La Maison d'Ulysse

near Uzes, Provence, France Book from Eur125

A magical mix of 17th-century charm and 21st-century hotel chic, with lavender-filled gardens, a pool and a hammam
Tired of bouncing back and forth between their respective homes in Paris and Brussels, Guy and Gauthier were struck by the idea of buying a retreat in the south of France while visiting a friend near Provence’s famous Pont du Gard aqueduct. The 17th-century farmhouse they fell in love with was a roofless ruin, virtually untouched for centuries. But they dove in anyway, bolstering the foundations, reclaiming trees and gardens, researching former owners (including the house’s namesake, poet Ulysse Dumas), and making the restored stone and lime-washed walls a blank canvas for the kind of stylish guesthouse they'd want to visit themselves.

The result is striking. In the rooms and apartments, hot-pink and lime-green lucite lights hang from ceilings, tangerine walls blaze beside hand-hewn steps, and opalescent shower tiles glimmer under thick wooden beams. Outside, a sleek solar-heated swimming pool overlooks a mulberry tree which dates from the property’s previous life as a magnanerie (silk farm). The house Guy and Gauthier transformed has also transformed them into doting hosts, who pack guests off on day trips to Uzès, Nîmes and Avignon (all less than an hour away) and welcome them back with big smiles, local wine and (every night except Tuesdays) table d’hôtes dinners in the candlelit courtyard.

Highs

  • A peaceful setting in the tiny village of Baron, yet convenient for exploring the historic towns, markets and vineyards of Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon
  • We loved the medieval-meets-millennium décor - a quirky juxtaposition of ancient, retro and chic. Sections of each room are peeled back, revealing the same scene in a different century
  • A hammam, relaxation area and massages to help you unwind
  • Delicious food packed with produce grown organically on site or bought from the local markets
  • An impressive commitment to the environment: solar energy, recycled furniture, wildflower gardens planted to encourage birds and butterflies

Lows

  • Depending on the season, a minimum stay may apply (usually 1-3 nights)
  • We found it tricky to find, but Guy and Gauthier can provide detailed directions
  • Dinner is served 6 nights a week and recommended restaurants are about 4km away, so you may have to drive out for food
  • No twin beds, and many rooms and suites have open-plan bathrooms (separate w/c)

Best time to go

La Maison d’Ulysse is open from April to October, and the weather is normally divine throughout this time. The hottest months are July and August, when local towns are most crowded. In July, the Avignon Festival attracts fans of avant-garde theatre. Autumn days are quieter yet still warm, with pretty tinges of orange and gold beginning to dot the rolling hills.

Our top tips

Plan a trip to Saint Quentin la Poterie on Friday. It's market day and the perfect time to browse the dozens of pottery workshops and ateliers lining the quaint, hilly streets. The village has had an international reputation for ceramics since the 14th century, and you'll find everything from decorative sculptures to functional garden pots.

Great for...

Eco
Foodie
Great Outdoors
Spa
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique Guesthouse
  • 8 rooms + 1 apartment
  • Breakfast (+ other meals on request)
  • All ages welcome (certain rooms only)
  • Open all year
  • Heated Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Bicycles Available
  • Pétanque
Room: Suite Odyssee

Rooms

Gauthier worked with the architectural 'bones' of the original structure as he dressed each space, merging stone steps, tiny square windows and pitched roofs with whimsical items and unexpected splashes of colour.

Tucked into the farmhouse rafters, the 3 rooms - Heureux qui comme Ulysse, Tour du Gui and Baron Perché - have exposed beams and views of the garden. All have in-room sinks and Baron Perché also has a huge in-room tub set beneath a window; Tour du Gui and Heureux qui comme Ulysse have separate showers.

The 5 suites are larger and have lounges. Fleur Dumas boasts an original tiled floor, a shady private terrace with a daybed, and a glorious 1930s-style bathroom with claw-foot tub. Belle du Seigneur, set in the oldest part of the house, has a fireplace, sinks behind the bed and a shower hidden behind a glass panel. Chant du Mûrier is located in a separate building, so it’s ideal for couples seeking seclusion. It has a small terrace and we liked its curtains and cushions, made from recycled marine blankets. We hope to view Suite Odyssee and Suite Ecume des Jours on our next visit. They offer exposed stone walls, wooden beams and bright living areas; Odyssee has an in-room tub while Ecume des Jours has a mezzanine level.

We could easily have settled for a week in the sprawling Petit Prince Apartment thanks to its added space, kitchenette and 22sqm terrace with sweeping views of the surrounding countryside.

All rooms are heated and air-conditioned, with kingsize beds. Bathrooms are luxuriously outfitted with heated towel rails and organic Damana products. Suite Ecume des Jours and Petit Prince Apartment have enclosed bathrooms, others are at least semi-open to the bedroom area.

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Central heating
  • Cots Available
  • Extra beds
  • Hairdryer
  • Internet access
  • Internet access
  • Iron (on request)
  • Terrace
  • Toiletries
  • WiFi
  • Wifi internet

Eating

In addition to freshly squeezed orange juice and pots of coffee or tea, you can savour a gourmet breakfast of locally made yoghurt and cheeses, fruit from the garden, smoked salmon and charcuterie, French bread and croissants, and Gauthier's homemade jams. There’s even a machine for boiling the perfect egg. Linger on the sunny courtyard or in the dining room.

Salads and snacks are always available for lunch, based on what is ready to be harvested from the kitchen garden. You’re also welcome to bring food back and enjoy a picnic in the sauvage garden, though drinks should be ordered on site. If you’re staying in the Petit Prince Apartment, you can make simple meals in the kitchenette (fridge, hob, dishwasher and coffee-maker).

Most evenings, either the chef serves either a 3-course table d’hôtes or a la carte dinner is served by candlelight in the courtyard (6 nights per week). Part of the fun of 'dining in' is the delight Gauthier takes in bringing you samples of ingredients to smell. Our soup was a complex blend of cilantro, sorrel and cumin, accompanied by salmon topped with toasted pine nuts. It was delicious, as were the following courses: seasoned chicken in a simple tomato sauce, and a flourless cake sweetened with the first plump cherries of the season (picked on the property, of course). Special menus are available for vegetarians and children.

On days when dinner isn’t served, Guy and Gauthier are happy to make reservations at local restaurants, including the imaginative La Table 2 de Julien in Montaren, and Le Comptoir du 7, both within a short drive.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Breakfast
  • Dinner on Mon + Fri in July/August, or Sat at other times
  • Lunch by arrangement
  • Organic produce
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Relax at the hotel. Sunbathe by the pool, picnic in the garden, read on one of the benches reclaimed from Marseille’s Saint-Charles railway station, or enjoy a lazy game of pétanque
  • De-tox in the eucalyptus-scented hammam, then have a massage with a visiting therapist (must be booked in advance)
  • Explore the countryside around Baron. Rent bikes or walk along marked trails, through hills, vineyards and plains dotted with oak, fig and olive trees. In the hamlet of Marignac is a viewpoint from where you can take in the entire valley, from forested Cévennes in the west to the medieval towers of Uzès in the east
  • Potter around Uzès. Climb the Bishop's Tower for panoramic views, and shop at one of France’s finest markets, held in the Place aux Herbes on Wednesdays and Saturdays
  • Explore local villages. Guy and Gauthier can provide brochures, maps and suggestions, covering everything from the best markets to the most secure places to park. We particularly enjoyed browsing the ceramics galleries in Saint Quentin la Poterie, and wandering along the picturesque streets of Vézénobres and Lussan
  • Hike along the Concluses de Lussan, a series of wide gorges with caves, waterfalls and natural swimming pools
  • Marvel at the Pont du Gard. This 3-tiered aqueduct, built in the 1st century AD, runs for 50km and once carried water to the Roman colony of Nemausus, now Nîmes
  • Take day trips to the Maison Carrée in Nîmes (one of the best-preserved Roman temples in the world), the Palais des Papes in Avignon, the vast Saint-André Fort at Villeneuve-lès-Avignon, and the vineyards of Châteauneuf-du-Pape
  • Get active. Guy and Gauthier can point you in the direction of all sorts of outdoor pursuits, from paragliding to climbing

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Climbing
  • Cycling
  • Hiking
  • Historical sites
  • Horse-riding
  • Hot air ballooning
  • Kayaking
  • Museums / galleries
  • Paragliding
  • Plantlife / flora
  • Private guided tours
  • Rafting
  • Shopping / markets
  • Swimming
  • Tennis
  • Well being
  • Wine tasting

Kids

While this is more of a peaceful adult retreat, children are welcome in some rooms. Note that there are steep stone steps within the apartment and around the house and gardens.

Best for:

Babies (0-1 years), Children (4-12 years)

Family friendly accommodation:

Baby cots can be added to the Chant du Mûrier and Fleur Dumas Suites; the latter also has a double sofabed which can sleep 2 children or 1 adult. The Petit Prince Apartment and Belle du Seigneur Suite also have sofabeds, but cannot accommodate baby cots; the apartment also has a kitchenette.

Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

9/
Rooms
8/
Food
10/
Service
8/
Value
9/
Overall

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