Stay Here: Domaine De Manville, Les Baux-de-ProvenceBy Claudine Levy
When I was a young warthog, I fantasised about going to Provence to live on a farm. I imagined picking grapes during the wine harvest, pummelling them with my bare feet to produce my own plonk, falling in love with the farmer’s son, and frolicking in lush lavender fields with pockets full of cheese and a trail of baguette crumbs in my wake. Granted, these reveries most def derived from the propagandist Tricolore books, but still, the yearning was real.
Les Baux de Provence. Les. Baux. De. Prov. Ence. Remember that name, because this little town in the South of France is like something plucked straight out of a teenage francophile’s dream. The area is, unusually for france, famed for the sweet golden olive oil produced in the region. This means olive groves punctuate the green rolling vistas as far as the eye can see, while a soft Provençal breeze means that the skies are perpetually pretty and blue. The landscape is drier than other areas of Provence, and is characterised by the local stone which makes for a startling and dramatic panoramic. The jutting rock is coloured by swathes of lush green vegetation, and sweet farmhouses seem to grow from the stone itself, like little freckles. The view stretches for miles and miles, and makes you feel like a speck of dust, floating free and insignificant in a landscape which manages to put everything [Trump, Brexit] into perspective.
Domaine de Manville is the passion project of a couple who fell in love with an old farmhouse in the area. The renovated space consists of various wings moored to a sun-drenched central courtyard which acts as the heart of the hotel, replete with an outdoor swimming pool and bar. The main building is the original farmhouse, and houses the hotel’s two restaurants and most of the 30 bedrooms. Once you step outside you’ll find the ‘Winter Garden’ – a stunning conservatory where breakfast is served, the spa, and additional rooms built with the region’s distinctive limestone taking centre-stage. The hotel is intimate and effortlessly classy, in that classic French way of being nonchalantly chic. The luxury seems to shrug and say ‘What, this old thing?’. It’s as though such relaxed splendour is simply a given; it’s what we deserve, and this is what makes Hotel Domaine de Manville so special. Apparently the swish and sophisticated owners designed the hotel ‘like their own home’, and you can really feel that. It’s not OTT and lavish for luxury’s sake, it’s muted and sexy, it lulls you into believing this could be the norm.
The bedrooms are just as stylishly slick, with the suites opening onto little antichambers which are perfect for reading, replete with designer furniture, mood lighting and more ambience than you can shake a stick at. The rooms themselves are generous yet cosy, and manage to feel both extravagant and homely at the same time. Bathrooms are gorgeously clad with luxury fittings, with copper rain showers and roll-top bath as standard.
My favourite thing about the hotel is that they casually offer guests usage of their electric bicycles to explore the surrounding area. And boy is the area worth exploring. There is nothing more liberating than riding a bike through smooth country lanes, flanked on either side by breathtaking scenery. The streets are so smooth it feels like riding on silk. As well as local vineyards and olive groves to explore (where you can take part in wine and olive oil tastings respectively), there are two must see spots. Les Baux de Provence is a little medieval village which sits atop the mountain, and it’s like something plucked straight from a postcard. The tiny village has 25 occupants, and its winding streets lead you up to the crescendo of the Château des Baux, with spectacular ruins overlooking the vast valleys of Provence. On your way back down, stop off at the artisan shops which are curated based on the high quality local produce.
After visiting the village, for the love of god make sure you get tickets to Carrières de Lumières, which was the single most spectacular experience of my life. Carrières de Lumières is a project unlike an other I’ve ever seen. Huge scale paintings by the great masters (Bosch, Brueghel, Arcimboldo) are projected onto the walls of a dark, cavernous cave. And… it is spectacular. I can barely do the experience justice, but please take my word for it, this is something you must see. Intense classical and contemporary music provides a backdrop to the immersive art, which has been digitalised and adapted to suit the space. The projections of the paintings play with the music to create a ludicrously trippy and sublime display. You’ll find yourself gaping up, with your gaze pulled in the direction of the many transfixing surfaces of the unusual surroundings. The exhibit runs until January 2018, and for those of you who are fans of immersive art, I urge you to pack your bags to Provence, asap.
The hotel has two restaurants – the Bistro and the La Table, the former is a casual lunch spot, with gorgeous outside seating area set amidst the Provençal hills. For dejeuner you should order the truffled scrambled eggs, if the season’s right. The brouillade aux truffes, the rolling hills, the sunshine of Provence = bliss. Take a bite of truffled egg, follow it with a chaser of bread, which will be waiting in the basket on the table for you, sip your wine, and you will feel… full. Full of food, yes, but more deliciously, full of life, and full of wonder. All this from an egg! If you’re not in an eggy mood, make sure you order the roasted chicken with tomatoes, mushrooms and chestnuts, (Provence on a plate).
For dinner, be sure to visit the hotel’s ‘gastronomic restaurant’, La Table. It says something, surely, that I went to this restaurant alone with my book, and didn’t open it once over the course of a three hour meal – so distracted was I by the food. To start, scallops spliced with truffle. Truffle runs the risk of stealing every dish, and in this case, it did, but happily. Next, duck breast with burnt quince is a perfect pairing. Or, if you want to try something a bit alternative, order the crispy sweetbreads with grapefruit (I’ll leave you to google the anatomy) – a lush, rich, melting dish. The puddings are as you’d expect from the masters of patisserie: painfully brilliant. Fluffy floating islands are filled with matcha and black currant, and a chocolate soufflé. The memory of which is too tantalising to put into words.
Just beside the beautiful breakfast conservatory is the hotel’s perfect little spa. For what it may lack in size, it certainly makes up for with serenity. With the Alpilles as background, the Spa of Domaine de Manville at Baux-de-Provence opens its doors for a getaway of well-being among the Provençal landscape. The spa feeds off the general vibe of the hotel, and is not so much an escape, as an amplifier of the luxuriously slow and calm atmosphere. The small heated pool is perfect for a few meditative laps before heading into the jacuzzi, sauna and steam rooms.
The spa offers a variety of treatments from body scrub to hot stone massage. The therapists are gentle and coaxing, and we suggest having the 30 minute back and shoulder massage at the beginning of your stay, to help untangle those London knots and ease you into your languorous stay.
For more information, visit the Domaine de Manville’s website here. Alpilles Natural Regional Park, 13520 Les Baux-de-Provence, France.