Secret Hotels of Provence
Affordable, authentic and charming digs in France's most alluring region.
Everybody knows about the legendary charms of Provence. The skies are blue beyond compare, and the air is filled with the scent of thyme. Everybody knows that the markets are divine--this is France, after all. Everybody knows that staying there costs a fortune. Or does it?
Not necessarily. Read on!
Murs-en-Provence: Le Mas du Loriot
Chirping cicadas and rustling leaves are the only ambient noises at this quiet haven in the hills near Gordes. Each room has a private terrace with a magnificent view: a small lavender field, and far behind it the mighty massif of the Luberon. An alluring pool is tucked among the trees. The graceful room decor includes tile floors, white walls, a painting or two, and rich fabrics on the beds and windows; bathrooms are stocked with goodies from Yves Rocher. Rooms are accessible from the outside, so mingling with your neighbors is strictly voluntary. The only viewless room goes for $56, while others start at $108. The restaurant serves dinner on weekdays; half-board is strongly encouraged, though not obligatory--and probably not a bad idea, considering how hard it might be to find the energy necessary to get up from your deck chair and drive into town. Doubles $56-$143; eight rooms, one wheelchair accessible. Route de Joucas, 011-33/4-90-72-62-62, fax 011-33/4-90-72-62-54, masduloriot.com.
Vers-Pont-du-Gard: La Begude Saint-Pierre
American-style amenities are rare in French hotels, but this country inn does what it can: Rooms are spacious, beds are large (two small twins clamped together), bathrooms are stocked with toiletries, and there's a sauna, pool, and small gym room. And then there's the French part: glorious countryside views, 17th-century stone buildings, and a gourmet restaurant (prix fixe dinner $35-$58). The inside of this old postal-relay inn has been almost entirely reconstructed to create no-nonsense modern, air-conditioned rooms with faux antiques and Provençal bedspreads. The 34 acres of grounds stretch to the Gardon River, which runs under the neighboring Pont-du-Gard, an amazing chunk of intact Roman aqueduct. The hotel is on a small country highway, so a few rooms get some road noise during the daytime (but the three that face the road are quite large and in the lowest price category). Doubles $83-$143; 20 rooms, three suites. D 981 Les Coudoulieres, 011-33/4-66-63-63-63, fax 011-33/4-66-22-73-73, hotel-saintpierre.fr.
Uzes: Hotel du General d'Entraigues
Centuries old and completely restored, Uzes is a jewel of a town with one of the best open-air markets in all of Provence. Lodgings are scarce, but fortunately there is this classy hotel, ensconced in a series of 15th- and 18th-century private houses just in front of St. Theodorit Cathedral and the Tour Fenestrelle. Rates vary widely, but on the low end are decent-size rooms with exposed beams, nice antiques, and pretty views of interior patios and surrounding monuments. (The more expensive rooms are gigantic, with painted 17th-century beamed ceilings and prsate balconies.) Most rooms are air-conditioned, and there's a gorgeous, though shallow, rooftop pool with a patio bar and views of the cathedral. Common areas like the downstairs lounge are hip yet cozy; be sure to check out the restaurant's view of the underside of the pool. Doubles $65-$178; 36 rooms, two suites, elevator. 8 rue de la Calade, Place de l'Eveche, 011-33/4-66-22-32-68, fax 011-33/4-66-22-57-01, hoteldentraigues.com.
Graveson: Le Cadran Solaire
Once a postal-relay inn, this old stone building in the residential part of a very small town has thick walls, a trellised garden, and a tranquil atmosphere (reinforced by the absence of TVs in the rooms). With high-beamed ceilings and garden views, the rooms are luminous; modern, ornate iron bedsteads, period reproduction furniture, and muted colors complete the decor. The friendly owners try to make it feel like a private home, and by and large they succeed. Though not neighboring any big tourist sites, Graveson is within a half-hour drive of most Provençal highlights, and the town itself has a relaxed southern charm--huge plane trees shade a tiny canal that cuts across the main square. Doubles $69-$90; 12 rooms. 5 rue de Cabaret Neuf, 011-33/4-90-95-71-79, fax 011-33/4-90-90-55-04, hotel-en-provence.com.
Arles: Hotel de l'Amphitheatre
Style, comfort, and great prices combine to make these chic lodgings--unrelated to the hotel of the same name in Nîmes--an excellent deal. New owners have almost completely renovated, exposing amazing 17th-century wood-beam ceilings. Wall colors tend toward the dark, rich side, but they're generally balanced with bright fabrics, light floor tiles, and modern furniture that borrows from antique styles. The cheapest rooms, in the unrenovated part of the hotel, are in need of an overhaul; it's definitely worth paying the extra $12 for a "comfort" double on the spiffed-up side. The Belvedere ($161), which has a 360-degree view of the rooftops of Arles, may be worth a splurge. All rooms are air-conditioned, there's Internet access in the lobby and a massage therapist on call, and the cool art books and toiletries in the rooms are for sale in the hotel boutique. Doubles $58-$106; 28 rooms, one wheelchair-accessible, one suite. 5-7 rue Diderot, 011-33/4-90-96-10-30, fax 011-33/4-90-93-98-69, hotelamphitheatre.fr.