The i-escape blog / 3 stunning places you should stay in Provence / Emily McDonnell

By Emily McDonnell, i-escape contributor

Summer holidays on the south coast of France can be hard to find: low availability, high prices and crowded beaches. Instead, head inland to explore the hidden pockets of Languedoc-Roussillon or Provence. Here you’ll discover quaint villages, serene landscapes and stylish hideaways with wonderful owners. And the best part? If you still fancy the beach, you don’t have to drive too far.

Secret hotels in Languedoc-Roussillon

Château Les Carrasses

Location: Hidden in the countryside near Beziers, Languedoc region
Price: Suites and villas from £201

Staying at Château Les Carrasses is the closest we’re ever going to get to being royalty. Set among 10 hectares of vineyards and meadows, this 19th-century castle boasts views across the Pyrenees mountains from the pool. Choose to lay your head in either a palatial suite or a cosy self-catering cottage, but only after sipping locally-produced wine in the seductive glass orangerie. A must for any French romantic getaway.

Our advice: Borrow bikes and cycle along the Unesco-listed Canal du Midi, which passes outside the chateau.

Chateau d’Olmet

Location: Tucked away in teeny Olmet et Villecun, near Montpellier
Price: Rooms from £99

The slow pace of life in the tiny hamlet that houses Chateau d’Olmet is infectious. Serene is an understatement when describing the views from the 5 bedrooms, stretching for miles across the quiet Languedoc countryside (so still it’s hard to believe you’re under an hour from the airport). Your hosts are genuine and full of local knowledge, the rooms are simple and sophisticated, and breakfast in the floral garden is a real treat.

Our advice: You’re deep in rural France, so hire a car to fully explore the natural beauty and buzzy towns of the area.

3 Languedoc Hideaways

Location: In the heart of Cathar country, and only half an hour from Carcassonne
Price: Cottages from £99

The 4 rustic cottages that comprise Languedoc Hideaways charm with their pared-back style and relaxed air. Self-catering allows you to run on your own time, but we loved that there is still a wonderfully sociable atmosphere here. You’re a short drive from Carcassonne and the medieval Cathar castles, and Lac Montbel is a beautiful spot for a dip. But you won’t have to travel to cool off; the 20m pool with panoramic views across the surrounding countryside does the job and then some.

Our advice: Pack your walking boots to hike the Cathar Trail, full of history and stunning scenes.

4 Maison ila

Location: Set in the characterful town of Sonnac-sur-l’Hers, in Aude
Price: Rooms from £134

Moving on to somewhere marginally more inhabited, Maison ila is a bohemian B&B that puts wellness at the forefront.  A holistic hub, the communal spaces are dotted with unique Indian treasures and the food served is organic and primarily plant-based. Whether you join a 3-, 5- or 7-day nurturing programme (that includes yoga and other healing activities), or simply opt to try one of the treatments on offer, you’ll leave feeling revitalised from the inside out.

Our advice: This charming town is still relatively undiscovered but close to Languedoc’s best hotspots – so keep it to yourself!

5 Chateau Villarlong

Location: Nestled amidst vineyards, a grape’s throw from Carcassonne
Price: Apartments and villas from £138

Nothing says a holiday in rural France quite like holing up in a castle, and 12th-Century Chateau Villarlong is one of Languedoc’s finest. Lording over 60 hectares of vineyards and olive groves, the restored building has been split into 13 unique apartments (for 2-6) and a romantic restaurant. The large pool, tennis courts and lavish grounds are the cherry on top of this stately affair.

Our advice: To see this region at it’s best, visit in the spring when the wildflowers bloom and the trees are vivid green.

Secret hotels in Provence

1  La Maison Papillons

Location: Perched at the edge of the Ardèche Natural Park, Provence
Price: Rooms start at £138

Warmth and love radiate throughout La Maison Papillons. Each room has been individually styled and handcrafted by owners Caroline and Olivier. Our favourite is the romantic duplex, with its wood burner, exposed stone walls and beamed wooden ceilings. We loved eating breakfast – including croissants delivered in person by the village’s baker – on the terrace, overlooking the Cevennes mountains.

Our advice: For us, the Ardeche is one of Europe’s best-kept secrets, and the Gorge de l’Ardèche is breathtakingly beautiful. Pack a picnic and head to one of the gorge’s river beaches.

2 Lou Calen

Location: Scattered down the picturesque cliffs of Cotignac
Price: Rooms and suites from £132

A village-like estate where stone houses spill down the hillside into the heart of the quaint village of Cotignac, surrounded by tranquil gardens that are well worth getting lost in; this is Lou Calen. Hidden in the lavender and olive-filled grounds is the aptly named restaurant Jardin Secret, where we gorged on Green Michelin-starred cuisine, and a peaceful pool to lounge beside for hours.

Our advice: The setting is so serene and picture-perfect, come here to switch off; pick a pew, grab a book, and relax.

3  Le Mas des Oules

Location: Tucked at the edge of a quiet hamlet in northern Provence, an hour from Avignon
Price: Houses and apartments from £85

These lavender-filled gardens, complete with boules pitch, surround a terracotta-hued mas and overlook Provence’s rolling hills. Le Mas des Oules couldn’t have been more blissful. We felt our stress slip off us as we sat on our terrace and marvelled at the number of stars in the sky. Self-catering hideouts, each contemporarily chic and decorated in soft greys, are hidden within the old farmhouse.

Our advice: Visit the Saturday market in picture-perfect Uzés; it’s the largest in Provence. Load up with Provençal delicacies and drive to the Pont du Gard, the perfect lunch location.

4 Mas Armelin

Location: Discretely placed in the pretty suburbs of Tarascon
Price: Rooms from £94

Hidden within a sweet town in the centre of the Nimes – Arles – Avignon triangle, Mas Armelin is an affordable oasis in an authentic pocket of Provence. Oozing with Provencal charm, we loved taking our breakfast of fresh pastries and local cheeses in the stone dining room, and were truly spoilt by the dinner choices in Tarascon. The rooms felt a little more basic than our other stays, but the price, location and achingly pretty gardens (with shaded pool and yoga spot) more than made up for the minimal interiors.

Our advice: The history of the town is celebrated each year in a fun-filled 4-day festival over the last weekend of June; definitely worth timing your visit for.

5  Le Mas de Peint

Location: Nestled in the wilderness of the Camargue
Price: Rooms from £216

We started the day in spectacular fashion: trotting on horseback through the salt fields on Le Mas de Peint’s white horses. We observed birds skim over wildflowers as black bulls grazed. Here, local French tradition is celebrated, and for good reason. The farmhouse is simply but elegantly decorated with terracotta-tiled floors and wooden beamed ceilings, and all food is sourced from a 50km radius.

Our advice: You’re a stone’s throw from one of Europe’s most beautiful beaches, Plage de Beauduc. It can’t be accessed by car, which means you can always find a quiet spot – even in summer.

6 Domaine de Manville

Location: Tucked between the pines in the Alpilles Regional Park, Provence
Price: Rooms from £229

We found complete escapism at Domaine de Manville, a former farmhouse-come-spoiling retreat that feels like undiscovered France. Afternoons were spent strolling through the acres of private woodland, lazing in the spa and sipping drinks in the region’s best cocktail bar. The piece de resistance? The regional dishes served in the Michelin-starred restaurant, crafted with flair and innovation that blew our minds.

Our advice: Les Carrières de Lumières, a short dash up the hill, is an immersive art exhibition space that is as unique as it is mesmeric. We spent 2 hours inside the former mines, gazing at the Van Goghs projected on the walls.