Airelles Gordes, La Bastide, France
If Gordes is the darling of Provence, then we’ve fallen head over heels for its most romantic hotel, Airelles Gordes, La Bastide. Gazing across the Luberon Valley from medieval ramparts, its lavender-strewn terraced gardens, clubby bar and vaulted spa draw bon vivants summering in the South of France.
13 August, 2020
Gordes is to the Luberon what Padstow is to Cornwall or Broadway is to the Cotswolds. Lauded as Provence's most beautiful village, it's paraded on Pinterest boards and plenty of fridge magnets. With its 16th-century stone buildings, lavender fields and vineyards tumbling down the steep gorge, the praise is rightfully earned.
Despite all the attention, it retains an air of Provençal charm. Local farmers and artisans peddle pickled jams and hand-forged silver rings in the square every Tuesday; everyone greets each other personally and the boutiques shut for long, leisurely lunches and are (mostly) closed all day on Sunday, unmoved by crowds gathered on the cobbles.
Built on 12th-century ramparts clinging to the Luberon Valley, the 10-floor Airelles Gordes, La Bastide, is a higgledy-piggledy collection of cappuccino-coloured buildings - one a former nunnery, one a fire station, another a police station - decked with floral fabrics and antiques plucked from local flea markets. Walls are strewn with ancestral portraits, the kind whose eyes seem to follow you after one too many glasses of rose. Velvet drapes frame shuttered windows, ornate ceilings are dressed with 100-piece chandeliers and the corridors are regularly sprayed with the hotel's signature scent. The terraced gardens are the showstopper, where lavender, olive, orange and cypress trees give way to valley views. It's bold and theatrical - but it works.
And the jewel in Airelles Gordes, La Bastide's crown? The staff. Identifiable by their 18th-century costume bodices, jodhpurs and bowler hats, they're discreetly attentive. They're on-hand should you fancy a hot air balloon ride (you do), if you're searching for in-bloom lavender fields (likely Sénanque Abbey) and to let you in on the best Provençal towns to visit - those being Roussillon for its ochre-cliffs, St Remy for art and Avignon, via Château d'Estoublon vineyards, for the Les Palais des Papes. Ditched the budget flight and drove to Provence? Your car will be washed, polished and stocked with cold water and fresh towels. By the time you leave, you'll feel as if you've been initiated into the royal court.
Airelles, La Bastide de Gordes, France
Bedrooms? Pfft. We wouldn't use such a commonplace term; these are boudoirs, darling. Forty of them to be precise - all individually decorated, natch - plus one private villa that sleeps 10 and is screaming to be included in a family reunion.
Our abode was regal and ridiculously romantic with valley framed by wooden shutters and paisley-print curtains. A rouge-panelled dressing room opened up onto a spacious room furnished with antique chairs, Napoleon portraits (there's no escaping them) and a plucked-from-the-clouds king-size bed, while subtle design touches such as the porcelain light switches and the smart TV hidden behind a gilded mirror added to the character. It's a little chintzy, maybe, but with such incredible attention to detail that it's hard to not fall head over heels.
Eschewing the identikit marble tiles that luxury boltholes usually rely on, bathrooms are clad in repurposed tiles and come stocked with an array of lavender-scented products and miniature Sisley, the crème de la crème of toiletries - use indulgently; the plumping night cream is a saviour if you've fallen asleep all day in the Provencal sun. The shower overlooked the valley which is a nice touch.
What's for breakfast?
A lot. Pile plates with dainty croissants, pain au chocolat and other buttery, baked goods before attacking the smorgasbord of cold meats, cheeses, fruits (including Instagram-worthy acai bowls) and a selection of hot food. Creamy scrambled eggs and veal sausage give the Full English an upgrade. It's largely self-serve, but feel free to ask the kitchen for eggs any way you like. We had two fluffy omelettes whipped up within minutes one day and perfect poachies the next. Not that we were demanding or anything…
What about lunch and dinner?
It's probably more fitting to ask what's not for lunch and dinner.
For lunch, head to the hotel's Italian trattoria La Bastide de Pierres. It's situated in Gordes overlooking the market square and is an affordable option should you not want to embark on a meal with all the trimmings for lunch. The Italian food is top-draw - my critic was a Naples native who awarded the mozzarella, parma ham and rocket pizza with a clean plate. We skipped afternoon ice cream in favour of the Nutella calzone. If you're like me and have a tendency to eat Nutella straight out of the jar, I strongly advise you follow suit. Insanely good.
Dinner can be taken at Clover Gordes, a farmhouse-style restaurant (think: restored sofas, wooden sideboards and vintage glassware) with chef Jean-François Piège at the helm. Rustic yet refined, it serves a locavore menu featuring blue lobster and wild squid carbonara. Alternatively, make the most of La Bastide's valley setting by dining al fresco at La Citadelle. On our visit, the La Crau lamb and pork belly atop a bed of spelt and wheat risotto - from nearby Sault - were faultless. The Louis Alexandre souffle (share; it's huge) laced with booze was a worthy substitute to a nightcap.
Le TIGrr is the hotel's other outpost. It's a ritzy, Asian-inspired sushi bar in the village dressed with rocky banquet seating and rattan-adorned verandas. You'll find other outposts in St Tropez and Megève and the crowd it draws is fitting. Expect Rolex-clad, linen-blazer types who have swapped their Moncler for Jacquemus and are spending summer in the South. Regardless, the setting is gorgeous and sushi superb - don't skip out on the lobster rolls or the signature prawn tempura rolls.
Is there a bar?
Of course. You can pick from a plush cigar-room stocked with oversized Remy Martin bottles and a green-lit bar that wouldn't look out of place in a pâtisserie, or soak up views from the pretty terrace. We might sound like a broken record but those vistas really are magnetic. Order from the wine list - the sommelier is impressively knowledgeable - or embark on your own cocktail flight. We'd recommend the Provence, vodka-based and infused with lavender liqueur. Come 6pm, it gets quite lively here - but don't start jumping on the tables. Ibiza house hits might sound like they jar with the countryside setting but we enjoyed the buzzy soundtrack serenading sunset.
Airelles, La Bastide de Gordes, France
The phrase "rosé all day" was likely invented to describe the activities (or lack thereof) that take place around the pool. Flanked by manicured lawns and towering cypress trees, it's a pretty place to plonk yourself for the afternoon and make your way through the region-focused wine list. Elsewhere, you'll find a dedicated children's pool equipped with retro arcade games and a vintage ice-cream cart.
If the rosé hasn't induced an afternoon siesta, a trip to the spa certainly will. Modelled on the nearby Sénanque Abbey, it's a three-floor warren of vaulted stone with long, stark corridors leading to a hammam spa, indoor pool and treatment rooms with (you guessed it) more staggering views of the valley.
Things you should know
On Sundays, L'Orangerie hosts the most extravagant brunch banquet we've ever had the pleasure of getting our shellac mitts on. Forget your poxy avocado-on-toast job served with flat cava, this spread is so vast that even Marie Antoniette would have pulled up a velvet pew and approved. Expect gigantic prawns, platters of roast meats and enough breads to get Paul Hollywood excited. Follow with homemade tarts, crème brûlée and rows of miniature viennoiserie. Take your (vintage) fizz out to the terrace and sip beneath the orange trees.
Within a short walk, you'll find…
Head right out of the hotel and you'll be sashaying into the centre of Gordes. Like most Provençal towns you'll find several boulangeries - Artisan Boulangerie makes a mean framboise tart - a pharmacist, a church and boutiques lined with bottled lavender oil. Worth a visit is Territoire, a deli of sorts stacked floor-to-ceiling with jars of black olives, tins of aubergine caviar and rainbow of olive oils - all worth wasting your liquid carry-on allowance on; the balsamic vinegar with lemon will transform even the humblest of two-day-old salad.
Turn left out of the hotel's door, around the corner and follow the kerb-slung Fiat 500's with their hazards on to find the Gordes viewpoint. People venture from all over the Luberon region to snap a photo in front of the valley that's dotted with cypress trees and stone villas. Avoid sunset when you run the risk of being knocked off the cliff edge by someone taking a selfie. We opted to go at sunrise where we had the whole place to ourselves.