La Bellevue du Lubéron
, a well-appointed, impeccably maintained and typically Provençal house within easy walking distance of the village of Ménerbes, was formerly owned by an American photographer whose published works range from portraits of celebrities to gorgeous color studies of Provence. One can see why an artist with an acute visual sense would choose this setting on a hillside overlooking the verdant Lubéron Valley: From virtually any angle the eye falls upon a landscape lush with vineyards, orchards, fields of lavender and perched villages that appear to be carved from the bleached stone of distant mountainsides. In the living room, opposite the massive fireplace that dominates the room, is a specially created window, a large vertical rectangle which frames a view that, if it could be lifted out and printed in full living color, could be a page in an expensive picture book on Provence. But here the picture is real, with a view that changes by seasons, and by hours as each day the advancing
sun repaints the endless stretch of vineyards from soft pastels to a deep emerald green.
La Bellevue du Lubéron is architecturally typical of recent construction in the Lubéron, with beige stucco walls, barn-red shutters and a terra cotta tile roof, all signature features of a Provençal residence. The house is set on a one-hectare (a little over two acres) terrain that offers complete calm with no road noise or even the sound of neighbors. The property offers perfect comfort in an attractive environment where the amenities are modern, the terraces well situated for outside living and the interior spaces decorated with genuine charm.
The décor of La Bellevue du Lubéron incorporates antiques in rich wood tones with contemporary pieces such as Italian floor lamps and, in the dining room, wicker chairs that go well with the soft ochre walls. The house is bright and breezy throughout, with sunshine flowing in through the many windows to create an ambiance of light and spaciousness, and deep shadows that bring out the ochre hues of the terra cotta tile floors and of the interior walls, which are sponge-painted in Provençal colors from soft yellow to the palest of soft peach. The garden and pool area are replete with mature shrubs and flowerbeds of roses, oleander and lavender. In a word, the environment of La Bellevue du Lubéron, in combination with its proximity to the little village of Ménerbes, is solidly evocative of old Provence, and the unhurried procession of pleasurable days and nights that awaits vacationers there.
La Bellevue du Lubéron is reached by a short gravel driveway that terminates in a parking area large enough for several cars. From the parking area the house is approached by a cypres and shrub-lined path that leads to the rear terrace, or by terraced walkway that leads to the northwest-facing front entrance. A large foyer gives access to the living room and dining room-kitchen area on one side, and to a hallway leading to two downstairs bedrooms on the other. The foyer has a powder room, and extends to the front entrance on the other side of the house.
The living room, a bright, spacious and airy room with a beamed cathedral ceiling and several windows overlooking the Lubéron Valley, is warmly furnished with two plush sofas upholstered in a soft ochre-yellow (in summer weather there are coverlets). Four floor lamps and overhead lights mounted on ceiling beams provide excellent illumination for reading. Along one wall is a beautiful long wooden table, and near the large window is a small stereo system and a collection of CDs, mostly of classical and operatic music. An 18th century large antique cupboard and a French antique chest of drawers complete the living room.
From the living room a staircase with tile steps leads to a mezzanine that overlooks the living room. Here there is a comfortable little antechamber, a small desk with a bookcase and, closed off from mezzanine by curtained glass doors, a small and prettily decorated bedroom with twin beds that can be combined to form a queen-sized bed. The room looks onto the shrub-enclosed courtyard to the rear of the house, while the ensuite bath, which has a stall shower but no tub, has a superb view over the Lubéron valley. The bed has reading lamps on both sides. This bedroom is especially appropriate for a couple that wants total privacy.
In the wing leading off the foyer on the ground floor are the two other bedrooms, both of which have views onto the courtyard.
The master bedroom, especially commodious and attractively appointed, has a queen-sized bed and lovely side tables, each with reading lamps, as well as an antique French armoire and generous closet space. This bedroom uses a bathroom with tub and hand-held shower plus a bidet directly across the hall.
The other downstairs bedroom has twin beds on opposite sides of the large room, and for clothes storage a chest of drawers and closet. A desk and several floor lamps makes this room ideal for Internet-related activities. Occupants of this bedroom use a tiled bathroom with a walk-in shower and bidet. A seperate WC is directly across the hall. Both bathrooms were recently completely renovated with high-quality materials.
This third bedroom is less formal than the other two bedrooms, and is most appropriate for two children or a single adult.
While guests tend to congregate after dinner in the commodious living room, the natural place for informal conversation and general relaxing before mealtime is the space formed by the kitchen, dining room and main terrace. The kitchen is separate from but open to the dining room, which in turn flows through double glass doors onto the terrace. The terrace, which faces northeast over the valley and is shaded by an olive tree, has a large round table with parasol and chairs for six. Together these three contiguous areas bring into focus one of the most agreeable aspects of la vie Provençale - the business of eating well, in the company of friends and family, in an outdoor setting shaded from the midday sun or under the stars. On days when the mistral is blowing guests can enjoy the smaller but equally pleasant terrace on the south side of the house, which is protected from the wind.
The recently renovated kitchen is compact but exceptionally well equipped, with modern appliances that include a dishwasher, range with four gas burners, oven, refrigerator and an additional two-door refrigerator/freezer in the adjacent pantry. The pretty wood cupboards are filled with good-quality crockery and stemware. A separate laundry room has a washing machine and a separate tumble dryer.
The dining room, with its ochre-colored walls, high-beamed ceiling, antique paneled wood doors and (non-working) fireplace, has an especially warm and convivial feel about it. The long farm table with chairs for eight make this the perfect place for a long candlelit dinner on a chilly autumn evening.
The 11m X 5.5m (36' X 18') rectangular pool is set separate from the house. Tall acacia trees shade the pool in places, and the surrounding grounds are beautifully landscaped. From the pool there are splendid views over the valley, and with the parasols and six lounge chairs on the wide deck guests can while away entire days just taking in the scenery and enjoying the quiet.
Near the pool, enclosed by an old stone wall, is a large flower garden with a century-old olive tree. There is also a gravel court where young and old may face off in a spirited game of boules.
La Bellevue du Lubéron offers a number of amenities often not found in more lavish properties, among them satellite TV with several English-speaking channels plus a DVD player (the television is in the master bedroom), a sophisticated security system, three telephones, a bicycle for guests' use, and a central heating system that will stave off the coldest Provençal winter.
As many people reading this description already know, Ménerbes was catapulted into international fame in the late 1980s by the publication of A Year in Provence, Peter Mayle's entertaining and far from inaccurate account of life in Provence. Mayle is now gone, and with him departed the hordes of tourists who once thronged to the village to catch a glimpse of the popular author. The Café du Progrès memorialized by Mayle is still there in the village center, ready to serve you a pastis or a glass of chilled rosé and, for the midday meal, a plat du jour of sturdy Provençal fare.
Despite its picture-postcard appeal (parts of the village were sealed off in 1995 during the filming of "Surviving Picasso" with Anthony Hopkins and again in 2005 for "A Good Year" with Russel Crowe), Ménerbes remains a quiet, pleasant village of great charm. Its shops include a bakery, pharmacy, grocery store, presse and several restaurants and cafés. One of La Bellevue du Lubéron's greatest assets is that in fewer than seven minutes one can stroll into this picturesque village to enjoy a café-crème, freshly baked croissant and copy of the International Herald Tribune - and perhaps pick up a few strategic pointers from the gents at the local boules court.
NOTE: Smoking is not permitted inside at La Bellevue du Lubéron.