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LA BELLE DU SUD

From the terrace that adjoins the master bedroom suite and looks south from the front of La Belle du Sud, a spectacular mas in a quiet location of exceptional privacy, one sees three things that are immediate reminders of why Provence - and this mas in particular - is the right place for people who love sunshine, breathtaking views, creature comforts and a place simply to relax.

First there is the sweeping view of the Lubéron Valley, a peaceful and verdant swath of land dotted with picturesque medieval villages like Ménerbes, Bonnieux, Lacoste, Roussillon and nearby Gordes.

Second, lying a short distance away is the 7m X 12m (23' X 39') swimming pool, a perfect antidote to the late-afternoon warmth that sometimes arrives in August, but since the pool can be heated, also a fine place to be on any day in May, June and September. Nearby for enjoying lunches or family dinners is the brightly painted pool house with a shower, WC, full summer kitchen, built-in barbecue, and a table for twelve. An additional diversion is the pétanque (boules) court where visitors can hone their skills to take on the local masters in a nearby village square.

And lastly, clay-red and deep green in the sunlight, is the hardsurface tennis court with its high fence, deep backcourts and five complimentary rackets, a proper place for a good workout to shed a few calories from the Provençal cooking and local Côtes-du-Lubéron wines enjoyed in a local restaurant the night before.

Indeed, as JUST FRANCE immediately concluded upon inspecting this well-kept and comfortably furnished mas, La Belle du Sud is a marvelous place to both unwind and be physically active during a relaxing summer vacation. Even though the villa is equipped for workaholics with a fax machine (separate line) and a portable phone to take to the pool, and of course a television with satellite reception (including CNN and BBC), wise vacationers will simply sniff the daisies, or rather the lavender and wildflowers that grow prolifically on the property.

The result of these extensive improvements is a spectacular mas that is ideal for several couples or a family with children. Its four main bedrooms, plus an office and guest house, can accommodate up to nine adults, or nine adults and two children. The 7.4-acre (3.3 hectare) terrain, much of it lightly forested and all of it enclosed, is a paradise for children, who are intrigued by the two bories (conical stone houses built by shepherds centuries ago for temporary shelters) that have been authenticated and officially registered with the French government as historical structures. Other features are an automatic irrigation system for the gardens, a carport that can shelter up to six cars, and a special area prepared specifically for playing boules.

The main floor

Guests returning to La Belle du Sud by car will park at the carport and enter by an entrance through a small stone courtyard shaded by a trellis of vines. Access to the front terrace and pool, however, is through a sliding glass door that opens into a spacious reception room.

In this room a visitor first glimpses the imaginative style of décor that pervades the mas. A huge antique bookcase, salvaged from a pharmacy in Aix-en-Provence, an antique bench and an upholstered comfortable club chair comprise a comfortable sitting room for reading or cocktails. The floors here and throughout the ground level are of off-white terra cotta tile. As with several other pieces, the bookcase has been painted a pale antique gray, and it blends well with the armoires, tables and other unpainted antiques in the house.

The principal common room at La Belle du Sud is an expansive, free-flowing space that stretches the entire breadth of the house, from a large living and dining room area at the front to a country-style kitchen at the back of the house. With its high ceilings, terra cotta tile floors and ivory toile de jouy drapes that frame the French doors to the terrace, this room has an ambiance of freshness, light and informal elegance. It is a lovely place for families to gather in the evening to talk, to pick up a random volume from the bookshelves that are recessed into one wall, or to watch television, which is concealed in an armoire along with a stereo system with CD and DVD player.

The front terrace, which looks toward the pool, is oriented southwest and is thus the perfect setting for a long Provencal-style meal that lasts well into nightfall. There is a wrought-iron rectangular table with chairs and cushions for up to twelve guests. The terrace, along with the inside dining area, pool house and kitchen - brings to four the number of places where guests may enjoy meals at La Belle du Sud.

Visitors who love to cook will probably spend too much time in the kitchen here when they should be outside enjoying the sunshine. But who could blame them, given what an inviting, homey and well-equipped kitchen this is?

A central island with a chopping block, trash receptacle and additional sink provides both a huge workspace and a place where up to six can enjoy an informal meal. All appliances, among them a dishwasher, industrial-strength Lacanche gas stove and oversized oven, and a huge two-door refrigerator with in-door icemaker and water dispenser, are of the best quality. Countertop appliances include a cappuccino maker, coffee grinder, food processor, and so on. For the perfectly seasoned leg of lamb, there's a fresh herb garden just outside the kitchen door. China, serving places and glassware for a dinner party for up to sixteen are stored in a Louis XVI walnut armoire. But even more seductive than the gadgets, high-tech appliances, pale antique-yellow cabinets and limestone tile countertops is the simple spirit of warmth and conviviality that pervades this cool, bright space.

Two large and handsomely decorated bedrooms open off the reception area. The first has two twin beds and an antique armoire, and an ensuite bath with tub, overhead shower and WC. This room also has a small terrace that looks toward the swimming pool. The second bedroom has a queen-sized bed, a wall of closets and a newly renovated bathroom, finished with tumbled marble in a neutral color, with a tub, overhead shower and WC.

An additional bedroom, nicely decorated and furnished with a 90 cm (36" across) single bed, beyond the kitchen near the door that leads to the guest house. A small bath with shower and WC is just outside the door.

Also near the kitchen is a laundry room with an American-style washing machine and separate tumble dryer.

The upper floor

A well-lighted staircase with rail leads to the upper floor and the charming master bedroom. Over the queen-sized bed is a flowing white linen veil. As with all of the bedrooms at La Belle du Sud, there are night tables with good reading lamps. Off the bedroom is a terrace that overlooks the pool and beyond to the Lubéron Valley. Directly across the hall is a stunningly renovated bath, finished in tumbled marble in a neutral tone, with a WC and bathtub-size shower framed by glass panels.

Also on the upper floor is a cozy office-library with a handsome wood desk, telephone and fax machine and a comfortable club chair. The office overlooks the salon through a plate glass window, and is an ideal place to get away and get some work done on a laptop computer.

La Petite Maison (The guest house)

One of the most engaging features of La Belle du Sud is its Petite Maison, or guest house. The house has its own separate entrance off the flagstone courtyard that guests pass through when entering the house from the carport.

La Petite Maison is, in a word, utterly charming. It is spacious, filled with light, and decorated in an uncluttered country style with white painted furniture combined with walnut antiques. The terra cotta tile floor, whitewashed walls and ceiling beams are complemented by pale blue-and-white curtains and a matching bedspread to give the house an especially relaxed and familial atmosphere. It is perfect for teenagers, a small family or a couple who desire extra privacy.

The bedroom in La Petite Maison has a queen-sized bed, and in the mezzanine above, tucked under the eaves with windows looking out onto the courtyard, is a quiet little haven, perfect for children, with two single beds. The all-new marble bath has a stall shower and WC. There is also a little kitchen with a two-burner halogen cooktop, small refrigerator and pretty blue-and-white china.

The pool and pool house

From June through mid-September, the pool and its well-equipped pool house are the hub of social activity at La Belle du Sud. The wide stone pool deck is generously equipped with wrought-iron lounge chairs with comfortable mattresses. The pool area has been landscaped with new plantings, and at night the gardens become a fairyland when the discreetly placed outdoor lighting is illuminated.

Lunch can be enjoyed in the shade of the pool house, which has a kitchen with sink and cooktop, and a table for up to twelve (illuminated for evening meals by overhead lights). The more athletic guests at La Belle du Sud like to shuttle between the pool, tennis court, shower and the large pool house refrigerator for a cold beverage, which they then take to the pétanque court for a rousing match of boules.

The region

While its official address is Gordes, the closest village to La Belle du Sud is Cabrières d'Avignon, about a 15-minute walk. Cabrières is a friendly, pretty little village with two bakeries, small grocery store, post office and an excellent little restaurant, Bistrot à Michel.

Gordes has a château and art museum (Vaserely), as well as a number of shops selling local arts and crafts, and is well worth a visit. It is also a central address for exploring all of Provence.

L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, famous for its countless antique shops and Sunday morning open-air market, is less than a 20-minute drive, as is Cavaillon, which produces Europe's sweetest and most delicious melons. Saint-Rémy and Les Baux-de-Provence are within 30 minutes. Château de Canorgue, Château d'Isolette and Château de Mille, fine vineyards in the Côtes-du-Lubéron appellation, offer dégustations (tastings) and are within a 25-minute drive.

Off-season rental

La Belle du Sud is one of the most flawless properties we have found in the Lubéron for a large family or a group of couples. It is the perfect spot for an unforgettable vacation in perfect tranquility where the only sound is the hum of cicadas or perhaps the thwack of a tennis racket. With its fine central heating system the house is cozy at any time of year, and it is available for rental year-round.