If your French country vacation fantasy involves a beautiful and intimate hotel, unforgettable meals both elaborate and simple, and cultural diversions to entertain you or peace and quiet to soothe you, you might find yourself at the newly merged hotels Oustau de Baumanière and La Cabro d'Or in Les Baux-de-Provence.
LES BAUX-DE-PROVENCE, France – The last time I was in the bucolic area surrounding St. Rémy-de-Provence, it was with a one- and two-year-old in tow, so some of the mystique — and particularly the culinary magic — was lost on me. I didn't have time to savor lengthy meals — from simple, wood-fired pizzas on St. Rémy's town square, to sumptuous, multi-course meals at Oustau de Baumanière, the renowned temple of haute cuisine in nearby Les Baux-de-Provence. I managed to eat well, of course, but the entire visit was something of a blur.
On my recent visit, however, I got to see the surrounding Roman ruins, shop markets bursting with fresh lavender and local honey, and languish in the postcard-perfect pool.
The newly merged Baumanière and sister property La Cabro d'Or together comprise 56 guest rooms that give this property an intimate, authentic bastide-esque feel. The hotel has been owned by the same family for generations and everything operates like a small country inn, albeit one with seriously luxe, Relais & Chateaux touches. Spacious, simple rooms in neutral palettes capitalize on the Provençal light, and all feature views of the surrounding lush gardens and rocky Baux Valley.
The two boutique hotels merged in March 2015, but none of the special flavor of each has been lost. Instead, there are three discreet pools to choose from as well as a lower-key food offering (that is no less delicious) at La Cabro d'Or.
What's On Site
Wi-Fi is beside the point, as you'll really want to disconnect here. But for the hardcore, connectivity is easy. The spa is a real draw, and sybarites flock here for beauty and wellness treatments like gentle scrubs with Valmont products and restorative massages. Time did not allow for a visit to the sumptuous spa, but I've added this to my list for a subsequent visit. The hammam looked beyond wonderful. Sport is limited to lawn games like petanque, with maybe a game of tennis thrown in to burn off last night's €210 tasting menu. The property is strewn with beautiful bougainvillea, jasmine, and plane trees that are so much a part of southern France that you'll find it difficult to leave to explore the area's rich history.
Food is certainly the central focus at both properties. People pilgrimage to Oustau de Baumanière for chef Jean-Andre Charial's elaborate offerings that have lightened in recent years to reflect people's desire for delicious yet healthful cuisine. Exquisitely simple fruits and vegetables — locally sourced asparagus, artichokes, wild strawberries — as well as red mullet, succulent duck, and risottos are all prepared in inventive ways.
At La Cabro d'Or, chef Michel Hulin prepares gorgeous steamed sea bass with tajine-like vegetables, rack of lamb, and a cheese course that will not soon be forgotten — all in the most magical, plein air patio setting.
The wines are central at both restaurants, with Oustau's cellar containing more than 60,000 bottles of some of the world's finest vintages including great Bordeaux like Pétrus, d'Yquem, Haut-Brion, and Lafite. Rare Champagnes include Krug's Clos du Mesnil and d'Ambonnay, as well Dom Perignon Oenothèque. But for me, a glass of simple, locally produced rose sipped on the terrace at sunset is by far the way to go.
In the Room
The 56 rooms here range from cozy classics suitable for two to expansive suites and prestige rooms that can accommodate three or more. The décor is Provençal chic: white-washed walls, terracotta and natural wood finishes, and luxurious linens. Each space has been updated with sleek TVs and air conditioning — a must as the temperatures soar in July and August.
This Place Is Perfect For
Foodie couples who might want a bit of culture, but really want a relaxing, restorative experience. Ideal as a three-day weekend from the U.K. or elsewhere in Europe as it is easily accessible by Marseille, just minutes away.
But Not So Perfect For
Families with small children. The management can certainly attend to little people — special meals are always an option and excellent babysitters are in plentiful supply — but the point is to savor the silence, the sun, and, most importantly, the excellent food. Meals can last hours, and this doesn't typically jive with the under-five set.
Room with a View
I've stayed at both Oustau and La Cabro d'Or, and while it is impossible to go wrong at either property, Oustau has a certain magic that I will return for time and again. I stayed in a deluxe room with a terrace which was absolutely lovely — especially with the early morning floral scents wafting in — but I'd really love to load it up in an expansive suite with a separate living room for that home stay feel.
One could simply park it in Les Baux-de-Provence, a sweet village set atop a barren plateau in the Alpilles — and just take in the expansive views of the Camargue and Arles in the distance. Resist the temptation to sit poolside and get up to go explore the medieval castle and spare St. Catherine's 12th century church in town. Sixteenth-century mansions-turned-museums like Yves Brayer and the Louis Jou Fondation are worth a visit for their art collections and architecture.
What to Do Nearby
In the immediate area, you'll want to hit the medieval fortress, the Val d'Enfer, and Carrières de Lumière (Quarries of Light). Must-sees in St. Rémy-de-Provence include the archeological site Glanum and the cloisters of Saint-Paul de Mausole. Château of Barbegal in nearby Fontveille is also worth a detour, as are the arenas and amphitheatres of Arles. The Fondation Vincent Van Gogh is another Arles highlight, while lovers of contemporary art and design should make a beeline for the Frank Gehry and Annabelle Selldorf-designed LUMA Foundation, for photography, painting, film, and more.
It's virtually impossible to get a bad meal in this part of the world, and even the simplest pain bagnat and Nicoise pizza are consistent crowd pleasers. Au Bistrot Marin (68 Avenue de la Vallée des Baux) and La Place in the quaint village of Maussane-les-Aplilles are worth a detour for a decadent lunch. Le Bistrot du Paradou is a must for authentic country fare in a relaxed setting. This simple country house is quintessential Provence (at least to this American), complete with a warm wood and tile interior and dishes such as roast chicken with crispy, salty skin, and pommes Dauphinoise.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
How to Get There
Marseille Provence Airport (MRS), at an hour's drive, is the nearest airport. Directs flights from the United States are available into Nice Côte d'Azur Airport (NCE), approximately a two-hour drive away.
A car is a must for exploring the area. Note that roads are winding and have been known to induce car sickness in the faint of stomach.
Rates start at €200. Click here for reservations.