charming garden in this wonderful unspoilt little village perched near Apt. Make sure you eat at La Petite Cave restaurant, which is run by an Englishman (www.lapetitecave-saignon.com).
In the shadow of the Bishops Palace in Avignon, we stayed at La Mirande (www.la-mirande.fr) – it was our third visit and still a great hotel, even in a 43 degree heat without a pool (the owner refuses to consider one as he thinks it would ruin the period authenticity of the place). There isn’t a false decorative note anywhere; everything from the antique glass in the windows to the 18th century hand blocked wallpapers in the various salons is either vintage or sourced from original designs. Yet the place is saved from being too precious or museum-like by the easy charm and professionalism of the staff, especially the sommelier and maitre d’ in the michelin starred restaurant who I noticed made lone diners feel comfortable (and interestingly there are tables permanently laid out for just one). Like all great hotels there is no charge for bottled water in the bedrooms or wifi and the silent air conditioning is extraordinary. Six new rooms will open soon in a renovated wing overlooking the palace and hotel gardens.