Who needs madeleines when you have charmant Provençal hideaway Le Moulin? This 18th-century oil mill (gently updated by noted architecture firm Jaune) at the foot of the Luberon teases out nostalgia for a pastoral past whether you lived it or not – with tots of pastis, rounds of pétanque, fresh-from-the-oven fougasse and fragrant Nyons olives, and simply chic retro decor befitting a cherished country home (terracotta tiles, ochre-hued earthenware, white shutters, straw and sisal accents). Crank up the bal-musette in your mind, snack on almonds and olives straight from the orchard, idly swill a glass of wine and let this Proustian wave wash over you.
11am, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 4pm.
Double rooms from £142.78 (€162), including tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of €4.40 per person per night on check-out.
Rates don’t usually include breakfast (€25 a person), a feast of home-made viennoiseries, bread and cakes; local cheese and ham and more, with vegetarian and vegan choices too.
There are some Deluxe rooms suitable for guests with mobility issues, with wet-room style showers, and a lift will raise you to upper floors; however, you may need to use the restaurant’s side entrance to avoid stairs.
The hotel opens from 10 February 2023 till 1 January 2024.
At the hotel
Deli, bikes to borrow free and charged e-bikes, charged laundry service (from €16), free WiFi. In rooms: TV, sound-system, tablet, Lomi coffee and Damann teas, minibar, air-conditioning, La Bottega bath products. One of the Deluxe rooms has a furnished terrace.
Our favourite rooms
Provençal’s essence has been as potently bottled in rooms as a lavender eau de parfum. Flowers gathered and dried from the surrounding meadows are fanned out in rough earthenware vases, shutters are painted white, sisal has been woven into oversized headboards, closets are covered with ochre-hued curtains and there are vintage books celebrating local cultural touchpoints (Henri Bosco, Albert Camus, Cezanne). To make the hotel feel like a true private home, all rooms and suites are dressed in similar style, but we would plump for a Deluxe, one of which has a private terrace.
In the high summer heat you’ll find yourself longing for a cooling dip. Luckily, there's a small pool hidden within the hotel's manicured gardens.
Pack all the ‘floating through a lavender field’ dresses you’ll need and comfy shoes for cycling and hiking. But save some room for the handmade soap and candles, homemade chutneys and niche bottles of wine on sale in the hotel’s Les Commissions deli next door.
Hip design Saint-Lazare have proved their set dressing credentials are at Wes Anderson levels with their choice of vintage ceramics, tactile vessels, old-school tomes and straw headgear.
Children can stay, and there are four family rooms, but there’s little to entertain them.
The hotel is dedicated to preserving Lourmarin’s charms; the 18th-century mill it’s housed in has been gently refined by young architecture firm Jaune, and decor – many vintage finds and objets crafted from natural materials, such as wicker hats and earthenware vases – feels unmistakably Provençal. The chef has reached out to local farms across the region to help craft a hyper-seasonal menu with a focus on fruit and vegetables, and the hotel does its recycling duties.
Under the twinkly fairy-lights of the alfresco pergola is where the magic happens or snag a suntrap table under the restaurant’s arched ceilings.
If you’re wafting you’re doing it right.
Chef Thibaud Chadebec, a Provençal-native whose passion is fresh produce and familial fare, has been busy getting to know the ‘hoods farmers, makers and growers and sourcing top-brass spices, salts and such. The menu puts vegetables front and centre and scours the Med for influence. But whether you dine on sesame hummus from Luberon-made za’atar or red-vegetable curry with Arnaud Lory spices, or the undeniably French pissaladière tart, la Provence’s presence is keenly felt in the dried-flower arrangements in terracotta vases, tiled tabletops, curved-bamboo chandeliers and wickers seating, all ensconced in the hefty stone walls of the old mill. Desserts are delightful (Opera-chocolate mousse, pavlova with lemon and olive oil); cheeses are as ripe as you’d hope (crumbly goat’s cheese from Goult, creamy sheep’s cheese from Sainte-Croix-à-Lauze); and breakfasts are a sumptuous smorgasbord of fresh bread, Laure & Alain Berlengue’s jams and Bonnieux honey, just-squeezed juices, chia-seed pudding and Rians eggs any-way.
Walk into the lobby and you’ll walk into the bar, a wooden countertop with a smiling face behind it, straw hats hung overhead and spirits all lined up. The hotel reps for wines of all varietals: those from France’s most intriguing appellations, biodynamics, organics, vegans, naturals (there’s even a designation for ‘musical’ wines, but we’re not entirely sure why, we’re afraid), and there are some excellent champagnes too. But, we’re willing to abstain for the alcohol-free Citronnade, a refreshing mix of lemon and lime, honey and mint. Barkeeps have classic cocktails memorised too, so just let them know your favourite.
Breakfast runs from 7.30am to 10.30am, lunch from noon to 2pm, and dinner from 7pm to 9pm.
If you’re hungry and the restaurant is closed, never fear, you can dine chez vous in the comfort of your room.
Le Moulin Hotel is lucky enough to live in Lourmarin, a petit Provençal village with a bustling market and buildings dating back to the Renaissance, cocooned by olive and almond groves and vineyards.
Avignon may be the closest airport, but with just one direct route, back and forth to Antwerp, it’s not the handiest. Marseille, just under an hour’s drive away, has flights arriving direct from all over Europe, North Africa and even Montreal. The hotel can help to arrange transfers on request.
Lourmarin doesn’t have a train station itself, but there are excellent connections across France and beyond, with direct TGV services from Paris, Brussels, Geneva and Barcelona to Avignon Station, a 90-minute drive away, and Aix-en-Provence station (just over an hour’s drive away). And there are direct services from Paris to Marseille station, around an hour’s drive away. If you arrive by Eurostar, transfer to the Gare du Lyon, from where the train ride south is just under three hours.
Lourmarin has that Provençal charm that you’ll go the extra mile for. And with rustic transport links, you’ll need to. But, the drive there is underpinned by breathtaking scenery as you approach the Luberon massif. Roads with hairpin bends pass through forest and vineyards, along cypress alleyways and by soaring rock faces. And, a set of wheels will give you the freedom to roam this picturesque region. There are free parking spaces in front of the hotel (but be sure to secure one before market day when the village gets busy). If driving down from Paris, the journey will take around seven hours along the A6 and A7 roads; from Nice take the A8 road; and from Grenoble follow the A51.
Worth getting out of bed for
Lourmarin Village is the sort of place that comes to mind when you sniff a sachet of lavender, take a bite of a particularly good ratatouille or hear an accordion play a wistful tune. Languor is a way of life, and narrow, wending-this-way-and-that streets are lined with honey-hued houses dating back to Renaissance times, and squares laid out around ornate fountains. The village proper rests on one hill, and on a second – shouldering some of the scenic views – is the 15th-century castle Villa Medicis de Provence, where concerts and art exhibitions are held (there’s some fine etchings by Piranesi). And beyond is the Luberon massif and bountiful stretches of orderly vines and cypress alleys, almond and olive groves, unruly garrigue and ripe farmland, which makes it a joy to bike and hike over (ask at reception for a set of wheels or a route map) – or trot over on a horse or donkey ride. Meandering through the green is the Sorgue River, all set for canoeing, water-skiing or lazy boat trips. And further pastoral pleasures can be found in fruit-picking trips to the orchards, followed by jam-making sessions, picnic stops, vineyard-hopping, and hunting out truffles with the help of an expert pup pack from Les Pastras. Or simply lay down on a soft fragrant patch of wild grass and watch the stars bedazzle the firmament. Lourmarin’s famous market monopolises the streets on Friday mornings and Tuesday evenings (when the farmers’ market rolls into town). Come for watercolours, fat bunches of blooms, flowery linen tablecloths, loaves you can knock on, cheeses you can smell before you see them, house-canned chutneys and jams, deep-filled bowls of spiced olives and rainbow-bright produce. Fill your baskets, then take a tour of traditional olive mill La Bastide du Laval. Le Moulin joins forces with its sister property, bastide and boutique stay Le Galinier for Pilates sessions overlooking the expanse of the Luberon on Mondays, yoga in the gardens on Wednesdays, alfresco film screenings of French classics each Tuesday and Sunday, and pétanque matches. Unsurprisingly the Lourmarin has attracted creative sorts over the years, the most famous of which was Albert Camus – he’d only lived in the sleepy spot for two months before he died, but they laid claim to him anyway, and you can pay your respects at his humble gravestone on the outskirts. And, in the village graveyard lies literary Nobel Prize winner Henri Bosco. If you become similarly enamoured of this alluring spot, nearby Gordes and Lacoste are equally beautiful – plus, the latter was infamously home to the Marquis de Sade (and less controversially Pierre Cardin, who bought the sadist’s stately home).
The hotel holds itself up as a community hub and feeds its people well indeed, but what Lourmarin lacks in size it makes up for in culinary clout. It flexes its French tastiness through Michelin-recognised eateries like Auberge La Fenière, where chef Reine Sammut plummages and forages her farm (and the local markets) to make tapenade roulés, sumac focaccia and zingy chèvre cheese. Meanwhile, Louche a Beurre keeps things very simple – would you like your just-right steak smothered in roquefort or garlic, madame? – but excels in doing so. And, Le Petite Maison de Cucuron has also been bestowed a Michelin star for turns like an asparagus and brown crab charlotte with apple and dill mayonnaise or kid with spring vegetables, and a whole menu dedicated to truffles, when in season.
Cobbled Place de l’Ormeau is where you’ll meet all sorts at Café Gaby, the place for a café crême where immensely friendly owner Marco stops to chat as he ferries fine snacks here and there. Keep your eyes peeled for local artist Gérard Isirdi sketching away, whose atelier is just down the street.
It doesn’t take much to cast me into my favourite fantasy: the one in which I am, in fact, French. As we drove through Provence into Luberon – sun on my face, tortoise-shell shades on, ‘Je t’aime moi non plus’ playing on the stereo – I was fully immersed again, channelling my inner Jane Birkin, marvelling at how the light falls differently here.
‘Look, it’s just like a Cezanne oil painting’, I said to Serge (aka Mr Smith) in the passenger seat and all I needed now was a headscarf. Perhaps a convertible too. But the bubble burst as fast as the Citroën, approaching like a Formula 1 racer, desperate to overtake us.
The waves of relaxation I had started to enjoy were whipped up into a fit of pique. The expletives I found were distinctly English. We pulled into the village of Lourmarin just a little flustered.
The hotel is right in the heart of the village and therefore has no car park. With narrow streets (and narrower parking spaces) we opted for a spot up by the château and made our way down on foot.
Le Moulin’s entrance is unassuming – in fact, we walked right by it before realising we’d missed it. Or perhaps I was still distracted by the red mist. But as soon as we stepped inside, the road-rage was forgotten. Calming neutrals and sepia-hued tones washed over us and delivered me straight back into my Birkin and Gainsbourg dreams.
Mr Smith, being French, took charge of check-in, whilst I had a nosey around. There’s no doubt you’re in the South of France: thick stone walls, terracotta and ochre tiles, wicker furnishings, rattan shades and dried flowers – it’s a classique French farmhouse with modern refinements.
Our room was just as pleasing, oozing that nostalgic, Provençal charm and understated luxury. There is a je ne sais quoi about Le Moulin and I was in interior heaven.
It was apéritif hour, so I threw on a linen dress, dabbed some rouge onto my lips and headed out. Le Moulin is on one of the main streets of Lourmarin and right on your doorstep are the charming French boutiques selling as many lavender scented drawer bags, provencal soaps and chic objets as you can fit into your carry-on.
Bars and restaurants line the narrow streets in typically French fashion. We picked the liveliest where the three main streets in the village converge – perfect for people watching – and sipped the lightest rosé you’ve ever cast your eyes on. No need to ask for ‘blush’ here. It was so sippable in fact that before I knew it, Mr Smith had ordered ‘Deux verres supplémentaires, si vous plait!’
Our stay was towards the end of September when, despite the gloriously warm sunshine during the day, the evenings get chilly. We shivered back to the hotel just in time for our dinner reservation in the dining room. Solid stone arches and a vaulted ceiling are impressive reminders of the building’s history (it’s a converted 18th century mill). It’s a large space, yet the atmosphere is cosy and relaxed. Feeling warm and fuzzy, we were ready for some hearty, home-cooked menu, and we weren’t disappointed. Provencal olive tarts, followed by filet de boeuf, accompanied by a fine red. Parfait! Needless to say, we slept very well that night.
The following morning, craving some light exercise to compensate for yesterday’s excesses, we took a stroll around town. Lourmarin, although lively, is very small, so after our morning coffee in the sun Mr Smith suggested we take advantage of the hotel’s bikes to explore further afield.
Now, I should mention at this point that I passionately dislike cycling. I’m scarred from family holidays when we were forced to cycle some of the hilliest parts of France – on a bike with no gears, in sweltering summer heat, aggressive dogs chasing us – always to discover the restaurants which were our destination had already closed.
So, it’s no surprise I didn’t jump for joy at his suggestion. That was, until I realised that these bikes were e-bikes – what an ingenious game-changer! Hills were tackled with ease, my thighs were not burning, I didn’t break a sweat, and my headscarf remained firmly in place! I enjoyed the panoramic views across the mountains, valleys and plains, with endless vineyards and honey-hued villages on the hilltops. It’s no wonder artists, poets and writers have drawn inspiration from this part of France for generations.
The rest of our trip passed in a perfectly sun-dazed, rosé-tinted blur. We wandered the nearby chateau’s olive groves, drooled over the local produce at the hotel’s deli, Le Commissioner, and hid ourselves away at the secret pool. In under 48 hours I had fully adjusted to the new pace of village life and could quite easily have settled in for a while – just call us Monsieur and Madame Terrasse!
Back on the motorway towards Marseille airport, we left Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourgh behind us. But it’s through sepia glasses that we’ll look back on our stay at Le Moulin.
Unassuming and authentic, it allows you to enjoy life’s simple pleasures, and in this normally face-paced existence, reminds you how important it is to sometimes slow down – or maybe that’s the Citroën driving up your backside. Mon dieu!