Lounging on an apple-green Noguchi sofa, dining on a Starck Plexiglas table, or sleeping in a crimson lacquered bed designed by Pucci de Rossi may not seem like your typical holiday in Provence. But at the recently opened Domaine des Andéols, a sprawling estate on a remote hillside in the Luberon (which some consider the heart of Provence), the fashionably modern decor, pure lines, and celebrated names are all part of a loftier concept.
"Art should be shared," says Olivier Massart, owner and creator of the Domaine, a luxury hotel with nine private villas you may rent individually or as one compound. "I've been collecting photos, paintings, objects, and furniture for the past twenty years from all over the world. I just never saw the point in keeping it private."
As a result, Massart, head of a Parisian fashion agency, La Mode en Images, and his wife, Patrizia, a former model, decided to build a sort of live-in art foundation on their 59 acres of family property, furnished with their vast collection. The idea was to provide a place where they could welcome friends—an inner circle of artists and designers—as well as outside guests. "In Paris, we're always caught up in the urban rhythms," explains Massart. "This was a way to bring people together from different worlds and exchange ideas in a high-quality environment. It's amazing how many lasting friendships have begun over a plate of grilled sardines and cold rosé at the long table under the plane tree."
Viewed from the winding country road below, the Domaine des Andéols resembles a typical Provençal hamlet with red-roofed houses of weathered beige stone. It's only once you begin to wander the grounds that the spirit of the place shows itself. No burbling gargoyle fountains here—the sleek stone staircase, lined on either side with a cascade of trickling water, leads from the area where guests are greeted to meticulously tended terraced gardens and three rectangular spillover pools. From every angle, there's a sweeping vista of cypresses, sunflowers, lavender, and vineyards. Down in the orange grove by the Japanese water-lily pond, what looks like a simple wooden shack is actually a state-of-the-art kitchen for barbecues. Even the antique gypsy caravan, parked in the meadow, is a rare collector's piece.
The most surprising discoveries, however, are behind the closed doors of the villas. Each of the nine multilevel guesthouses is named according to a theme or color. Design enthusiasts will recognize original furniture, lamps, and artwork by Mies van der Rohe, Isamu Noguchi, Philippe Starck, Ron Arad, Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Franck, Marc Newson, André Dubreuil, Araki, Jan Saudek, Jean-Charles Blais, Jeanloup Sieff—the list goes on.
Needless to say, you won't find a single Provençal handstitched flowered quilt on a bed or any dried-lavender sachets in your armoire. In fact, wardrobes are scarce in most of these minimalist bedrooms, since clothing and suitcases are meant to be discreetly stored in the closets. Instead, the trendy bathtub-in-the-boudoir phenomenon prevails—deep rectangular tubs in charcoal-gray cement are stocked with honey bath products by Nuxe. Another feature that preserves the villas' uncluttered harmony is the "invisible kitchen," where every possible appliance from the toaster to the stove is artfully hidden behind sliding cabinets or folding panels.
Among our favorite villas is the Maison du Voyageur, an ocher and orange African-inspired house with a palm tree, a mock tortoise, a buffalo-horn-footed sofa, and a daunting stuffed Bengali tiger in the living room. Next-door is the equally spacious Maison Rouge, with a shiny white resin floor and chic red Pucci de Rossi furniture, created especially for the house. For the more meditative-minded, Maison Blanche is a high-ceilinged haven in Zen white, from the pale, rustic stone floors to the white ostrich-feathered chair. More intimate is the circular Maison des Amoureux, the cozy one-bedroom "lovers' flat" with a red lip-shaped sofa and a view of the vineyards.
We stayed in the comfortable three-bedroom Maison des Cascades, painted a restful pale pistachio, which had everything from exotically scented candles and silk bedspreads to a private stone pool and sun deck. Minutes after our arrival, a tray appeared on the outdoor terrace with tiny sandwiches, a teapot of fresh verbena tea (an iced infusion of wild herbs) from the garden, and a tall glass bottle of an unusual hand-squeezed concoction, which turned out to be yellow mango and carambola fruit juice. British house manager Mike Linfield says with a smile, "Guests can dine wherever and whenever they like—if they want to be left alone for a quiet romantic dinner, we will serve the menu of the day in their villa. Some people also like to shop at the local markets and do their own cooking—others love the atmosphere of the restaurant."
Not surprisingly, Les Andéols, the Domaine's gastronomic restaurant, has attracted everyone from neighboring farmers to Paco Rabanne and Pierre Cardin. Headed by 32-year-old Michelin-star chef Daniel Hébet (formerly at Avignon's La Mirande), the menu is supremely affordable and prepared with amazing ingredients.
"When I first saw the Domaine I was struck by the creative possibilities," says Hébet. "We now have apricots, plums, and cherries in the orchards, and organic gardens with almost three hundred fifty kinds of vegetables and herbs. There must be seven types of mint and over fifty varieties of tomatoes. We also make our own olive oil."
The airy dining room, with a canvas-walled private section, includes a library stocked with contemporary art books and an outdoor terrace shaded by a thousand-year-old olive tree. Julien, the headwaiter, dressed in a white Moroccan tunic, brought out the menu of the day: an amuse-bouche of melon gazpacho and creamed peas with tarragon, followed by a superb artichoke-and-asparagus salad with fresh Parmesan, sage, and thyme flowers. The main course was a combination of marinated crayfish with sea-urchin sorbet and a side of sweet-potato chips followed by a spiced roast mango for dessert.
Even breakfast is an aesthetic affair: square bowls of bright-green tomato jam, violet blueberry compote, orange citrus jelly with candied ginger, and a basket of delicious home-baked country bread. Hébet has no preconceived menus and improvises according to the guests' desires. "Sometimes I take a group to the morning market in Apt, then I bring them into the kitchen and we cook together. It's not your traditional master class, since the meals are very often simple—a tomato salad, grilled fish with wild cèpes, local goat cheese, a strawberry crumble—but people enjoy the luxury of buying, preparing, and enjoying a meal together."
Another luxury is the inviting gray-stone indoor pool complex, dramatically lit in the evenings, which also includes a sauna, hammam, and massage room.
"When you arrive on a warm summer evening after being in a city," says Massart, "you feel a bit intoxicated from all the garden fragrances and natural mix of sounds. You hear crickets, cicadas, a chorus of frogs, and all kinds of birds. While we were renovating, we found swallows' nests everywhere on the Domaine.
"It might just be Provençal folklore," he adds with a smile, "but my grandfather, a sculptor who lived here in the 1930s, used to tell me, 'If the swallow chooses to nest on your land, the vibrations must be good.' "
Rates, $320-$595 per night. At 84490 Saint-Saturnin d'Apt; 33-4-90-75-50-63; www.domainedesandeols.com.
Arrivals and Departures
The drive from Paris is eight hours; instead, take the high-speed TGV from Paris to Avignon. It's a delightful three-hour ride. From Avignon take the A7 autoroute and exit at Avignon Sud, toward Apt. Take the N100 until Coustellet, then the D2 toward Gordes. A mile before Saint-Saturnin d'Apt, turn left to "Les Andéols."
In nearby Apt, the farmers' market on Saturday mornings is terrific for candied fruits and goat cheeses. For other local cheeses try Picodon & Pelardon (23 Rue de la Sous-préfecture; 33-4-90-04-01-78). La Cave du Septier (Place du Septier; 33-4-90-04-77-38; www.vcommevin.com) has a remarkable selection of local vintages. The marbled 18th-century-style ceramics and pottery are well worth the splurge at Atelier Fauçon (185 Boulevard de la Libération; 33-4-90-74-15-31). L'Isle-Sur-La-Sorgue is an antiques-lovers' paradise, especially on Sundays for the attic-junk brocante morning market.
In Goult-Lumière, Edith Mézard (Château de l'Ange; 33-4-90-72-36-41) sells housewares, bath items, men's and women's shirts, and exquisite creamy-colored voile linens.
Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque (two miles from Gordes on D177; 33-4-90-72-05-72), set in a lavender field, stands as one of the great Cistercian monasteries.
Roussillon, six miles away from Apt, is a village of ocher quarries, red cliffs, and magnificent trails—perfect for a day outdoors.
Collection Lambert in Avignon (5 Rue Violette; 33-4-90-16-56-20) houses Yvon Lambert's cutting-edge collection of contemporary art, plus seasonal exhibitions.
The piano festival at La Roque d'Anthéron runs from June through August with topnotch performers in an idyllic outdoor setting (33-4-42-50-51-15).