If you're interested in wine, design, sculpture or architecture--or simply enjoy experiencing very unusual and beautiful places--a visit to Château La Coste is a must. This gorgeous 600-acre wine domaine ten minutes north of Aix has a large visitors center designed by world-famous architect Tadao Ando, plus numerous installations and buildings crafted by other luminaries such as Jean Nouvel and Frank Gehry. Granted, a visit in Spring, Summer or Fall is ideal....but they're open all year and if you can catch a warm-ish day, there's no reason not to enjoy it now. Here's a great opportunity to do so....along with a special evening food-and-wine event next week.
Tatsuo Miyajima's Wild Flowers and other selected installations are now lit up at night and the owners are offering a special guided tour at 6 pm on Saturday December 29th. (The same event is being held tomorrow night but it's sold out.) Afterwards, dinner will be be served at a long table in the lovely, very-serene restaurant Le Café de Tadao Ando. Just make sure to wrap up warm for the 45-minute guided outdoor visit. 26€ per person includes the tour, dinner and a glass of wine. Places are limited and reservations are advised: 04 42 61 92 92, chateau-la-coste.com, email@example.com.
Otherwise, guided visits are available every day in December, except the 24th, 25th and 26th. Visits depart at 2.30 pm and will be followed by a complimentary glass of vin chaud (hot wine) and a traditional mince pie. Tickets are 6€ plus the normal entrance fee and reservations are required.
While the newest incarnation of Château la Coste is just a year old, there's been agriculture and winemaking here as far back as Roman times. On the property are cobbled Gallo-Roman pathways, dry stone walls, bridges, underground wells...and the vestiges of an intricate watering system currently undergoing restoration. Between the rows of vines, mixed in with the sandy limestone soil, workers have found fragments of amphores which the Romans used to transport their wine and varnished fragments of the cups from which they drank. Today the property is blanketed with forests of green and white oaks, meadows of almond trees and broad swaths of wildflowers, plus 250 acres of meticulously tended vines. A lovely Venetian villa in a rosy pink hue has stood here since 1682.
It was in 2004 that the current owners decided to transform the domaine into a place where art, architecture and the terrain would blend seamlessly. The idea had already been successful in the Basque city of Álava, headquarters of Vinos del Marqués de Riscal, where Frank Gehry was commissioned to build a hotel. Here in France, the Irish owners of Château La Coste expanded on that idea, inviting artists and architects from all over the world to visit, explore and find a place upon the estate that inspired them to create. Other artists with work on view include Alexander Calder, Michael Stipe, Louise Bourgeous, Andy Goldsworthy, Richard Serra, Paul Matisse and many others. To see the major features of the property, plan for a two-hour stroll with some gravel and gentle hills. And definitely stay for a meal...my friends and I loved everything about our lunch here in mid November: the sunshine on the terrace, the soothing calm of the reflecting pool, the excellent food, the wine (of course!) and the gracious warmth of our server. Make sure to also leave time for wine tasting in the pretty shop...and for perusing all the art and architecture books in the alcove by the front desk. Set aside a day to give the property the time it deserves.
If you've visited La Coste in the year since it's been officially open, you'll want to pop back in periodically. New buildings are coming from Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers, while other additions--such as a small hotel--may be coming soon. The property is open for self-guided visits year round (you'll be provided with a map) while guided visits are available by reservation. Scheduled English-language tours are offered on Friday, Saturday and Sundays at 1 p.m. More info and admission prices can be found on the bi-lingual website.
Chateau La Coste
2750 Route de la Cride
Le Puy Sainte Reparade, France
04 42 61 89 98
GPS coordinates: on the website
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Photos: 1. Hiroshi Sugimoto's ''Infinity'' in the reflecting pool at the Tadao Ando visitors' center. 2. Liam Gillick's ''Multiplied Resistance Screened.'' The colored panels slide around to create different hues. 3. Crouching Spider by Louise Bourgeous lives in the large reflecting pool at the visitors' center. 4. Alexander Calder's ''Small Crinkley'' outside Tadao Ando's visitors center. 5. Sean Scully's ''Wall of Light Cubed.'' 6. Jean Nouvel's winery, called the Chai, is the preserve of wine maker Mattheiu Cosse. 7. Guided visits in December depart at 2:30 daily and include vin chaud and mince pies. 8. Soaking up winter sun on the cafe terrace.
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