A romantic road trip through Provence reveals a trio of ravishing hideaways
Take a deep breath. Close your eyes and picture the silvery olive groves, the smell of freshly bloomed lavender, and the cool touch of crumbling stone houses. Imagine the taste of sweet wine, the feeling of sand on your toes, and the sense of wonder as you gaze up into a glittering night sky of stars. How do you feel? Utter contentment? Because that’s how we felt while adventuring through Provence in search of the region’s most beautiful hideaways.
The south of France has been endlessly romanticised by Brits seeking total escapism, and with good reason. It’s a wonderful patchwork of impossibly varied landscapes tucked between the Alps, the Mediterranean and the mighty Rhône.
Over seven days, we stayed in three properties that seamlessly meshed with their surrounding landscapes. We travelled 300 miles, from the south of Provence, by the edge of the Camargue, to the northern border of the Ardèche. Here’s what we discovered.
Our first stop was in Monteil, at the northernmost point of Provence. We couldn’t have received a warmer welcome at La Maison Papillons from owners Olivier and Caroline, who spent a year living off grid in the forest while they painstakingly restored this hilltop farmhouse. We passed the evening feasting on Caroline’s exceptional food and talking about Olivier’s favourite bike routes; it was only thanks to the lure of our incredibly inviting bed that tore us from their company and the roaring fire.
We were completely blown away by the house and the exceptional level of care that went into the renovation. Bedrooms looked as if they were straight from the pages of an interiors magazine, and the grounds envelop you in utter pleasure. We spent hours sat by the pool gazing at the mountains, or curled up under our blankets pretending to read but actually admiring our beautiful surroundings.
Yet despite the beauty of our temporary sanctuary, Caroline and Olivier insisted we went out exploring. We set off, map in hand, down winding roads to view quiet river beaches of the Gorge d’Ardèche and the pretty hilltop La Roque-sur-Ceze.
Before we knew it, it was time for us to head south, and back to city life: Nimes, and the seductive Jardins Secrets was calling. This lavish hotel is a total urban oasis. Stepping from the hot, quiet street, we were met with bold colours, tropical gardens, grand pianos and oil paintings.
We were made to feel like royalty, and could have easily glided from salon to salon and through the gardens for a week of Sundays.
Still, in our opinion Nimes is one of France’s most beautiful towns, and full of incredibly well-preserved Roman architecture (its amphitheatre is stupendous, while Place Carrée is the only fully-preserved Roman temple in the world). No wonder Nimes is heralded as the Rome of France.
Another day, another hotel to test out! From Nimes we set off to a different French city bursting with historical importance: Avignon. And the classical, seductive La Mirande is right in the city’s heart. Our room overlooked the Palais des Papes, an impressive residence that was, for 70 years in the 1300s, the epicentre of the Catholic Church.
We really struggled to decide what our favourite element of the hotel was – the decor or the food! Both were put together with creativity, passion and respect for the city’s history. The wallpaper was designed on the building’s original prints from the 14th century, and each room contained unique pieces – such as mirrors and chandeliers – that perfectly finished the room.
Le Mirande’s food, however, was our favourite of the trip: a six-course meal where each plate was better than the last. The champagne sorbet topped with raspberries and gold super was simply divine.
We had time for one last detour before our flight home: the vineyards of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. And then with heavy hearts – and our suitcases full of mouthwatering grapes – we fondly waved goodbye to Provence. Or rather, au revoir until next time.