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LA MAISON DU PARADOU

When describing the ideal rental property in the French countryside a client often paints a picture that seems lifted from a coffeetable book of Provence - something old, authentic, steeped in regional character, a place that by its very appearance evokes the deeply rooted traditions and languorous daily rhythms of rural France. But also...

The prospective renter wants a property with traditional comforts: a modern, well-equipped kitchen, a pool for wiling away lazy summer afternoons, and of course a beautifully decorated interior and a place for family dinners in the open air, all in a quiet and private setting with a pretty garden. And with luck, it will be within walking distance of a picturesque village with a restaurant and a bakery where one can buy fresh bread in the morning.

Our imaginary client has just described La Maison du Paradou, which has all these qualities - and more.

Once a bergerie to house farm animals, the original walls of La Maison du Paradou date to 1740. Recently the house underwent a thorough renovation, and was transformed from a rough-hewn stone farm building to a lovely Provençal home with every conceivable comfort. With its three bedrooms and three well-appointed bathrooms, the house is ideal for a group of couples or one or two small families.

La Maison du Paradou - unassuming on the outside, handsomely appointed and replete with amenities on the inside - sits on an enclosed 1.3-hectare (2.8-acre) terrain that is 10 minutes by foot (and less by one of the three bicycles provided with the property) from the picturesque village of Le Paradou. The 5 m X 15 m (16' X 49') pool is tastefully integrated into a beautifully landscaped setting that includes flower gardens, lawns, blackberry bushes and groves of olive and fig trees. The courtyard, where a fountain emits the sound of softly running water, has an outside dining area shaded by a 120-year-old platane tree. When in full bloom, the garden is a kaleidoscope of colors, and the air perfumed by a mix of roses, honeysuckle and jasmine.

The house has been designed with traditional aspects of Provençal life in mind. The kitchen, amply equipped with a full array of top-quality cookware, casseroles, baking dishes and other utensils, has everything necessary to take advantage of the bountiful open-air markets in the immediate region (Saint-Rémy-de-Provence on Wednesday and Saturday, Maussanne-les-Alpilles on Thursday and Eygalières on Friday). The all-new appliances include a Lacanche five-burner stove with oven, dishwasher and a stainless-steel American style refrigerator with icemaker. There are also a microwave oven and a variety of countertop appliances. In a separate area entered from the courtyard is a laundry room with an American-style washing machine and separate tumble dryer.

A buffet in the hall between the kitchen and dining room holds a generous and colorful supply of table service and linens. Depending on the weather guests may choose between two dining areas immediately adjacent to the kitchen - the shady courtyard, or an elegant farm table, complemented by upholstered Louis XVI chairs, that is situated in front of an open fireplace. The tables in both dining areas can accommodate up to 12.

After dinner guests can move to the living room, which has white exposed beams and sofas upholstered in a rich red fabric, or to a salon with vaulted ceiling, a former stable that has been converted into what the owner refers to as the reading and music room. Here there is a sitting area with a library of books in French and English, and hidden away in a cabinet, a home cinema complete with satellite TV (channels include CNN and BBC) and full stereo system. One can relax on an oversized Breitz designer sofa or in one of four chairs covered in deep crimson velvet. Nearby off the foyer there is a guest lavatory.

The three bedrooms on the upper level are be reached by a stairway from the entrance hall. All of the bedrooms have views overlooking the courtyard toward the pool and, beyond, the foothills of the Alpilles. Each of the three bathrooms is newly renovated, and each has a WC. In a special touch that shows the owner's devotion to the comfort of his visitors, each guest is also provided with a good-quality terrycloth bathrobe.

The first bedroom has twin beds (these can be made up as a king-sized bed) with jewel-toned red and green silk covers, a large armoire and an antique elm altar that serves as a chest of drawers. The bathroom, just two steps to the right of the bedroom, has a claw-foot porcelain tub and a separate stall shower.

The "Provençal Room," decorated in soft beige and cream colors, also has twin beds that can be made up as a king-sized bed. Two large closets provide ample storage space. The ensuite bath has a double vanity, tub and large stall shower.

At the end of the upstairs hallway is the master bedroom. This room is a half-level up from a small office nook. Here one can access e-mails with a high-speed Internet connection or write postcards to friends and loved ones not fortunate enough to be with you at La Maison du Paradou.

The spacious and especially luminous master bedroom, which has a king-sized bed, is finished in plum and off-white shades typical of Provence. An authentic Napoleon III chair is strategically placed by the window, beckoning guests to sit and enjoy the lovely garden view. The spacious ensuite bath has a separate double vanity area and, beyond the dressing room, a separate space with a claw foot tub and wide stall shower with a rain showerhead.

An archway of flowers and intertwined vines leads to the pool, which is flanked by grass and lavender beds. The pool is in the style of a Provençal bassin, and lap swimmers will appreciate its 15 m (49') length. The poolhouse has a barbecue, shower and WC. Pool towels are provided.

La Maison du Paradou's location near the village of Le Paradou makes it an especially appropriate choice for guests who want to minimize use of an automobile during their stay in Provence. Le Paradou has a small grocery store, bakery, a post office, doctor's office and a few other basic shops. Two quality restaurants - Bistro du Paradou and the Michelin-starred La Petite France, can be reached in less than 20 minutes by foot.

Several excellent restaurants can also be found at Maussanne-les-Alpilles, a five-minute drive, and at Saint-Rémy and Eygalières, each 20-25 minutes by car. The famed Oustaù de Beaumanière at Les Baux-de-Provence, which has two Michelin stars, is a five-minute drive.

Le Paradou is a convenient point from which to explore Provence. Avignon is just a half hour to the north, and the perched villages of Gordes, Bonnieux and Lacoste in the Luberon, or Roussillon with its ochre-colored cliffs are, are less than an hour's drive.

While La Maison du Paradou is at its most splendid during the warm months when the garden is in full bloom, it is also a delightful in spring, when the sunflowers and poppies start to fill the fields, and in the fall, when after the late-September harvest the grape vines take on their autumn foliage. The property's modern central heating system and large fireplace, which always has a good supply of firewood, also assure comfort for late fall and winter stays.