Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Where to Stay in Provence? A Roman Quarry!

Calling all wanna-be cave dwellers! Get in touch with your inner troglodyte by vacationing in this one-of-a-kind stone home, built within a Roman quarry in Provence.

Located five km from Bonnieux--near the villages of Gordes and Roussillon--the Carriere St. Symphorian is the home and studio of husband-and-wife architects Philippe and Lien Jonathan and their two boys ages 8 and 11.  And they love to welcome travelers from all over the world.

Philippe, who lived in nearby Aix as a child, first fell in love with the Luberon while biking its winding roads as a teenager. He went on to a career in Paris, built the quarry house as a vacation property and moved the family to Provence full time in 2013. Today he designs residential projects across the South of France--houses, gardens, pools and greenhouses--as well as public buildings in France and elsewhere. Lien works with Philippe on all projects...and you can see their striking work here

Looking for property in the Luberon back in late 1990s, Philippe wanted something "different and challenging"--not the typical mas or bastide. When a realtor showed him the site in 1997, it was derelict, overrun with vegetation and had been on the market for many years.

"Previous buyers had been put off by its inaccessibility and lack of services," Ruth Corbett wrote in a Sunday Times Magazine story in 2012. "But Philippe was mesmerized from the moment he set foot in it."

"I am an architect which means I am a rational man," Philippe chimes in, "but concerning this I am irrational. I felt that the place had chosen me."

The quarry dates officially to the 12th century but archaeologists say that Romans were cutting limestone here 2000 years ago. Stones from this quarry were used to build the nearby Apta Julia Theater and the Château de Buoux, among others. During the final chapter of the quarry's life, workers excavated the mountain itself using the “chamber and pillar” technique, which resulted in the space that the Jonathans now call home. At one point 20 workers lived in its humble dwellings, until it was finally abandoned in 1930.  It took Philippe and Lien ten years to transform the rubble into this magical property.

"There are not so many places where I feel so good," Philippe told the Times.

There are a couple different ways you can stay here. You can rent a room in the quarry house (it's called "Situation Exceptionnelle" on Airbnb)...or rent a small separate house called the Eagle's Nest. During the month of August, you can rent the entire property, although the first two weeks are already taken.  Occasionally the Jonathans also rent out the grounds for events such as art exhibits, concerts and weddings.

The "Situation Exceptionnelle" (quarry room) is for two people only, consisting of a bedroom with a 160 cm bed,  bathroom (shower, sink and toilet) and a small living room/lounge.  The 60-square-meter Eagle's Nest--with two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a small lounge area with a fridge--can accommodate a couple with two children. 

All guests have use of the infinity pool--carved into the rock, with exceptional views of the Luberon and three historical monuments--plus the pool house with its small outdoor kitchen.

The property has three hectares of outdoor space so you and your imagination can run wild in a totally tranquil setting.

The Luberon is a vast regional "parc naturel" and one of the most-popular areas of Provence. The serene rolling landscape of farms and vineyards is dotted with perched Medieval villages and laced with paths and trails, perfect for hiking and biking. Tennis, golf, kayaking, hot-air ballooning, historical sites and multiple outdoor markets are nearby. Bonnieux is roughly one hour from the Avignon TGV (high-speed train) station, from Aix and from the Marseille/Marignane Airport.

Rates for the quarry room and Eagle's Nest are range from 130€ to 170€  per night, including breakfast, for a minimum of three nights. 

Want more info?

See a video of Philippe and his family at home here....

Read the Times Magazine story here (if you have Times access) or here  (if you don't)...

And see the "Situation Exceptionelle" and the Eagle's Nest on Airbnb here and here. (Change the language to English at the very bottom of the screen, then click "translate" within the text itself.)

Then, for further questions and booking, contact Philippe:, +33 4 90 71 70 88.

Photos:  (1 to 6) Various indoor and outdoor spaces including the room (photo #6)--called "Situation Exceptionelle" on Airbnb--that you can rent. (7) The stone infinity pool and its view. (8) At night, parts of the quarry site have made a mystically beautiful space for concerts and other performances. (9) Come into our cave: Lien and Philippe love to welcome guests from all over the world.  (10) A site overview from Google Maps.  Click on any photo to enlarge it.

Still looking for the perfect Provence vacation rental? We can help! Email me:


  1. This is an exceptional property. I have, as a fellow architect, been invited to visit. There is absolutely nothing like it in the world. It is romantic. It is spiritual. It is warm. It is cool. It is silent within yet, from the crest, the view of the almost untouched Luberon Mountains is beyond belief and bustles with the hum of the garrigue. The quarryman's hand here is the most evident. The architect's gestures to make a habitation here (multiple habitations) are gracious and do not interfere with the natural beauty in any way. To spend a week here will resonate for a lifetime.