I feel right at home in the Camargue in southern Provence. The wild bulls and marshlands studded with pink flamingos all remind this American of New Mexico rather than France. And nowhere is the whole relaxed cowboy atmosphere as appealing as at Hôtel Le Mas de Peint, just outside Arles.
It was on a recent family holiday, after a particularly long, hot morning spent exploring the region (but mostly getting lost), that we headed to this magical spot – and I was instantly won over by the calm oasis I’d heard such wonderful things about. Opened as a 13-room hotel in 1994, the 17th-century farmhouse (first picture) is now overseen by Frédéric Bon, a third generation farmer-cum-hotelier who delights in sharing his family’s timeworn traditions. From cattle sorting rituals to horseback tours of the 500-plus-hectare estate, guests are fully immersed in country living – albeit of the understatedly luxurious variety. Our exploration of the place revealed airy rooms with exposed pine beams and sandstone floors – all neutral and stylish, yet also authentically Provençal.
But it was food we were after. We had booked a table well in advance and our lunch en plein air, on the wisteria-laden terrace (second picture), was a delight. The incredibly fresh offerings – many of them sourced from the property – included an aubergine tart with simple mixed greens, sea bream with pesto, and a chicken ballotine with sautéed ceps. Best of all were the traditional Camargue red rice dishes – all organic, nutty and flavourful, and derived from Mas de Peint’s own rice fields.
Dessert is a must; between us we sampled raspberry sorbet, a buttery tarte tatin with rich vanilla ice cream, and a bountiful cheese platter featuring the creamiest goat’s cheeses – some marinated in olive oil, others dusted with local herbs – I’ve ever tasted. Even my teenage children, who are notoriously picky eaters, were impressed – and the postprandial swim in the hotel pool (third picture) sealed the deal.