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Review 1369: Owner, La Bastide Vieille (#1293)


Review by Kaydee from TN who is a SlowTrav Contributor

4 bed/4 bath house near Bonnieux, Provence


October 2004 - April 2005, 6-1/2 months


Our family lived at La Bastide Vieille for six-and-a-half months — from October 2, 2004 until April 15, 2005 — as part of a 14-month family sabbatical in Europe.

La Bastide Vieille is owned by Ian and Cynthia. He’s British (retired business owner) and she’s American (a photographer). They live in Provence a few months a year and rent their house at other times. We were their first long-term rental and were able to negotiate a very special arrangement since they were interested in having their house occupied during the winter. We got to know Cynthia and Ian very well, initially through e-mail. We stayed overnight in the house together when we first arrived, e-mailed throughout our stay, and then visited together several times in the spring while they were staying at another house they own in Provence. Cynthia is the main contact point for rentals, and several of her photographs decorate the house. They will continue to be our life-long friends.

A young local woman who lives nearby in Lacoste—Mariette Baud is the local resource for most visitors to La Bastide Vieille. Marietta also became a good friend. She speaks excellent English and is extremely helpful and responsive.

The house comes with a resident cat; a friendly black cat named Chico who our daughter — actually all of us — loved dearly. We were very interested in having a pet and taking care of Chico, but this is optional for guests. (Neighbors take care of him if there aren’t any renters or if someone prefers not to deal with a cat.) We also acted as a foster-family for Cynthia’s dog Juno (a very sweet blind poodle) during part of our stay.

La Bastide Vieille is situated on about four acres at the base of the Petit Luberon mountain, located between the perched villages of Bonnieux and Lacoste. The views of the mountain and the surrounding countryside are breathtaking. The house is surrounded by farmland—vineyards, cherry orchards, and olive groves — and only a few other houses are visible. There is a beautiful view of Lacoste (topped by the ruins of the castle of the Marquis de Sade) from the back of the house, a wonderful panorama that also includes the Vaucluse Plateau and Mont Ventoux to the north.

In the warmer months, the outdoor spaces provide plenty of places to enjoy the scenery — a side terrace with dining table and chairs, a large enclosed garden with another eating area, and a beautiful swimming pool with covered barbeque area and lounge chairs. There’s even a small terrace off one of the bedrooms. My favorite spot was a wooden bench facing the Petit Luberon — on a clear day you could see individual trees on the top of the mountain.

The grounds around La Bastide Vieille are attractively landscaped with a variety of flowers and shrubs, including roses, iris, lavender and rosemary. The rosemary bushes around the house are huge. We especially enjoyed harvesting the almonds in the fall — there must be at least 15 almond trees. The almond trees bloomed in mid-March, followed a few weeks later by the cherry trees. The entire area was awash in the beautiful white cherry blooms.

The house is very special — spacious, cozy and colorful — built into a hillside. The oldest part of the house (from the 17th century) was originally a shepherd’s dwelling; Ian’s architect identified 14 different additions that had been tacked on over the years, and as a result the house has several different wings with steps leading up and down to various rooms. Some of the doors are very low — the permanent dent on the top of my husband’s head is evidence of this! It’s a much loved and lived-in house; quite wonderful and full of character, decorated with Cynthia’s photographs and other special artwork. Our family of three had plenty of space, plus room for many houseguests during our six+ months. The house officially sleeps eight, but because of the layout and bathroom configuration, I’d suggest it is optimal for one or two families or a group of friends that know each other well.

The house is entered from a side terrace off the kitchen — a big eat-in kichen - everything painted yellow with lots of sunlight. We loved this room. The kitchen has a six-burner gas stove, oven, dishwasher, microwave, and small refrigerator. A utility room is located off the kitchen with a large American refrigerator-freezer (including ice maker), a washer, and somewhat-strange tumble dryer. We normally hung our clothes to dry on the clothesline outside. A convenient downstairs toilet is located off the utility room. The kitchen is very well equipped, and now includes several things we purchased during our stay and left for the use of future guests. We really enjoyed the colorful blue and yellow dishes, glasses and table linens.

A big dining room with a fireplace is adjacent to the kitchen. We used this room mainly for games and projects and only ate here a few times when we had big groups. The table can be enlarged to seat up to 12 people. The owners have a personal storage room off one side of the dining room and another door leads up to a small attic bedroom with two single beds (no closet or bath). This room is really not suitable for adults, but ideal for teenagers or children.

A cozy living room with a raised fireplace is down a few steps from the dining room, the walls painted a bright mustard-color. The living room has seating for five people—two loveseats and a chair. Dining room chairs can be used for supplemental seating. There’s a piano, a big bookcase filled with books, a television, and a British video player with an assortment of videos. The owners installed satellite television just before our arrival, and we enjoyed watching the English-language television from the BBC. Doors lead outside to the enclosed garden from both the dining room and living room. There’s a full bathroom outside in the poolhouse that we did not use.

Steps lead upstairs between the dining and living room. To the left of a small landing is the colorful master bedroom called the Poppy Room, with a queen-sized bed, walk-in closet and ensuite bathroom with shower. This is the “best” bedroom, and we used it for our guests. To the right of the landing is the wing of the house that our family used — a sunny yellow bedroom that my husband and I used (called the Sunflower Room) with a double bed and a terrace; a blue bedroom called the Iris Room (our daughter’s room) with sloping ceiling, two twin beds, and an ensuite bathroom with shower; a bathroom with a sink, tub and shower; and a separate WC room with sink. The hallway in this wing is very wide and has a desk at one end; we used the phone line here to access the internet with our laptop. The massive door at the end of the hallway has a great view of Lacoste and Mount Ventoux.

The house is heated with a boiler system and radiators. We found it adequate for the winter months, combined with the living room fireplace and paraffin heater in the kitchen. The attic bedroom isn’t heated, but we used a space heater the two times we had guests sleep there. We found the weather to be quite mild during most of our stay, and we were able to hike practically the entire time. October and March were both extremely pleasant and we could often hike in short-sleeves. Before we left in mid-April, I even did a bit of sunbathing, though the pool would normally be open only from May through September. We had probably only five days of rain during our entire stay and two small snowfalls that were quite beautiful but disappeared within 24 hours.

We walked several times to both Bonnieux and Lacoste — brisks walks of about 30 minutes using shortcuts we discovered. Bonnieux is eight minutes by car, Lacoste a bit closer. Our “home village” was definitely Bonnieux, where our daughter attended school. The village has a variety of services that operate year-round (several restaurants and cafes, butcher shop, two boulangeries, pharmacy, greengrocers, small alimentation, tabac, presse, and post office). Our favorite eating place was Le Terrail on Place Gambetta, the main square. The Friday morning market in Bonnieux is very active from mid March until maybe mid November, with just a few sellers during the winter months. Lacoste is an intriguing village that should definitely be visited, but has just a few small restaurants (closed in the off-season) and a boulangerie.

La Bastide Vieille is a wonderful base to explore the North Luberon and the rest of Provence. We especially enjoyed the larger market town of Apt (a 20-30 minute drive) which has big supermarkets, specialty shops, and lots of restaurants. The big Saturday morning market in Apt operates year-round and is considered one of the best markets in France. We went almost every Saturday. We also liked the markets at Gordes (Tuesdays) and Lourmarin (Fridays), both within 30 minutes of La Bastide Vieille. We found plenty of good restaurants and cafes in the area — most open year-round — and will be posting a list of our favorites elsewhere on Slow Travel. Reservations are essential at most places, often even for lunch.

Our six months at La Bastide Vieille was a truly magical time in our lives. We’re already making plans for another visit, hopefully next spring. We loved it in the autumn, winter and spring — I can only imagine how wonderful it would be to stay there in the beautiful summer months. Hopefully one day we'll find out!

For more information about our six months at La Bastide Vieille, see my blog at: www.slowtrav.com/blog/kaydee/archives/000702.html (first posting from Provence... there are 12 postings from our six month stay).

This review is the opinion of a Slow Travel member and not of slowtrav.com.

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