Having perfected his vision of the ideal Provençal auberge at La Bastide de Moustiers in Moustiers-Ste.-Marie, chef-hotelier Alain Ducasse has opened a second inn, this one in the tiny village of La Celle, almost midway between Avignon and Nice. The renovated Hostellerie de l'Abbaye de La Celle showcases Ducasse's shrewd understanding of exactly what constitutes most people's Provençal fantasy: generous hospitality, simple and delicious country cooking,and comfortable, individually furnished rooms that certainly look the part without resorting to such clichés as Souleiado fabrics.
What creates the special personality of L'Hostellerie is the adjacent, exquisitely restored 12th-century Benedictine abbey and the magnificently planted grounds. (A century-old fence of cypress trees lines half of the property.) Five of the 10 rooms are in a renovated stable; the other five, along with the dining room, are in the original hotel building, an 18th-century Provençal manor house. A huge vegetable garden supplies the kitchen, a small vineyard showcases local vines, the heated pool is discreetly tucked away next to a stone patio overlooking orchards and olive trees.
All 10 rooms are equipped with linen sheets, CD players, fax machines, air conditioning, spacious baths done in Salernes tiles, and are attractively furnished with antiques that Ducasse has picked up during his travels around France. However, the two real beauties are La Chambre Général de Gaulle —in the '60s the hotel was a favorite vacation spot for the French president—and La Chambre Marie Antoinette, both in the manor house. (They can be joined to form a two-bedroom suite.)
The general would surely approve of the makeover of his former quarters, a sprawling room with huge windows overlooking the garden terrace, a high white-painted beamed ceiling, oyster-painted walls, and biscuit-colored tile floors with Oriental throw rugs. Two plump feather-filled Louis XVI armchairs in front of the working fireplace suggest a cozy evening of reading after dinner. La Chambre Marie Antoinette reiterates the decor of the general's room, but is painted pearl gray and is smaller and more intimate.
Working with Ducasse and Clément Bruno, chef at the nearby Bruno in Lorgues, chef Benoît Witz offers a different menu daily. A typical menu runs to dishes like a brouillade de truffes (scrambled eggs with truffles); roast shank of lamb with artichokes, carrots, pumpkin, and celery root; cheese with salad; and a fresh tart topped with whipped cream and bitter orange. The hotel is a perfect stopover, as it is just off the A8 highway, or a good base from which to explore the hinterlands of the Var. $190-$278. Dinner for two: $80. Place du Général de Gaulle, 83170 La Celle; 33-4-98-05-14-14; fax 33-4-98-05-14-15; www.abbaye-celle.com.