Wednesday, August 8, 2012

At Home on the Range in the Camargue

Toodling around the Camargue on Saturday I decided to drop into Le Mas de Peint, a gorgeous country-house hotel I’d been hearing about for years. Although she was clearly busy, owner Lucille Bon greeted my friend and I like old pals and offered us a quick  tour. What a place!

In 1950, Jacques Bon bought what was then a vast sheep farm with a pretty 350-year-old bastide (country home).  Lucille, an architect, came into Jacques’ life in 1983 and the couple married in ‘87. They renovated the property completely in 1992 and opened Mas de Peint two years later.  Today the family business includes the five-star hotel and its restaurant; a 500-hectare rice and alfalfa farm; and a ranch called Manade Jacques Bon, home to 30 horses and 250 free-range, grass-fed bulls (taureaux).  Hotel guests enjoy a large pool, access to a private beach, massage, biking, horseback riding, animal viewing by 4 x 4, bull competitions and shows, special events such as live music and ‘’Journées Camarguaises.’’ More on that appears below.

In total, the estate is 1300 acres and it’s quite unique and fabulous.

Jacques passed away  in 2010 but Lucille and their son, Frédéric, have firmly kept the reins. If I had to sum up the vibe here I’d say it’s unspoiled nature with pampering nurture--a fabulous combination indeed.

As we said our goodbyes, Lucille invited us back for the apero (drinks before dinner) and a one-hour gypsy concert at 7:30.  As it turns out, she’s booked the guitar quartet Gipsy del Mundo, widely known in these parts and beyond, to play for an hour every Saturday in August, while drinks and nibbles are served (non-hotel guests pay regular prices). Non guests are welcome to stay on for dinner as well...but tables fill up quickly so you should definitely book ahead.

In summer, meals at Mas de Peint are served on a pretty candle-lit terrace, tented with billowy fabric that lets breezes in and keeps mosquitoes out. The restaurant was fully booked so we weren’t able to stay on but I’ve heard nothing but great things about chef Vincent Laisney and his food. When the weather cools, meals are served in the large, lovely old kitchen with its gorgeous stove and marble buffet. (If you can’t dine at Mas de Peint, other nice options nearby are Chez Bob, La Chassagnette and La Telline. We chose the five-table La Telline--arriving  just at the 9 pm seating cut-off time--and loved it, particularly the friendly warmth of Jean-Paul and Florence Sanchez, who run their  tiny restaurant in his mom’s old house, a 19th century customs office. If you don’t feel like driving home, they have a guest house as well.)

But back to the concert for a moment. Gipsy del Mundo is led by father and son guitarists Bik and Mario Regis, who played with two other skilled musicians. Bik was an original member of Los Reyes, one of two family bands that later became the Gipsy Kings, and is widely regarded as one of the best gypsy musicians around. The music, sung mostly in Spanish, is soulful, romantic, evocative, uplifting...and deeply woven into the fabric of the wild, marshy, ranch-filled Camargue. Everyone in the room loved it, kids and adults alike. Bik is also a talented painter who has exhibited as far away as Japan. Some of his canvases depicting Camargue scenes are on view at Mas de Peint; others can be seen on his website here.

Want to stay? Mas de Peint offers eight rooms and five suites, all unique in design and decor, with one suitable for limited mobility. Rates range from €235 to €435 (high season) and if you want the most-popular room, ask for The Loft. Upscale tent accommodations have recently been added and they were a huge hit when a group from Hermès held a meeting here not long ago. But they have to be specially arranged.

In season, the restaurant at Mas de Peint serves lunch (à la carte) every day, and dinner every night but Thursday (à la carte and prix-fixe available). All the info you’ll need about dining appears on the Mas de Peint website here.

And yet another way to experience the beauty Chez Bon is by signing up for a one-day Journée Camarguaise, where you’ll learn all about the life of the Manade Jacques Bon and the French cowboys (gardians),who look after it. The full day of activities (10:30 am to 5 pm) includes a traditional ferrade (branding) and other demonstrations, an apero and lunch, live music and a course a la cocarde (a difficult competition in which gardians pluck ribbons from the horns of the bull). There are just two dates left this season: September 16 and October 7. Prices are 38€ (adults); 19€ (ages 5 to 12); and free for kids under 5. To book: 04 90 97 28 50 or contact@manade-jacques-bon.com.

Mas de Peint is 1 km south of Le Sambuc on the route D36 in the Parc Naturel Régional de Camargue, southwest of Arles. Their contact info is: 04 90 97 20 62, contact@masdepeint.com; their site is masdepeint.com. Directions: From Arles, take direction Stes Maries de la Mer. Turn left onto the D36, direction Salin de Giraud and La Sambuc, and go about 20 km until you see the sign.

Meanwhile, merci beaucoup, Madame Bon, for introducing us to your very-special corner of the Camargue!

Photos: (1) Kitchen Table: When the weather cools, meals are served in the bastide's large old kitchen, where guests can watch their meal being prepared. (2) At the Manade Jacques Bon. (3) The hotel building is 17th century. (4) Chef Vincent Laisney's food is considered some of the very best in the region. (5) In warm weather, meals are served on this pretty terrace. (6) All 13 guestrooms and suites are unique in design and decor. This one is an ''Elegance'' category room.  (7) Beach party. (8) A junior suite. (9 & 10) More of chef Vincent's creations. (11). Flamants Roses: The legendary Camargue flamingos. (12) Here comes the Cavalry! (13) Jacques Bon, who passed away in 2010, and a dear friend. The Camargue is known for white horses. (14) A little taste of Gipsy del Mundo, who will play during the apero throughout August. Click the little vertical bars or the little arrow to play.

8 comments:

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  2. I was invited for a dinner at Le Mas de Peint and it was an extremely memorable one. The ambiance on the terrace with the breeze blowing the curtains was magical as was the food. Madame Bon runs a very tight ship and yet the feeling is very relaxed. Lovely.

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  3. What a lovely terrace and place! I'm going to Montpellier next week, near where I had an apartment in the area called the "petit Camargue."

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  4. I am humming and hawing about where to spend a couple of days after my next trip to northern Provence next month. I have thankfully just come across it, thanks so much -I'm booking!

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  5. I can't believe we both posted about the Camargue on the same day, also cannot believe you went here without me! I have always wanted to come here, bientôt. Meanwhile to whet your apetite further with photos of the camargue, go to my sister's guest post on ProvenceCalling.com (PS Julie said I could do shameless self-promotion!)

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  6. Will have to add this to our Provence "bucket" list

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  7. Can't wait to start living your life, Julie! ;)

    I've heard and read about this special place and was so sorry to hear the founder passed away--what a fabulous photo of him. I so respect that what they created conveys and enhances the spirit of place and look forward to visiting. All that and gypsy music too!

    Thanks for another great post!

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  8. Bonjour Julie,
    I concur, this is a a special and unique place. It's good to hear of the continued excellence and innovation at Le Mas de Peint. This post brings back memories.

    Twice I enjoyed staying and riding at Le Mas de Peint. The first time out, given that I'm a novice rider, I was a bit anxious to be riding in the same fields as the grazing bulls. I was assured by our guide that the taureaux see horses as superior and therefore wouldn't think of charging. I was ready to buy that story until these impressive beasts began to get worked up when the cell phone of one of the other riders started chirping. The horses became agitated too. For a moment I had visions of of mayhem and carnage. I realize this sounds somewhat over-dramatized but imagine how I felt as I, a clumpy rider, sat facing dozens of disturbed large black bulls. That's many pairs of horns pointing in my direction! Fortunately,there was no stampede, just a stir. I was safe but I could have killed the guy with the cell phone... My husband!!

    In the cool seasons dinner is served in the kitchen which which by contrast to my daytime adventures was a surpizingly calm evironment. I was charmed by the rustic yet elegant decor and entertained watching the chef work his magic.

    Towards the end of the evening Jacques Bon and his wife came around to chat with the dinner guests. Mr. Bon sat with us for a spell. A great storyteller, I found him charismatic and handsome. I gather he is somewhat of a legend in those parts. I'm sure he is greatly missed.

    How I do go on...

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