** This piece is taken from Country Life International, out this week, on May 16, with Country Life magazine
Slender apricot trees groaning under the weight of the ripening fruit, silvery olive leaves rustling in the breeze, tidy rows of vines neatly segmenting a field. Provence’s appeal is founded on the riches of its countryside, so it’s hardly surprising that many property buyers are tempted to embrace la dolce vita.
Aspiring agriculteurs could do worse than look at the magnificent Domaine de la Colombe d’Or, near Maussane, in the heart of Les Alpilles, about 40 minutes from the TGV station at Avignon and an hour from Marseille Provence Airport. ‘I’ve seen hundreds of properties in my career and this must be in my top five,’ recommends Roddy Aris of selling agents Winkworth. Situated next to a golf course and surrounded by Les Alpilles national park, this very private estate falls in the Vallée des Baux de Provence AOC and produces one of the world’s best olive oils. Years ago, the current owner set out to make very small quantities of exceptional olive oil using traditional methods, and today, his fresh, lightly fruited oil is highly sought-after among Michelin-starred chefs, including Anne-Sophie Pic, Alain Llorca and Eric Sapet. ‘For him, the olive oil is a labour of love,’ says Mr Aris. ‘The domaine could produce 10,000 litres (2,200 gallons), but he only produces 2,000 and sells all his stock every year. It is a very specialist, exclusive product that costs up to €60 per litre.’
Maussane: Domaine de la Colombe d’Or whose olive trees produce an oil that is highly sought-after by teh world’s top chefs. €5.9m through Winkworth International (020 7870 7181) and Knight Frank (020 7629 8171)
The house is just as extraordinary. A five bedroom stone mas dating from the 18th century, it has been tastefully modernised using local materials and keeping the period character intact. The peaceful bedrooms overlook the hills or the atmospheric Mediterranean garden, which has been designed to become progressively wilder and blend in with the surrounding landscape. ‘It’s the most glorious garden, full of rosemary, thyme, sage, mimosa, lavender, bay bushes and locally grown roses,’ says Mr Aris. ‘It’s heavenly on all the senses.’ A beautifully sculpted swimming pool lies hidden behind a rocky outcrop, surrounded by garrigue shrubland and lavender, and a converted outbuilding houses a guest suite with private terrace. The asking price for the Domaine de la Colombe d’Or is €5.9 million through Winkworth International (020-7870 7181; www.winkworth-international.com) and Knight Frank (020-7629 8171; www. knightfrank.com).
If you’d rather produce olive oil on a more domestic scale, Home Hunts (www.home-hunts.com) are offering a villa with a smaller olive grove. Also situated on Les Alpilles, close to Saint-Rémy de Provence, half an hour from Avignon’s TGV station and about an hour from Marseille airport, this charming eight-bedroom mas has unusual architecture for this area. ‘It’s a blend of periods and styles,’ explains selling agent Nicola Christinger.
Saint-Remy: 8 bedroom mas with 17 hectares which produce olive oil and sunflowers. €2.385m through Home Hunts (www.home-hunts.com)
‘The original farmhouse is in Provençal style and dates from the 16th century. But in the 17th century, a new owner added a wing in Toulousan style with a round turret and a central portico.’ The charming interiors are all in Provençal style, and have beamed ceilings, exposed stone walls, and wooden panelling. But perhaps the greatest attraction is the land. The mas’s 17 acres are home to 550 olive trees, which produce between 200 and 400 litres (44-88 gallons) of olive oil every year; a one-acre field of sunflowers, which are cut and sold locally; and many apricots and pear trees. Home Hunts are quoting a price of €2.385 million for the villa. Emile Garcin are seeking €1.4 million for a mas that makes about the same amount of olive oil, but is of a smaller size. Tucked away on a hillside in the Dentelles de Montmirail, the jagged mountain chain at the foot of Mont Ventoux, about an hour from Avignon’s TGV station and an hour and 40 minutes from Marseille airport, the 2,152sq ft house is big on Provençal charm. A creamwashed façade, complete with pastel shutters and windows looking out across the valley, shelters authentically renovated interiors, which include four bedrooms. Guests have their own special one-bedroom hideaway among the ancient olive trees. ‘The olive-oil production is about 400 litres (88 gallons) a year,’ says selling agent Françoise Polo (00 33 4 90 92 01 58; www.emilegarcin.com).
You can have your own oil, wine and even water at an exquisite 18th-century bastide in the tiny village of Châteauvert, near Correns, an hour’s drive from Marseille, Toulon and Nice airports, and Aix-en-Provence’s TGV station. The property stands in 250 acres of vineyards, olive groves, meadows and forests, with the River Argens coursing through its grounds.
Chateauvert: This 18th century bastide produces up to 65,000 bottles of wine each year and its rose made it onton Wine Spectator’s top 100 list in 2010. £12.261m through Savills (020 7016 3740)
Ancient springs supply drinking water, and a borehole produces ten cubic metres (350cu ft) an hour to supply the house and the vineyard. Wine had been made on the estate for centuries, but, says the present owner, ‘in the 1970s, they pulled out all the vines’. He replanted about 30 acres with Syrah, Cabernet, Rolle, Cinsault and Grenache grapes, and produces up to 65,000 bottles a year of AOC Coteaux Varois white, red and rosé-in 2010, the rosé made it into Wine Spectator’s top 100 list. Both the vineyard and the olive grove are organic. The sevenacre grove is planted with Aglandau and Frantoio olive trees, which yield about 1,000 litres (220 gallons) of olive oil every year and could produce up to 5,000 (1,100 gallons) when the trees mature.
And after toiling on the land, you can relax in the magnificent French gardens, play a set in the tennis court or take a walk under the Tuscan cypress on a lush hill where traces of Gallo-Roman occupation have been found. The nine-bedroom bastide is as attractive than the grounds. Some parts of it date from the 15th century, but most of the property was built in the 1780s. ‘The owners at the time were a law family from Aix, and they added a bastide bourgeoise,’ says the owner. ‘Family lore has it that they felt trouble was coming and thought they had better have a home in the countryside.’ The house has been beautifully renovated using the materials and techniques of the time. ‘We kept everything we could use from the original property-doors, windows- and where we couldn’t, we got reclaimed material,’ explains the owner. The vaulted kitchen is the size of a three-bedroom flat, and has a castle stove and monumental fireplace.
The even larger lounge and attached chapel are also vaulted. Vast terraces look out to the south, east and west-the sunset views, which stretch over 40 miles of green hills to the Montagne Sainte-Victoire, are particularly spectacular. The asking price is £12.261 million through Savills (020- 7016 3740; www.savills.com/international).
Price is rigorously on application for another grand estate, on the market with Christie’s International Real Estate (020- 7389 2631; www.christiesrealestate.com). Situated close to Aix en Provence, 45 minutes’ drive from Marseille airport, seven bedroom Château de Sannes dates from the 17th century and a careful renovation has kept alive its period charm. The 17th century entrance, which opens onto a magnificent stone staircase, sets the tone for the interiors. Original stone and tile floors, arched doorways and stone fireplaces grace many rooms, and windows frame panoramic views of the estate and the Lúberon mountains.
Aix en Provence: An estate that has it all: vineyards, olive groves, lavender fields and even a truffle plantation. POA through Christie’s International Real Estate (020 7389 2631)
Equal attention has been paid to the other buildings on the estate, which include an 18th-century, six-bedroom farmhouse, a self-contained guest studio, two staff cottages, a guardian’s house, and an 18th century working windmill. Attached to the château is the indoor pool wing, above which is a rooftop terrace overlooking the Italianate gardens dotted with pools, fountains and cypresses. Beyond the gardens, the grounds are a celebration of Provence’s bounty: there are olive groves, lavender fields and an 80-acre vineyard producing about 1,712 hectolitres (almost 38,000 gallons) of white and rosé wine-there’s even a truffle plantation. ‘This is possibly my favourite château in all of Provence,’ says Tancred Lidbury of Christie’s International Real Estate.
‘Having lunch overlooking the Italian gardens, with the two resident swans wandering around and the sound of the old water fountain trickling into the pond is unforgettable. This is all accompanied by the incredible scent from the surrounding lavender fields and a glass of white wine made on the estate.’ You can hardly enjoy the good life on a more lavish scale.
Correction: Please note in the print version of this article, the price for the mas near Saint-Remy marketed through Home Hunts was incorrect. It is for sale at €2.385m not €2.14m as stated.