As dusk fell on the terrace at Domaine de la Baume, six cartoonish creatures emerged from the forest, at first snuffling cautiously, then gamboling recklessly. Guests were enchanted by this rare sighting of wild boar enjoying themselves, but the hotel staff were appalled. ‘Sweet?’ said one. ‘We’d shoot them if we could.’
By next morning, one could see his point. The grass around the elegant swimming pool had been trashed and the animals had also investigated the nursery where figs and apricots are among the appetising produce grown for the hotel, which also has its own honey and olive oil.
Domaine de la Baume, the latest addition to the chain of delightful French hotels owned by the Sibuet family, is in properly wild country, in the forested hills of rural Haute-Provence. The mellow yellow, blue-shuttered bastide is sited on the underside of the mountainous road between the truffle centre of Aups and the hill village of Tourtour. Not a single other building interrupts the restful view from the terrace, which features in the vinous film A Good Year.
It’s about two hours from Marseille airport, and you’ll need a car to explore. The 40-minute drive over the hills to the pretty honeypot of Moustiers St Marie is exhilarating and passes the spectacular azure Lac de Sainte Croix. This, on a glorious late September day, was deserted when I picnicked here-the summer holidays, I suspect, are a different story.
Domaine de la Baume is the former home of the Expressionist artist Bernard Buffet-the master suite is named after his widow, Annabel-and has been redecorated with dramatic paints, lavish wallpapers and trompe d’oeil; my comfortable room, Hirondelle de Mer, was a haven of deep blues and reds.
The hotel had only been open a short time when I visited, but the food and service was first class. Although encouragingly busy, the atmosphere is drowsy, even hushed, prompting one couple to infer that they will stay loyal to Domaine de la Baume’s smaller, vibrant sister hotel, about two hours west.
One can see why La Bastide de Marie, between Menerbes and Bonnieux, is such a perennial favourite. The thick walls, painted in earthy colours, make it both cosy and cool; the 15 bedrooms surround a courtyard, sun terrace and small, sparkling clean pool, and a second-rather chilly-pool is surrounded by peaceful sun-loungers. The terrace is a Provencal idyll, overlooking the hotel’s own vineyard to the craggy hills beyond, and the staff are exceptionally jolly.
It’s an easy hour from Marseilles airport-Avignon is even nearer-and a perfect base from which to pootle around pretty villages and the markets at Isle Sur la Sorgue and Lacoste. The quirky Les Beaumettes studio of artist Hervé Thibault is memorable-if you understand French, he is full of stories; go for a ride on one of the hotel’s electric bicycles-you still have to pedal, but the boosting mechanism will have you whizzing up hairpin bends like a Tour de France entrant; read a book under a cypress tree or indulage in a spot of degustation at the next-door cave which supplies excellent wines to the whole chain.
Both hotels, which offer spa treatments, reopen in April. Rooms at Domaine de la Baume cost from €440 full board (+33 4 83 132727; http://en.domaine-delabaume.com); prices at La Bastide de Marie start at €390 per room, full board (+33 4 9072 3020; www.labastidedemarie.com). Fly-drive with British Airways from Marseilles (0844 493 0758; www.ba.com).
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