Luxury Explorer Review

5-Star Hotel Review

Baumanière

France

A dream for impressionists, a haven for the gastronomist and a soul-mate to the connoisseur of terroir

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Baumanière
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Baumanière

Location

Les Baux de Provence

Travel Information

Marseille International Airport - 50 mins
6 miles from St Remy de Provence

Top Tips

The sister property La Cabro d'Or, only a few minutes walk away, has a great restaurant of its own

5-Star X-Factors

Too many to say here, but dining under the mulberry trees in Jean-André Charial's 2 Michelin-starred restaurant leaves life-long memories

Blessings from Baumanière

We have buried our souls, albeit temporarily, at Baumanière in the heart of Provence's Alpilles mountains for two decades. Why? Because it is pure Les Baux magic. Over the years the estate (made up of L'Oustau which houses the two Michelin-starred restaurant , La Guigou, Le Manoir, Flora and Carita and the little sister La Cabro d'Or restaurant) has expanded, changed parts of its outer 'skin', at the passionate hands of its talented owners, Jean-André Charial and his visionary 'au courant' wife, Geneviève.

The exceptional culinary creations are constantly reaching new heights; the gardens have exploded in an unrestrained fusion of Provencal classics; contemporary snazzy suites and bathrooms have been added; the to-die-for boutique is flourishing, offering more exclusive and bespoke purchases; while a knock-out spa lends a unique groovy Provençal-Camargue-chic style.

Even though this synergistic transition has gradually evolved, and continues to do so, the underlying sensuality that oozes from its ingrained origins is the same. It still seeps that epicurean Baumanière 'nectar' that captivated our senses in the early 90s, only now there's more of it.

Privileged position

Arriving at the aluminium-ore rich limestone laden 'commune' (hamlet) of Les Baux-de-Provence is quite awesome. The drive – only six miles south from St Remy, passing vineyards and olive groves, fringed by the chalky Alpilles Hills – is elating. It has a wildness that feels exhilarating, liberating and uncooperative in the clutches of mankind, bar the formal rows of gnarled olive trees.

Winding up to the historical escarpment of Les Baux and its famous citadel ruin, passing scrubland of wild thyme mixed with lavender and several fine olive estates, is altogether spectacular. The mistral and many battles have left a ghostly ruin that catches the light of sunset turning its misshapen form into a golden Provençal shrine.

In the 2nd Century the Celts occupied its rocky domain while in the Middle Ages, after years of Arabic rule, it became the seat of the powerful Lords of Baux, who built the fine citadel. It is believed that, during the Arabic retreat, a golden goat, the Cabro d'Or, stood guard at the cave housing the treasures of Abd-al-Raman. The then bustling village was famous for its festivals attended by the wealthy gentry and troubadours such as Raimbaut d'Orange.

In the 15th Century, after much battling, Les Baux was joined, along with Provence, to the French Crown. Today there are no more than 500 inhabitants here, who live, quite literally, with a national treasure. On a clear day you can take in a view of the sacred triangle (from the sea to the Rhône to the Alpilles).

Baumanière is privileged to occupy much of the protected valley beneath the old ruins, benefiting from little wind and dazzling vistas. Cocooned in the intoxicating Baumanière-blend of natural rustic amid refined aesthetic savoir-faire, two truly inspired Michelin stars, a blooming nature that serenades its historic cliff-top host, it is positively addictive. This time we stayed in the main house, L'Oustau, perhaps our favourite within this fine Charial stable, though each 'dwelling' has a unique local stylish charm and, when travelling en-famille, we usually opt for one of the 'siblings' farther down the valley.

Suite bliss

We benefitted from a huge partially-private terrace, set with the most perfect all weather and canvas furniture, above the shade-bearing mulberry trees, with views across to the lake-sized pool and the endless valley of dreams beyond. Our galleried, trés chic sitting room led into the lavender-themed bedroom with large French windows and shutters that opened out in the far distance onto that mystical valley, Val d'Enfer – more heavenly than hell-like – and to the hubbub of France's most atmospheric 'terraced-dining-life' below. The snowy bathroom, with sets of 'Pure Herb' accessories, was immaculate, stacked with thick-pile towels and sultry soft gowns; the bed was as wide as it was long while the room service was as swift as its namesakes beyond.

The olive trees in the forecourt – in front of the boutique – are all fruit bearing, the gargoyle is spurting, the sprays of pink and white roses are rambling, the pink oleander are in constant bloom, and the aromatic herbs are bragging their scents at full pelt. The chalky cliff-sides, with smudges of pine and energetic shrubs – so characteristic of the locale – remain untouched. Falcons swoop into their protected crevices, swifts dive near the luscious pool; chunky geckos hang-out on the mottled terracotta tiles and flagstones; cicadas show no mercy while cooing doves have found their haven.

This is a most glorious part of the world and its invigorating, soul-surging qualities washed Baumanière and its surroundings under the relaxed pulses of a sleepy September sun. It's easy to understand why Van Gogh, Cézanne, Dante, Gounod, Cocteau, among several other immortal creatives, were mesmerised when they arrived here.

Dining, dining, dining...

The love of food here has been a passionate pursuit for many generations, down to the tiniest fragrant petit-pois. Jean-André Charial's grandfather, Raymond Thuilier, was the founder of L'Oustau de Baumanière and began a pea and bean garden near the grounds of La Cabro d'Or many decades ago. With a young Jean-André in hand, they would pick the newborn vegetables in the early morning and cook them the same day.

From hereon-in it would seem that Jean-André's love of food was firmly entrenched, as was his innate understanding of fresh, local produce and his subsequent realisation that the finest of food does not need to come in the form of sturgeons' eggs or foie gras; it comes from the freshness of the crop on your doorstep. That is not to say they don't serve the best of the former here, they do, but these are frills atop the earth while the others are born within.

I have never eulogised about a salad before because, quite frankly, it's the dressing that would get much of the accolade. Sitting under the dense parasols of the magnificent mulberry trees, on our most favourite terrace, at our most adored table, surrounded by our familiar infantry of affable staff, is always precious. The food though, was perhaps the most exceptional ever. I have since tried to repeat the 'Salade Baumanière' at home but there is no comparison. The combination of skill, art and homegrown rich pickings has made this an unrepeatable plate and one that deserves a eulogy.

Being seasonal, I had the finest of the day's crop; wafer thin sun-blanched tomato slices, tiny carrots, florets of baby broccoli, courgette slithers, radishes, artichokes, the sweetest of lettuce hearts, and a hint of aromatic basil amid a fusion of olive oil from the Vallée-des-Baux, Xeres vinegar, perhaps a little cream, even mint... alongside unmatched talent. It was heavenly and our favourite sommelier, Gilles, selected exceptional wines from the Alpilles – Domaine D'Estoublon 2006. You need look no farther than a few miles around you when you stay here in order to reach ecstasy. They have one of the finest wine cellars in France!

That night we dined inside the 17th Century vaulted dining room (in winter, the room is aglow with roaring pine-log fires) with the doors ajar to the terrace. The John Dory in fennel puree is up there with the most exceptional sea sensations of my life. Plate after plate of formidable courses, delicately proportioned and exquisitely displayed, sent Mr Why and I into a state of complete pleasure. It was phenomenal. Gilles again selected exceptional wines from the Alpilles – Mas de la Dame Coin Cache Blanc 2006 and M Charial's own l'Affectif 2005, a blend of Syrah and Mouvedre.

Good morning spa-shine

The morning after the night before needed some indulgent spa time. The funky Arizona-meets-Les-Baux-via-Le-Camargue is the most scrumptious excuse for 'getting toned and beautiful' I have ever seen. The full-throttle toning jet pool, made entirely (ceilings and walls included) from small slightly blue mosaics, with ethereal light changes from white to pink and everything pastel blue in-between, is an experience I long to repeat. The hammam, similarly decked out with a Provençal piquancy fuelling the hot moist air, is outstanding.

Fortunately this is not somewhere you leave – it is somewhere you return to; in our case, until we no longer have the legs to travel.

Sophie Marchant
Sophie Marchant


Luxury Explorer
Luxury Explorer