Friday, December 20, 2013

Rent This: An 18th-Century Olive Mill

Travel planning for the 2014 season is in full swing and I've been spending a ton of time running around visiting homes and villas of all sizes, for clients coming to Provence in the year ahead. Here's one I just had to share. 

Down a rutted, gravely driveway, on a high plateau in the foothills of the Alpilles Mountains, this four-bedroom, four-bath home sits in a gorgeous olive mill built in 1717. I've seen a lot of vacation rentals (in all price ranges) but this is surely one of most unique. 

Converting the crumbling stone building into a welcoming home was a labor of love for its charming owners:  Stephane Blanc (who grew up down the road in the village of Mouriès), his mother, Marie José, and his sister Julia.

Today Stephane is the sales director of the 14th-century Palais des Papes in Avignon, traveling the world (he's just back from China) to lure tour operators and groups to Avignon. But no matter how far he wanders, it's clear Stephane's heart remains here on this 60-hectare property, which has been in his family since the late 19th century. 

The home, called the Moulin de Payan, can accommodate 10 people. The living room has eight enormous ceiling vaults and all sorts of vestiges of the time when it was one of biggest, busiest olive mills around. I'd call the decor rustic, Provencal farmhouse chic; Stephane filled the interior with antiques, painted pieces, big comfy couches, a piano and a handmade dining table that seats 20. You can also eat outside, in the shade of a enormous willow. The pool sparkles in the sunshine, surrounded by a large lawn. Beyond that, you'll see white Camargue horses grazing in the distance and vast fields of Foin de Crau, a highly prized local hay that's used to feed race horses. 

Also on the property are a number of large, unoccupied buildings that Stephane plans to restore one by one. The olive mill was the first project and it took roughly 18 months.

The appeal of this property is obvious: natural beauty, seclusion, history and architectural appeal. Kids will love this place and have fun running around exploring. Stephane speaks perfect English and I sense he does whatever he can to make his renters happy. Marie-José and Julia are very involved in the management of the property and work to insure that everyone gets a warm and personalized welcome.

Five minutes away in Mouriès (population 3000), you'll find all the typical businesses: grocery, produce market, butcher, boulangerie, pharmacy, newsstand, cafes, restaurants and a weekly market (Wednesday). Mouriès calls itself the olive capital of France, with 80,000 olive trees and another 500,000 or so in the surrounding area, which constitutes the appellation Vallée des Baux-de-Provence. Its farms and mills produce roughly 500 tons of oil per year and another 140 tons of table olives. At the turn of the century there were 11 oil mills in Mouriès, of which Le Moulin de Payan was one; today there are still three in operation, all of which may be visited year round. (My friend Anne-Marie Simons devotes a chapter of her terrific book Taking Root in Provence to the Mouriès Olive Festival.)

From what I can tell, the only negative to renting the Moulin de Payan is the access to the house. In the daylight these winding roads are very beautiful, all rolling hills, green valleys, vineyards and olive groves. But at night they can be quite daunting; they're narrow and they're not lit. Still, we all drive them all the time and live to see another it's probably ok.

From the house to Les Baux it's a 15-minute drive; St. Remy is 25 minutes.  The mill is 35 km from Avignon and Arles, 60 km from Marignane (Marseille) Airport. The small, sweet village of Maussane is close by...and dinner there on the church square is a wonderful way to pass a summer evening.

The Moulin de Payan rents for 1500€ to 2500€ per week, depending on the season (if you ask me, the price is low). If you do contact Stephane, it would be lovely if you told him you read about his house here.

Le Moulin de Payan
Tel: +33 (0)6 12 17 17 43
For info in English: 
For info in French, click here.

Photos: The living room is enormous, with high ceilings and eight enormous vaults. The four bedrooms are welcoming and colorful, with lots of light. The kitchen, bathed in afternoon sunshine, faces the dining patio and pool. A living room vignette. Dine in the shade of this enormous willow. Stephane Blanc owns and runs the house with his mom and his sister. The co-op in Mouries sells their own olive oils and other delicious locally made goodies. (If you still need Xmas gifts, they make up terrific holiday baskets.)

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  1. Reading about this fabulous rental in a converted olive mill brought back memories of the wonderful olive festival in Mouriès which so impressed me that I devoted an entire chapter to it in my book Taking Root in Provence. I have attended many festivals but this one rates among the best. Aside from the festival, however, the area around Mouriès is beautiful and rich in Provençal culture, from Roman antiquities to local folklore. Fertile ground for a happy holiday. Anne-Marie Simons

  2. This is seriously gorgeous, it would be a dream to stay here. I'll keep this in mind as we look for Provence vacation rentals because this would be amazing.