Mas du Destet is a singular property - an enormous mas, classic in its architecture, dimensions and quintessentially Provençal character - on an immense terrain at the foot of the Alpilles mountain chain near Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Villages in close proximity draw lovers of fine Provençal cuisine from all over the region. With its nine beautifully appointed bedrooms and six luxurious bathrooms, the property can accommodate up to 14 guests.
Amenities abound at Mas du Destet, from a hemispheric swimming pool to an impeccably maintained tennis court to high-tech features like satellite TV reception and wireless Internet access. There are breathtaking views in all directions - the granite slopes of the Alpilles in the foreground, and on a clear day vistas across the Camargue all the way to the Mediterranean. Surrounding the property are vineyards cultivated with grenache, syrah and cabernet sauvignon varietals that produce well-structured red wines of the Coteaux des Baux appellation. As a refuge for a large family group to enjoy extraordinary comfort in a bucolic setting of total calm, serenity and privacy, Mas du Destet is unexcelled among any properties we know in the Alpilles.
A favorite pastime of Provençals, frequently carried out over a glass of pastis, is to debate what constitutes a mas, as opposed to a bastide, ferme or maison de campagne. There is no question but that Mas du Destet squarely meets the definition of mas, a farmhouse of size and substance that in all likelihood once belonged to a wealthy landowner of the region.
The long two-story structure dates from the 16th and 17th centuries. It has massive stone walls and a roof of aged terra cotta tile. Windows on the north side are small, in keeping with the practice of limiting exposure to the mistral, the howling wind that periodically sweeps down the Rhône Valley toward the Mediterranean, while the French doors and terraces on the south side bring abundant light to the interior. The stucco walls are a pure alabaster white. Wide windows framed by dark green shutters overlook a graceful gravel courtyard whose stones are now raked daily by the friendly resident caretakers. At one end of the courtyard a fountain, illuminated at night, offers the sound of gently flowing water. The public rooms on the ground floor are immense (the drawing room alone is 250 m2, almost 2,700 sq. ft.), and in the kitchen and here and there throughout the mas are enormous fireplaces.
The ground floor and public rooms
The mas is entered from the courtyard, where there is parking for up to six cars. On the ground floor are the drawing room, dining room, kitchen and a guest lavatory. In a niche off the foyer is what will become headquarters for the working visitor, a small desk with a telephone, fax machine on a separate line, and wireless Internet access.
Vaults and columns divide the drawing room into different sitting areas, each with its own character and intimacy. Before the wide fireplace are armchairs and a plush sofa; in another sitting area leather club chairs are arranged around a low coffee table. Near the fireplace are an olive press from 1809, and a large antique writing desk before a window with views over the courtyard and beyond to the Alpilles.
Opening from the drawing room is yet another little niche with a TV which receives French channels only. Throughout the drawing room books, small sculptures and objets d'art are thoughtfully placed on the many coffee and side tables, creating an ambiance of refined elegance and comfort.
In the spacious dining room there is a long farm table for up to 12 guests, with extra leaves for larger parties. As in the living room, a vaulted ceiling and stone columns again evoke an atmosphere of history and solidity. The dining room also has a sitting area with a long sofa and armchairs arranged before a fireplace, with a TV that receives a panoply of international channels, among them CNN, BBC and the SKY network, discreetly placed in a corner.
The original Provençal character of the centuries-old mas is exemplified in the kitchen, which is more rustic in its appearance than the gleaming American-style kitchens commonly found in JUST FRANCE properties. The oversize gas stove and electric oven are complemented by a double sink, dishwasher, microwave, coffeemaker and other countertop appliances. A glass-front buffet holds a wide assortment of good-quality dishes and cookware. For informal breakfasts there is a long wooden table. The wife of the caretaker couple is very much at home in this kitchen, where (in addition to cleaning five hours a day) she is available by prior arrangement to prepare lunches or dinners.
The upper floor and bedrooms
On the upper level are the nine bedrooms, all tastefully decorated with antiques and quality fabrics in traditional patterns, and six spacious bathrooms. All bedrooms at Mas du Destet have ceiling fans, bedside tables with good reading lamps, and a large armoire or closet for clothes storage. Each of the bathrooms has been newly renovated and has gleaming marble or porcelain sinks, sparkling fixtures crafted in a traditional style, and excellent illumination from overhead recessed lights.
The first bedroom, at the end of the hall, has a queen-sized bed and views east over the vineyards. The ensuite bath is finished in marble with wood facing on the tub and double vanity. There is also a large stall shower and separate WC.
The second, third and fourth bedrooms, all exceptionally commodious, have twin beds that may be joined (but not made up together) to form a king-sized bed. Each of these bedrooms also has an ensuite bath.
The second bedroom is notable for French doors opening onto a small balcony, and an exquisite carved chest of drawers with brass handles. The bath has a double basin, a tub with overhead shower and a separate WC. The third bedroom has an enormous armoire, a tiny private terrace that overlooks the courtyard, and a bath with distressed marble floors, a tub with hand-held shower, and a WC. The fourth bedroom also has an impressive armoire, views south over the courtyard to the Alpilles, and a bath with a tub and overhead shower. For a WC, occupants of this bedroom use the WC at the end of the hall, detailed below.
The fifth and sixth bedrooms are decorated for children, one with a small armoire and twin beds, and the other with a single bed. These two bedrooms share a large bathroom, only steps away, with twin basins, a tub with hand-held shower, and a WC.
The seventh and eighth bedrooms, which face north, are both medium-sized rooms with twin beds. Between these bedrooms is a spacious tiled bath that has twin basins, a tub with hand-held shower, separate stall shower and a WC.
The ninth bedroom, on the small side, has a queen-sized bed and views toward the foothills of the Alpilles to the north. Occupants of this bedroom use a bath at the end of the hall that has a huge marble shower with bench and sunflower showerhead. The WC is separate. Next to this bathroom is a well-equipped laundry room with American-style washing machine, separate tumble dryer and an ironing board.
The grounds, swimming pool and tennis court
The grounds of Mas du Destet, with the circular swimming pool and tennis court tastefully integrated into the natural setting, are truly spectacular. The immediate grounds, which comprise almost two hectares (about 4.5 acres), are planted with shade trees, flowerbeds and patches of lavender. Beyond the courtyard is a formal garden, interspersed with fruit trees and enormous cypresses so tall that they tower over the mas. When illuminated at night the garden takes on a magical quality worthy of a photograph.
Several tables and matching chairs in black wrought iron line the front facade of the mas. A vine-covered arbor just outside the main entrance provides a shady place for outdoor dining, and the tables and chairs may be moved around according to a particular group’s needs.
Beyond the courtyard and its adjacent lawn is the swimming pool enclosure, mostly fenced and surrounded by a tall row of hedges. Once an irrigation reservoir, the pool - the only one of its kind we have ever seen in France - is a large round bowl, 16 meters (a meter is about a yard) wide with a large shallow end (about half the pool) 1.05 m and a deep end of 1.9 m. Access to the pool is by stairs and there are steps which one can sit on in the water. A beautifully finished open salon framed by exquisitely carved Indian portals invites swimmers to nap in the shade or simply relax. Next to the wide pool deck is a pool house with a summer kitchen equipped with a sink and refrigerator. There are also a changing room and a bath with a shower and WC.
The tennis court, which is near the pool, has a hard surface and is perfectly maintained. The court is fenced and has deep backcourts.
Places of interest in the immediate region
Mas du Destet is in the heart of the so-called Golden Triangle, the much sought-after sector that locals claim is the most beautiful part of Provence - an assertion, needless to say, that is contested by residents of other parts of this strikingly beautiful region. The historically important and much-photographed village of Les Baux-de-Provence, with its dramatic ruins of a fortress at the top of the village, is nearby. Almost as famed as the Les Baux's bauxite cliffs is its internationally known restaurant, the Michelin two-star Oustaù de Baumanière.
Visitors to Mas du Destet will also want to pay frequent visits to Saint-Rémy, a 15-minute drive across the Alpilles, to enjoy its many boutiques and fine restaurants and, on Wednesday morning, its open-air market. Saint-Rémy also has a supermarket. For daily shopping needs there is Maussane, five minutes by car, which in addition to its Thursday morning market has a variety of small stores and quality food shops, including a butcher whose rosemary-scented leg of lamb is famous throughout the region.
The medieval cities of Avignon, Arles and Nîmes - the last two have Roman theatres used to this day for bullfights - are all within a drive of an hour or less, as are the perched villages of the Lubéron, among them Gordes, Ménerbes, Bonnieux and Lacoste. For opera aficionados there are summer performances featuring internationally acclaimed singers at the Chorégies d'Orange, staged in the ancient Roman theatre at Orange, and at the opera festival at Aix-en-Provence. Both festivals have websites with schedules and advance ticketing arrangements. Dance enthusiasts visiting in late July will also not want to miss the week-long festival of classic and modern ballet at in the outdoor Cathédrale d'Images at nearby Les Baux.
Golfers will also find several excellent courses in the area. Within a 15-minute drive are both the picturesque nine-hole Golf des Baux-de-Provence and the difficult but lovely 18-hole Golf de Servanes, and the 18-hole Golf de Nîmes is just under an hour.
Being in southern Provence, Mas du Destet is within easy striking distance of the villages and beaches of Mediterranean. For a dinner of freshly grilled fish by the sea it is a drive of 90 minutes or so to Bandol and Cassis, once ancient fishing villages and now trendy international resorts with marinas lined by cafés and restaurants. The beaches of Saint-Tropez are just over two hours. It is drive of less than three hours for a daytrip to the Picasso museum at Antibes, or to view the remarkable post-Impressionist collection at Fondation Maeght near Nice.
International travel connections
Even with its serene countryside location, Mas du Destet is easily accessible by train, plane and automobile from international destinations. The TGV station at Avignon is a drive of about 35 minutes, and Marseille-Marignane International Airport, which has several flights daily to London and Paris, is a one-hour drive. An entrance to the Autoroute system, the complex of superhighways that links France from border to border, is less than a half-hour drive.
Services by the caretakers
The caretakers at Mas du Destet are a pleasant French couple who live in a separate residence well removed from the main house. The caretakers, sometimes joined by the English-speaking owners, greet arriving guests and are always on hand in case of a problem. The wife cleans daily and offers cooking services at extra charge. With advance notice and for a small fee the husband can also be available for airport or rail station transfer with the owner's vehicle.
A home for all seasons
Consistent with the total makeover of mechanical systems which the property underwent during its lengthy renovation, Mas du Destet has a good central heating system that keeps it warm and inviting in all seasons. The property is especially appealing when the vineyards and orchards begin to bloom in the spring, and during the grape harvest in early autumn. A reasonable quantity of firewood is provided for the several fireplaces.
Mas du Destet is an enduring example of the grand manner in which merchants, vineyard owners and other persons of wealth and standing once lived in the region. The same grandeur, brought forward three centuries and now supplemented by a host of modern comforts and conveniences, is available for family gatherings or groups of couples who choose this venerable property for their stay in Provence.