Domaine de la Baume: playing pétanque at an 18th century Provençal mansion

Standing high above hazy hills with its dazzling ochre façade, vivid blue shutters and rows of vintage chestnut trees, Domaine de la Baume is a classic portrayal of a Provençal postcard.

In many ways, reality outshines image for this 99-acre, 18th century bourgeoisie demesne a few miles from the village of Tourtour offers much more – a roaring waterfall; Italianate gardens featuring ornate statues and pebble-strewn pathways; an outdoor swimming pool framed by ornamental lions, urns and vases; ponds with water-lilies; and herb and vegetable plots. Why, there’s even a private pétanque pitch.

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The interior is equally impressive. Our room, Carmen, entered under a stone archway with a generous foliage of olive trees out front, was a striking palette of crimson wood paneling and duck-egg walls with brown terracotta floor tiles and furnishings comprising a tall wooden closet, a small table with two soft back chairs and a pair of armchairs under a high ceiling of exposed beams. Simple flower prints in silver frames decorated the walls while calico fabrics and the scenic patterns of Toile de Jouy created added splashes of color to the overall ambiance. Delightfully, the bed was of an elegant four-poster variety and the bathroom boasted a double sink, an elephant-foot tub and separate shower.

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A member of Maisons & Hotels Sibuet, this former home of well-known French artist, Bernard Buffet, opened less than two years ago, offers fifteen bedrooms. While each of them reflects its own individual character, Jocelyne Sibuet, who supervised the interior design, has interspersed Cabriolet and Bergère armchairs with delicately painted antique furniture a la Braquenié thus creating a stylish reinterpretation of 18th century style. A kaleidoscope of color sweeps through the property ranging from brown to dusky pink, pale jade green to deep blue, as well as saffron and ochre. Kilim rugs in deep hues adorn parquet flooring with geometrical patterns. Some of the rooms have sparkling arabesques chandeliers.

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Dining was a visual feast – not just referring to the food. Amuse bouche of anchovy, eggplant and peppers and a complimentary aperitif was served in an outer room with a slanted glass ceiling, an extension of the lobby, whose entire walls are covered in vivid frescoes of rustic, countryside scenes.

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Following the tradition of Provencal cuisine, the menu changes according to seasonal products. On our visit, we were delighted with a light but creamy soup of courgettes and sage, topped with roasted peanuts; a pigeon duo (magret and confit) served with red wine sauce, artichoke hearts, caper berries, carrots, red basil and sarriette (or savory, an herb from nearby hills). Make sure to sample the homemade olive oil, a combination of three different varieties from over 800 trees and taste the fresh goat’s cheese the chef sources from a neighboring farm then serves with honey.

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The dining rooms – there are two interconnecting ones – are a vivid blend of red and gold with decorative blue textile wallpaper and large cupboards displaying vintage plates. Seating is on cane-backed chairs at round, metal tables with wall lamps providing soft illumination.

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Beside the dining area are several lounges featuring finely engraved wood wall paneling with inset candle holders. Comfy sofas, baroque armchairs and plush banquettes offer plenty of seating choice. Diverse decorations included pottery, painted wall plates, books and a peculiarly esoteric set of miniature porcelain statutes featuring animal faces, their bodies robed in meditation as if monks in prayer. An immense fireplace in one room is well guarded by a pair of stern-looking black metallic dogs staring fixedly ahead.

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A highlight of breakfast is the diversity of breads, including a delicious fig and brazil nut one, complemented by homemade jams and honey. The omelet of cheese and artichoke was superb as was four different varieties of tomato soaked in the property’s olive oil.

Located as it is between the Verdon Gorges and the French Riviera, a stay at Domaine de la Baume encourages scenic drives past vineyards and olive groves to nearby villages. One such stop-over is the charming Tourtour which boasts eight fountains, a water wheel at the traditional oil mill (which presses olives from the Domaine de la Baume), two chateaux and their watchtowers, flower-filled squares and a maze of narrow streets filled with boutiques and cafes to wander through.

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After exploring the local area, back at the domaine, reward yourself with a massage in a quiet, cozy building separated from the main property. Or, if it’s summer, in a special hut located within earshot of the musical waterfall.

Domaine de la Baume offers a classic relaxing Provencal vacation, its main virtues being an idyllic rural setting and wonderful food based mainly on in-season, locally-grown produce.

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