Hidden in a landscape that has inspired painters including Van Gogh, Cézanne and Gauguin, Domaine de Manville is a haven of luxury in the heart of rural Provence beneath the medieval hilltop town of Les Baux-de-Provence.
Budget or boutique?
Boutique. The estate was once a farm and has been transformed into a five-star hotel, restaurant, spa and golf resort. Where farm workers and sheep herders used to toil, visitors now come from all over the world to enjoy fine dining, spa treatments, golf and the many joys of the surrounding area.
There are 39 rooms and suites, ranging from a standard room overlooking the inner courtyard and heated swimming pool to luxury villas with views of the golf course. In keeping with the resort’s informal atmosphere, the designers have used variations of textiles and textures throughout to create a non-standardised family feel. No two rooms are the same and local antiques and works by art students from the area adorn the walls.
Wining and dining
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 the main restaurant.
Chef Matthieu Dupuis-Baumal left his native Nantes to work for Michel Roux at the three-Michelin-star Waterside Inn in Berkshire and returned to France for jobs in a string of high-end establishments. His experience and talent are obvious at Domaine de Manville, where he is executive chef and has established the resort as a destination for gourmets.
The dining room is formal, spacious and unstuffy, and the decadent six-course carte blanche menu with wine pairing was a gastronomic tour de force. 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 had ever felt better fed.
Worth getting out of bed for
Les Baux-de-Provence stands on 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 tells the tale of countless battles between feuding families and religions, with full-scale replicas of siege weaponry including the biggest trebuchet (mechanical boulder thrower) in Europe.
The town is also home to the spectacular Carrières de Lumières, 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, and the next exhibition will showcase work by Chagall.
The resort hopes to host 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 seem strange at first but you soon get used to them. The course blends into its surroundings so well that at times it feels more like hitting a ball around the Provence countryside than on a formally laid out series of fairways and greens.
After a round, enjoy lunch on the terrace of the bistro before heading for the spa, where there is a full range of massages, beauty treatments, manicures and pedicures available, along with an indoor pool, sauna and jacuzzi. There is also a gym a hair salon and an outdoor pool.
A high-end slice of luxury with fine dining, golf and a spa in one of the most beautiful corners of France.
• Rooms at Domaine de Manville, 13520 Les Baux de Provence, France (+33 (0)490 54 40 22), www.domaindemanville.fr) cost from €250 (£195) per night, based on two sharing on a B&B basis. Ryanair (www.ryanair.com) flies to Marseille up to three times a week. See www.atout-france.fr