Rond Point de la Fontaine
Tel: 33 4 42 32 20 16
This rambling stone manor in a park full of plane trees is just a few miles from the A8 highway between Cassis and Aix-en-Provence, making it a fine launching point for exploring western and central Provence. The 24-room hotel is furnished in über-classic Provençal style, without a hint of modernity: Antiques are everywhere, and the ground floor is a succession of stately salons that serve as reception, dining, and lounge areas. Gobelins tapestries and vermilion silk wallpaper adorn the walls, occasionally enlivened by oddly amateurish Romantic paintings. Rooms feature four-poster beds with pastoral prints and curtains and tile floors. It's not modern luxury, but the mazelike corridors give the whole place the feeling of a crazy 18th-century country house. Half- and full-board options are well worth it: The in-house restaurant serves up elegant country food, including foie gras with lentils, seared sea scallops, firm sea bass on a bed of forest mushrooms, and meltingly tender baby lamb chops flavored with rosemary. The only danger is in getting lost on your way back to your room through the labyrinthine hallways. Waking up to the views of the park out front or the mountains behind is worth the price in itself.
Open mid-March through September.
Domaine de Terre Blanche
Tel: 33 4 94 39 90 00
"The location is isolated but very scenic" at this contemporary resort 30 minutes from Cannes. "Beautiful rooms" in hillside villas have rattan chairs, local artwork, and private patios with "gorgeous mountain views." At the spa, treatments like a sugar and honey scrub "are expensive but worth it." Guadina serves Provençale specialties on the terrace. "Staff are very friendly and speak many languages."
33 Cours Mirabeau
Tel: 33 4 42 27 74 22
Smack in the middle of Aix-en-Provence's bustling Cours Mirabeau, this hotel is a bargain-priced gem of old-school grandeur—slightly rough around the edges, but in the most atmospheric way. Don't let its location next to a garish neon-lit store put you off. The narrow lobby of the city's first hotel leads up marble stairs and into a maze of wide corridors. Rooms are furnished with antiques and gaping French windows; we recommend the superior rooms for their king-size beds, and, in some rooms, ancient, grandiose writing desks. Walls are done up in classic silk wallpaper; the bathrooms seem to have been left unrenovated since the 1970s, but that's part of the charm. Underground parking is available and recommended, since there's nowhere to stash your car on the Cours Mirabeau or on the tiny streets behind the hotel. Staff is friendly, though services are limited—you can ask at the desk for advice, but don't expect much in the way of concierge services, dry cleaning, or other full-service options.
28 Rue du 4 Septembre
Tel: 33 4 42 54 82 01
Tel: 33 4 42 54 82 01
Just steps from the spattering fountains of the Cours Mirabeau, this handsome seventeenth-century townhouse is owned and run by the same team that originally created the Villa Gallici, Aix's chicest hotel. Here, their bold talent means that each of the four rooms is a different riff on traditional Provencale interiors and cutting-edge contemporary design. Room 1, a romantic charmer, features a four-poster bed with a champagne silk canopy, Wedgwood-like wall medallions, and a celadon crushed velvet couch on which to cozy up with a book or watch the chrome pedestal Bang & Olufsen TV. When the weather's warm, you might prefer to don a Via Notti cotton kimono, make yourself an espresso using the machine on the landing, and relax on the open-air balcony. It's a perfect perch from which to enjoy the small but beautifully landscaped garden, where tea and pastries are served as part of the hotel's salon du thé in nice weather. The only fly in the ointment is that the boys who run this beauty are a little too self-satisfied.
4 Rue de la Monnaie
Tel: 33 4 90 52 51 40
Built in the early 18th century for the mayor of Arles, the Baron of Chartrouse, this grand gated stone house opened as a hotel in 2002, the handiwork of owner Brigitte Pagès de Oliveira. She has exquisite taste. The original eight rooms have white plaster walls, some rough, with vaulted beamed ceilings, others refined, with moldings and dados (depending whether they're in the main house or the converted stables). There's furniture to match—Louis love seats, gilt-framed mirrors, and coroneted beds, or slipcovered shabby-chic chairs and low, carved-wood tables; all have minibars, cable TV, and a/c. Outside, the grounds feature a cypress-shaded terrace with dark green slatted Paris park chairs and stone urns, a lounging terrace under a curtained grass roof, and a pool (unheated). A decadent-looking spa-hammam opened in 2004 down in the atmospheric stone vaults, with white buttoned lounging seats and grand Moorish chandeliers, and in 2007, the property expanded to another 18th-century house next door, adding seven rooms decorated in both Baroque and contemporary styles.
Chemin de Quinson
Tel: 33 4 92 70 47 47
Alain Ducasse is no mere chef with a growing worldwide empire of exceptional restaurants and a constellation of Michelin stars, you know. No, he's also a hotelier. He's been president of Châteaux et Hotels de France for some years, but he only actually owns four places, of which this 17th-century bastide was the first. Set in the Alpes de Haute Provence near the Gorge du Verdon, it's a heavenly, peaceful spot, selected by Ducasse himself originally as a place to lay his head during motorbike forays. Now he's rarely here, needless to say, but the kitchen team, headed by Eric Santalucia, is school-of-Alain through and through. The 12 rooms vary quite widely in situation (few are in the main building) and decor details, but they share a romantic, pastel-shaded country air with Salerne floor tiles; in one, the bathroom is open to the bedroom through an archway; a couple have sleep lofts, others private terraces. The park has a small pool; huge vegetable, fruit, and herb plots for kitchen use; and a small menagerie of child-friendly domestic beasts (not for kitchen use).
2 Route de St. Roch
Tel: 33 4 90 546 546
Run by a delightful English-Scottish couple, this hôtel de charme will set more than one nine-to-fiver to dreaming of following in their footsteps. Right in the heart of tiny Le Paradou, the old stone house offers five rooms that have been individually decorated in such rich Provençal colors as apricot, poppy, and olive and furnished with large beds, televisions with movies-on-demand and CD/DVD players, and objects from the owners' travels in Morocco, India, and Asia. An upholstered lounger under one of the shade trees next to the small heated pool in the garden is an ideal place to spend an afternoon dozing or reading, and a sitting room in the main building, a seventeenth-century coaching inn, is perfect for tea or an honor-bar drink. Though the rooms are a luxurious step up from the region's usual B&Bs—few of which have the Etro toiletries, bathrobes and slippers, or great contemporary art found at this hotel—the best part of staying here is the warm hospitality.
Tel: 33 4 92 74 77 77
Savvy Provence lovers are heading east of Apt, where the lavender fields aren't hemmed in by tour buses. Discover this unspoiled place in the sun from this hillside seventeenth-century convent. Eschewing the Provençal clichés of print fabrics and painted furniture, the 46 rooms have an appealingly restrained decor of oak parquet floors and taupe curtains and upholstery. Weather permitting, Le Cloître restaurant serves outdoors in the courtyard of the old cloister, but the main dining room, with views of the surrounding countryside, is also a superb setting in which to sample the excellent Provençale cuisine. The pool is built into a raised terrace, and the spa is run by L'Occitane, which was founded in nearby Manesque. All told, Le Couvent des Minimes is the kind of place that will make you want to spend a year in Provence.
36 Boulevard Victor Hugo
Tel: 33 4 90 92 51 50
This 32-room contemporary stands out from the pack—by being contemporary in the first place (thanks to architect Roland Paillat) and by having photography as its theme, meaning black-and-white and color art prints in the rooms and exhibitions in the downstairs gallery. Bright white rooms have leaf-green-stained beams, satellite TV, room service, and a/c, but only some rooms have Wi-fi. Get a room in the new wing opened in 2002; some of them have private hammams. The two restaurants are a traditional Provençal eatery and a sushi bar. There are also two outdoor pools set in three acres of gardens, and it's all very handy for Cézanne and Van Gogh tourism.
Chemin de l'Escarrat
Tel: 33 4 90 70 39 19
If Charles and Andrée Barail's B&B in a 17th-century stone mas surrounded by unruly flowerbeds, lawns, and gravel terraces shaded by mature trees isn't your Provençal rural fantasy come to life, then you've got the wrong picture. The farmhouse itself has breathtaking views over acres of Rhône vineyards to Mount Ventoux in the distance. Four self-contained apartments (two studios and a pair of two-bed cottages) are decorated in that French Country style of pickled pine and dressers and rag-rolled walls so frequently and desperately imitated stateside, and have kitchens, efficient showers, comfortable beds, TVs, and Wi-fi. Air conditioning was installed in the studios in 2007; the cottages get enough breeze that you won't need it. Breakfast is continental, but superior, with products such as homemade wild fig conserve. There's also a bromide-purified pool with a wave machine for serious cross-current swimming. Being some 20 minutes from Avignon, this makes a good touring base, especially for wine buffs. Given notice, Charles Barail himself will take guests on Châteauneuf-du-Pape tours, visiting his vintner friends you'd never find alone.
Avenue de la Violette
Tel: 33 4 42 23 29 23
Perched in a private park on a hillside above Aix-en-Provence, Villa Gallici is a vertical paradise of hidden terraces and sweeping views, a hideaway spot that features high service and discreet luxury amid rose gardens and cypress trees. The gated complex feels somewhat cut off from downtown Aix's bustle—the only downside. But the Gallici feels like a destination on its own: an old Provençal villa flanked by rows of apartments, a terraced restaurant, and a decadent swimming pool surrounded by bougainvillea. Interiors are densely packed with textiles and antique furnishings, but a modern feeling somehow emerges from the combination of traditional elements; the overall impression is one of luxury and airiness. The duplex suites are pricey but reward guests with peerless views of the city below, as well as baronial bathrooms with double sinks, claw-foot bathtubs, and separate showers. Fresh bouquets of roses and a heavy dose of floral aromatherapy permeate the rooms. Service is flawless, instant, and without a trace of condescension or stiffness. The overall effect is that rarest of things, a hotel "experience," an almost perfectly crafted environment.
To a certain extent you get what you pay for, and in Provence you're likely to pay handsomely. Dreamy four-bedroom hilltop stone farmhouses with valley-view swimming pools certainly exist, but don't be surprised at the Hamptons-like price tags that accompany them. Conversely, beware the too-good-to-be-true bargain, such as studio apartments in small villages, which are just as likely to be small, dank, and woefully unequipped. Villas International (www.villasintl.com) serves the high end of the market. For something less expensive, try an Internet search on Provence house rental, and give yourself plenty of lead time—the most desirable places are taken months, and sometimes years, in advance. After you've actually settled in, it's often best to head to the nearest town and get to know the local tradespeople—at least the grocer and butcher, since you're likely to count on them for daily staples. And as with any house rental, make sure all appliances are clearly explained in advance—you don't want to compound potential disaster with language problems.