Venetia van Kuffeler enjoys the colours and flavours of Provence at Domaine de Manville in the South of France
An invitation to a foodie weekend in the South of France was one I was not likely to turn down. We were staying at Domaine de Manville about an hour from Marseilles, found on the site of a former working farm in Mausanne-Les-Alpilles, a protected area at the foot of Les Baux de Provence.
The brainchild of Edith and Patrick Saut, natives of Les Alpilles, Domaine de Manville is the realisation of eight years hard work, and they lovingly call the end result a country ‘palace’ hotel. A combination of long-lasting Provençal traditions with a contemporary vision, Domaine de Manville captures the rural idyll of France, while providing a haven of peace and calm for the guests. Set in countryside of ancient olive trees and vineyards clinging to steep hillsides, 30 rooms and suites are set in three classic Provençal farm buildings, around a courtyard lined with plane trees. There are nine large ‘Maisons’ – or villas – available for weekly rental, popular for weekends with families from Paris.
Once completely devoted to agriculture, today Domaine de Manville still marches to the drum of daily country life, with the kitchens relying on harvests through the seasons. There’s a focus on the produce of the estate and region, creating traditional food with a modern outlook.
So too does Executive Chef Matthieu Dupuis-Baumal draw inspiration from the immediate terroir around him. Learning his craft under Michel Roux at the Waterside Inn at Bray, Dupuis-Baumal is passionate about discovering new flavours and foods, incorporating ideas from trips to Brazil, Japan, Korea, Mexico and Italy into the menus. The result is an exciting culinary voyage through the best of French cuisine. Whether it’s locally-raised lamb, herbs from Mont Ventoux, ceps from the hotel grounds or golden honey from the beehives, the hotel makes enjoying food an absolute priority for their guests.
Breakfasts in the winter garden are dominated by a large buffet of fruits, bread, creamy butter, and freshly baked croissants. In the evenings, the gastronomic La Table restaurant fills up with hotel guests and chic locals to enjoy four-or six-course ‘Carte Blanche’ tasting menus. We were served imaginative amuse bouches, plus dishes including mashed squash, emulsion of ceps with cardamom; glazed foie gras with tamarind and poached quince; turbot seasoned with herbs and Iberian ham, followed by creamy ‘Manjari’ chocolate and cocoa crumble. Curiously, my favourite spot to eat was The Bistrot, serving outstanding Provençal classics at lunchtime, and the ideal place for a glass of rosé and some people-watching.
Chef Matthieu is happy to take guests to his local markets and suppliers to source the best of the day’s produce. Rosemary, mint, curry leaves, sage and fennel or even some mushrooms can be put towards a cooking class in the hotel’s kitchens, perhaps followed by a wine tasting with Bernabé, the hotel’s Head Sommelier. The hotel is also happy to arrange trips to various regional highlights, like Domaine du Vallon Glauges for an insight into the cheese aging process (plus the obligatory cheese and wine tasting), or the spectacular Château D’Estoublon nearby to learn about the picking, pressing and bottling of olive oil. Both family-owned enterprises, the hosts are passionate about their lifestyles and produce.
But there’s so much more to Domaine de Manville than just food. The large spa with indoor pool has its own range of products specially made for Domaine de Manville, again using local pine and olive oil, with fragrances of verbena and jasmine. Guests can borrow a bicycle to pedal through the vineyards, walk the hotel’s health trail, or simply relax by the swimming pool.
A uniquely designed 18-hole golf course is embedded in the estate, drawing a regular stream of guests from Paris. Piano concerts with world-famous artists are regularly held in the Winter Garden.
There’s also much to discover in the region; head for a hillside picnic in Les Baux; have a wander round the beautiful hilltop town of Les Baux de Provence; sail from Marseille to Cassis or visit the extraordinary Carrière des Lumières.
But best of all, Domaine de Manville is a place best to savour long lunches and candlelit dinners with friends. It’s all created and delivered so lovingly, which I can imagine is the reason its guests return time and time again.