La Tourelle, perched on a hillside, with sweeping views of Les Dentelles and Mont Ventoux, is a superbly restored 18th-century farmhouse that should rank high on the list of any visitor to Provence who seeks a richly Provençal ambiance with 21st-century comforts, all in an environment of unsurpassed beauty.
The newly renovated stone mas, ideally situated in the heart of the Côtes-du-Rhône wine region near Gigondas and Vacqueyras, was once the family domain of the vineyards that surround it. The house, barn, and its 8,000 m2 (slightly less than two acres) of lawns and gardens were sold off half a century ago, and today this property provides a vacation retreat for those who love the countryside but are willing to leave the work of tending its grapes to others. The descendants of the original family work the vineyards to this day, producing robust red wines of the Vacqueyras appellation under the same domain name that has endured since the 18th century.
La Tourelle has five bedrooms, four ultra-modern bathrooms (plus two half baths) and a beautiful kitchen worthy of a professional-level cook. Heated in the winter by three fireplaces and a new central heating system, and cooled in the summer by two-foot thick walls, towering trees, and air-conditioners in each bedroom, the property offers exceptionally comfortable accommodations in all seasons for up to ten people.
Guided by their own good taste and a talented architect using skilled local artisans, the owners spared no effort in their year-long renovation of the farmhouse. The result is a property that is not only replete with all the aesthetic appeal and modern amenities one could ask for, but a home that is also filled with warmth and good cheer. The house naturally evokes images of children running on the soft green lawns, friends gathering for spirited competition at the boules court or billiard table, and families gathering on summer evenings for robust conversation around the dinner table. To put this thought in another vein, it is easy to imagine an elegant cocktail at La Tourelle, with guests mingling on the lovely terrace or amid fine antiques in the handsomely furnished rooms; what is inconceivable is that any of the gentlemen would be wearing a tie.
The house, which has some 420 m2 (about 4,500 sq. ft.) of living space on three levels, stands on a broad terrace of land, its west side nestled against the hill that rises above it, the east side looking out over the vineyards below, and the north side oriented toward the lawn and gardens. The front of the house faces a courtyard to the south, across which stands a stone barn. The courtyard is shaded by an ancient plane tree and graced by a stone fountain, whose friendly lion’s head spouts water throughout the day.
Entering the house through the antique front door, one is greeted by a stone table, topped by a seasonal floral arrangement, in the middle of a broad foyer. The floors here and throughout the house are a combination of terra cotta and stone, some original to the house, the rest salvaged from stone yards throughout Provence. At the far end of the foyer a spiral stone staircase, with a wrought iron railing, leads to the upper floors.
The main floor includes the living room, with a sitting area comprised of comfortable chairs, a coffee table made from a 19th-century gate, a long cushioned sofa, a massive stone fireplace, and a window overlooking the courtyard. On the opposite side is a library with a fixture that will be of little concern to some and an absolute delight to others - a regulation-sized pool table, hand-crafted in Lyon into a perfectly balanced blend of mahogany, slate and felt, with two appropriate overhead lights. Along one wall of the billiard room are bookshelves and a scoring rack for the pool table.
Through the living room a wide door leads to the game room, where there are an 18th-century walnut chess table and a walnut buffet that houses the stereo system. Beyond lies the dining room and kitchen, an open space measuring 5.5 m X 9 m (18' X 30'), which once housed the farm animals. This unusually luminous room has wide 3.6 m (12') arching French doors on both its eastern and northern walls, which open onto a wrap-around terrace. On the eastern terrace comfortable armchairs are arranged around a wrought iron coffee table; on the northern terrace a long table with a hand-forged base and a polished granite top accommodates up to 12 people. In the dining area a chestnut farm table, found in Picardy, also for up to 12 guests, is in front of a stone fireplace - the perfect environment for a family meal on a chilly autumn evening.
The kitchen is nothing less than spectacular: beige marble counters, stainless-steel appliances, walls of cabinets and a huge work island, all illuminated by lights strategically located under the cabinets or on the exposed beams. The appliances include a seven-burner Lacanche stove with two ovens (one gas and one electric), dishwasher and a two-door refrigerator with in-door icemaker. The work island has an additional prep sink. In a utility room off the kitchen are an American-style Miele washing machine and a separate dryer.
The upper levels: study, guest bedrooms and master bedroom suite
Returning to the foyer and climbing the staircase, one reaches the door to the study on the left (watch your head), just before stepping onto the first floor landing. For those who cannot leave their work behind - or simply for Net surfers or guests wishing to keep a journal of their experiences in Provence - the study has all the necessaries, including a wide window that offers scribes with writer's block an inspirational view of the vineyards. On a farm table with plenty of work space are a telephone, a printer-fax machine on a separate phone line and a modern computer with high-speed Internet access. Guests traveling with a Wi-Fi enabled laptop can connect to the Internet anywhere they like at the house. Around the corner to the right is a guest lavatory with a round sink set into a stone counter, and a WC.
Beyond the study is a spacious guest bedroom with windows on both its eastern and southern walls that overlook the vineyards and courtyard. The bedroom also has a fireplace (the only one in the house that no longer functions) and an ensuite bath with a dressing room.
Like all the bedrooms at La Tourelle, this one has screens at its windows, American-made beds with firm mattresses, commodious bedside tables, and ample lighting for reading in bed. The room is furnished with a comfortable chair, an antique chest of drawers and two extra-long twin beds (96 cm X 200 cm, 38" x 80"), which can easily be combined to form a king-sized bed. The ensuite bathroom has a window that opens onto the courtyard, a sink set into a stone counter, a bathtub and a separate glassed-in shower. As with all of the bathrooms at La Tourelle, there is a WC, and the shower is extra-wide and has a large sunflower-shaped nozzle.
Across the landing is a medium-sized bedroom with a queen-sized bed, an armchair, and a chest of drawers. French doors provide a birds-eye view of the courtyard. An ensuite bathroom, tiled in tumbled marble, has a double sink and a stone stall shower. Guests in this bedroom wake up to sunlight filtering through the branches of the plane tree and the sound of softly running water from the fountain in the courtyard.
The largest room on this floor is the master bedroom (5 m X 7 m, 17’x 23’), which is entered through an antechamber that houses a stunning cherrywood armoire. The bedroom has a corner fireplace, French doors with views to the east, and a long banquette under a picture window with views of the gardens. It is furnished with a wrought-iron, king-sized canopied bed, a comfortable bergere chair and ottoman, and a chest of drawers. Opposite the bed a 46" plasma television set has been installed in a niche above shelves that provide storage for books, CDs, and DVDs. An ensuite bathroom, spacious even by luxury hotel standards, has a double tub, a long vanity with a stone counter and double sink, and a separate stone stall shower.
On the upper floor are two additional guest suites. The larger is an L-shaped room with a sectional sofa and armchair for watching television, and two extra-long twin beds that can be made up as a king bed on the other. One window faces south, while three others (including a round window high in the wall) face east. The brand-new bathroom has a large stone stall shower, double sink and WC.
Down the hallway is a second bedroom with windows that open onto the canal and upper vineyard. This room also has two extra long twin beds that can be made up as a king-sized bed and a commodious bathroom with has a claw foot tub, a pedestal sink, and a glassed-in shower.
Both of the bedrooms on this floor have enormous closets with poles for hanging clothes and shelves for folded items.
Across the courtyard from the main house is a venerable structure that has accompanied the main mas since its construction some 300 years ago. The barn, which has served as ideal storage for the bicycles provided by the owners, as well as bric-a-bric of various descriptions, has been converted into additional living space. The newly renovated area can comfortably accommodate two guests increasing the maximum occupancy at La Tourelle to twelve. This freshly finished space comprises a spacious TV salon on the ground floor and a lovely bedroom suite upstairs. Under a mammoth arch of original stones, French doors open onto an attractively appointed salon, highlighting the barn's many interesting architectural features. The additional of several new windows fills the space with ample natural light. The wide terra cotta tiles throughout and fine handmade mattresses are two of many details that are consistent with the features of the main farmhouse. Rarely have we seen a guest house that is furnished on the same level as the main structure as is the case here.
The barn is fully air-conditioned and provides a great place to watch a football match (soccer game), take in a movie on a rare rainy day or catch up on the news. The flatscreen TV has satellite reception including CNN and BBC plus a DVD player. The bedroom upstairs has a vaulted ceiling and windows on two sides, overlooking the courtyard and the valley. The bed can be made up as a king-sized bed or divided into twins, and there is a walk-in closet for clothes storage. The large ensuite bath has a clawfoot tub with handheld shower, a separate large walk-in shower in tumbled marble, a pedestal sink and WC. The wireless Internet access extends to the barn, and a separate storage space remains for the bicycles and firewood.
The barn can be rented in addition to the main house at extra cost to accommodate up to two guests, increasing the overall occupancy to twelve. The barn is never rented independantly.
The pool and grounds
The 6 m X 12 m (19.5' X 40') swimming pool, reached by a small stone staircase that descends through plantings of rosemary and lavender, is terraced into a hillside that slopes gently toward vineyards on the east side of the property. The pool, which can be heated at extra cost, is rectangular with a half-moon cutout for steps on one side. On the wide flagstone deck is a generous assortment of high-quality wrought-iron lounge chairs and parasols.
While the billiard room may be an after-dinner attraction, during the day, perhaps between swims, guests will enjoy the impeccably maintained boules court that is terraced into the hillside well above the pool. From the court, which is shaded by tall trees, parents can keep watch on children who are at the pool or playing on the grassy hillside.
Canal de Provence
Among La Tourelle's many wonderful features is the property's access to the Canal de Provence, the intricate irrigation system, created in the late 19th-century, that with its many branches runs like a capillary system through the fields and vineyards of Provence.
A tributary of the canal, which is no more than a meter wide and half a meter deep, forms the western border of the property, separating La Tourelle from the working vineyards that surround it to the west. Footpaths run through woods and fields along the canal, which connects to other tributaries and the main Canal de Provence.
What this means for guests of La Tourelle is that from the property they have limitless opportunities to jog, walk and bicycle - everywhere on level terrain - throughout the surrounding region as far as their legs will carry them, all without having to compete with automobile traffic. For more rigorous hiking the rugged mountains of the Dentelles de Montmirail have scores of trails, all scrupulously blazed and mapped by the French Interior Ministry.
Each region of Provence has its distinct charm and its passionate admirers, and with good reason. But for charming villages, open-air markets, a variety of good restaurants serving (without a doubt) the best regional wines, and sheer natural beauty, there is no more desirable place to vacation than in the upper Vaucluse between Carpentras and Vaison-la-Romaine. This sector is largely a plateau, framed on one side by the Rhône River and on the other by the rugged peaks of the Dentelles de Montmirail. La Tourelle is almost at the center of this lovely region.
Though protected on all sides by vineyards and seemingly in the middle of nowhere, at La Tourelle one is never more than a few minutes away from shops for basic needs. In addition to bakeries, butcher shops and small grocery stores, the village of Sarrians, a 10-minute drive, has a commercial center with a supermarket and other shops. There are weekly open-air markets at Carpentras (Friday) and Vaison-la-Romaine (Tuesday), both of which have a wide variety of specialty food stores.
Three of Provence's best-known restaurants - Les Florets at Gigondas, Les Abeilles (formerly L'Oustalet) at Sablet and the Michelin-starred Moulin à l'Huile at Vaison-la-Romaine - are within a 20-minute drive. JUST FRANCE's list of recommended restaurants in Provence includes another 20 establishments that are less than a half-hour away.
Sightseeing opportunities abound in the upper Vaucluse. Among places of interest within a 30-minute drive are the ancient towns Vaison-la-Romaine, with its Roman ruins and medieval hill town, and Orange, known for its Roman amphitheatre and internationally known summer opera festival. Mont Ventoux, Provence's highest peak and frequently a stage in the annual Tour de France bicycle competition, offers superb views over the Vaucluse Plateau. A spectacle not to be missed is the flamboyant open-air market at L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, where every Sunday morning hundreds of farmers and Provençal merchants converge to offer wares ranging from exotic spices to a staggering variety of cheeses to fine fabrics. L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is also one of the world's best-known venues for fine antiques (there are more than 200 dealers in various buildings throughout the town), while flea market addicts will enjoy the brocante market held on Sunday along the banks of the Sorgue River.
For oenophiles who appreciate the rich red and fruity white wines of the Côtes-du-Rhône - as catalogued in Robert Parker's comprehensive Wines or the Rhône Valley (1997) - La Tourelle is the ideal headquarters for exploring the vineyards of Vaucluse Plateau. Many of the region's most celebrated appellations - Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Cairanne, Rasteau and Beaumes-de-Venise - are within an easy drive. The great vineyards of Châteauneuf-du-Pape lie about 35 minutes to the south.
La Tourelle is also perfectly situated for exploring other regions of Provence. The Lubéron, with its constellation of villages overlooking the lush valley floor, is less than 45 minutes to the south. And no stay in Provence would be complete without a visit to the Alpilles, where people-watching at cafés in the celebrated Golden Triangle of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Eygalières and Maussane-les-Alpilles may offer a glimpse of European royalty or a famous couturier or two. And for a day by the sea, the wide sandy beaches of Saint-Tropez and Ramatuelle are a drive of a little over two hours by the Autoroute.
At the end of a day of visiting local markets, examining Roman ruins, wandering through the narrow streets of the pristine medieval hill towns that dot the area, hiking in the neighboring mountains, or playing golf at the demanding Pont Royal (40 minutes away), a multitude of diversions await visitors at home. Some will want to collapse with a drink on the terrace and stare at the mountains, brilliantly lit by the rays of the late afternoon sun. Others will want to swim in the pool, which can be heated to a comfortable 30ºC (86ºF), and others will be drawn to a game on the professional-grade boules court, judged by neighbors to have the best views of any terrain de boules in Provence.
As the sun sinks beneath the hills to the west, these competitors may want to move indoors to play billiards or perhaps chess. Serious cooks, on the other hand, will go straight to the kitchen, prepare whatever pleases them, open a bottle of local wine, and share the bounty with friends and family before a blazing fire, in cool weather, or out under the stars in the gentle warmth of the summer nights.