Get a taste of local Provençal life steeped in history on a sojourn in a restored bastide in the Luberon countryside
If, at mention of the term ‘bed and breakfast’ you picture an old, poky living room with macabre paintings on the walls, artificially-lit halls and mish-mashed personalities awkwardly attempting conversation, allow me to introduce Domaine Clos Saint Estève in Provence to restore your faith. This elegant property in that golden corner that is the South of France turns the stereotype of the good old ‘B&B’ abruptly on its head.
Sure, you get a bed and breakfast, but the beds are within a lovingly restored, historic and luxurious house in the French countryside, the breakfast includes freshly-baked croissants from the local boulangerie, and the view from every room is across two hectares of magnificent, manicured gardens that appear to be straight out of a storybook.
Domaine Clos Saint Estève dates back to the Napoleonic era (late 18th to early 19th century), with iron work and other details from the period found in the house during its restoration, and landscapers putting the shady trees on the grounds at 100-150 years old. It is a property rich in history and abundant in charm, and with nature taking centre stage it feels purpose-built for peace, quiet and contemplation.
The traditional ‘bastide’– historically a summer residence for the French elite and nobility who lived in the city – has just five bedrooms: three within the bastide itself (‘the Chambres d’Hôtes), and two within a self-contained apartment, the Maison d’Amis, which has its own separate entrance and all the charm of a traditional Provencal ‘gite’ (holiday rental).
Every room at the property has views over those divine, sprawling gardens but only the grand, 100 square-metre Suite St Estève, where I’m staying, has double doors that open onto a Juliet balcony overlooking a patchwork of pinch-me purple lavender, in full bloom during my stay in the blistering late June heat.
With a desk, sofa, oversized dressing area and ensuite bathroom larger than some studio apartments, it’s a sumptuous, penthouse-sized space at a standard room price.
At home in Provence
As for the rest of the property – I can’t emphasise enough just how beautiful Domaine Clos Saint Estève is. The elegant and vibrant country kitchen would have been right at home in Julia Child’s house, and the double-height entry hall has a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf filled with the novels and tomes – fictional and not – that showcase Provence in all its glory.
I find Peter Mayle’s ‘A Year in Provence’ trilogy and even French language books, and the romance of it all is enough to make me want to kick off my shoes right then and there and settle into a reading marathon.