Provence calls to mind huddled medieaval villages and manors of time-worn stone. Luxury hotel Villa la Coste is nothing like that. It’s a perfect storm of ideas from the brightest minds in art and architecture – one that passed leaving the landscape unscathed. Designed in harmony with its verdant surroundings, this cutting-edge stay is a place of straight lines, towering panes of glass and studies in shades of white. Inside, there’s a national gallery’s worth of artwork and bespoke furnishings that recall the best of mid-century modern design. What you won’t find, however, is the faintest touch of high-mindedness when it comes to looking after guests; the ideas explored here might be lofty, but impeccable personal service proves that Villa la Coste is designed for people first of all.
Get this when you book through us:
An in-room bottle of Château la Coste wine and a fruit plate; a vineyards tour and wine tasting; an on-site art tour; $100 credit to use at the spa
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £1040.10 (€1,200), including tax at 10 per cent.
Room rates usually include breakfast. Choose from Continental, American, Full English, à la carte or buffet breakfast – these can be served in your suite or the hotel gallery.
A decade in the making, Villa la Coste has been shaped by the pencils, X-actos and brushes of famed creatives such as Frank Gehry, Tadao Ando, Renzo Piano, Norman Foster, Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst and Louise Bourgeois.
At the hotel
600 acres of art-filled grounds, a high-tech winery, spa with hammam and traditional onsen bath, art gallery, library, laundry, and free WiFi throughout. In rooms: furnished terrace, TV, iPod dock, minibar, kettle, tea- and coffee-making facilities, and free bottled water. Some suites have a private pool.
Our favourite rooms
Even Villa la Coste’s ‘entry-level’ suites have Tracey Emin etchings, Luberon Valley views and bathrooms with vast marble bath tubs and – ahem – high-tech Japanese toilets. If we’re pushed to pick, our favourite would be Suite 11, which has some of the finest views across the surrounding land and a terrace bedecked with pink Pierre de Ronsard roses.
The heated, 15-metre-long outdoor pool is at the edge of a stretch of vineyard, surrounded by slender cypress trees and an olive grove. It’s open from 8am to 10pm every day.
The calming minimalism of the hotel’s interior lends itself perfectly to the spa, which uses products created specially for the hotel. There's a Japanese-style hot-spring onsen bath, a hammam and seven treatment rooms. Also on offer: a gym with a personal trainer, Pilates, yoga and various fitness classes.
A keen eye: the hotel’s commitment to art means there’s no filler pieces, so that painting hanging above your bed might just be by someone rather famous...
The hotel’s public areas are wheelchair accessible, and there's a lift in the hotel gallery that runs to the spa and restaurants. Two of the ground-floor suites have been specially adapted, with oodles of space and larger bathrooms.
Children of all ages are welcome. For children under 12, extra beds are free (the rate for over 12s is £150 a night). The beds will fit into any of the suites, but there’s limited availability, so be sure to ask for one when booking.
It's worth trying to snag a spot close to the floor-to-ceiling windows for an uninterrupted view. We also like the library for its cosiness (if it's wintery outside, ask to be seated by the fire).
Avant garde elegance – after all, you’re sleeping and eating in rooms on which modern masters were at work.
Le Restaurant is inside a tall, glass-walled building suspended over a pool of placid water. In the centre of the room, two chrome-covered figures dangle down from the ceiling, reflecting the light streaming in from all sides. It’s a unique space, but it’s got more than good looks: the chefs are devoted to Provence and its produce, sourcing their ingredients from regional markets or the organic kitchen garden, which was designed by French landscape architect Louis Benech. If you'd rather have your meal elsewhere, the library, salon, cocktail bar and garden are all possibilities. Open for dinner and weekend lunches, Restaurant Francis Mallmann brings South America’s most famous chef to the la Coste winery. Sat next to the art gallery, the restaurant serves hearty, soulful dishes slow-cooked over enormous fires – Mallmann’s signature style, which is rooted in Argentinean culture. Try the salt-baked bass or the lamb, which is cooked in a dome over the roaring, smoky fire.
The bar itself is an impressive block of marble set in a white-walled room in the hotel lobby. Artworks by Sean Scully and Damien Hirst face off on opposite walls, giving the room a burst of colour. There’s a cool, calm selection of music in the background – neither too loud or catchy – so you can actually discuss said artworks with ease. Trying the wine is a must: a great place to start is La Bulle, the Château's sparkling rosé.
Breakfast is from 7am to noon. Le Restaurant is open for lunch from 11.30am to 2.30pm, and dinner from 7.30pm to 10.30pm. Dinner is served at Restaurant Francis Mallmann from 7pm to 9.30pm, Wednesday to Saturday. Lunch is served on Saturday and Sunday.
A full room service menu is available from 7am to midnight, consisting of light Provençal meals like foie gras and chutney toast, rockfish and pasta soup or saffron risotto with spelt. Selected cold items are available from midnight to 7am.
A 15-minute drive from historic Aix-en-Provence and the Luberon natural park, Villa la Coste occupies a prime spot in a region known for its natural beauty and charming medieval towns.
The closest major airport is Marseille; there are frequent flights from the majority of larger European cities. It takes around 40 minutes to reach the hotel by car. Flights and transfers can be arranged with the Smith24 Team; call 24 hours a day.
The Aix-en-Provence Mediterranean station for the high-speed TGV line is a 15-minute drive from the centre of Aix-en-Provence. Trains from Lyon take an hour to get there, while services from Paris take three. Aix-en-Provence’s regular SNCF station is in the city centre, and is served by regular trains from Marseille and other regional destinations.
With Aix-en-Provence and the Luberon natural park nearby, you'll have plenty of reasons to hire a car. Most of the major rental firms are available at Marseille airport. Car hire can be arranged with the Smith24 team; call 24 hours a day.
Southern France is a world-famous destination for avid cyclists, and the lavender-clad landscape here has plenty to offer in this respect. It’s perfectly possible to cycle the 15 kilometres from Aix-en-Provence to the hotel – note that roads can be busy in high summer, and midday temperatures very high in July and August, so plan to tackle any tough routes at first light or in the late afternoon.
Worth getting out of bed for
If Villa la Coste has stoked your appetite for architecture, thenHôtel de Caumont in Aix-en-Provence should certainly satisfy. This grand 18th-century hôtel particulier has been painstakingly restored, so it’s a great opportunity to see what a house of its kind would have looked like in its prime. Those hungry for more of the region’s natural beauty should set sights on the Calanques National Park, a 20-kilometre stretch of coastline famed for its tall and rugged white cliffs. Hidden in between are long inlets of clear emerald water, making this a wonderful place for a spot of wild swimming. For an art gallery unlike any other (aside from your new home-from-home), take a trip to the Alpilles for Carrières des Lumières. This former bauxite quarry contains enormous halls submerged up to 60 metres deep under the mountain; inside, the walls are ‘painted’ with super-sized art works thanks to high-powered projectors. If you’re visiting the Alpilles for the day, the town of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence should be on your list too. A long-time favourite of the Parisian artistic set, Saint-Rémy is saturated with history – some of it ancient – and known for a famous resident: Van Gogh, who was a patient at the town’s psychiatric hospital for a year, producing some 150 canvasses of the hospital and local area.
Les Deux Garçons is housed in a historic building on the famous Cours Mirabeau in Aix-en-Provence. Once the meeting place of many art greats, it has a long list of famous patrons both past and present. Try the fillet steak with Béarnaise sauce – it’s a can’t-go-wrong classic. For creative contemporary cuisine, try Côté Cour, whose modern interior is flanked by floor-to-ceiling windows and topped by a glass roof. Outside, there's a smart decked courtyard, which really comes into its own on a summer’s evening. For a fragrant fusion dish, order the Challans duck breast with truffled semolina, yuzu, chickpeas and grapefruit. The manicured gardens of La Table du Pigonnet allow you to dine in the shade of a miniature boulevard of chestnut trees. Head chef Thierry Balligand uses traditional Provençal flavours in creative ways – try one of his excellent set menus for a true taste of the south.
After a particularly hilarious Uber ride from Marseille airport – one that involved getting lost down a dirt road in the woods during a storm (with a driver who didn’t speak English) – it was a relief to finally reach the beautiful entrance of Villa la Coste. And an even bigger relief to be handed a cold glass of Chateau la Coste rosé.
The hotel sits at the top of a hill overlooking its very own vineyard, and even in the downpour that was happening as we arrived, the valley views are truly spectacular. After a short wait in the lobby – just long enough to check out the Louise Bourgeois sketches casually hung next to us – we were shown to our room (well, villa).
I’m not exaggerating when I say that my entire central London apartment could fit into this villa. In fact, it could probably fit into the bathroom alone. Once you go through your private olive-tree-lined courtyard and through the glass doors, you find yourself standing in what is basically an Architectural Digest spread.
The open-plan room is immediately welcoming – contemporary without being cold or impersonal. Past the large living room, behind the panoramic windows, is an equally large balcony with the same incredible view as the lobby, except the torrential rain had been replaced with what was possibly the best sunset I've ever seen.
After some brief unpacking in the large walk-in wardrobe, Mr Smith and I decided the most sensible thing to do was to order room service. Seeing as we had a dining table that could seat about six people we thought we might as well use it.
It should be mentioned that there’s not much around Villa la Coste that’s easy to get to, which didn’t bother us one bit – once you’re there the idea of leaving is actually quite upsetting.
Much like everything else, the room service menu was simple, well curated and, most importantly, came with plenty of French butter. After dinner, a substantial amount of time was spent in the vast marble bathtub listening to Django Reinhardt and drinking more rosé. All in all it was a perfect way to spend our first night in France.
Waking up in a linen-draped four-poster bed wasn’t anything to complain about either, nor was being able to see the Provencal countryside without even having to get out of it. The sun was back, and after breakfast in our villa we were firmly committed to spending the rest of the day by the pool.
The minute you step outside here you’re immediately confronted with all the incredible smells the French countryside has to offer, which was only made better by the previous night’s rain-washing. The pool is hidden behind rows of cypress trees that cast stripy shadows across the lawn as the sun moves over you, and once you’ve claimed your white pool cabana you’re all set for the day.
It was around this time that something shocking happened: we saw other people. We realised it had been close to 24 hours before we’d seen anyone other than the friendly, rosé-bearing hotel staff. Between the sprawling grounds and the privacy of your own villa, you can easily forget that you're actually in a public place.
Later, we had to pry ourselves away from our much loved cabana because we had a pressing engagement at the spa – it’s a tough life down in Provence. After looking through the impressive list of various massages and body scrubs we settled on mud treatments which essentially involved a lovely little French woman covering us in an array of different coloured mud and wrapping us in muslin. Not normally how I spend my Sunday afternoons, but thoroughly relaxing and enjoyable all the same.
That night we had dinner at Louison, one of the two restaurants on the property and the one that was recommend by the concierge. If, gun to my head, I had to pick one thing about our stay that wasn’t completely perfect I’d say it was this. The restaurant is set in a glass cube surrounded by water, and while it's architecturally incredible, it’s not the most comfortable place to have dinner (though I suspect it’s more welcoming during the day).
The food was delicious and as artistic as everything else at the hotel, but unlike the room service menu it was definitely not simple – we had multiple courses of beautiful things served in crab shells and on sunflowers. But the lack of music or atmosphere in the bright, echoey room made it feel as though we had to speak in hushed tones. There was one other customer, an American woman dining alone, who said ‘Please make some noise because it’s so damn quiet in here!’ by way of introduction.
It’s not often, though, that you have the privilege of staying in a hotel attached to an art gallery, so on our last day the only thing left to do was visit Chateau la Coste. After a walk through the vineyard you find yourself on a kind of art safari where you come face to face with works by Richard Serra, Alexander Calder and Ai Weiwei to name just three superstars – not to mention the huge Louise Bourgeois spider crouching over the water on your way in. It’s definitely worth parting with the pool cabana for.
And so, with one final glass of that homegrown rosé at sunset, that was the end of our magical stay at Villa la Coste. A work of art all by itself.