Sitting down to breakfast at a flagstone terrace bathed in sunshine next to rows of succulent grapes ready to burst is just one of the delights of a stay at the 15-room La Bastide de Marie in Luberon Regional Park.
Located in the foothills, this elegant 18th century residence is nestled among 57 acres of vines – a classic rural retreat, the beauty of which helped me understand more fully what drove Peter Mayle, living in Menerbes three miles away, to pen his bestselling memoir, ‘A Year in Provence.’
Entering off a countryside road and through sturdy electronic gates, the growl and grind of modern city life suddenly seems a world away. Cyprus trees, century-old olive trees and scented lavender bushes lead up to the main cas, or mansion, set amidst a copse of pine, olive and oak. Undulating pebbled pathways offer tantalizing invitations for leisurely strolls throughout the large demesne.
Walk from the small parking area and through a narrow stone passageway and you’re greeted by a line of copper-colored ornamental urns filled with colorful flowers and tendrils of ivy clinging to the main walls of the bastide. A curious dog wags its tail enthusiastically in warm welcome. A small dipping pool stands outside the intimate reception area offering refreshing respite from the noonday heat.
Our accommodation, located just inside the narrow entrance passageway, comprised a series of interconnecting rooms, rustic and cozy, with a flagstone-floored sitting-room, slanted exposed beams in a low ceiling, an open fireplace fronting a pair of comfy, gray and crimson armchairs and sofa and a simple round wood dining table and chairs. Curtains separate this area from the main bedroom, with boasts a canopy bed, and the bathroom, which features a clawfoot bathtub and a double sink. Vases and books line the shelves and a glass cabinet is displays a collection of what would have been used as herb jars. A French door from the sitting room leads outside to a compact privacy space bordered by hedges with table and chairs laid out.
The sitting room of the main building, a few steps away, reflects disheveled countryside innocence, a reminder of a charming brocante, with a pot filled with lavender stems, a glazed urn, a wall tapestry, shelves stocked willy-nilly with old manuscripts and tall glass cabinets containing a hodgepodge of items in no particular order including a collection of acorns, glass bottles, a hat box, a porcelain jug, even an alabaster frog ornament and a vintage birdcage. An iron staircase curls up to rooms above while a large stone fireside fronts sofas and seats with a pile of logs stacked beside it. Adjacent rooms either side, one containing a line of alabaster busts and enamel pots on side-cabinets, are used for dinners and breakfasts, with an open terrace where pre-dinner drinks are served.
General manager, Mireille, a natural-born hostess, gregarious and talkative, welcomed us warmly for dinner in a rustic conservatory where a lively, informal atmosphere prevailed, with some guests knowing each other from previous stays. Having witnessed tomatoes of various types being brought to the kitchen earlier in baskets, as well as savory mixed leaves and herbs, we were confident what we were about to eat was literally ‘’straight from the garden.’
They combined wonderfully with spelt risotto, parmesan and cepe mushrooms; home-made terrine with onion confit; rabbit rolls filled with olives, sun-dried tomatoes and served with Provencal sauce, polenta and Brussels sprouts, and the most decadent of local desserts, traditional baba – a brioche soaked in rum and covered in vanilla cream and red-berry fruits.
The domain serves its own homemade wines (rose, red and white) which can also be ordered in the US. Arnaud Bressi, master of the cellar, situated a few hundred meters away, explained that old noble grape varieties such as Grenache and Syrah have been kept while lower quality ones were removed and replaced by others such as Roussanne, Vermantino, Cinsault and Mourvedre.
Aside from accommodation options both inside and immediately adjacent to the main building, there is also Villa Grenache, located a few hundred yards away on the 22-hectare estate with its own private swimming pool.
Two other open-air swimming pools adjoin each other beside a grassy patch of ground. La Bastide de Marie, also offers Pure Altitude spa treatments in two separate rooms.
One of the advantages of staying at La Bastide de Marie is the opportunity, all within an hour’s drive, to visit many quaint Provençal villages such as Menerbes, where Picasso’s bought his mistress, Dora Mar, her home; Forcalquier, where Distilleries et Domaines de Provence, maker of many fine liquors including Henri Bardouin pastis and vermouth Absentroux, offers public tours; Roussillon, with its vivid ochre-colored cliffs; and Lacoste, where fashion guru Pierre Cardin has renovated the Marquis de Sade’s former chateau, placing giant esoteric sculptures out front for all to admire. The historic town of Avignon is only a half hour’s drive away, with its towering Pope’s Palace, a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the most important medieval Gothic buildings in Europe.
If it’s a quiet, rural southern French retreat you’re after with nearby medieval hill-top villages to drive through and a fine homemade wine to enjoy, La Bastide de Marie is a property that’s hard to beat.