A luxury resort with golf course in the heart of rural Provence enchants Paul Wilson
Nestled among olive groves and vineyards lined by poplar trees in the shadow of a beautiful medieval hilltop town, Domaine de Manville is an oasis of luxury hidden in the heart of rural Provence. The estate, once a farm, has been transformed into a five-star hotel, restaurant, spa and golf resort. Where farm workers and sheep herders used to toil, visitors from all over the world enjoy fine dining, spa treatments, golf and the joys of the surrounding area.
Patrick and Edith Saut bought the estate 11 years ago when it was home to a simple bistro and nine-hole golf course. They spent the next seven years convincing planners their ambitions to create a luxury resort and 18 hole-course would fit in with the countryside. From the battlements of the neighbouring Les Baux-de-Provence, it’s clear they succeeded, as the estate is almost impossible to pick out in a landscape that has changed little since painted by Cezanne and Van Gogh.
There are 39 rooms and suites, ranging from a standard room overlooking the inner courtyard and heated swimming pool to luxury villas overlooking the golf course. No two rooms are the same, with antiques and work by local art students adorning the walls.
The floral scents of the Provençal countryside infuse the air, through the oils in the spa and bathrooms and the wildflowers spilling from vases in the rooms and beds in the courtyards. Unsurprisingly, the kitchen makes the most of local produce. There is a bar for the winter for gourmet dishes in front of a fire, and a relaxed bistro where the chefs prepare food in a kitchen in the centre of the room. But the pièce de résistance is clearly the main restaurant. Executive chef Matthieu Dupuis-Baumal left his native Nantes to work for Michel Roux at the three-Michelin starred Waterside Inn in Berkshire before returning to France to make the resort a destination for gourmands.
The dining room is formal, but spacious, and the decadent six-course carte blanche menu with wine pairing was a gastronomic tour de force from Matthieu and his team. We couldn’t fault anything, from the glazed foie gras with tamarind and poached quince to the roasted langoustines, or the black truffle with artichokes to the charolais fillet with potato gratin and roasted wild mushroom. The friendly sommelier matched each dish perfectly with wine from the region. After the cheeseboard and dessert trolley, I don’t think I have ever felt better fed.
Suitably replete from the night before and breakfast in the glass atrium “winter garden”, we headed for the golf course. General manager Andrew Spearman tells me the resort has high hopes of hosting the French Seniors Open in the run-up to the country hosting the Ryder Cup in 2018, and it certainly has the course for it. The square or rectangular bunkers and greens – designed to melt into the patchwork quilt of vineyards and olive groves lined with poplar trees protecting the crops from the wind of the mistral – seem strange at first but you soon get used to them and the principle of aiming for one and avoiding the other remains the same. The course blends into its surroundings so well that at times it feels more like hitting a ball around the Provence countryside than on formal fairways and greens.
After lunch on the terrace of the bistro we headed for the spa, where for aficionados of such things there is a full range of massages and beauty treatments available, along with an indoor pool, sauna and Jacuzzi. There is also a gym and a hair salon.
It may be hard to leave the cosseting charms of the resort but it would be wrong not to visit nearby Les Baux-de-Provence, set atop a rocky outcrop of the Alpilles mountains overlooking the plain in which the hotel is so well hidden. The ruined medieval castle, built to protect the surrounding village, which is beautifully preserved, tells the tale of countless battles between feuding families and religions with full-scale replicas of siege weaponry, including the biggest trebuchet in Europe. The town is also home to the spectacular Carrieres de Lumieres, a massive underground former quarry which is now a “cathedral of images”, an immersive sound and vision experience with 100 projectors casting images on to more than 6,000 square metres of wall and soil. When we visited the exhibition the theme was Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci.
With food, history, art and relaxation at the heart of our stay, we couldn’t have asked for more.
• Ryanair (www.ryanair.com) flies from Edinburgh to Marseille up to three times a week. Domaine de Manville is a one-hour transfer from Marseille Airport. Rooms at Domaine de Manville (+ 33 (0)4 90 54 40 20, www.domainedemanville.fr) cost from €250 (£195) per night, based on two sharing on a B&B basis. See www.atout-france.fr