Toodling around the Camargue on Saturday I decided to drop into Le Mas de Peint, a gorgeous country-house hotel I’d been hearing about for years. Although she was clearly busy, owner Lucille Bon greeted my friend and I like old pals and offered us a quick tour. What a place!
In 1950, Jacques Bon bought what was then a vast sheep farm with a pretty 350-year-old bastide (country home). Lucille, an architect, came into Jacques’ life in 1983 and the couple married in ‘87. They renovated the property completely in 1992 and opened Mas de Peint two years later. Today the family business includes the five-star hotel and its restaurant; a 500-hectare rice and alfalfa farm; and a ranch called Manade Jacques Bon, home to 30 horses and 250 free-range, grass-fed bulls (taureaux). Hotel guests enjoy a large pool, access to a private beach, massage, biking, horseback riding, animal viewing by 4 x 4, bull competitions and shows, special events such as live music and ‘’Journées Camarguaises.’’ More on that appears below.
In total, the estate is 1300 acres and it’s quite unique and fabulous.
Jacques passed away in 2010 but Lucille and their son, Frédéric, have firmly kept the reins. If I had to sum up the vibe here I’d say it’s unspoiled nature with pampering nurture--a fabulous combination indeed.
As we said our goodbyes, Lucille invited us back for the apero (drinks before dinner) and a one-hour gypsy concert at 7:30. As it turns out, she’s booked the guitar quartet Gipsy del Mundo, widely known in these parts and beyond, to play for an hour every Saturday in August, while drinks and nibbles are served (non-hotel guests pay regular prices). Non guests are welcome to stay on for dinner as well...but tables fill up quickly so you should definitely book ahead.
In summer, meals at Mas de Peint are served on a pretty candle-lit terrace, tented with billowy fabric that lets breezes in and keeps mosquitoes out. The restaurant was fully booked so we weren’t able to stay on but I’ve heard nothing but great things about chef Vincent Laisney and his food. When the weather cools, meals are served in the large, lovely old kitchen with its gorgeous stove and marble buffet. (If you can’t dine at Mas de Peint, other nice options nearby are Chez Bob, La Chassagnette and La Telline. We chose the five-table La Telline--arriving just at the 9 pm seating cut-off time--and loved it, particularly the friendly warmth of Jean-Paul and Florence Sanchez, who run their tiny restaurant in his mom’s old house, a 19th century customs office. If you don’t feel like driving home, they have a guest house as well.)
But back to the concert for a moment. Gipsy del Mundo is led by father and son guitarists Bik and Mario Regis, who played with two other skilled musicians. Bik was an original member of Los Reyes, one of two family bands that later became the Gipsy Kings, and is widely regarded as one of the best gypsy musicians around. The music, sung mostly in Spanish, is soulful, romantic, evocative, uplifting...and deeply woven into the fabric of the wild, marshy, ranch-filled Camargue. Everyone in the room loved it, kids and adults alike. Bik is also a talented painter who has exhibited as far away as Japan. Some of his canvases depicting Camargue scenes are on view at Mas de Peint; others can be seen on his website here.
Want to stay? Mas de Peint offers eight rooms and five suites, all unique in design and decor, with one suitable for limited mobility. Rates range from €235 to €435 (high season) and if you want the most-popular room, ask for The Loft. Upscale tent accommodations have recently been added and they were a huge hit when a group from Hermès held a meeting here not long ago. But they have to be specially arranged.
In season, the restaurant at Mas de Peint serves lunch (à la carte) every day, and dinner every night but Thursday (à la carte and prix-fixe available). All the info you’ll need about dining appears on the Mas de Peint website here.
And yet another way to experience the beauty Chez Bon is by signing up for a one-day Journée Camarguaise, where you’ll learn all about the life of the Manade Jacques Bon and the French cowboys (gardians),who look after it. The full day of activities (10:30 am to 5 pm) includes a traditional ferrade (branding) and other demonstrations, an apero and lunch, live music and a course a la cocarde (a difficult competition in which gardians pluck ribbons from the horns of the bull). There are just two dates left this season: September 16 and October 7. Prices are 38€ (adults); 19€ (ages 5 to 12); and free for kids under 5. To book: 04 90 97 28 50 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mas de Peint is 1 km south of Le Sambuc on the route D36 in the Parc Naturel Régional de Camargue, southwest of Arles. Their contact info is: 04 90 97 20 62, email@example.com; their site is masdepeint.com. Directions: From Arles, take direction Stes Maries de la Mer. Turn left onto the D36, direction Salin de Giraud and La Sambuc, and go about 20 km until you see the sign.
Meanwhile, merci beaucoup, Madame Bon, for introducing us to your very-special corner of the Camargue!
Photos: (1) Kitchen Table: When the weather cools, meals are served in the bastide's large old kitchen, where guests can watch their meal being prepared. (2) At the Manade Jacques Bon. (3) The hotel building is 17th century. (4) Chef Vincent Laisney's food is considered some of the very best in the region. (5) In warm weather, meals are served on this pretty terrace. (6) All 13 guestrooms and suites are unique in design and decor. This one is an ''Elegance'' category room. (7) Beach party. (8) A junior suite. (9 & 10) More of chef Vincent's creations. (11). Flamants Roses: The legendary Camargue flamingos. (12) Here comes the Cavalry! (13) Jacques Bon, who passed away in 2010, and a dear friend. The Camargue is known for white horses. (14) A little taste of Gipsy del Mundo, who will play during the apero throughout August. Click the little vertical bars or the little arrow to play.