Magellan met up with the owner of one of France’s most unusual properties – the divine Château de Mazan, Mazan – in the deepest depths of Southern France. Frédéric Lhermie shares with us a little history about his hotel and offers his top tips for things to do whilst staying there.
Where to Stay?
The Château de Mazan is the former residence of the infamous Marquis de Sade. Whilst in the UK, the Marquis is known for his libertine sexuality, in France he is referred to more as an author, philosopher and politician who emerged through the turbulent time of the French Revolution. This Château was one of his many houses and the Marquis visited occasionally but his father lived here for much of his life. It was substantially rebuilt in 1715 and still has the aura of a timeless, opulent dwelling. An interesting fact about the Marquis was that he was the first person in France to organise a public festival – he started Provence’s Theatre Festival and actually acted in it himself! The de Sade family owned the property until 1840 when it subsequently became a town hall, a retirement home and – perhaps ironically, a Jesuit school.
Frédéric’s family bought it in 2001 and turned it into an eclectic hotel. The very unusual objet d’arts scattered around the property have been purchased by his mother who scours the country looking for pieces which catch her eye. This lends a more personal touch to the hotel which has just 31, quite different rooms, some of which feature original furniture and flooring. Their French-Polynesian gourmet chef is ex – La Mirande and is really making an impact in his first executive chef position. Rooms start at €125 per room per night in low season.
Where to Eat?
Chez Camille – Camille and Richard Stabholtz returned to her native Carpentras (nearby) in 2014 after a stint on the Mediterranean coast to open this lovely restaurant that concentrates on bio products and fresh, local cuisine. A meal on the gorgeous terrace in summer may include Camille’s signature sea bream or lamb dish followed perhaps by rum – baba served with citrus fruit. Camille is still in her early thirties but has carved an enviable reputation in the area. Menus start at €38.
Where to Drink?
Frédéric recommends two local wineries. The Château Unang is an eighteenth century castle and wine estate owned by James and Joanna King. Château Unang is located just outside the pretty village of Malemort du Comtat on the road to Methamis. The couple moved here in 2003 from their native Scotland and now, apart from wine production welcome visitors to tastings, vineyard walks and talks. The Ventoux appellation they produce is now rightfully gaining the respect it deserves. The property sits deep in the tail end of the Nesque Valley, named after the Nesque River that flows out of the high Vaucluse Plateau to the east and runs through a rugged limestone gorge. Unang is an isolated, self-contained domaine with, interestingly enough, its own geological category: les sables d’Unang. This refers to a particular type of sandy soil that lies overtop limestone. Apart from Unang’s hillside, pockets of the sands of Unang are also found in the Gigondas AOC.
The Château Pesquié is a sustainable, organic winery based in nearby Mormoiron within an eighteenth century bastide. The bastide was built here due to access to fresh water and Pesquié actually means fish pond. This family business was bought in 1971 by the present owners’ grandparents who still live in the house. It was expanded in 1990 with further acreage and the construction of the cellars and the two grandsons – Alexandre and Frédéric now run the business. Producing red, white and rosé wines, the Terrace Red has recently been included within The Wine Spectator’s Top 100 wines and has received accolades in Canada and Scandinavia.
Les Demoiselles Coiffées is a site of beautiful ochre soil on Mont Ventoux where the formation of the rock is spectacular – a great place to picnic! The Demoiselles Coiffées de Pontis is a rock formation in the Alps de Haute Provence Embrun, located on the edge of the Lac de Serre-Ponçon. The formation consists of a number of hoodoos – described as a “set of narrowly-tapered rock columns….topped with a large rock balanced neatly on the tip so they are referred to in French as ‘Ladies with hairdo’s’!
Château du Barroux – At the time of its construction, in the 12th century, the Château du Barroux consisted of a mighty keep surrounded by thick bulwarks, originally designed to protect the plain of the Comtat Venaissin against Saracen and Italian invasions. At times owned by the Pope then Henri de Rovigliasc who transformed it from a military stronghold into a family residence, it was finally abandoned after being looted by the revolutionary hordes in 1793. Sold in the 19th century, and in ruins, it was used as a stone quarry for nearly 150 years until a local industrialist, Mr Vayson de Pradennes, fell in love with the château and reconstructed it between 1929 to 1939 with his own money. Sadly, Mr Vayson died in an accident in 1939 and then, of course, there was WW2 and it was used as an observation post by the German occupying troops.
In 1944, the Resistance fighters shot down a German soldier in an ambush. In retaliation against this shadow army, the occupying troops gathered the inhabitants of Le Barroux, with the intention of executing civilian hostages. Fortunately, the leader of the German detachment did not retaliate against the locals but his platoon set the castle on fire instead as it went away – a fire that burnt intensely for ten long days – on 24th of August 1944, the day before the liberation of Paris. The damage was extensive, and a new restoration was started as soon as 1960 by Dr Mouliérac-Lamoureux, an army medical officer, once again with private funds. Since 1993, the Association of the Friends of the Castle of Le Barroux has been continuing this work, with the support of the family Vayson de Pradennes, who still own the castle. Open to the public between April – October, entrance is €5.
Gorges de Toulourenc – The Toulourenc is a river flowing on the northen side of Mont Ventoux which acts as a boundary between the Vaucluse and Drôme departments. The source of the river is at Montbrun—les-Bains and it runs for about 30 kilometres before flowing into the Ouvèze. Along its narrow course are many gorges sometimes reaching only 1.50m wide but 3km long so when the water is cascading, it is truly spectacular Mazan is situated in the Vaucluse in Southern France. The Vaucluse, along with Ardèche, Drôme, Gard, and InterRhône. Whilst some of these areas are in different departments and different regions, they have joined forces to allow visitors to discover a coherent geographic area along the Rhône Valley. Strong common themes are authentic and perched villages, great natural or architectural sites, outdoor activities and, of course, Rhône Valley vineyards. So think sunshine, authenticity, heritage, nature and the art of living which is of course – food and wine.
Contributor: Sue Lowry
Photo Credits: Sue Lowry, Alain Hocquel, Loudovic Gommbert
Visit Southern France and Voyages-sncf.com are clients of Magellan PR and can be found tweeting at @ and @Voyagessncf_UK respectively. The Château de Mazan can be found on Facebook as can Château Pesquié, who are also on twitter as @fredchaudiere and well worth a follow.
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