Artistic Licence

Published in PRIMOLife Magazine February 2015

Read the magazine online at Issuu.com.

"Anna Hartley escapes the hustle of Paris for a supremely romantic getaway in a little corner of the south of France that will be forever associated with some of the world's greatest artists"

Yves Saint Laurent, Brigitte Bardot, Pablo Picasso, Bernard Buffet…

Wait who? Although his name is little known today, Bernard Buffet was once one of France’s most wealthy and successful artists, critically acclaimed at home and abroad.

So what happened? Due perhaps to his fame and the resentment and jealousy of Picasso, Buffet suffered from a severe critical backlash in the 1960’s. Although he remained well-loved among the “ordinary people”, the art world firmly turned its back on him, right up until his death in 1999. Now more than 15 years later, there is proof that the world is re-discovering Buffet, and liking what it sees.

Tucked into the hilly countryside of Provence, the Domaine de la Baume, an XVIII Century mansion and the last home of Buffet, has undergone careful renovation to begin a new life as a luxurious hotel. My boyfriend and I jumped at the chance to discover the world of France’s forgotten artist and see what exactly the Domaine had to offer.

Fresh air and panoramic views greeted us as we arrived on a Friday afternoon and we relaxed on the wide, shaded terrace as our bags were taken to our suite. The silence was deafening, and after an admittedly difficult car ride up the winding roads, I greedily drank in the fresh air.

We lingered on the terrace as long as we could before dinner, admiring the softly falling light as the sun set slowly over the estate, and imagining how many times Buffet himself would have done the same.

Chef François Martin works wonders in the kitchen, using seasonal produce bought at the market every day. His plates are beautiful and expertly prepared but never fussy, allowing the high quality ingredients to speak for itself. After four delicious courses we were glad that our suite was only a short walk from the dining room.

After being briefly woken in the wee hours of the morning by a furious thunderstorm, we slept in late, finding ourselves curiously unable to move from our huge and comfortable bed. Rubbing his eyes, my paramour smiled at me sleepily. “You know” he began, reaching to take my hand “I just can’t stop thinking about… how good that fish was last night”.

I can’t blame him either.

For our first full day in Provence, we wanted to explore Tourtour, the tiny ‘village in the sky’ perched 630m above sea level with magnificent views over the Var region. Considered one of the most beautiful villages in France, it seemed like the perfect place to spend a few unhurried hours.

Tourtour is the kind of village that could count its WWI veterans on one hand. I knew this because as we made our way up the hill to the church and its promised panoramic view, we paused to read the modest war memorial. It didn’t seem like the town had grown dramatically since those long-ago days, and there was a comfortingly slow atmosphere in the village as the sun climbed higher and higher and began to burn off last night’s rain.

As the bells rang noon we wandered back down to the square, happily detouring past a number of art galleries, ateliers and boutiques. While Tourtour welcomes its share of tourists, we appeared to be the only ones around as we strolled under the dappled shade of the village’s tall plane trees. Finding a lunch table in the sun-soaked terrace of La Farigoulette restaurant was easy, and in the name of journalistic research I took the chair with the view. We could have happily sat in the sunshine nursing glasses of local rosé all day, but I had a spa treatment waiting for me back at the hotel. There is no rest for the wicked, as they say.

The ‘domain’ part of the hotels name is no indulgent elaboration. As well as a bourgeois mansion, terraced garden, tennis court, swimming pool and chapel, the 40 hectare property also boasts a gurgling brook and series of cascading waterfalls. In the warmer months spa treatments are performed on the mossy green banks of the fresh pools, using the hotel’s Pure Altitude range of natural cosmetics and skincare. With the weather beginning to turn chilly, I was instead ensconced in a spa cabin beside the tennis court. From the second my head descended into the scented massage table, with warming pads below my torso and a hot towel being wrapped around my feet I was feeling quite… melty. Expert hands soothed the city knots from my shoulders and tension from my legs and my relaxation treatment seemed to drift on and on. When space and time realigned and my spirit rejoined my body, I was astonished to learn I had only been inside for one hour. Shoehorning myself back into my clothes, I floated out of the cabin in the opposite direction from my suite with a pleasantly dazed smile on my lips.

Sometime later, we found our way into one of the many richly decorated sitting rooms for cocktail hour. Although the entire place has been renovated, interior designer Joceleyn Sibuet has retained the atmosphere of the Domaine and it feels more like a family estate than a hotel, filled with the unusual and varied accumulation of decades of travel. It was not hard to imagine Buffet’s family roaming the halls, and we chatted on the stuffed couches and pretended to be socialites visiting the artist until dinner time.

For our final gourmet meal of the weekend, I began with a starter of fois gras au chocolat, a surprising combination that worked very well with crusty toast. Following this, sea bream on a bed of spinach foam. The fillet was cooked to perfection, the large flakes delicious and firm and needing nothing other than a little of the Domaine’s own olive oil to set it off. I finally understood why my boyfriend had been so wooed by his fish the previous night. Dessert was a delicate affair of thinly sliced orange and lemon sorbet topped with an almond biscuit wafer.

All good things must come to an end, but we used our final precious hours well. Climbing our way to the waterfall, we marveled at the natural church-like rock formation of the grottos, and endlessly renewed pools. Relieved of my shoes and socks I paddled in the fresh water and relished in the privacy that the elevation and sound of the waterfall gave us. After the quiet atmosphere of the hotel, it was a relief to shout to be heard over the sound of the rushing water.

Did Buffet suffer from loneliness and isolation as the world turned its back on him? Did he enjoy the serenity and solitude his wealth and his property afforded him? We’ll never really know, but we can rest assured that at least in this part of the world under the careful direction of the Maison & Hotels Sibuet group, Buffet’s legacy has not been not forgotten.

Anna and her boyfriend were guests of the Domaine de la Baume and stayed two nights in the Torero suite. The hotel is open from April to November. Rates are from €440 per room per night based on two people sharing, and include breakfast, aperitif and dinner. Domaine de la Baume is a 40 minute drive from Les Arcs Draguignan train station, or 1h30 from Marseilles Saint-Charles station. It can also be accessed from the Marseilles- Nice airport (1h30 hours) and Toulon airport (1h15). For more information about the hotels rates and availability, visit www.en.domaine-delabaume.com or call +33 4 57 74 74 74.