If what the French call le plaisir (and we call pleasure) is the most sublime pursuit in life, and many think it is, few would doubt that this luxurious and totally extraordinary property in southern Burgundy comes as close as one can on this earth to turning that ephemeral concept into a tangible reality. So tastefully done is this property, with no expense having been spared by the owners in their selection of beautiful fabrics, classic building materials (including exquisitely carved wood finishes and hand-painted ceramics) and expertly chosen fine country antiques, that it is virtually impossible to imagine how changing one color or replacing a single piece of furniture could improve on what appears to be perfection.
All this luxury-with-a-country-touch is set on a three-acre (about 1.5 hectare) terrain with a heated pool and Jacuzzi, a pavilion-poolhouse with a full kitchen, and an unforgettable view of oak forests and pastures replete with little white swatches that are actually Charolais cattle grazing on rolling green hillsides. To complete the tableau, there is the pleasant and well-trained staff person who comes weekdays between 8AM and 5PM and half-day Saturdays to clean, assist with the cooking and be helpful in general. This is Le Plaisir made material.
Le Plaisir is on a hill high above the charming little town of Cluny, which originated in Roman times and in medieval times was the site of the largest building in Christendom. That venerable structure, the Benedictine Abbaye and cathedral, was largely destroyed during the French Revolution, and its noble stones sold off for construction materials. The ruins of the Abbaye still remain, however, and its pretty bell tower is visible through the early morning mist from the grounds of Le Plaisir.
The house at Le Plaisir, with its massive stones and thick oak beams, was built shortly after the Revolution by a Burgundian winemaker who probably grew the pinot chardonnay grape, which remains the main varietal of the vineyards of the Côtes Mâconnais region around Cluny. American owners rebuilt the house two centuries later, removing the wine press to make way for what would become the downstairs guest suite. With the addition of the pool in 1996 Le Plaisir has become one of Just France's most sought-after properties.
Having been designed as a place where one can forget life's cares and enjoy the simple pleasures of life, Le Plaisir has something to satisfy almost every whimsy. Audiophiles will love the music room and communications technology, which brings sound and intercom capacity to every room (parents can set the system to alert them when a child cries in another bedroom). Cooks will love the superbly equipped country-style kitchen, with its professional stove, two wall ovens, large American-style refrigerator and assortment of restaurant-quality kitchen equipment, including a salamander, which is used to brown pastry or keep food warm before serving. Lovers will take pleasure in the fireplaces, of which there are four, including one in the spacious master bedroom. Devotés of cocktail hour will find a perfect venue in the smaller salon, where there is a fireplace and a cozy bar of glass and polished walnut reminiscent of a private Ivy League club in New York. Lap swimmers will enjoy the 15 m (49.2') lap pool, and cyclists and joggers will love the well-paved country roads that crisscross the region. Tennis players will appreciate the well-tended courts (including one indoor court) at the local private tennis club. Guests who like to entertain will prepare lunches at the summer kitchen in the pavilion. Historians will thrive on exploring a region rich in Roman and medieval history, and serious oenophiles will be but one step removed from paradise, with Beaujolais to the south and the renowned vineyards of the Côtes de Beaune and Côte d'Or lying to the north.
Businesspersons who simply cannot leave their offices behind will delight in the telephone system, which has two separate voice lines, intercom and high-speed wireless Internet throughout the house. Persons bringing none of the above ambitions to Le Plaisir will simply enjoy the perfect privacy and quietness of this property, and the sensual pleasures of its pool and Jacuzzi.
Le Plaisir is ideal for three couples, although by sacrificing the sitting room of the Toile Suite upstairs the property is able to accommodate up to four couples. At Le Plaisir guests live in an environment of luxury and total privacy amidst glorious antiques in spacious rooms with beamed ceilings, faux marbre off-white walls and floors of tile and polished oak. The kitchen and four bathrooms are beautifully appointed in a manner that combines country charm with the very latest in technology, and without the slightest suggestion of the gaudy.
The motif of beamed ceilings and fine woodwork begins in the foyer and continues throughout the house. Off the foyer are doors to the cloak room, wine cellar and main salon. The salon measures about 5.5 m X 7.4 m (18' X 24'), and has a wood-burning fireplace (with a gas lighter), terra cotta floors and several comfortable sofas and armchairs. On one side is a giant bay window overlooking Cluny and the Mâconnais mountain range across the valley. This and all other rooms throughout are warmly illuminated by antique lamps supplemented by recessed lighting with rheostat control.
Adjoining the salon, but up a few steps, is the dining room and open-plan kitchen, which has a stunning marble counter in a reddish-brown granite. This dining room has a Florentine tile table that seats up to eight. It is a particularly warm and inviting area, and guests tend to gather here as the evening meal is being prepared.
Up two steps to the next level is the petit salon, which the owners call the Music Room. Here there is an immense fireplace before which are ranged a large sofa and two armchairs upholstered in an elegant Brunschwig fabric. Dominating one corner is a gaily painted 19th-century carousel horse. On one side is a view of the surrounding meadowlands and the town of Cluny, and on the other the exquisite little bar mentioned earlier. Discreetly concealed is a powerful stereo system with tape and CD players, as well as television with satellite reception, including CNN, CNBC and various English and German satellite channels plus a DVD player. There is also a powder room just off the bar.
Beyond the petit salon is the library and communications center. This cozy room has wide oak-plank floors, a lovely antique walnut writing table, an antique mantel in cherry wood and cherry doors that were once part of a Louis XV armoire.
Adjacent to the library is the ground floor bedroom, which has a queen-sized bed, luxurious ensuite bath with stall shower (no tub) and a glorious view east across the valley. The entire south wall of this bedroom consists of glass doors (with curtains) that open directly toward the pool.
Stairs lead from the petit salon to the upper level, where an impressive antique Comtoise clock presides over a wide hallway with skylight. The hallway connects the master bedroom suite on one side of the house with two guest bedrooms on the other. Also on this floor is a laundry room with washing machine, tumble dryer and ironing equipment.
The master bedroom suite, which occupies an entire half of the upper floor, has a king-sized bed, exquisite writing desk and a gas-burning fireplace with a Louis XVI carved limestone mantel with a huge mirror. The ceiling is beamed, the floor carpeted in a light beige and the walls covered with soft fabric. The canopied bed faces toward large French doors that open onto a balcony, lined with geraniums, with a long-distance view of the surrounding countryside. The dressing area is lined with mirrored and mullioned closet doors, and the spacious and exceptionally beautiful bath has an oversized tub and marble stall shower, both with fixtures plated in 23-carat gold. In one of the several closets, one suspects, is a sterling-silver champagne bucket at the ready for that very special moment.
Further down the antique-lined hallway is a guest bedroom (the Toile Suite) with two large single beds in antique frames, a Louis-Philippe commode in walnut and an early 19th-century provincial walnut secrétaire. The ensuite bath has a tub with hand-held shower. Next door is a smaller bedroom, with a day bed, rollout trundle bed and bathroom with a shower but no tub. Both rooms have superb views of the countryside. The owners prefer (but do not insist) that this smaller bedroom not be used by for overnight guests, but rather as a sitting room to form a suite for the larger bedroom.
"Le Barn," a kind of oversized poolhouse constructed in 1997, has a complete kitchen and a yet another dining area for up to eight. Just outside of the pavilion through large French doors are the Jacuzzi and pool. From the pool are pastoral views to the south, while to the east is a verdant meadow beneath which is believed to be the foundations of an ancient Roman settlement. In the distance are the Grosne River and the Mâconnais Mountain Range.
It must be said parenthetically of Le Plaisir is that although the house is large, elegant and expensively furnished, every room of the house imparts a feeling of coziness and simple well-being. One can imagine children and grownups in shorts and sandals gathering around the dining table just as easily as a formal black tie dinner at the same table.
The quiet and peacefulness of Le Plaisir, which is approached by a little country lane that winds its way up from the valley, conceals the fact that the bustling little town of Cluny is only a five-minute drive. Here there are food shops, two bakeries, cafés and other commerce. On the outskirts of town are two supermarkets. The owners have prepared an excellent list of interesting daytrips, shopping excursion and vineyard visits. Good restaurants in all price ranges abound in the region, and there are at least 20 worthy of a visit within a 30-minute drive.
Some visitors to Le Plaisir have declared that it is the most beautifully restored house they have ever seen in France. That may be true. What is undeniable is that the experience at this marvelous property is unforgettable.