Provence embraces every glorious French stereotype: the amazing food, beautiful buildings, rich history, fields of lavender and hidden truffles. This is the France untouched by time or trend, an idyllic countryside enshrined in film and literature and beacon for travellers.
An increasingly modish way to sleep, eat and dream in Provence is à la chambre d’hôte (Bed & Breakfast). Many are on farms, wineries or a historic property and are highly sought-after for an authentic Provence experience. A feast of a homemade breakfast is included in the price. Though there are many in the region, here are seven that offer you gorgeous respite from a hard day's travel.
La Maison du Moulin
La Maison du Moulin (Grignan; double €90-200 incl breakfast) sequesters you in comfortable luxury in the midst of exceptional natural beauty. Picture a tastefully restored old mill nestled within a wonderfully secluded domain, 3km away from the history-laden town of Grignan. Much of its heritage structure and charm remain, with five handsomely designed rooms that look across truffle fields and vineyards. The food is a plus – the truffle menu, served in an atmospheric room, is a feast for the tastebuds. Madame also offers award-winning cooking courses.
Down a meandering country road through orchards and vineyards, 7km north of the Roman treasure-filled Vaison-la-Romaine, L’Ecole Buissonniere (double from from €59 incl breakfast) is the pride and joy of hosts Monique and John. They’ve transformed this former farm into an impeccable B&B, with three airy rooms opening onto gardens filled with chirping birds, and at night a glittering sea of stars. Breakfast is served beneath a vine-trailed trelly.
Le Mas de la Romane
Here is Provence bliss surrounded for miles by vineyards, olive groves and lavender plantations and with stunning views of the Lubéron. At Le Mas de la Romane (Velorgues; from €90 with breakfast), Christine and Jérôme have restored the big 19th-century stable to perfection and love having guests. The décor is classically French provençal: rustic yet smart. The two rooms are full of character and the bathrooms are seductive and contemporary. Breakfast in a courtyard garden heady with blooms – on homemade jams – and daydream by the neat pool. Provence at its bucolic best.
It’s like stepping through the looking glass into another world: one of refined French taste and Provençal elegance, where heels click on terracotta tiles and rooms are beautifully arranged. No lavender fields in sight – the enchanting La Bouscatière (Moustiers-Ste-Marie; double from €120) is smack dab in gorgeous Moustiers-Ste-Marie, a town dubbed the Etoile de Provence (Star of Provence). Built into a cliff, this enchanting historic mansion complete with old beams, stone walls and original fireplaces screams harmony. Relax in the splendid garden, savour dinner in the much-lauded restaurant, attend jazz sessions (in summer). If only the dream didn’t have to end... but beyond are earthenware workshops, vibrant markets, fabulous museums and canoeing on the Verdon. Perfection in Haute Provence.
Fragrance (St-Rémy de Provence; double from €90 incl breakfast) lies at the heart of lively, artistic, much sought-after St-Rémy. Chantal and Lazare, your charming hosts, have renovated this lovely 1930s pavilion with a happy respect for the spirit of the place and for the landscape that envelops it. Inside, rooms are individually decorated with rich designer fabrics and are coordinated in cooling creams and earthy hues. Beds are voluptuous and the quiet rooms look onto the garden, an oasis of calm with an inviting timber-decked pool. Homemade pastries and cakes are served at breakfast. A very pleasant place in which to hang your Provençal hat and make sure you’re around on a Wednesday - market day!
A great base for delving into the cultural depths of Aix-en-Provence: step outside to a parade of pedestrians, boulangeries, cafés, museums and monuments. Within the spacious mansion, all is calm and intimate. L’Epicerie (Aix-en-Provence; double from €100 incl breakfast) is the fabulous creation of Luc, a born-and-bred Pays d’Aix lad who worked in theatre and cinema before nesting there. Luc’s passion for antique pieces graces the whole house, cleverly mixing with modern, and, with dabs of colour, brightening those neutral colours that so suit Provence. But it’s the breakfast room, which recreates a 1950s épicerie (grocery store), complete with straw-filled barrow and lacy whites hanging up to dry, that steals the show.
Le Mas Perreal
Le Mas Perreal (St-Saturnin-lès-Apt; double from €125 incl breakfast) is an idyllic place for lovers of peace, solitude, lovely hilltop villages and fine dining. Languishing in vineyards and cherry orchards on a vast 17-acre domain, minutes from the picturesque town of St-Saturnin-lès-Apt, this lovingly restored B&B features five rooms furnished with period antiques and Provençal fabrics. There's a charming simplicity, a soothing, serene mix of country antiques and modern bits and pieces. On hot summer days, relax by the heavenly pool or enjoy the big garden and revel in distant views of the Luberon range. Elisabeth, a long-time French teacher, offers cooking lessons to guests. If you can bear to break away, there are some delightful hillside villages to discover.