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Le Mas des Pierres Blanches

Set on a breezy ridge overlooking the Luberon Valley, with a view to the southwest that looks as if it were lifted from a postcard, Le Mas des Pierres Blanches is tailor-made for families whose idea of the dream summer vacation is a spacious country home in the South of France where one can just kick back and enjoy the natural beauty and sunny lifestyle for which Provence is famous.

This enchanting property is near the tiny village of Les Gros, and a few hundred meters from the picturesque little hamlet of Fontcaudette. Even though it is completely tranquil and insulated from the slightest road noise, Le Mas des Pierres Blanches is situated squarely in the central Luberon and thus is only minutes away by car from a myriad of villages with restaurants, cafés, bakeries and specialty food shops. Cavaillon, a 15- minute drive, has supermarkets and stores of every kind, as well as a lively open-air market every Monday morning.

At Le Mas des Pierres Blanches creature comforts coexist with sunshine, complete privacy and a relaxed lifestyle. The property has a wide stretch of grass long enough for a soccer game, and is in all respects a children's paradise. This is a house where grownups and kids pass sunny, barefoot days in shorts and bathing suits, shuttling between the pool the kitchen for cool drinks. As the day tapers into evening it will be time to gather on the front patio to converse and watch the sunset, followed by dinner at the long table on the covered terrace just outside the luminous modern kitchen, where a wide picture window looks out over the valley. After a good sleep in the mas' pleasantly furnished bedrooms, it will be time for another excursion among the charming villages of the central Luberon. Or one can simply flop into one of the many lounge chairs on the flagstone deck of the pool. Thus go the days in Provence.

Le Mas des Pierres Blanches was constructed in 1995 in a classically Provençal style - note the pale green shutters and beige stones in the exterior photos above - that faithfully reflects the architectural motifs of the region. With 450 m2 (4,840 sq. ft.) of living space that includes five bedrooms in the main house and an additional one in the charming guest cottage, it can comfortably accommodate up to 12 guests in a manner that assures privacy for everyone. All rooms are of good size and enjoy an abundant flow of light and air. The five bathrooms vary in size but are uniformly bright, appointed with ultra-modern fixtures and finished in tile or marble. The pleasing decor blends pure white walls, soft beige and gray accents in the fabrics, terra cotta tile floors and a mix of contemporary and antique pieces. The spacious public rooms have high ceilings, in particular the living room where the cathedral ceiling reaches two stories. These elements produce a cheerful, informal ambiance that corresponds perfectly to dreams of a carefree summer vacation.

While Le Mas des Pierres Blanches is ideal for a family with children, it is also especially suited to a group of couples traveling together. With the exception of the master bedroom suite, which is especially large and well appointed, the other bedrooms are relatively equal in size, decor and appeal. A sophisticated alarm system provides security.

Outdoor living at Le Mas des Pierres Blanches

Adding to the summer-home ambiance are the sprawling grounds, which comprise 5,500 m2 (1.35 acres) landscaped with grass, terraced flower gardens bordered by stone walls, pine and cypress trees and hedges of lavender and rosemary, all irrigated by an automatic sprinkler system. From the front terrace or the terrace off the master bedroom guests can watch children play on the wide lawn that lies along the south side of the house. A stone walk leads to another level carved into the gently sloping hillside, where there is a regulation size pétanque (boules) court. On the north side of the house, where the remote-control wrought-iron gate opens into a generous parking area, there are stands of young olive and fruit trees. The foliage and the gravel walks to the house are beautifully illuminated at night.

The 6 m X 13 m (19.5' X 42.5') pool, rectangular with steps at the shallow end, is set on the west side of the mas and shares the breathtaking views available from everywhere on the property. Thanks to its situation some 20 meters (a meter is about a yard) from the mas, parents can keep watch on children in the pool while having lunch on the covered terrace. The pool is surrounded by a wide stone deck, and at one end there is a shaded area with high-quality lounge chairs and other deck furniture. Near the guest cottage there is a small pool house with a changing room and WC. The pool has been fitted with an automatic cover activated by a key.

In addition to the covered terrace, which has a table for up to 14, there is a smaller terrace reached off the living room. This terrace is mostly shielded from the morning sun, and is especially pleasant for breakfast or evening cocktails. A table tennis set is also available here. Membership to a local tennis club is available for guests of the property. Tennis rackets are provided.

Ground floor public rooms

The main entrance opens into a central large foyer from which there is a clear line of sight through the living room and beyond the front terrace to the verdant hillsides of the Luberon Valley. The living room, overlooked by a mezzanine from the upper level, has three plush sofas ranged in front of a huge decorative fireplace. There are built-in bookshelves, and one can relax here with a good book, watch television (satellite reception of major international channels) or take advantage of the stereo system, which is wired to speakers in the kitchen. There is a guest lavatory just off the foyer.

The dining room, which lies between the living room and kitchen, has a long oval table suitable for up to 12 guests. With French doors opening directly to the outside, this room conjures up visions of family dinners in the spring or early fall when it is too cool to dine outside, yet warm enough to open the doors for a soft evening breeze. At one end of the room are glass cabinets filled with glassware, china and serving pieces.

The exceptionally spacious kitchen is a delight for amateur cooks, who will appreciate the generous counter space, quality cookware and full array of appliances. Parents will appreciate the informal dining area, where children can gather at the long farm table while grownups are preparing meals. Appliances include a five-burner gas stove with oven, double-door refrigerator with in-door icemaker, dishwasher and a variety of countertop machines, among them a food processor and espresso maker. Beyond the kitchen in a pantry area there is a laundry room with two washing machines, a separate tumble dryer and a second fridge.

For guests who need to stay in touch with the office there is a simply furnished office off the living room with a desk and telephone outlet. A high-speed wireless Internet connection is available for guest use.

Bedrooms

Of the five bedrooms at Le Mas des Pierres Blanches, three are on the ground floor and two, including the master bedroom suite, are on the upper level. The bedding is new and of excellent quality, with an identical configuration in each bedroom - a choice of two twin beds, or a king-sized bed (180 cm, 71" wide) comprised of two beds zipped together. All bedrooms have nightstands with good reading lamps, a chest of drawers and generous hanging space in an armoire or closet. Two guest bedrooms on the ground floor have views north toward the front garden, while the three other bedrooms have long-range views of the Luberon.

The ground-floor guest bedrooms, each of medium size and decorated with a different color scheme, are reached by a corridor from the foyer. Two bedrooms, the Red Room and the Yellow Room, share a bathroom just steps away that has a marble stall shower and WC. The Blue room has an ensuite bath with a tub and overhead shower and WC. Both the Yellow and Blue Rooms have their own doors to the exterior, a convenience for guests who rise early for a morning dip, or return late after dining in one of the many excellent restaurants in the area.

A stairway leads from the living room to a landing and the mezzanine that overlooks the living room. The high wrought-iron mezzanine railing has been tastefully fitted with clear glass so that a child may not squeeze through the bars.

Off the landing is an especially pleasant guest bedroom with superb views toward the Luberon. The lovely ensuite bath has a tub and overhead shower and WC.

The final bedroom in the main house well deserves its title as the master bedroom suite. This is a breezy and especially commodious room with high ceilings, terra cotta tile floors and simple but tastefully chosen furnishings. French doors open onto a covered terrace where one may enjoy vistas of the Luberon, or watch the activity at the pool. Down three steps from the bathroom is a large ensuite bath, finished in marble of a soft beige color, with a double vanity, stall shower, oversized tub and a WC.

The guest cottage

The guest cottage - bright, with simple attractive furnishings and white limestone floors - is one of the most delightful aspects of Le Mas des Pierres Blanches. Only a few steps from the pool and the covered terrace, it is a charming retreat for a young person or a couple that desires extra privacy. The ensuite bath has a deep stall shower, double vanity and WC. With windows on its north and south sides, the guest cottage has good cross ventilation and fine views of the Luberon Valley.

Proximity to sites of interest and major transportation hubs

Le Mas des Pierres Blanches is 6 km - about a 10-minute drive - from Gordes, a bustling little community with restaurants and smart boutiques scattered around its central square and windy little streets. The striking image of the centuries-old houses and château perched atop a wall of bleached rock makes it the most photographed village in Provence. Only a few minutes further to the west is L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, a fascinating town crisscrossed by waterways and known the world over for its more than 200 antique dealers. L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue hosts the most vibrant and colorful open-air market in all of Provence, an event that draws thousands of locals and tourists alike to the town every Sunday morning.

In addition to being within an easy drive of shops and supermarkets for daily needs, Le Mas des Pierres Blanches is close to roadways and transportation facilities that connect this tranquil little corner of Provence with other parts of the region, as well as with all of France and Europe. Less than 15 minutes to the south is highway N 100, which runs like an arrow east-west through the Lubéron Valley to Apt, with turnoffs onto small roads that wind up the hillside to the picturesque villages such as Ménerbes, Roussillon, Lacoste and Bonnieux. At nearby Cavaillon or Avignon Sud motorists can connect with the Autoroute, part of a network of high-speed motorways that reach from Spain and the boot of Italy to the Netherlands. From Avignon, the TGV races to Paris in a mere 160 minutes, with Charles de Gaulle Airport lying a few minutes further. Marseille-Marignane International Airport, with connections to Paris and a host of European countries, is about an hour's drive.